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.