I feel I should start this post with a bit of a disclaimer. I am making observations as a first-time mother living temporarily in France. Comparisons I make between the U.S. and France are merely based on my observations and personal experiences, as well as from anecdotes from friends, family and those ever-addicting pregnancy message boards.
Matt and I are living in what I believe is a fairly unique situation. For the next few years, we’ll be moving several times a year to different cities around the world. We live in small, hotel apartments and are allocated three suitcases per person for each move (we’ll get three more for the baby—but not until after he or she is born). Perhaps not the typical growing family scenario, but we make it work—and we love the fact that we’ll be able to expose our baby to so many cultures and languages early on.
I don’t plan to focus every post from here on out about my pregnancy and our growing family, but expecting a baby has added a new dynamic to our experience that I’m excited to share.
The day I decided to take a pregnancy test, I was pretty sure we weren’t pregnant. October had turned out to be a fairly stressful month and, besides, I felt I was displaying symptoms that Aunt Flow was about to rear her ugly head.
We had just returned from a short trip to Hamburg, Germany and were sleeping in just a bit before Matt went in to cover the late shift. I woke up thinking I should take a test just to be sure, but didn’t want to say anything to him so he wouldn’t get his hopes up.
The drugstores in Toulouse have a variety of pregnancy tests, including brands popular in the U.S., such as Clearblue. The only hitch—directions and results are all in French. Anticipating (and hoping) we’d have need of a pregnancy test soon, I’d picked up a few to have on hand (and made sure to translate the instructions so I’d be ready when the time came).
I snuck out of our bedroom and closed the door, trying to be as quiet and inconspicuous as possible (luckily Matt seemed to be pretty passed out). I took the test and waited the “eternity” for the results to show, telling myself not to get too excited. Suddenly, there it was: “Enciente.” I was pregnant.
My mind raced a million miles per minute. Should I try to do a creative announcement for Matt? It would be fun, but he wouldn’t get home from work until really late at night. I didn’t think I could hold it in that long.
So I casually made breakfast and set the table, positioning the positive test where he’d see it. After rousing him, I brought Matt out to the table and asked him how he’d like “eggs…with a side of baby.”
It took him a minute to register what I said and stare at the pregnancy test, but soon we were both jumping up and down and hugging. I’m sure the people in the room below us were thrilled with us that morning.
The Medical Experience
As with many other pregnant women, I called my doctor the day I found out I was pregnant to see when he wanted me to come in. We’d discovered our English-speaking, German doctor earlier that summer through a friend who gave birth earlier that summer. He’s no-nonsense, but very good.
He booked me for what I calculated would put me about six weeks along to confirm the pregnancy. He did an ultrasound at this initial appointment (which may a bit earlier than what is typically done in the U.S.) and then gave me a prescription for a blood test to check for all sorts of things, including my immunizations (or lack thereof) and protein and sugar levels.
In France (at least in my experiences thus far), the doctor does not have a nurse who comes in and does all the vitals. Each time I have to get bloodwork done, I’m sent to a Laboratoire d’Analyses with a prescription. They conduct the test and send the results back to the doctor for us to go over at my next appointment.
We went to the doctor every two to three weeks during my first trimester and each time we had an ultrasound. It was amazing to watch the baby transform from a little blob to a gummy bear and finally into a tiny little baby.
Ultrasounds (and in fact all the medical expenses we’ve had thus far) are much cheaper in France than in the U.S. Were we citizens of France, all of these exams would be subsidized by the country’s national healthcare. We have private insurance, so don’t qualify for the same benefits as French citizens, but the ultrasounds still only run us between $28-$50 per appointment (depending on the complexity). Oh, and we pay the doctor directly in cash. In the U.S. that might sound shady, but here it seems to be the norm.
Living overseas made it pretty easy to hide my pregnancy from most of our family and friends (aside from those living here with us) until the end of the first trimester. Without anyone around to see what I was (or wasn’t) drinking and eating, nor anyone to notice my slowly expanding waist, the hardest part of hiding my pregnancy was not calling my mom immediately after every ultrasound to tell her what we saw.
We decided to delay announcing to our family and friends in the States until Christmas. Not only did we think it would be a nice holiday surprise (especially for my parents who had a tough year and were hinting about wanting grandkids), but we would be at nearly 13 weeks and almost into the second trimester.
We were sad we wouldn’t be able to share the news in person (with everything going on at Matt’s job, we couldn’t plan a home trip), so brainstormed ways to creatively share the news. In the end, we sent little gifts to both my parents and Matt’s family announcing our coming addition. We Skyped with both families Christmas Eve and watched their reactions as they opened the gifts and realized what they meant. Everyone was happy and surprised, though both of our mothers had their suspicions (Matt’s mom had even already crocheted a cute, little baby blanket).
Next up we’ll get to announce our baby’s gender. Luckily this we’ll get to do in-person with my parents when we visit them in a few weeks.
There’s so much more to write about, but I realize I’m getting a bit long-winded, so I’ll wrap this post up for now. As always, feel free to leave any expat parent tips (especially those for the best baby products for travelers—with limited room, we’ll have to be very deliberate in what we stock up on).