Monday, 17 September 2012

Pregnancy Tests, Gizzards and Cycling: A Cultural View of Pregnancy

"Un test de grossesse s'il vous plaît ," I said, having consulted my dog eared French dictionary for the French word for pregnancy test.

"Oui madam," replied the petite, middle aged woman behind the village chemist counter. She opened a small drawer in front of her and pulled out a box. She babbled something fast at me in French and I smiled and handed over a fifty euro note.

Two days later we replayed the same scene, undoubtedly depleting the village's entire pregnancy test supply, whilst simultaneously getting tongues wagging about a potential impending baby boom in the area. From what we had seen of the local demographics there was more call in the area for Zimmer frames than baby products.

Two positive pregnancy tests under our belt and we were confident that I was pregnant. My Dutch partner and I were going to have a baby. And then panic set in. We were on holiday in a remote French village, suddenly pregnant in a foreign country without internet. Did we need to tell someone? Were we supposed to go to the doctor? Were there things I shouldn't eat or do? I had already indulged in the local delicacies, including wine, pate and 'gésier de poulet' (I had no idea what I was ordering, and even after a text from my dad translating gésier as gizzard I was none the wiser). Wine surely wasn't handy.

We called our GP back in the Netherlands. The doctor's assistant summed up what we needed to do,

"Firstly congratulations! When you get back to the Netherlands register with a midwife. Don't go and see a French doctor - you'll be told you can eat anything and everything but you can't. Avoid non-pasteurised cheeses, alcohol, pate and anything from the inside of an animal." Oops. She had just listed the main constituents of my diet for the past week.

Pate best eaten in moderation during pregnancy - according
to the Dutch but not such an issue for the French?
Photo: Neil Gould

"And what about cycling?" my husband asked.

"No problem. Cycling is fine. Just don't fall off!" she replied.

An English friend had been told to avoid cycling during the critical first twelve weeks of her pregnancy. However, after seven years in the Netherlands I knew that asking the Dutch not to cycle for twelve weeks would be like asking them to chop a leg off. It's just never going to happen.

Already during the first week of pregnancy I was learning that culture plays a big role in having a baby as an expat. There were plenty more culture shocks to come during the next nine months.

I came to learn how the Netherlands is very much a midwife based maternity system - a big shock for many American expats - and midwives encourage home births and natural births (in other words, without pain relief) wherever it is safe to do so. I love the mentality that a pregnant woman does not have a medical condition - and should not be treated as if she has.

Before our babies are even born there's a cultural maze to walk our way through - and that's just the beginning!

What notable differences have you noticed with how various countries handle pregnancy and child birth? 

Lou Messugo


  1. This reminds me of when I discovered I was pregnant in Singapore. The whole system is completely different to the UK which uses GPs rather than gynaecologists and obstreticians as first point of call. I had to go to the hospital for ultrasounds every two weeks until I was 13 weeks pregnant and then once a month until I was 30 weeks pregnant. Singaporean doctors tend to access and intervene much more than UK ones do, but I didn't know whether it had more to do with the difference between private health care (in Singapore) and public healthcare (in the UK).

  2. Nice to meet you via the All About France blog hop.

  3. After reading the other post you linked up with #AllAboutFrance I had an inkling that you'd be back to France and what a lovely memory to have for ever, that you discovered you were pregnant in the country you thought you'd live in! It's amazing the cultural differences in pregnancy and yet we all end up giving birth to healthy children in pretty similar numbers whether we live in France, NL, UK or USA. I love this sort of story and I hope you can find a couple more about France to link up next time, though I do realise you write mainly about NL and UK.