Childbirth in Brittany

Childbirth in Brittany

One families experience of having a baby

“I’ve done something really stupid.” Kate looked at me with tears in her eyes.

“You’ve scratched one of my records, haven’t you?” I was joking, but I knew in my heart of hearts what it was –

“I’m pregnant!”

This scene played out in a cafe in Brittany. Our two small sons on our laps, one and three years old, were the result of that old French custom – ‘apéritifs’.

In theory an invitation to apéritifs means you pop over to someone’s house in the early evening for a couple of drinks and some peanuts before going home for your dinner. In practice, particularly in Brittany, and especially if you have neighbours like ours, it quickly degenerates into an evening drinking and talking till late at night, without the protection of a full stomach. So after Kate had consumed several very large Kirs and was seriously tipsy, we staggered back to our home, drunkenly put the boys to bed and collapsed into bed ourselves. Now Kate usually gets amorous after a few Kirs, and having just given up breast feeding was rejoicing on having her body back, and assured me that it was a ‘safe day’. The result? Confession time in the cafe. I was pleased, more than I expected, but Kate was not. “I’ve only just given up feeding Sam,” she wailed, “now I’m going to be sick for months!” “Think of the family allowance,” I said, but Kate was not in a mood to be jollied along.

A couple of weeks later Kate had cheered up enough to have given up thoughts of suicide, but the sickness had started, and of course so had the run up through the French system until the moment of truth.

Firstly, nothing happens in France until you’ve filled in a few forms, pregnancy included. At three months, you trot along to the doctor and after the usual test he pronounces you officially pregnant. Duly you are given a form to fill in and send off. This minor inconvenience does have its advantages. For a start it automatically registers you for child benefit, or ‘allocation familial’. As this amounts to over £100 per child per month and is payable from the third month of pregnancy it would be churlish to complain.

Soon afterwards comes the first visit to your monthly birth class. Although Kate’s done this twice already, she likes the camaraderie of the class, and it gives chance for her to pass on some of her own experiences to the first timers. Here you get the first inkling of the cultural gap between the French and British. France, perhaps as much as any other country, has pioneered the ‘natural childbirth’ revolution, however the French and particularly the Bretons are incredibly conservative, and this combined with the usual French hypochondria means that the majority of French women opt for an interventionist birth; epidurals, induction etc. from the outset. Perhaps more surprising is that very few opt to even attempt breastfeeding. In Kate’s class of eight there were six who had already decided they were not going to breastfeed. The French obsession with breasts as sex objects has more than a little to do with this.

Then it is off to the hospital for the first scan. Those of you who’ve gone through the process in Britain usually only have one. In France people like to see what their taxes get spent on so three or four are usual, along with the full examination each time. This of course means that even if you don’t ask, the gender of your child is pretty obvious by the time of the last scan. In our case we were to be blessed with a little girl, which rather sweetened the pill of the pregnancy.

And so, like the world over, we simply had to sit and wait. Then nature took its course and contractions started bang on time, at a reasonable hour of the day. The trip in the car to the hospital was uneventful and as old hands we made our own way into the maternity wing and into the birth room. Pontivy hospital has the usual hi-tech cubicles for childbirth, but also a large room with double bed, bath, and a radio/tape recorder. In the corner is all the technology you could wish for, ready at a moments notice. Four hours later, after the usual undignified examinations, grunting, groanings and finally shouting (Kate shouts a lot) we reached the final stage of labour. At this point things became just a little confused. Kate speaks excellent French – mine I would describe as good ‘holiday’ French. However, Kate’s grasp of the language now deserted her.

Imagine the scene – the midwife shouting “don’t push!” in French, me yelling “don’t push!” in English and Kate screaming “I am bloody pushing!” But in the end a small skinned rabbit was laid on Kate’s stomach and we both shed a tear of happiness and relief. A minute later I cut the cord as I have with our two previous children and the deed was done.

The midwives left us alone for a good fifteen minutes (something to do with bonding I believe) and then ‘Baby Sister’, as she had been known to all of us for months, and I went to the ‘weigh in’ while Kate had the usual indignities done to her.

On our return we were faced with the most important bit of paperwork of all. Now you might think that half an hour after giving birth, legs still in the stirrups, is not the time to choose the name for the little bundle that you don’t even know yet. Not to the French… Officially you have only three days to choose the name, however in practice it is the midwife in attendance that has to fill in the form, and if you delay, you hold up the entire system as each form has to be submitted in order of birth. Needless to say the pressure to sign on the dotted line is intense. We on the other hand were weird Brits who amazingly had not chosen a name. We were determined to wait, as with our last child I had had to bully a very uncooperative Town Hall official to let me have the forms back and change our choice of name, just within the three day deadline. So the next day we filled in ‘Baby Sister’s’ first French forms with her name – Rosalie May. Our French friends are convinced Rosalie is a French name, but are completely mystified by May. You can’t win ’em all…

©Geoff Husband + family

Geoff and Kate Husband are the long suffering proprietors of Breton Bikes, a holiday company based in France offering both lightweight camping and hotel based cycling Holidays. If you’d like to know more you can get a brochure by phoning
01579 350379
Or contact via e-mail
E-mail [email protected]
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Lead photo credit : Babies brought up hearing two languages show cognitive advantages

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