• Rachel Ogilby

Pregnant in Paris: The Subtle (and Not-So Subtle) Differences

First, I feel I have to make the obvious statement that being away from your home country and language is going to make even the most similar experiences feel very different. I was blessed to fit in many of the wonderful American traditions of pregnancy before we moved to France, including pregnancy photos, a baby shower, and sharing the news to family and friends in person!

The day-to-day life of being pregnant in Paris wasn’t so different, but there were a few subtle experiences that were distinctly unique. On the other hand, some of the care (especially from the healthcare side) couldn’t have been more glaringly obvious. Of course, these differences are only from my experience and perspective, so feel free to take them with a grain of salt.


Interacting with Strangers


One noticeable difference is the way that strangers treat you as a pregnant person. Contrary to popular belief, French people are not unfriendly - they just highly value privacy. This means that you are unlikely to receive the same “How far along are you?” or “Boy or girl?” or “When is your due date?” questions you will get in the United States (from your neighbor, mailman, and the grocer).


On the other hand, you may receive a few “félicitations!” (“Congratulations!”) from people as you enter a store – but only when you are very obviously pregnant, and even then you will only receive a handful of them. If you are lucky enough to have French friends, they will inquire about your pregnancy just like your friends might in the US.

The lack of conversations with strangers about pregnancy doesn’t mean that the French aren’t excited for you or respect your pregnant belly! On the contrary – if you are pregnant, you will no doubt be offered a seat on the metro (of the dozens and dozens of times I rode the metro pregnant, I only stood a few times); someone is sure to wave you over (“Madam!”) and gesture for their seat.


You’ll also be able to cut in line at the grocery store (along with the elderly or those with disabilities) or stand in your very own grocery line, designated for you. And my personal favorite – at the airport, you (and your party) will be waved through to the front. You will not have to wait in long crazy lines to get through security; even if you stand in line, an employee will see you and wave you forward.

If you are pregnant and are attempting to communicate with someone in English (when they most certainly speak French), they will likely assume that you are looking for a bathroom and lead you to one, like my hilarious experience I describe in this post.


Although it seems like everyone smokes in Paris, if you are eating at a restaurant and obviously pregnant, your waiter/waitress is likely to try to find you a smoke-free section of the patio (and even bring you a comfier chair, as I experienced).

Healthcare


The healthcare system in France is one I am still learning about, but I certainly want to pass on what I’ve learned so far (if you’re a French person reading this, feel free to correct me in the comments or directly!). The healthcare system here typically covers your health expenses at 70% - then, your “mutuelle” (private insurance offered by your employer, much like the US) covers part or all of the expense. Once you reach 6 months pregnancy, your preventative care is covered at 100%. You can get a free dental and eye exam while you’re pregnant. We could get into a LOT more details here, but suffice it to say that once you tell the government you’re pregnant, they unlock a lot of opportunities for you to make sure you get the care you need.

Once I “declared” my pregnancy with the government and registered my birth at a local hospital (basically saving me a seat around my due date!), I was given the option to attend three (free) classes at the hospital. These classes included acupuncture, sophrology (also called hypnobreathing, essentially mindfulness and breathing exercises), or a chiropractor visit. I could mix and match three classes, and chose to attend two sophrology classes and one chiropractor visit (though I feel I missed out on the acupuncture!). Classes/visits were one-on-one and an hour long.


Additionally, I received six classes during pregnancy to prepare me for labor. These were 50 Euros each but fully reimbursed by the government. These classes included topics such as breastfeeding, what to expect in the hospital, how to deal with pain, different labor positions, when to go to the hospital, and more. These were also one-on-one and were performed either virtually or in-person, depending on the content. My husband was invited to join for all of them and, for the most part, did. We found these incredibly helpful in feeling prepared for labor and breastfeeding and were probably the best thing we did for ourselves and our future bébé.

Interestingly, the French use a different due date than we do in the US. My understanding is that they start counting from your assumed date of conception (not from your last menstrual cycle) and they give you a due date at 41 weeks, not 40.


I’ll have to write another post on what it’s like giving birth in Paris, because parts of it were very different from the US (for one, they leave you to rest instead of rounding hourly)! Recovery is also very different, as midwives and pediatric nurses come to your home to check on you, and pelvic floor therapy is a standard post-birth rehabilitation method.


Supportive Communities


Finally, in case you’re reading this because you’re a pregnant woman coming to Paris (or are already here), I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention the Message group. This is an organization made up of English-speaking moms (and pregnant women). It started in 1984 when moms were looking for a sense of community in a foreign country and has grown since then.


It is 100% volunteer run, and they create a sense of community by hosting events (anything from mom meet-ups to presentations on how to navigate French administration), offering forums as a place to sell/giveaway items and ask questions, and more. They have been the single greatest source of support for my family as to-be parents in a foreign country. I have found them to be incredibly knowledgeable, genuine, helpful, non-judgmental, and kind women. I highly recommend checking them out. You can visit their website at https://www.messageparis.org/.


I could probably write a book on my experiences here so far, but this is a brief summary! Do you have any questions about what it’s like to use the healthcare system here or what it’s like to be pregnant here?

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