Friday, 24 June 2016

On Brexit

I woke up this morning (having followed the referendum count on and off through the night) to the news that the UK has voted to leave the European Union.

I am devastated.

It's a strong word, but it is an accurate description of how I feel. Not because the majority of British voters have made a decision that I strongly disagree with, but because they made it for so entirely the wrong reasons.

Had there been a clean, factual, balanced campaign with respectable leaders on either side of the debate encouraging UK citizens to make an informed choice about whether the best way to work with our international neighbours was through the mechanisms of the EU or by some other (specified) means, I would have been worried and annoyed. But what has actually happened is so much worse than that.

We have been treated to the spectacle of some of the most privileged people in the country preying on the basest fears of ordinary people to convince them their troubles are caused by foreigners (whether they be politicians in Brussels or Romanian builders) and not the consequences of a global financial crisis or the government that they chose to elect. They have been aided and abetted in all of this by the British media at its absolute worst: nearly all the tabloids have been stirring up a "them and us" mentality based on half-truths and downright lies for decades. Nobody embodies this more than Boris Johnson, Eton and Oxford-educated (although ironically born abroad and a former pupil of the European School of Brussels), who had a previous career as a journalist spreading lies about Europe via the Daily Telegraph before moving into politics and who, having been one of the leading representatives of the Leave campaign, is apparently odds-on to be Britain's next prime minister.

I'm not upset and frightened because of what this means for me. I'm upset and frightened because these people have won and because it appears that my country is a place where the worst kind of politics can thrive.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Having a Baby in France: My Experience à la Maternité

  • Maternity care in France, like most of the health service, is excellent. When you give birth you will have access to excellent doctors, stay in a comfortable private room for at least 4 days, and even the hospital food is will be delicious. 

  • Childbirth in France is over-medicalised. Your baby will probably be whipped out of you by C-section before being whisked away from you to spend the night in a nursery being bottle fed before you can weakly cry "Breast is Best!" from your sickbed.

Out there on the big scary internet, giving birth in France is often presented from one or other of these points of view. Based on my own feelings on the subject, eight years of living here and perhaps a pinch of optimism, I was more inclined to believe the first version, but aspects of the second did play on my mind a bit. I didn't have very specific ideas about what I wanted the birth to be like (and was glad I didn't have to spend any ante-natal classes "visualising my birth nest", which is apparently a thing in some circles), but I was keen to avoid unnecessary interventions, have as much contact with the baby as possible after the birth, and at least give breastfeeding a serious try.

And I was lucky, because things worked out perfectly, more or less by accident. When I discovered that I should have registered for a maternity hospital earlier than I did, I sent applications to three hospitals that my GP recommended on our side of Paris, and the only one which could offer me a place was the Maternité des Bluets in the 12th. Les Bluets is a not-for-profit private hospital where the charges are the same as those refunded by social security. It's a "hôpital ami des bébés", which is a label accorded by the WHO and UNICEF largely for the promotion of breastfeeding, and there is a focus on giving birth as naturally as possible. At the same time, it is an actual hospital, with doctors and anaesthetists on hand, an operating theatre and a connecting door to the Hôpital Trousseau, which has a Level 3 neonatal intensive care unit.

I actually went into hospital the day I gave birth with an appointment to be induced, as the baby was measuring large and there was a risk that, because I had diabetes, she would be huge, risking extra complications during the birth. To my great surprise, however, when the midwives did their exams and hooked me up to the monitoring system, it turned out that I was already in labour. I had an epidural, which I had said I wanted because induced births tend to be much more painful than natural ones, but there was a point when I almost regretted it a) because it made me feel really sick and b) because everything was going so easily without. In the end, though, it was just as well I did, as in the last hour my calm, gentle birth turned into a bit of a medical drama when the baby's heartbeat dropped and they couldn't get her out quickly enough. A doctor was called, and as I pushed desperately, with two midwives shoving on my stomach, he used every instrument in the box (which looks like a set of medieval torture instruments) to try to pull the baby out. And then she was there, and she was fine, and I was mostly fine, apart from feeling incredibly weak and almost passing out any time I tried to get upright.

Luckily, the post-natal care was as good as promised. Understanding Frenchman had a pullout bed in my room and was able to take care of the baby as I lay weakly watching him, and we had regular visits from midwives and nurses to check that everything was OK. As well as giving all the appropriate medical treatments, they recommended lovely things like having as much skin-to-skin contact to help the baby get over her scary experience of being born. One night at 2am I was really struggling to feed her and she was screaming her head off, and all I had to do was buzz for a nurse who came to show me what to do and reassure me that everything was working OK. (If that situation had arisen at home, I don't know what I would have done!)

So in the end, my experience was quite medicalised, but certainly not over-medicalised, and we got all the "natural" things that I wanted to.

Also, the hospital food was indeed very tasty.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

And Now We Are Three

Our baby daughter was born last Friday and she is awesome. She likes bath time, sleeping in funny positions and wriggling her tiny little feet, and she has so far been kind enough to sleep really quite a lot (although not always at night). Her birth wasn't easy but she has coped with everything that her first week in the world has thrown at her with remarkable calm (this is not just proud-mummy prejudice - the hospital staff said it too), so until I find a better name to use for her on this blog I think she will be referred to as SCB for Super-Cool Baby.

While giving birth was never going to be pleasant, we had a fantastic experience at the maternity hospital (more on that another time) and are now very happy to be home in our little family of 3.

Life is good.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

That's More Like It!

The sun has finally come out over the past two days and we seem to have jumped from winter to summer in the space of about 24 hours. Today I made the most of feeling quite energetic to wash the windows and clean the fridge (which sounds like classic "nesting" behaviour, but I don't think there was any hormonal impulse there; they were just really dirty and certainly won't get washed after the baby is born!) then took myself out for a walk around the Lac Daumesnil in the Bois de Vincennes.

This part of the park is home to tons of bird life (natural and less natural - I'm pretty sure the peacocks wouldn't be there without human intervention) and pretty much every species seemed to have a cluster of babies trailing in its wake:

Another good thing was that I had another midwife appointment at the beginning of the week and she told me that I am not supposed to be hungry all the time. Admittedly the solution was to eat even more natural yoghurt (when this baby comes out, I am never touching the stuff again) but she also said fruit was ok as long as my blood sugar results were reasonable, so I bought some nice strawberries and peaches and have been feeling much less grumpy!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

A Strange Sunday in Paris

Watching the news at the moment, you might have the impression that France has been hit by the apocalypse. After the burning cars, clouds of tear gas and empty petrol stations of the previous few weeks, we now have endless footage of reporters sent out in waders to stand on the high streets of the villages of the Seine-et-Marne waist deep in water and of homeowners returning in tears to evaluate the damage the floods have wreaked.

So it's been strange to supposedly be living in the middle of all of it and to have life going on exactly as normal. Admittedly, more of my reality than usual has been filtered through the TV screen to the safety of the couch, but I have been out and about every day, and Understanding Frenchman, who crosses the city on public transport to get to work has had no problems either. My German friend came to visit last week and managed to fly in from Berlin, travel to and from the airport twice, visit friends in the north of the Ile-de-France and take a train to Aix-en-Provence and back without encountering any more trouble than having to stand on a crowded RER B train from Charles de Gaulle once. Obviously the flooding is devastating for those who are actually involved, and I certainly don't want to belittle that, but the impression given by the media that the whole country is just one big disaster area is a bit of an exaggeration.

Nevertheless, we were tempted out this afternoon to have a look at the state of the world. We started at the Champs-Elysées, which was closed to traffic, so you could stroll comfortably down the middle of the road and there was plenty of space for what would otherwise have been all the crowds. I took advantage of the situation to take a straight-on photo of the Arc-de-Triomphe, which can normally only be done by risking your life standing on the very edge of a traffic island as the cars whizz past. (Unfortunately my camera isn't working as well as it should, so pictures are even greyer and hazier than the current weather actually is.)

After that we walked down towards the Seine to admire la crue. As you can see from the marker, the water isn't anywhere near the famous 1910 level, when MPs apparently used boats to get in and out of the Assemblée Nationale, but it was still an impressive sight. The bridges and banks were lined with people like us watching and taking photos, but the atmosphere was strangely subdued, as if everyone had been silenced by the majestic force of nature. There was less traffic than usual, and on the water, the only boats were the pompiers going up and down, leaving the mighty brown river largely in peace to flow along its broadened course under a sombre grey sky.

For one last strange experience, we walked in front of the Louvre, where the artist JR has made the famous pyramid disappear into thin air:

Then it was back home on the metro to watch more footage of the French apocalypse on the evening news.