After announcing the Big News, the first words that I heard from my immediate family were: "My God, you're not thinking of giving birth there?" I could just hear their organized Nordic minds going a hundred miles per hour. "It's just not hygienic." "Are you sure they have the newest equipment?" "Are their doctors qualified?" "Do they have ultra-sound machines?" All great concerns. I couldn't answer to any of them, because it was going to be my first time in attempting to reproduce on French soil.
At the time, we lived in the city of Ivry-sur Seine that starts where south-western Paris ends. Getting out of my house and in two minutes, I was in Parisian China-town, the 13th arrondissement. And as much as I had feared the great big Parisian hospitals, I caught a lucky break - my birthing clinic was a small maternity ward, just 50 meters from our home. As close as this was to Paris, it was the suburbs, and I was their first ever Nordic patient. From my first visit on, the nurses and mid-wives and doctors had a bunch of questions to ask me on my native Finland. "Do they have the newest equipment, over there?" "Are their doctors qualified?" "Do they have ultra-sound machines?" All great concerns.
As I was soon to find out, they sure were a qualified bunch. I needn't worry about anything. Everything was taken care of. Me and my fetus were in good hands. Of course, being the Viking matron that I am, I got some remarks about my sizable frame, and their greatest concern was my possible weight gain. Never has a human being been weighted more often. A warning finger was wagged - do not succumb to gourmandise or you will be huge and a danger to your baby! How had Nordic women managed to give birth up until now without this precious advice! Little did they know that after my initial weight-gain burst during the first trimester, I actually hardly gained any weight at all. Problem solved.
A major concern of my fellow Finns had been - could I afford a pregnancy in France? How expensive would it be? But, no problem. Being a Finn, thus an European citizen, and having worked in France for more than three years, the French social security took the whole of my pregnancy expenses in charge. Just as they do in Finland. As my pregnancy advanced, I also got a hefty check in the mail. "Birthing bonus", they called it, and every French mom is entitled to one. For me, I had mostly feared the notoriously over-worked and mean Parisian medical staff. Again, no problem. Apart from one cranky ultra-sound doctor, I received good humor and smiles all the way. I was the cranky one, with a hormone cocktail that could have been described as explosive as a Molotov's cocktail. But hey, no problem! My clinic was staffed with mid-wives specializing in homeopathic remedies, herbal medicine and acupuncture, all taken in charge by social security. After a few relaxing and calming acupuncture sessions, my long-suffering husband hardly recognized me.
I did have some long discussions on the subject of having kept my maiden name in marriage. Also, my ex-husband's name lurked somewhere there in my files, and that raised some eyebrows as well. I noticed that the French were more traditional on the subject of the holy matrimony, and all that family name stuff. I had to go through fire and brimstone of paperwork and lengthy explanations to make them understand that although I had my maiden name, I was married, and my baby would get my husband's family name after all. (Still, the day I gave birth, my daughter carried a label with my family name on it.)
When the happy day of birth arrived, it was actually night. We had since moved from our Ivry-sur-Seine home (with no running water and a mold problem) to a more family-friendly apartment in a mile radius. As Parisians, we didn't have a car, and when my waters broke, we had to take the taxi. The only issue was, taxis don't take birthing ladies in, for the fear of getting their car interior ruined and getting stuck in traffic and having to act as midwifes. So I put a big over-coat on and pretended I was just a big-boned gal, asking the driver to drop us off a few blocks from the clinic.
And off I went to this adventure where the outcome is uncertain. There was a Senegal mommy in the bed next to me, talking animatedly to a cell phone between contractions, and young French girl whimpering in agony while her mother-in-law shouted to the night-shift doctors. But I was, once again, in good hands. It took way longer that it should, so in the end my daughter came out surgically. But now, I have hardly a scar to show for it. And it turns out that my little girl was the first completely white-haired baby born in the Clinic Jean Rostand, ever.
Now as I'm preparing to take my second maternity leave, I'm no longer in Paris but in southern France. I am to give birth in a country hospital, where every room is a single one, and the sunflower fields can be seen from the labor room. My Finn family are happy with my decision to give birth in France. "Oh, they did such a wonderful job the first time!" My baby's happily kicking away in her bubble universe. All is fine in the animal kingdom.
However, I have yet to convince the medical staff to write my maiden name down in my medical files. It's got to be my husband's name. They shake their heads and make up all kinds of lame excuses: "You know, what if there was a mix-up? What if yours was confused with another baby with the same name?"
Honestly. How many babies can there be, in this southern French country hospital, with the same unpronounceable Finnish name?