Monday, 30 May 2016

Maternity Leave in Paris (The dream vs reality)

When I told people I was expecting a baby in June, a lot of them said, "Oh, that's a lovely time to have a baby!" and I would imagine myself pushing the pram around the park and pausing for a rest in the shade, with baby wearing a little dress and a sunhat to protect her from the glorious (but not yet blazing) sunshine. This delightful fantasy was to be preceded by an equally lovely maternity leave involving gentle strolls and relaxing on a park bench with a book. My other plans involved trying out all the open air swimming pools in Paris, picnics with friends at the weekend and a few meals sitting on a restaurant terrasse with Understanding Frenchman as we enjoyed our last weeks of freedom together.

I'm now into my third week of leave and those plans have been somewhat sabotaged by circumstance.

The first week, we had some really good weather. Understanding Frenchman took days off, and although a fair amount of our time was spent on practical tasks like paperwork for the new flat and ordering nappy deliveries from Auchan, we did get out and about a bit, including a visit to a museum and a stroll along the banks of the Seine. Unfortunately, this was also the week when I felt truly exhausted. Having more or less sailed through pregnancy up until that point, I suddenly needed a little lie-down after the monumental effort of getting dressed in the morning, while climbing the stairs up from the metro left my legs turning to jelly as if I had just summited Everest. I know I was very lucky to get this far before that kicked in, but it did make it more of a shock to the system!

The fatigue did improve after that (I've noticed over the past few weeks that when I do something tiring like travelling or the last couple of weeks at work, the exhaustion seems to kick in as soon as I stop, rather than at the time, then goes away eventually) but the next spanner in the works came in the form of damp, grey weather which has since turned to full-on pouring rain most days. So bye-bye swimming pool and sunbathing. When I bought my maternity clothes, I avoided getting too many winter things and planned my wardrobe for when I was huge around pretty summer dresses. Luckily most of these can be worn with tights, and I haven't yet grown so huge that my coat won't do up!

The final, and truly depressing, thing was being diagnosed with gestational diabetes in week 34. All women tend to experience an increase in their blood sugar as pregnancy goes on, but gestational diabetes is when this natural process goes too far, the body doesn't produce enough insulin and the blood glucose levels get far too high. The risk for the baby is basically that it will grow too big, or some organs will be oversized, while the mother can develop pre-eclampsia and the delivery is likely to be difficult. While insulin can be prescribed, the initial treatment is a strict diet involving nothing with added sugar and limited quantities of carbohydrate. When you've already given up (most) caffeine, alcohol, unpasteurised cheese, raw and lightly-cooked meat and eggs, pâté and certain types of fish, that doesn't leave a lot to enjoy! (Natural yoghurt features about 4 times a day on the eating plan I was given by the hospital.) In addition, as the diet only provides around 1800 calories a day (I don't actually know why, as I thought in the last trimester 2200-2300 was the recommended amount), it also leaves you hungry, which is not fun when you're tired out from all the normal aspects of pregnancy already. (On the plus side, I won't have to worry about losing weight after the birth, because if the baby is as big as they think she is, I'm going to come out of hospital lighter than I started the pregnancy!)

 However, I'm very aware that these are the pregnancy equivalent of first-world-problems, so having got the moaning out of my system, here are some of the things that have been awesome about maternity leave so far:

1. There has been a certain amount of sunshine, and a certain amount of strolling around. And being out and about in Paris is lovely even when you are wearing jeans instead of a summer dress.

2. A good friend of mine has been on maternity leave at the same time, and as her baby was born a week after the due date, we had a fortnight of cinema and lunch dates to enjoy instead of the expected week.

3. Ante-natal classes. Some people say these aren't very helpful, or even skip them out altogether, but I love going. When you haven't got much to do apart from prepare for the arrival of the baby, it's fun to spend a couple of hours sitting around and learning about exactly that. I think it's helped that I'm taking them at the hospital where I'm going to give birth because the best bit hasn't been the biology lessons or the breathing exercises but the explanations of what will actually happen on the day, given by the team of midwives who will be present at the birth. Suddenly it all seems that bit more real.

4. Buying a sewing machine. This was something I'd been thinking about for a while, as I used to love sewing, knitting and making things when I was little, but as an adult had been reduced to taking up hems and sewing on buttons. Making things for the baby seemed like the perfect excuse, so I ordered one online and it was delivered in the first week. So far, my projects have included two little dresses, a baby sleeping bag and re-covering the second hand car seat that we acquired from UFM's brother and which was a bit yellowed from sitting in their attic.

One of these dresses is from a lovely but expensive shop selling fairtrade organic baby clothes. The other is made by moi. You can probably figure out which is which, but I'm still pretty proud of my effort!

Fleece-lined sleeping bag made from some discount fabric and an Ikea blanket. If the weather doesn't improve, we might be using this sooner rather than later!

Nice, clean car seat. Not that we have a car (yet) but it's good to be prepared.

So there we go. Maternity leave hasn't been exactly what I planned, but there have been good bits nonetheless!


  1. Wow already three weeks in! Baby will be here so soon! It seems ages off for me as I'm just showing and can still hide it in my work shirts. I'll have to get winter and summer clothes as we're going to South Africa mid-July---didn't consider that when making vacation plans!

    That 1800 calorie number seems very odd to me too. I hope you've at least found some tasty yogurts to eat. NIce work on the sewing and hope you keep sane and even enjoy these last few weeks a little!

    1. If you're looking for comfy, relaxed clothes for travelling, sightseeing, walking etc, I actually found that one of the best places was not a maternity wear range at all but Decathlon yoga clothes. The trousers have a wide, thick waistband that you can pull up over the bump and the T-shirts are a bit longer than most. I'm still wearing things I bought in my normal size a few months ago and I'll keep wearing them afterwards too, so I didn't resent spending the money. (Actual maternity clothes are hard to find and expensive!)

  2. The green dress is yours, right? It's amazing! Seriously.

    I'm really sorry to hear about the diabetes. Sucks. I don't know much about it other than the screening/warnings I heard when I was pregnant. Feeling hungry isn't cool... oh boy...

    I'm sending you a virtual hug!

    1. You can see the flaws in the green dress close up, but I don't think baby will mind!

      Thank you for the sympathy!