I decided to remain in France after discovering that I was pregnant…and single.
It was, perhaps, a crazy decision. But I was, at the time, feeling without an anchor to any one place and I needed life to be inspiring and uplifting. The life I had landed in France ticked all the boxes. And so, I stayed.
You can read the first chapter of that story here.
During my pregnancy — my grossesse, as the French say — I learned a lot about the French medical system and the way in which pregnancy is perceived in France. Not that I had any prior experience of going through pregnancy anywhere else, but I knew enough about the experience of women in the UK to understand that the French saw things very differently.
In my view, the French medical system has a very warped view of pregnancy and childbirth. Unlike here in the UK, home births are discouraged and even considered dangerous.
I absolutely planned to have a home birth, much to the medical system’s horror. The doctor with whom I had my initial check-ups, in early pregnancy, even asked me if I wanted to kill my baby when I told him of my decision.
All I can say is: what on earth do they teach in medical school in France to make doctors and nurses so afraid of home births?
Don’t worry, I was completely responsible; I had all the medical tests and scans that I was required to, but, otherwise, used a wonderful independent midwife for all my check-ups and to assist the birth.
All went remarkably smoothly and, despite what felt to me like an excruciatingly painful experience, the midwife declared that my birth was “gentle”.
To be fair, I know I had it easy compared to many.
Yep, I defied the French medical system and had the most beautiful birth, surrounded by supportive and loving friends, in a sunny room with a wood-burning stove pumping out warmth.
(Me with my newborn in the room in which she was born. Author’s photo.)
However, the time then came to register the birth. When my friends went to pick up the necessary forms from the local mayor’s office, as is required by law, the mayor’s secretary laughed and shook her head.
“No, you don’t register the birth here. You need to register it in St. Junien, where the local hospital is.” She said.
My friends looked a little confused.
“But we thought that the birth had to be registered in the Mairie of the locality where the baby was born?” They said. “And the baby was born in the commune of Chabrac…
At this point, the secretary freaked out and said, “But there hasn’t been a birth in this neighborhood since 1968! We simply don’t have the paperwork available. You will have to come back tomorrow!”
Registering my baby’s birth turned out to be a bit of a race against time.
In France, by law, you only have three days in which to register the birth, unlike the generous six weeks that we get in the UK. What if the paperwork wasn’t available in time?
Thankfully, when I returned the next day with my babe-in-arms, all the correct paperwork was available and the secretary was able to give me the forms to fill in. I then had to wait in the waiting room while she processed all of the information.
Compared to my extremely efficient experience three years later, in an established registry office in the UK when I registered the birth of my second child and received a beautiful, printed certificate of birth, this was positively archaic. After sitting in this waiting room for twenty minutes, the secretary reappeared with a handwritten piece of paper and presented it to me.
“How many copies would you like?” She asked as she walked over to the equally archaic-looking photocopy machine.
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“Six,” I said off the top of my head, slightly baffled.
Et voilà! Six copies of a handwritten birth certificate from the French back of beyond became the proof that this child was mine.
Not surprisingly, this story broke through the neighborhood and, despite the fact that the French found the whole idea of a home birth utterly appalling, the media was overjoyed to have some real news to write about. My little girl made the front page of the newspaper and became the talk of the town.
Sadly, I don’t have the newspaper story to share, just the memory.
(My daughter’s original handwritten birth certificate. Author’s photo.)
Sally Prag writes on mindfulness, life lessons, travel, parenting, and more.