It is not every day that a Normandy-based, British mom, who is a France resident for 12 years with her French husband and three young children — reaches out to us to voluntarily share what parenting feels like from her side of the world. So yes, we were thrilled to hear from her and couldn’t wait to have her on board. From rural French family life to Pregnancy to her favorite European vacation spots, Elizabeth Desjardins tells and shows it all (below). Don’t forget to visit her lovely blog, Bertine, as you “aww” and “a-ha” to her story!
How old are your kids/names?
We are parents to Raphaël (9), Anya (7), and Joseph (3).
Where do you live?
We live in the countryside of Lower Normandy, approximately an hour from Caen, Bayeux, and the North-West Coast.
What are pregnancy and childbirth like in France?
I feel very happy to have been pregnant and had our children in France. From antenatal to postnatal care, the services offered are high quality, reliable and attentive. Once pregnant, a mother either chooses to be followed by her usual gynecologist or a midwife. There is a monthly check-up and 3 obligatory scans. Informative antenatal classes are offered at no charge to all pregnant women and their partners. I’ve heard stories about antenatal groups in the UK where couples make good friends but in France, the classes are highly formal. In the ones, I attended there was no social interaction whatsoever.
The main drawback that affects pregnancy and childbirth in France is that they are very medicalized and options are limited. Whereas home births are having a revival in other countries, childbirth in France strictly takes place in a maternity unit and is highly controlled by medical staff. Most French women opt for an epidural and the birth is assisted by midwives. An obstetrician is only present if there are complications or a cesarean.
It’s difficult to find alternative methods to childbirth here (ie. water births) and I’m sure that if I’d wanted a home birth I would have been strongly discouraged. On a more positive note, pregnant women are closely monitored and nothing is left to chance. I always felt well looked after.
What can you tell us about working and non-working mothers in France?
Having taken a 3-year career break following the birth of my third child and now choosing to work part-time, the working/non-working mother subject is one close to my heart.
The unemployment rate and cost of living are fairly high in France. The vast majority of employed French women have full-time jobs or work 80% (until recently, there was no school on Wednesdays, so many mothers work 4 days). Many working families here employ help to assist with cleaning and ironing in the home.
The stay-at-home mother culture barely exists and I do find there is a certain stigma against women here who choose not to work. I remember during my 3-year break feeling very isolated; the other mothers I knew were all working and I never learned of any mother and baby groups (I still have never seen any advertised). The French can be fairly shy and stand-offish with strangers so even in a play area mothers who are alone don’t generally talk to each other.
One of the things that surprised me most in France is that first and second-time mothers are expected to return to work 10 weeks after birth. And many of these women return to full-time positions. On the other hand, there is the option to take up to 3 years of a career break from the second birth and an employer has to keep the job open. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to take this work hiatus.
I opt for basic, comfortable, and casual. I take more and more interest in where our clothes are made, by whom, and using which materials. I don’t follow trends anymore, preferring long-lasting, timeless pieces. I live in soft jeans (Zara or Uniqlo) or rolled-up chinos (Gap) with flat ballerinas. And in summer, Saltwater sandals and espadrilles. I like simple, unfussy tops such as the Breton marinière by Saint James. I adore anything by the Welsh company Toast and buy a couple of their sale items every year. In winter, I can’t live without my Le Chameau wellies – I have the leather-lined version which should last forever. I adore hand-made items in natural fabrics which are “preferably” made using traditional methods.
Do you have a fail-safe beauty product or routine?
I pay more attention to skincare than makeup as I don’t have a lifestyle that requires glamour! I like natural products and have been a huge fan of the environmental activist Liz Earle for a long time. I’ve used her skincare line for nearly 20 years but when I run out, I use Bioderma Créaline cleanser and Embryolisse moisturizer which I mix with Caudalie tinted moisturizer. At night (to my husband’s dismay) I use organic oils on my faces such as Argan, Coconut, or Rosehip. I wear Homéoplasmine to moisturize my lips and Eau des Merveilles perfume by Hermès.
Best family trip?
When I was pregnant with Anya, we had a memorable holiday in Piana, Corsica, which is next to the breathtaking Scandola Natural Reserve and is UNESCO-listed. Otherwise, every summer we take our tent to the North-West coast of France and stay on a very simple campsite next to the dunes. We spend a week on the beach, mostly living outside and listening to the waves while tucked up in our sleeping bags. A week is all my back can take, but we come back refreshed after so much fresh air and no wifi! As the kids get older, we hope to travel further afield. Right now, I dream of discovering Scandinavia particularly Denmark, Norway, and Iceland.
Any personal/parenting “a-ha” tips?
I’ve realized that with school children, our mornings are less stressed and calmer when I have early nights and early mornings— this way, I’m ready by the time the children are awake. As such, I can fully concentrate on meeting their needs and helping them without having to get ready as well.
We loved every minute spent with Elizabeth. If you love inspiring reads like this one, check out more on our blog!
POSTED IN: WE WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT · TAGGED: FAMILY LIFE, FRANCE, FRENCH FAMILY, MOM CRUSH, NORMANDY, TRAVEL WITH KIDS