Monday, June 14, 2010

Maison de Naissance

On my way to work this morning I was stopped by a lady who just found out that she is pregnant and wanted to know where I was going to give birth... from the way she was eyeballing my belly she seemed to think that I might be on my way there that very moment. I told this lady all about the fantastic place we are giving birth and as I was going on and on about it, I realized I haven't even told you!

I am now 33 weeks into this adventure and running more or less on schedule, but back when I was 15 weeks, I was in serious trouble for not properly adhering to the Parisian-Pregnancy-Timeline.

According to all of the women I spoke to, I should have signed up for a spot at a maternité (the maternity ward of a hospital) at least 17 weeks earlier.... that's right, 2 full weeks before I even knew I was pregnant. Why? You ask? Apparently because the number of ladies giving birth and the number of beds in which to do so are grossly out of balance in Paris. Based on several solid sources, women who are trying to get pregnant should sign up for a spot at the maternité every month and then cancel it if their pregnancy test doesn't come up positive. And if they haven't called in advance then they should call the hospital to book a bed immediately after peeing on the stick... before calling a doctor to confirm the pregnancy... before calling your mother to share the good news.

At 15 weeks I was yet to sign up for a maternité... to the complete horror and dismay of my French family, friends and coworkers. Why was I dragging my feet? You ask? Well, in a world where healthcare is supposed to be free, I had somehow managed to find one of the only non-free doctors in Paris. Dr Menard a lovely lady, a highly qualified private doctor dedicated to women's health (birthing babies, doing gynecological exams, performing surgery and researching feminine cancers... something near and dear to my heart). She, however, charged 80€ a visit compared to public doctors who charge nothing and she charged 1,400€ to make an appearance on your big day, again compared to doctors in public hospitals who charge nothing. So 80€ multiplied by 9 monthly visits, plus a 1,400€ showing up fee, in addition to the bed fee at her private clinic add up to spending over 2,500€ more than we would in a public hospital. And to be frank she seemed rather bored with my healthy normal pregnancy and my basic questions, so we decided to take a closer look at the public hospital scene.

I walked over to Lariboisière, the public hospital closest to our house. The building itself is almost regal looking from a distance with a lush courtyard and tall clock tower. Once you get up close however it is a different story, the interior is... well... in an elegant form of decay, sort of like Venice. Cracked marble staircases, once noble chandeliers dangling from a wire and dark greasy smudges on the wallpaper. I ventured though the main building to the maternity ward that is housed in an unusual looking addition, which based on the sculpted burned brick and orange vinyl panneling, must have been built in the early 70's.

Security was tight, the thick glass wall perforated with a microphone sitting between you and the person sitting at the information desk felt unwelcoming. The woman behind the desk buzzed me into the waiting room that resembled a cross between the waiting area of a gritty interurban train station and the visitor's area of a prison. Nothing about this place felt nurturing, welcoming or pleasant. Still, I thought I should stay and sign up for a spot so we would at least have the option. I took a ticket as if I were at the butchers shop and waited my turn. When my number came up, the tired looking woman at the desk almost choked when I told her the date of my last period and she replied, "October 17th? Are you joking madame?? You should have come in months ago!" She then wished me luck and told me that I should receive an official reply in 10 to 15 business days through the mail. Why she couldn't just look it up on the spot, I can't say.

That week Grégoire and I contemplated our options, feeling rather unenthusiastic with both. That weekend we watched the documentary the Business of Being Born that was a total game changer for us. For those unfamiliar with the movie, here is the trailer... 

Immediately upon finishing the movie, Grég and I both hopped on our laptops to start looking up independent midwives in Paris. The first place we found that got us really excited was CALM (comme à la maison or like at home in English). This politically active group is fully focused on the revival of traditional natural births and birthing experiences that empower women. After attending one of their meetings and seeing their Maison de Naissance or Birthing House we were sold. It seemed to be the best of both worlds, a friendly home like environment with a bathtub and a fold out couch for the dad, a kitchen for making snacks and soft lighting. All of this homey comfort combined with the fact that is was physically attached to the Hospital Les Bluets so if anything serious were to go awry a crew of doctors and surgeons were literally down the hall.

Saddly there was no room at the inn, I had thoughtlessly gotten pregnant in the fall and thus am having this baby right in the middle of summer vacation which doesn't work well with the sacred and strict French calendar.

The good news was that now at least we knew what we were looking for, a Maison de Naisance. The next one we found (there are only 3 in all of Paris) was La Groupe de Naissance in the 11th and is absolutely perfect for us!

It is situated on the top floor of the hospital Mona Lisa Clinique Léonard de Vinici in the 11th. The space is like CALM designed to feel more like a home than a hospital and is physically attached to a clinic so again surgeons and operation rooms are just down the hall. The group aspect of the Groupe de Naissance refers to the fact that a small group of mid-wives (6 to be exact) have partnered with two doctors (one is a surgeon one is a obstetrician) and two counselors who all share the same philosophy about giving birth: Giving birth should be everything you want it to be and we are here to make that happen for you. You would like to give birth on all fours while mooing like a cow? Pas de probleme. You would like to give birth with an epidural while listening to the Beattles? We are happy to accommodate you. You don't want anyone in the birthing suite with you other than your husband and your midwife? Why that is what we do best.

In a land where conformity is king and state run maternités are run like production lines there is precious little room for individuality or for doing things on your own terms... two very American concepts that are typically scoffed at in France. So when I met the mid-wives of the Groupe de Naissance and asked them what the birthing experience is like in their clinic, the midwife turned the question to me and asked me, "Well madame that depends, tell me what you would like your birth experience to be like?" No one had asked me that yet so I took a minute and replied to her question explaining my desires to have a natural birth in an environment surrounded by people who are telling me that I can do it, not that I can't or I can but probably shouldn't. I told her about my deepest fear of being bombarded by disgruntled state workers who have been working in hospitals all their lives and boss pregnant women around for sport. I told her that I never want people to say, 'are you joking madame?!' when I ask them something. I told her I wanted that day to be beautiful and special and intimate. And that above all I didn't want any strangers or florescent lighting in the birthing suite." She listened, she nodded, she looked at me and said, "That sounds wonderful."

Suspicious of her all too quick reply, I said, "That sounds wonderful, so....?""So that's what we'll do. In this clinic we center each birth around you and what you want to do. Every month you will meet for an hour with the same midwife who will attend your birth and follow up with you at home after the birth. We do all of the necessary medical exams and also spend time talking about your feelings and planning your birthing experience. The entire group will study your case once a week and support your midwife who in turn supports you" she explained.

She suggested I read their mission statement, which is as follows:

L’Accompagnement Global de la Naissance

Accompagner quelqu’un, ce n’est pas le précéder, ni indiquer la route, lui imposer un itinéraire,
ni même connaître la direction qu’il veut prendre, mais c’est marcher à ses cotés
en le laissant libre de choisir son chemin et le rythme de ses pas.

Global Accompaniment of Birth

To accompany someone isn't to precede them, nor to give them directions or impose your itinerary on to them, it is not even to ask them which way they would like to go, 
but rather it is to walk next to them, side by side leaving them the liberty to choose their own road and rhythm of their steps.

"Oh" I said, with tears of joy in my eyes, "where to I sign up?"


Groupe de Naissance
06 69 75 20 64

Financial Details:

Given that this is a private practice and not a public hospital they do have additional fees but I am all too happy to pay them! Each monthly visit cost 13€ and the big day costs 1,000€ so while it is far more expensive than free it is money well spent if you ask me. 


Elisa said...

I am so glad you found a place that you are excited about Mary! You look adorable, as always. BTW, I had not intended to do a natural birth for Eden-- I thought, drugs exist, why not make it easier on myself? I ended up having a natural birth after all and it really was a very intimate thing to have Chad help me through it and empowering to know what I was capable of. Good luck, you will do fantastic!!

Madame Bouron said...

That's awesome Elisa! If you two have a third do you think you would go au naturel again? I'm so curious to see what the birthing experience is going to be like and how Gregoire and I will handle it! Hope you and the little family are enjoying being back in the States :)

Anonymous said...

What is the third place after CALM and Groupe Naissance?