Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hospital Living

The nuts and bolts of having a baby in France are the same as the US, and probably as pretty much anywhere.  What was most different, at least in my experience, was the food.  And the baths. 

Food first.  Frankly, I don't remember anything I ate at Sibley Hospital in Washington, DC when Baby Oil was born.  Mostly I recall people bringing us take-out from restaurants we like (oh Thai Chef, I do miss you).  Yet the first thing that both Mr. Oil and I noticed in my hospital room at the American Hospital of Paris was the wine list.  That's right - the wine list. 

No, French doctors are not encouraging the mixing of painkillers and wine.  The carte des vins  is intended for your guests.  Because naturally you will want to weigh the merits of the Bordeaux versus the Bourgogne in order to properly fete your family or friend's most recent arrival.  Or you can spring for the 70 euro Veuve Clicquot. 

The meals themselves were delivered by waiters - wearing a waiter's uniform.  Every meal consisted of a soup, some sort of salad, the main dish, an equivalent of the cheese course, and dessert.
Thursday's lunch - grilled salmon, polenta, roasted tomato, orange salad with mint, etc

The novelty of the meals did wear off by the time I left, in part because my dietary restrictions (kosher) meant that I ate fish or eggs for lunch and dinner every day.  And perhaps my favorable review also stems from the fact that I was generally starving by the time the next meal was brought around.  But really, how can you complain when this is your dessert at lunch?

But the real highlight of each day was baby bath time.  Just for the record, when you have a baby in the US, not only does your baby NOT receive a full bath every single day in the hospital, you are in fact instructed not to submerge your baby in a bath until the umbilical cord stump has fallen off.  In France, the bath is essential. 

First, you lie your baby on a pad and gently use a disposable cloth glove to shampoo her hair, and wash her entire body.  Meanwhile, the nurse has filled the sink at your bathing station with lovely warm water.  You cradle the baby so that her neck and head rest on your forearm, and your hand is under her far arm, and you use your free hand to rinse off the baby while she gently floats in the bath.  The second that tiny body goes into the warm water, she completely relaxes.  It's amazing.  She would happily have hung out in the bath forever.  You rinse her off, even dunking her head (but not face, of course), and when you're ready, you lift her out of the bath onto the towel.

The first time I did this, I dried her off and started to get her dressed.  The nurse stopped me, astonished.  "You do not want to give massage?" she asked.  Sheepishly I had to admit I didn't know about the massage (please pronounce in French accent for full effect - mah-sahge)!   Using a special baby cream, you proceed to give your baby a full on rub down - first on her back, you massage chest, stomach, legs.  Then you turn her over onto her stomach.  While many of not most babies don't love tummy time immediately, it seems that they do love a good back massage. 

Finally, you put on her diaper, use a special solution to clean the umbilical cord area, use another solution to wipe clean her eyes and face, dress your baby in her clean outfit for the day (which explains more about why they ask you to bring an outfit for each day to the hospital - don't tell, but we just rotated the same two or three outfits), and voila.  A clean and content baby.  Feed that baby and she'll drop off to a deep, happy sleep for several hours, thoroughly exhausted by her precise toilette. 
Post-bath baby, rocking the wool cardigan

To get an idea of the bath part, watch this YouTube video which has recently made the Facebook rounds.  They don't have you submerge the face or turn the baby on her side like this professional does, but it definitely showcases the wonder of the baby bath.  In fact, at 6am one morning the nurse coming to bring me painkillers asked if she could show me something on "the Google" that would be helpful for me, and this is the video to which she directed me. 

And because no international experience is complete without some sort of translation error, I present to you the helpful sheet of paper I was given upon leaving the hospital:

Thank you, American Hospital of Paris.  Mostly for the chocolate cake. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

And Then There Were Four

We came to Paris a family of three, and we are officially now a family of four. 

By the time last Tuesday rolled around, I was so ready to not be pregnant a moment longer that I hadn't spent much time thinking about what this experience would be like in France.  I was reminded that it would be at least somewhat different than Baby Oil's birth on Tuesday afternoon, when my ob called me.

"Allo? Madame Oil?"
"There is a small problem. The anesthesiologist says he has never met you and does not have your dossier.  Did you have an appointment with him?"
"Yes, of course, two weeks ago." (Thinking: "Holy crap if they tell me they are not taking this baby out of me tomorrow, I'm really going to be annoyed")
"Hmm.  Well, can you come to my office this afternoon?  We will work this out?"

So, approximately 5 hours before I'm supposed to check into the hospital, I head over to my doctor's office.  Who had told me two weeks ago specifically, I might add, that there was no need for another appointment with him before the c-section.  When there, he gets on the phone with the anesthesiologist.  Some polite French banter ensues, followed by, "Oui, with a zed."  As it turns out, my first name, spelled with a "z" in the US, is more commonly spelled with an "s" in France.  So despite having my last name and birth date, all of the confusion was caused by a misspelling in my first name. 

I get to the hospital Tuesday night - which all along I had thought was ridiculous because who ever heard of checking in the night before for a planned c-section?  I argued best I could but in the end I had little choice - and after a basic monitoring of the baby, am shown to my room. Here's where the fun begins.  The nurse pulls out a little bottle of Betadine scrub (iodine soap).  I am instructed to take a shower that night using half of the bottle.  Then I will be woken at 6am to take another shower with the other half of the bottle. Apparently they want you to be very clean here.

Then the nurse checked my previous c-section incision area to ensure I was properly waxed.  Her words, not mine.  Apparently I passed muster and therefore was spared the hospital waxing experience. 

Mr. Oil went home, and I slept for a few hours in my hospital bed.  The crying baby next door at 2am ensured I did not forget why I was there (as if that was possible).  Soon enough, it was showtime.   Everything was quite straight-forward, in particular since I had done this once before, though it was a bit disconcerting to listen to the nurses and orderlies exchanging chuckling remarks and not have any idea what they were saying. 

Then our baby girl was born.  All I remember is Mr. Oil saying, "It is a girl, right?" 
Bienvenue, ma cherie!

Let me also talk for a moment about socks.  I was asked to don a pair of anti-embolism socks - you know, the kind you wear for long rides on airplanes if you are old or pregnant or something - before the c-section.  Okay, fine.  I was never told I could take them off, so I left them on the whole first night.  By the next morning, my legs were itchy and uncomfortable.  So I took off the socks.  Even though at this point I was already up and moving around, I was told at least four different times on both Thursday and Friday that I needed to continue wearing the socks.  "It is tres important," two doctors and two nurses told me. 

But I'm an American rebel, and the socks stayed off. 

When I was first brought back to my room after the c-section, I received a lovely sort of sponge bath, which was much appreciated.  Yet my baby still had birth gook in her hair, because they don't bathe babies until day 2.  So I'd basically taken three showers/baths in the past 12 hours, but my poor kid who was just born had to stay somewhat dirty all night. 

You will recall the lengthy packing list I shared with clothes for baby.  Indeed, the nurses quickly asked Mr. Oil for the baby's outfit.  Our selection was found more or less adequate - when I finally saw our daughter after 2 hours in the recovery room, she was wearing:  a long-sleeved onesie, a set of footie pajamas, the requisite cardigan, a hat and a zip-up swaddle. And she was wrapped in a blanket.  Not only this, but apparently the nurses expressed disappointment that we did not have socks for the baby. (We did actually have socks, but Mr. Oil did not know that as they were not in the Ziploc bag labeled "Day 1 Clothes.")  For comparison, please note that Baby Oil spent his first day of life wearing one hospital-provided shirt, a hospital-provided hat and one hospital-provided blanket.

Baby Oil meets Little Sis (who desperately needs a good blog name)
More to come in my next post - baby baths, French hospital food, and more.  For now, rest assured that the baby is warmly dressed and, on day 4, both mom and baby are very, very clean.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


It snowed last night.  And not just the ten minute flurries that evaporate upon hitting the ground that we've experienced a few times in the past weeks.  Actual snow, falling for several hours, in that silent and beautiful way of true snowfall. 
Our balcony

Even better, the snow was still there this morning.  Baby Oil has never experienced snow before, since last year we didn't get any here, and he definitely doesn't remember the few small dustings of snow that occurred every few days for the first three weeks of his life (perils of a January baby - oh right, now I'm waiting on another January baby). 

As with most everything about Paris, there is something especially magical about the transformation of this city in the snow.  The elegant, regal beauty of the buildings and parks that has become a humdrum everyday sight is refreshed; the quiet grace of fallen snow could not ask for a better backdrop than Paris.
The entrance to Parc Monceau

We headed to Parc Monceau - always and forever the most beautiful park in Paris, in my opinion - to teach Baby Oil about snowballs and see how Parisians deal with snow.  While not a regular winter occurrence, it is not uncommon enough that buildings and businesses are not equipped with shovels and other snow-related tools.  Most surprising, though, was that the four-plus inches of snow in the park had not deterred the runners.   The snow was already packed down on the main running loop by 9:30am, and while personally I always choose to use inclement weather as a reason not to exercise (though who I am kidding, I have not exercised since we moved to France), the Parisian joggers seemed unperturbed by the new turf. 

Also, some of them missed the memo about weather-appropriate running gear. 
Pardon, Monsieur, but really - shorts?

Nothing specifically riveting happened today, and no cultural understandings were fostered.  We played in the snow - it was gorgeous and fun!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Little Moments

Some days in Paris are a series of little moments that end with me remembering that Paris is a special place.

Yesterday I ventured to Neuilly-sur-Seine, a close-in suburb (think Bethesda to Washington, DC) for an appointment with my osteopath (no, nothing serious, just an ongoing shoulder issue).  I love this osteopath because, in addition to being good at his job, he has a fantastic sense of humor and, frankly, he's easy on the eyes.

Walking up the main boulevard in Neuilly, there seemed to be an unusual amount of commotion as well as a sizeable group of men standing in the middle of the street shouting.  I later learned that in fact these were taxi drivers striking for the day.  They were choosing to strike by a) not working, b) parking their cars in the middle of a major boulevard to thoroughly annoy all other drivers, and c) throwing eggs.  This last part I did not see, but my osteopath peeked out the window at one point during my appointment and informed me as to this development.  He seemed unamused by the egg-throwing, yet also unsurprised. 

In what has turned into a moment I share with many Parisians, at one point the osteopath asked me how I like living in Paris.  I replied, as I always do, "It's great!"  And he replied, as most Parisians do, "But the people? You like Parisians?" 

When I hesitated just a beat before answering, he assured me, "Don't worry, you can tell me anything, I am Parisian."  And just then I came up with a new theory about Parisians, which I proceeded to share with him.  "You know what I think?" I said.  "I think you Parisians are extremely proud of your reputation as unfriendly jerks, but the truth is, you aren't so bad."

At this, he started to laugh and after a minute replied, "You may be right!" So this is my new working theory - that Parisians are purposeful curmudgeons, but it's more about the reputation than the reality.

In the afternoon, I conquered a significant remaining fear - I got my hair cut.  Yes, we've lived here for a year and a half and this is the first time I've had my hair cut in France.  I'm not particularly choosy about hair style - a combination of laziness and frugality lead to me cutting my hair just a couple times a year.  My reticence for the French coiffure experience was based entirely on my fear that my lack of French vocabulary coupled with the reputed strong opinions of French hairdressers would lead to disaster.  One friend told me that one Parisian hairdresser simply gave her bangs without asking. 

But I'm having a baby in less than 2 weeks and I really wanted a hair cut.  Fortunately, the Christine Keller Salon in the 6th was exactly what I needed.  On my way to the appointment, I looked up the word for layers since that seems to be something that always arises in a hair cut.  However, Google Translate told me the word was "couches" which is also the word for diapers.  Terrified that I would ask for just a few diapers on my head, I went in armed with my best dumb American smile. 

Christine Keller, though she did not actually cut my hair, is one of those timelessly elegant Parisian woman - think Catherine Deneuve as a coiffeuse (hairdresser - but coiffeuse sounds way better).  Actually, even better than coiffeuse is the term visagiste, which translates as beautician but more implies someone who is going to know exactly how to best present your hair or skin to make you look your best. 

I also appreciated how both the girl doing my hair and Christine Keller made sure to tell me several times how great I look.  They informed me that many pregnant women start looking very tired in the face towards the end, but I do not!  There was some general banter and joking which I did not understand (if forced to tell you, I would have to say there was a joke about how if my baby was born on an airplane, it would get a free haircut, but I'm fairly sure that was not what they were saying).  I just smiled and smiled, and left with a great hair cut.

My final ah-Paris moment of the day came on the metro on my way home.  I was sitting across from your average young French professional - dressed in his skinny suit, with his skinny shirt, looking as dapper and elegant as you can in dark gray and black (which, in Paris, is pretty darn elegant).  And then I saw his shoes - black, of course, but with magenta-colored laces! 

It was a good Paris day.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Obvious Reason

A quick anecdote I've been meaning to share for a few weeks:

Just before Christmas, we shared a delicious raclette dinner at the home of some good friends here in Paris.  Raclette, if you don't know, is a delicious tradition from eastern France/Germany/that area involving melting cheese which gets dripped over potatoes, vegetables, meats, etc.  Like this:
Crummy photo I borrowed from the internet, but that's the cheese melting on the lower level of the raclette maker...

In preparation for the dinner, the American wife says to her French husband, "Should we serve cider with the raclette?" (Cider, of course, meaning hard cider which is probably the principal French drink of choice after wine)  Her French husband looks at her with dismay and says, "Of course not! For the obvious reason."

Thinking that perhaps the obvious reason is that both she and I are currently pregnant, she says, "Right.  But what's the obvious reason?"

Bemused to be educating his non-French spouse, the husband replies, "Because raclette is from the Alps, and cider is from the west.  So we must drink wine from Alps."  If only all obvious reasons were that obvious...

Speaking of things that may or may not be obvious, I acquired this week the packing list for the maternity ward in preparation for Baby Oil #2's arrival (yes, I'll give the baby a separate name upon arrival).  In the US, of course, you would never see such a packing list because most of the items on there are what you are supposed to bring for the baby.  Apparently our new child will not spend the first several days of her life wearing a hospital shirt while swaddled in a hospital blanket.  Oh no.  Not in France.

The packing list includes a separate list for the first day:
  • 1 warm pair of pajamas
  • 1 long-sleeved bodysuit
  • 1 hat
  • 1 wool wrap-around cardigan
  • 1 pair of socks
Just on this section alone I found myself thinking - wool wrap-around cardigan??!!  This is standard baby wear in France?  On the day of birth?  Also, all the pajamas we own for newborns have feet, so what's with the socks? 

For the rest of your stay, you should bring:
  • 5 pairs of pajamas (apparently we no longer care if they are warm or not)
  • 5 bodysuits
  • 1 wool wrap-around cardigan (does this mean 2 total?)
  • 2 hats
  • 1 pair of baby mittens 
  • 1 gigoteuse (padded sleep bag)
  • 1 going home outfit
This is a gigoteuse:

We of course don't own one.  Nor do we have the requisite cardigans, or baby mittens for that matter.  I'm a bit concerned that the nurses are going to mock me and my heathen American ways ("she wants to swaddle her baby?" - insert appropriate French sound of disgust and disdain here!).  I'm also a bit concerned that my baby will be very cold.  It seems as though I should be preparing for a hospital with no heat, despite the fact that the American Hospital of Paris is in fact the most expensive and fanciest hospital in Paris.

I am prepared for a number of other differences from my first birthing experience.  One friend who delivered her son at the same hospital told me that after waiting over an hour in the recovery room to see her son again following a c-section, a nurse came in the room.  "Where's my baby?" my friend asked, anxious to see her first child for more than the few overwhelming moments in the delivery room.  "Oh, he will come," the nurse answered, "but now I am here to help you look nice for your husband."  In other words, the expectation was that my friend should spend a few minutes fixing her hair and/or putting on make-up.  My friend's response was, "Bring me my baby!"  You see, the reasons are often far from obvious to us expats living here in France.

PS Happy 2nd Birthday Baby Oil!!
Yeah, that's right, I made an Elmo cake for his party! American all the way, thank you Duncan Hines!