He’s Here!

Ça y est, our little Paddy is here!

He arrived Friday morning at 8:34 am after an extremely rapid labor and let me tell you, rapid labor = not fun!

I won’t go into too much detail but we arrived at 3:30 at labor and delivery because my water had broken, and Paddy was in our arms five hours later. They let me into the delivery room at 7:30 when I was 4 centimeters dilated, and a half hour later I was at 10. So… I’ll just let you imagine how that half hour felt as we waited for the anesthesiologist to arrive to give me an epidural that MAYBE helped during the delivery but otherwise was just really silly by that point.

In any case Paddy made his debut with no complications and a nice round head with some hair and we are all now at home after a equally pointless fourth night imposed on us by the midwife* at the maternity ward (seriously, I cried when they said we had stay longer). He is quite small but already back to birth weight and speaks fluent English and French (ha just kidding).

*Otherwise, the midwife was great and managed to calm me down during some intense contracting (as a result of that 4-10cm business).

The last person we saw before leaving the hospital this morning was my OB, who stopped by to bring me my prescriptions and told me “De toute façon vous avez été parfaite.” Which is kind of just the thing you need to hear and endeared her to me forever.

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Still in my belly (just after we arrived)

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Out of my belly and getting warmed

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With Papa

The Past Week

So hey, turns out maternity leave is really boring. Everyone else is at work all day so there’s not really anyone to bug, and I’m uncomfortable doing a lot of things that involve excessive walking or standing. But I’m sleeping so erratically that I am really grateful for the extra sleep in the mornings.

There’ve been a few final preparations for the baby as well as the last couple midwife classes. I have to say I’m pretty disappointed with what’s on offer in France in terms of bras for breast-feeding. I’m not a totally exceptional size but shops do not seem to have space for women with small rib cages, and maternity bras also seem to be sold mostly in places where you can’t try them on. WTF? So I’ve bought one at Auchan (not the best size) and I ordered another online… and I’m waiting for the second to come before deciding whether to return the first. Also did I mention they’re not very pretty? And lingerie stores don’t sell them? I think the idea of the French being good at lingerie is a big old myth.

Otherwise we put together the bouncer (finally learned what a bouncer is) that J’s family gave us and it’s sitting in the living room next to the couch just waiting for him.

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So enough about the baby, here’s what I’ve been reading to stave off the boredom:

Let’s Stop Posting These Kinds of Travel Instagram Pics Now

Hillary Clinton Was Every Woman During the Debate

Throw Your Top Sheet in the Trash: I have never used a top sheet with a duvet, but I only started using a duvet in France. So is the top-sheet-less thing European?

Obama Reassures Foreign Tourists: “No Other American Man is This Horrible”

The Weirdest Friendships You Find Yourself in When You Hit 30: I skimmed this because it’s pretty long and these didn’t all seem familiar to me, but some of them were pretty interesting.

What Is Up with Trump’s Ill-Fitting Suits? A World-Famous London Bespoke Tailor Explains: Seriously how can a man so rich look so terribly dressed.

Linguistics Explains Why Trump Sounds Racist When He Says “the” African Americans

When Your Old Life Becomes Someone Else’s Internet Sensation:  Fascinating, though it did not make me want to live in a yurt.

 

 

A Baby Shower (in France)

Baby showers are not a thing in France, though like everything American, I did discover they are becoming a little bit trendy among trendier crowds than mine. Who knows if they will soon be ubiquitous like wedding photo booths, or if they’ll go the way of Halloween.

In fact the French are mostly superstitious that it’s a bad idea to give a gift before the baby arrives, though lots of people don’t really believe that. It’s a common enough attitude though that I wasn’t counting on having a baby shower. But my friend Maggie almost immediately raised the question when she learned I was having a baby, and so we set out to make it happen.

The guest list was a mix of people who already knew what baby showers were (=Americans or people familiar with American culture) and people who had no clue but thought it sounded fun (the other French people).

I hesitated on whether to say no gifts or not, because I was inviting people to whom I hadn’t given anything when their babies were born—either because I didn’t know them very well yet or because I was just that dumb person who doesn’t get that it’s really nice to give a gift when a baby is born. (Kind of like how I didn’t realize till my own wedding that you can give a wedding gift even if you can’t make it to the wedding.)

In the end we left the question of gifts wide open and I let Maggie field questions about gifts, since both our e-mail addresses were on the invite. I did order real invitations which was fun and festive, including little “You’re invited!” stickers (in English) for the envelopes.

The shower was pretty low-key as far as showers go because there were no expectations since most people didn’t know what it was. We planned four activities:

  1. Decorate cupcakes
  2. Couple and baby trivia quiz
  3. Match the baby photo to the guest (I got them ALL RIGHT)
  4. Measure the belly

We had the shower at 2 pm at my place, which meant no one was hungry and the cupcakes were plenty as far as food went. We made a last-minute punch with vanilla ice cream which some of the French guests found very strange, but I had other Americans present to explain the concept of an ice cream float.

We decorated a little bit, putting down paper table cloths and blue table runners, buying pretty paper plates, but didn’t go all out by any means, and it was a uni-generational and small party so nothing needed to be very formal. Almost everyone did bring a gift and some of them were handmade which was really touching. I didn’t buy a special dress or anything though I did wear lipstick. We made little favors of candy bags for the guests and gave out condoms as prizes. I actually didn’t take any pictures except of the cupcakes!

So you’ll just have to believe me that the rest of it was fun and cute. I’m really glad we did it—everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and it was nice to see everyone again, especially some people I don’t see very often, before baby arrives in about a month (theoretically).

The Past Week

In this penultimate week before my maternity leave, I’ve been getting home and mostly thinking about when I can go to bed. But things are going well, and I’m still enjoying being at work and having a hard time imagining everyone being there without me. Colleagues are very supportive and interested and in turn I try to ask them about their pregnancy and newborn experiences (if relevant) so that it’s not ALL ABOUT ME ALL THE TIME.

We received a package in the mail from my mom this week that got hit hard with ridiculous French customs taxes. In short, they tax the value of the package (without adjusting for the exchange rate, as far as I can tell) PLUS the value of the shipping which is of course very expensive. Then they add 15 euros of “frais de dédouanement” for good measure—a tax just for it having had to go through customs. Next time we will have to be sneakier. But it was really nice unpacking things from the States that I knew my mom had picked out by hand.

In other news, I didn’t watch the presidential debates because 1) it was the middle of the night and 2) I actually hate the presidential debates. I think they’re important to have but I don’t enjoy watching them or all the media frenzy that builds up to them.

Some reading for this week:

These Are the Best American Foods, According to a French Person

The Making of an American Girl: About Addy, and it’s fascinating

Hating Trump Isn’t Enough: We need to talk about why Clinton rules

 

Pregnancy Misc, French Admin Version

The heat finally broke this week. Hurray! I’m now feeling pretty confident I’ll be able to keep working till October 8th so I called my doc Monday for an extension to push back my leave.

There are a couple of maternity leave related things people have told me over the past few weeks in conversation that appear to not be true:

  1. the congé parental pays well*
  2. you can get extra maternity leave for breast-feeding

It’s nice the dreams people feel like selling you on when they aren’t up to date on any current info. But I’ve been doing so much reading about this stuff over the past few months that as soon as they said these things I was pretty sure they weren’t true. Like the things people say to expats, be wary of anything that sounds too good to be true!

(*Congé parental or parental leave is something you can take after your maternity leave, or the dad can take it, but you aren’t paid a salary, just an “indemnity” of a few hundred euros a month. Needless to say that is NOT enough for us to live on.)

It’s been interesting realizing how fast pregnancy and leave laws change in France. Even as recently as two years ago, parents got a “prime de naissance” from the governement during the 7th month of pregnancy (or before an adoption) to help defray the costs of preparing for the baby’s arrival. Guess when it arrives now? Two months AFTER the birth. So… who exactly does that help? Only people who have the money in the first place. (Though I certainly won’t be complaining when it finally arrives.)

Then there are the people who ask questions that I have trouble making sense of. Like J’s mom, who as recently as last weekend asked me if I’d looked into the allocations. Umm, yes? I did that about seven months ago and there was no real reason to because for your first child you get a grand total of 2€50 per month. Woohoo.

At the beginning of the pregnancy I felt like I was totally uninformed about paperwork and health-related things, and as time has gone on I’ve realized that I (and probably all other pregnant women) am actually way more informed than all the non-pregnant people I talk to. Which, I guess… duh.

What IS interesting to talk to people about is the more human side of things, like other women’s experiences with pregnancy (no labor stories kthx), or things they remember from when their babies were very little. But the admin stuff is just sort of a waste of time, unless they had a baby in the past year or are actually a midwife or doctor.

The Past Week

Well the rentrée is now fully under way. Things are going well except for this ridiculous heat that just won’t stop. Hopefully Tuesday will actually be the last day because French schools do not have AC and I am carrying around a personal space heater all day from which I cannot detach myself (at least for another 9 weeks). It sucks.

Otherwise work is fine and I should be able to push back my maternity leave a little though of course I have to play it day by day. I have a date for a baby shower and I started parenting/labor classes yesterday so things are getting sort of real (I mean, sort of—it’s still almost two months off theoretically).

Not a whole lot else is going on. My mom made and sent us this beautiful baby blanket, which gave me an excuse to take a picture of the crib.

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Traveling Pregnant: South Africa at almost 6 months

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Adult and child statuette I bought from a street marketer at the Knysna Lagoon

Our trip to South Africa would never had happened had J’s rock-climbing friends not already planned their trip for this summer. J and I have long wanted to go there but we had other plans for this year: making a baby. When our friends bought their tickets, I was not yet pregnant, but I told J that if we planned to go, we had to plan as though I would be. And then I was. So that worked out well.

All the same I had to wonder:

Was I crazy to travel so far at such a time, or was this just the only way to live?

And really this question never left me. Fortunately the second trimester is the time to travel: you’re typically feeling much better but still fairly unencumbered by the growing baby.

Rationally I also knew that this trip was much less dangerous than getting in a car every day of just normal life and risking an accident.

But the pregnancy did shape our trip in many ways.

1) No Kruger

Our trip only included the Western Cape region because I wouldn’t have been up for a week of safari driving in Kruger National Park. Organizational obstacles mattered here too, since it would have involved a domestic flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Kruger is also a low-risk malaria area and I know our trip was in winter, but I just wanted to steer clear of all potential medical issues.

We did do a two-hour game drive and it turns out the main obstacle to a safari would probably have been peeing.

2) Frequent Urination

On that note, let’s talk about bladders and public toilets. South Africa has some impressive public toilet game. The supermarket in Clanwilliam had toilets clearly marked at the entrance. All the nature reserves had them all over the place. When we were in Rocklands I just peed behind a bush, which mean carrying toilet paper and a little plastic bag with me, but it was total wilderness so I was really fine with it.

Honestly I think this would have been more of a problem in a place like Paris where public toilets are sh*tty and you can’t just pee behind a bush. But for general pregnancy travel, it is something to keep in mind. In my experience, I sometimes had to urgently pee without warning just because the baby had moved.

3) Paranoia/Caution

Which one is it? It was definitely present for this trip, though it had already started before leaving, in that I’ve become even more of a backseat driver with J. Fortunately in South Africa he actually needed an active passenger because of having to remember to drive on the left and not knowing where he was going. But I was probably a pain in the ass about things like not putting the suitcases in the backseat in case of getting rear-ended. And I was much more nervous about general safety given the crime rates in South Africa.

4) Being out of Breath

A hard second trimester symptom for me has been breathlessness. Any sort of uphill causes it, and sometimes I’m a bit out of breath just sitting or laying down. There’s a simple reason for it: baby is taking up lots of my oxygen and guess what, he can’t breathe by himself.

Our time in the Rocklands involved a lot of walking. J and his friends took care of me like it was their own little brother being carted around in my belly, but still, I felt a little like a deadweight. At times I had to hold back because even though I wanted to try to walk faster, it would have been very strenuous and I refused to put the baby at risk. It was a surprisingly hard mental conflict between not wanting to be a drag and knowing that that was dumb.

As for hiking, we didn’t really do any because walking uphill was so demoralizing. The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are actually one big hill next to Table Mountain National Park, and they were surprisingly difficult to get around for me. At Cape Point we took the little funicular up to the higher level and I didn’t go up to the lighthouse because I couldn’t deal with the stairs. But in general I was fine letting J go higher and sitting around below because the views were so breathtaking. At the Robberg Nature Reserve, I actually saw a great white shark in the water while waiting for J to come back down (I was not close enough to know it was a great white—a park ranger told us when we asked).

5) Flying

J and I were very careful in our choice of airline and stopover when we bought the tickets, and ended up going through Dubai on Emirates Airlines, which was a real treat. We had a three-hour layover both ways, which was a bit more expensive than the 8-hour or 1-hour possibilities. But it was out of the question for me to spend 8 hours in an airport, or to have to run between flights.

Paris-Dubai was on an A380, with beautiful bathrooms. Dubai-Cape Town was a Boeing 777 too which meant that on both flights the seats were quite roomy and comfortable for coach. The food and drink were frequent and delicious with real silverware. The movie selection was endless. On our Dubai-Cape Town flight we received a little case with an eye mask, ear plugs, toothbrush, toot paste and socks.

I did wear compression stockings that my doctor gave me a prescription for and told me to wear. My feet only swelled up on the Cape Town-Dubai flight on the way back, and they went back to normal during the layover. I was a little uncomfortable toward the end of the trip to Cape Town but otherwise as far as flying goes it was one of my better trips.

On a side not, I was not a big fan of the Dubai airport, I gotta say, though I did take advantage of their showers.

6) No Wine-Tasting

South Africa produces great wine and the Winelands are very close to Cape Town, so we would definitely have done this had I been able to drink alcohol. The craft beers in South Africa are quite good as well—but I took advantage of my pregnant state to discover their other fizzy drinks.

7) Group Tours

J and I did most things on our own which meant being able to do them at our own pace, but there were a couple of group activities that were a little more stressful: the game drive and the Zodiac boat ride in Simon’s Town. And waiting in line, anywhere, though I was fortunately able to let J do that most of the time. Though anyone who knows me can tell very clearly that I’m pregnant, strangers didn’t tend to pick up on it (especially because it was winter so I was often wearing a coat and always wearing a sweater) so I didn’t feel I had any extra courtesy automatically extended to me.

All in all this trip went exceedingly well, with just a little extra stress for me because of being over-protective. I am extremely happy with our decision to go through with this trip at this time, and it was a wonderful thing to do pre-baby. It felt special having him along in my belly and I couldn’t help thinking that in a small way he was already on his second continent. That said, I would never judge anyone who didn’t feel comfortable taking such a trip at such a time. Pregnancy paranoia/caution (which is it???) was real and you have to go with your gut.