Having a baby in France

I moved to Paris, France in 2009 after my marriage to a French citizen. I had already been residing there for 7 years when we found out we were expecting twins, yet my first thought was to get on a plane (while I was still allowed to fly) and go home to SA.

I wanted to have my pregnancy experience in South Africa. Amidst family and friends and familiarity. With doctors who spoke fluent English. I didn’t know it then, but eventually deciding to have the babies in France was the best decision I ever made.

A twin pregnancy is automatically deemed “high risk”. There was a high possibility of the babies arriving prematurely and my team of doctors were outstanding.

My “social security” benefits covered every doctor visit, including ultrasounds (I had monthly visits and scans due to being high risk). It also covered the numerous blood tests and screening tests that are performed in the first trimester.

Social security benefits also ensure that comprehensive antenatal classes are fully covered. And thankfully I was also fully covered for multiple sessions of physiotherapy for lower back and sciatic pain.

There wasn’t a single thing I paid for out of pocket, not did I have any co-payments of any sort.

I developed gestational diabetes about halfway through my pregnancy and was immediately referred to a specialist diabetologist. I had weekly meetings with this specialist that included meal planning, testing and review of my daily finger-prick glucose records. I was also assigned a dietitian.

Pregnant women can collect a “badge” from their local municipality which ensures they receive a seat on any of the public transport modalities. I traveled to and from work on the metro, but found I never needed the badge, as I was automatically ushered to a seat each time I stepped onto the train.

The hospital was amazing! The private room was of hotel standard… really! Equipped with a large cupboard, flat screen TV, modern baby bassinet and bath, sofa and a large reclining chair that converted into a bed. It was bright and airy and spotlessly clean.

My pre-delivery room had a large hot tub where I could “work through the contractions” although I never used it.

The standard of care was amazing! The hospital provided literally everything we needed in the first few days for both myself and the babies.

I did not need a single diaper or toiletry item during my hospital stay. Everything was provided. The hospital also provided top up formula specific for premature babies during the time we stayed.

My glucose levels were monitored closely as well the swelling in my legs (with daily anticoagulant injections). The dietician visiter me is hospital and checked in on my meals.

I had a lactation specialist visit me in my room to walk me through the initial breastfeeding experience. She spent a good hour with me, never feeling rushed or harried as we went through the latching process.

The girls had their newborn assessments done by my bedside and this included hearing testing.

The staff were so invested in us and our well-being… it was unbelievable to think we were just another patient.

Hospital meals were not only edible, but actually delicious, and came with a cheese course. It was after all, France.

The absolute best part was that a municipal officer visited us in the privacy of our room to register the girls birth. We received their birth certificates two days later which she hand-delivered. Can you imagine how much stress this eliminates?!

We left the hospital exactly 7 days after the girls were born. Correctly installed car seats were mandatory.

Post natal care for the babies included vaccines, growth and development assessments and a mandatory ultrasound on the girl’s hips as they were both breech In utero.

For me, apart from (more) glucose testing, and a continuation of fully-covered visits with my dietician. And here’s the kicker: I was also covered for 20 sessions of “pelvic re-education” which is a type of psychical therapy to retrain and tighten the muscles of the pelvic floor. I’m NOT kidding. The French take this very seriously.

I had a midwife visit us at home a few days after we settled, and this was also fully covered by the social security benefits. She spent a whole afternoon with us, helping me with breastfeeding challenges and discussing the routine we had going. She checked the babies weight, and vitals and specifically looked for lip-tie issues. All this in the comfort of our own home.

After all this, I got to enjoy 34 weeks (yes, you read correctly) of fully paid maternity leave. Parents are then welcome to take time off from work (until the child reaches 3 years of age), to raise their children, while their job and salary is guaranteed to them when they return. They receive a social grant during this time if they opt for this benefit.

But even with all these amazing perks my birth itself did not according to plan… as many moms can attest to. Mine was traumatic, due to a massive hemorrhage after my C-section… so much so that it was touch and go for a minute with numerous interventions and even blood transfusions. Due to this I was particularly thankful to be in a world class hospital. My OB-gyn was knowledgeable and I had complete trust in her. Her actions on that day were faultless and without hesitation. It would not be an exaggeration to say I owe her my life.

I am so happy with my ultimate decision to have continued with my pregnancy and birth in France. From the experiences some of my friends describe, I think South Africa still has a way to go to ensure the birthing experience is pleasant and enjoyable for families.

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