Global Mom: My Two O.B.’s

Respectable women do not make demands on the medical system. This is what I was picking up in my conversations with my neighbors who were each giving me their two centîmes on where I should go for gynecological care. This was going to be especially helpful since, a year and a half after we arrived in Versailles, we were thrilled to be pregnant with number four.

“We”, I write. By then we were apparently speaking in the royal plural, which happens, I suppose, if you’re learning the French of Versailles. I now felt comfortable in the language, which for me was an essential prerequisite to entering into the most intimate world of a culture, the world of giving birth. No way was I going to føde, (give birth) in Norway unless I could somehow manage start to finish in that language. And no way was I going to accoucher, (give birth) in France unless I could muddle through in French. It was this curious little deal I’d made between my tongue and my ovaries.

Our Luc, le petit prince, three days old and in that perambulator

I had been reading as many articles as I could on French obstetrics and gynaecology, and was concerned but somehow not surprised to find out that France ranks among the top ten countries in the world for the highest number of Cesaereans programmés, or scheduled cesarean sections. This concern I took to my girlfriend Eleanore, who was as narrow as a baguette and always smelled of lavender. She’d grown up in le Midi, or the south of France so certainly she, I thought, a girl from Aix-en-Provence, would be a naturalite and would not prefer scheduled C-sections or even epidurals, episiotomies or intravenous drips. She’d definitely give me advice on where and with whom I could deliver our baby.  I have no idea what my logic was, but I figured her perpetual scent of lavender meant she’d given birth to her two children in a field of it.  But no. She explained the same thing my other neighborhood and church friends told me. On ne fait pas ça en France. Meaning, we don’t do that “natural thing” in France.

The Clinique was housed here, and this just happened to be within a walk from our home . . . so it was practical. It was.

The ça, the “that”, was always spoken with a certain emphasis and mild wincing. My friends, their friends, and all their doctor friends refused to believe my talk of meditation instead of medication, concentration instead of caesarean sections, of walking and rocking and singing and water births, and when I told them about the simply beautiful (and natural) birth of burly Dalton, it invariably left them with a look in their eyes that was a melange of panic, pain, embarrassment and bemusement.  My fulsome praise of Ellen my Norwegian earth mother, who essentially left Randall and me alone in our private birthing room requesting only that we ring a little cow bell when everything was ready and I knew it was time to give birth, made my full grown adult French friends slap their foreheads and drag their hand over their eyes in disbelief.
“Oh yes, we’ve heard of those primitive tribal practices in Lago-Lago,” Rita told me.
And, “Those poor Nordic women are too naïve to know they have modern options. Right?” from Mathilde.
Here I came, a woman who’d had a really pleasant birth experience with a child that had weighed in at nearly 5 kilos, and what? I was still walking? They made me step back and turn around twice, all while looking me up and down and sideways, like I was Connie the Barbarian.

L’entrée principale, Clinique du Château de la Maye. We strolled there to deliver .  We strolled home when delivered.  As I said, practical.

“There is a center I once read of,” another friend Caroline whispered to me, “in Paris in the bottom of the 15th arrondissement.” She lowered her voice even more.  I had to cup my hand around my ear to hear her.  “There, you might be able to convince a clinician to assist you in such a birth.”  Caroline was glancing both ways, too, as if this place were where a branch of illegal immigrant Wiccans shared a practice with a voodoo doctor, a tarot card reader and a psychic named Esmeraldino. Aeh. The 15th was  Paris, a 20 minute drive in daytime traffic.  Too far.

The French preliminary gynecological visits themselves were nothing like what I’d experienced in Norway. There, my family doctor, Doktor Ø-N., (his actual initials), had been the designated “attending physician”, but in Norway a doctor in the delivery room was looked upon kind of like a strand of puka shells or maybe a tiara: One accessory too many. Hence, the presence of a highly skilled team of earth mothers assisting the woman in labor, and across the hall an operating room with a squad of emergency physicians who were always on hand in the hospital itself.

Doktor Ø.-N. was thoroughly Norwegian. This means he was ruggedly handsome, matter-of-fact, and dealt with his patients like he probably dealt with all living organisms from moose to mushrooms: with respect, equanimity and a certain androgyny. There was never a thing in his manner that could have been interpreted as flirtatious or even drolly suggestive. On a scale of one to ten, one being acrimonious and ten being fawning, he was a solid 5.3, courteous on all counts but never chummy or chatty about anything personal.  His job was to monitor my growing baby which was only incidentally, it seemed, housed within my uterus.

Grandmother, Claire, Parker, New Baby, and Mom in tears of joy. Less than an hour after delivery. This was our private delivery room, my delivery bed.

There was one exception to Doktor Ø.-N.’s professional distance. On a below-freezing January morning I arrived at his office with three-week-old baby Dalton bundled snugly in the car seat for his first new baby check-up. I got out of my Subaru and stepped into the eyeball-freezing cold, closed the driver’s door, and through glacial winds scuttled very carefully over the blue-gray ice to the other car door where I would take out my baby bundle. There, on the other side of the car, I discovered that that car door had either frozen shut or was jammed. I yanked and pounded on that door then shuffled quickly back to the driver’s door – also jammed or frozen –  then pounded and shook all the others then even the hatch back, but nothing opened. In that short time, everything had frozen shut.  My newborn was sitting inside this meat locker. Panicked, I ran, slipping and falling on ice all the way, to the building then up the stairs to my doctor’s office. “My baby’s locked inside my car!” I panted loudly to the woman at the reception desk, “My baby’s freezing! I’m locked out!”  Hearing me, Doctor Ø.N. stepped out of his room, already pulling on his coat, a spray can in one hand and a metal rod of sorts in the other.

Without exchanging more than four words, he and I raced down the stairs and out into the gale and to the car, then, deftly wielding the magic spray and wedging this metal rod tool under the lip of the Subaru’s hatchback, the doctor pried the back open. Then all six-foot-six feet of him  climbed into the back and over the second seat, and he got right next to the car seat of my now crying baby. He unlatched the car seat and handed it back through the hatch to me, but not before checking on Dalton who was wailing his husky self into all shades of mulberry, but who (was this even possible?) went completely silent when my doctor, still crouched and contorted in the back seat with his knees up to his ear lobes, blew one light puff of air into the baby’s face then covered the baby and the whole car seat with the thick thermal blanket I’d tucked in there for warmth and lining. With one nod of the head and  “Sakte, sakte” (slowly, slowly), my doctor sent me back inside the building carrying the car seat with my baby boy.

While I stood , infant in arms, watching from the window of his practice, this man stayed out there checking every door of my Subaru, coating the edges and lock mechanisms of each door with the spray, checking and rechecking.  After ten minutes or so, his reddish brown hair looked like a flocked wig and the back and shoulders of his coat appeared to have been dipped in glass. Only now did I see he hadn’t even put on gloves.

When he did come back inside, frost rings for nostrils, frost awnings for eyebrows, there was not a conversation, not even a word about what he’d just done for me and for my child. He just stamped off his shoes, hung his coat, shook off his hair and returned to his other waiting patient.  Just like that. Your every day, no-frills superhero M.D.

“In bad weather like this,” he explained to me during our appointment, “You can just phone a day ahead and we can organize a house call.”  At any time and for any reason, in fact, I could call him and he’d visit my baby in the comfort of our home.

Well then.  “As long as you might be stopping by, could you check the oil?  And there’s this weird clicking sound in the steering column.”

(I got him to smile with that one.)

Big and Beautiful

As for medical advice, throughout my pregnancy my doctor told me to keep eating heartily, rest if I got tired, to not go slalom skiing after, oh, maybe the seventh month, (it was a minor balance issue, he said), and to drink something called tran and another thing called Vørter øl, if I could gag them down. All the Norwegian mothers swore by them, he told me, but they might be an acquired taste, he warned, and so with typical zeal, I of course gagged down double doses every single day.

Ellen, our “earth mother” and another attending midwife.  And Dalton (look at the size of that head) Haakon

That I was putting on weight at a steady rate of two kilos (five pounds) or more a month was neither surprising nor troubling to Doktor Ø-N. “We want you to be well-nourished and your baby to be strong,” he told me. “You also need a good layer of fat to produce good milk for your child. Don’t worry, you’ll ski it off by the next year.”

Randall and our earth mother, Ellen. And 7 minute-old Dalton Haakon

He was unfazed when I tested him about actual birthing options. What if I wanted to birth, say, in a tub? Or on all fours? Or while practicing arias? He said it was my birth and my body, and given this was my third child, I should know what worked best for me.

Left in my private room for four full blissful days. Just like this.

So Norway had set the standard for giving birth.  It had proven to me how lovely – how exquisite –-the experience could be, how powerful in respects physical as well as spiritual. And now France had to follow that act.

Baerum Sykehus, Norway, where Dalton Haakon was born.

To be continued. . .

Le Château de la Maye, Versailles, France, where Luc William was born.

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

7 thoughts on “Global Mom: My Two O.B.’s

  1. When I was pregnant with number two in Paris, I guess it was mandatory to meet with the anesthesiologist. I told him I was not planning on an epidural since I, like you, had such a lovely natural birthing experience with number one. He looked at me in shock and said, “Mme Furner, vous avez tort!!” As if he could bully me into using his services. So I completely relate to this post. Also, I have a huge crush on your Doktor O.D. He’d make a great character in some novel. What a hero! AND my favorite line about him – “he dealt with his patients like he probably dealt with all living organisms from moose to mushrooms: with respect, equanimity and a certain androgyny.” What a great description! (and funny!) You know how I have a “thing” for bringing babies into this world (OK I know all mothers do!) but still I loved this blog in an extra-special way, from Dalton’s hefty little cherub body to you and Randall so in love no matter which country you birthed in….just beautiful photos of family togetherness and important moments! My fav birthing experience is still on top of Victoria’s Peak in Hong Kong with Asian aunties/midwives mothering me, but leaving me peace and space with our new baby (oh and they had a big bed nearby for Papa to stay with me the week!). I also didn’t mind that Ritz Carlton did the food catering for Matilda Hospital…..Just heavenly!

    • Ah, Sarah, what a luxurious birthing experience in HK. I have to admit that cuisine was not necessarily the highest priority in that Norwegian hospital, (I was so hungry, I could have eaten my mattress), and there was also no big bed on the other side of the room for Papa, but I was given a half cup of something oatmealy-yogurty-linseedy-gravely at 5:00 a.m. every morning to “stimulate” my bowels, I was told, and “feed” my mammary glands. I did have a private room and so much uninterrupted silence like long, unraveling bolts of mocha-colored velvet. And back to your Parisian anesthesiologist, ha-ha-ha, I faced the same thing. I, the mother, could not possibly know what I was getting into, and I needed the male medical galaxy to lecture me on what wold make it easier. For them.
      I loved your comment, Sarah. Be sure to return for the next post. You’ll perhaps be able to relate there, too. I love to hear from others about their multicultural birthing comparisons. . .not all of them are fun or funny, to be certain. :-(, but we can learn so much.

  2. Wow! Melissa, this is delightful. And beautiful. Wonderful imagery and what a perfectly wonderful birth story. Hilarious and profound. You do this well.

    I love those midwives. And I love that whenever someone talks about their own birthing experience others surely follow. I love that about women. . .

    And wise doctor – yours. I fell (easy, not hard) on the slopes of Sundance when 7-months pregnant with my first child. I could not get up. Even when perfectly positioned. Center-of-gravity thing.

    Wise doctor – mine. C-sections X 3. Had I attempted to deliver a child a few decades earlier my story would have read: Neither mother nor child survived. I’m glad my little family made it here. I’m glad your little family made it too. Thanks again for sharing your story.

    • Melody, So important that you’ve written here. You and your children are living proof that emergency C-sections make sense. And I personally thank Caesar that the such an option existed for you and your babies. My mother and brother Aaron would probably not have survived , either, had a C-section not been available to them. The rest of the world’s women and babies do not have that necessary life-saving option often enough. And isn’t that ironic? Developed nations like the US, France, Australia all top the list of nations with highest # of programmed C-sections, whereas places with much higher birthrates and less developed medical systems do not have the option. More ironic (or is it ironic?) is that Italy and China, countries with two of the lowest annual per capita birthrates, have the highest # of what is called “convenience C-sections.” What does this mean? Where does it come from? Why this trend? And what are the implications? What are the risks to the mother, to the baby, not to mention to a health care system that must support the much higher procedure/recovery costs inherent in a C-section, and what about the WHO ‘s warnings that there is a global epidemic of convenience C-sections, close to 50% of all births every year, in fact. Isn’t that something? It makes me curious and concerned. My own amateur “research” among my friends who opted for a C-section not out of life-and-death necessity like yours, Mel, but for convenience and, yes, for cosmetic reasons, told me they had been prompted early on in their pregnancy (by their doctor? the media? an anesthesiologist? They did not say) to go for a C-section. Before I climb down off this soap box, I do want to underscore that in writing about “perfectly natural” births, I do not mean to alienate anyone, and I surely don’t want to incite competition or comparison between women. While I was writing, I was simultaneously thinking of friends — dear friends — who have had near death and full-on flat-liner experiences while giving birth. (How’s that for romanticizing motherhood?) I also have friends — dear friends who are reading this — whose pregnancies and labor experiences have ended in stillbirths, extensive brain damage in their child, permanent debilitating damage to their own bodies, extremely hard things. And then there are all my sweet friends who cannot have the experience of birth at all. A soft apology to all of you if reading any of these light stories compounds your pain. You are right, Melody, to offer a gently balancing voice. I love you for it.

      • Thank you for your sensitivity. And I am with you 100% in concern about the trend in obstectrics toward c-sections. Just so you know, dear friend, I was not hurt, offended or otherwise made unhappy in any way by your story. This beautiful essay represents what I feel is the best possible birth experience: Women doing women’s work together (I could go on and on about that. . .) bringing a healthy baby into the world.

        I grieved my loss of vaginal birth for quite some time after my first child was born. But that is long since past and well-healed.

        My comment here is simply me – wanting to jump in the “This is what happened when my babies were born” pool. I always enjoy swimming there. Child-birth is so universal, mutli and cross-cultural. It bonds us as women and it felt good to re-visit it.

        I’m looking forward to the rest of the story too. Bless you, Melissa. I’m excited for this adventure in your literary life.

    • Jonette, there’s an entire section in the book that explains why I was so bent on delivering naturally in Norway and France, and it has to do with a botched delivery experience north of Philadelphia, where I was strapped into a birthing chair and a student nurse accidentally gave me a double dose of pitocin. I felt like I was Swiss Alps being drilled through at warp speed for an eight lane tunnel. Of course, it didn’t help that there was no doctor on hand to offer help, just two interns (as I remember with fondness) in jeans and plaid flannel shirts, leaning up against a wall asking each other, ‘YOU done this before?, “I thought YOU’D done this before”, “But I thought YOU’D. . .” And a poor girl, maybe fifteen, with no one to assist her, shrieking and moaning on the other side of a thin partition, calling for her “Mamma” while she labored all alone. From where I lay, I only saw from her ankles down at the end of her bed. I remember how she was still wearing her orange flip-flops. You’ve heard enough. It is not interesting. 🙂 Just to say that. . .the difference between that birth and the subsequent two was night an day. At the end of all of them, though, I always said the same thing; ‘I”d do it 1000X over for you.” I love it, too, Jonette. And you.

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