the birth diaries by Victoria Jelinek



‘So live that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.’ Will Rogers 

I had been a bit confused when I was only prescribed the midwife (sage-femme) and physiotherapy at the hospital after my son’s birth but now I’ve discovered that my regular GP will be my baby’s doctor. I figured I would get a paediatrician assigned, but it turns out there aren’t many to spare in France.


Adhering to the old wives’ tale that one should not take a newborn out of the cloister of its home till it has been alive for two weeks, I took my son to my GP when he was 15 days old.
The doctor told me that my son’s jaundice is gone, which is good (the time spent in the window like a plant worked!). She also told me that he was not gaining weight at the rate that he should be, necessitating that we monitor this closely. I left the doctor’s office completely freaked out and cried. I don’t want anything to be wrong with my baby and I’m scared because he’s such a defenceless little thing.

Luckily, my brother and my sister in law arrived from Seattle to help us out. They have two children of their own, now ‘tweens.’
I figure the fact that their kids have survived thus far makes them ‘old hands’.
Moreover, it’s wonderful to have my family nearby. It’s hard to be so far from them. It takes 14 hours flying, through 9 time zones, to get to where they live, which prompts my feeling rather isolated on holidays and in vulnerable moments.
My husband and I drove to Geneva to collect them – our boy’s first ‘outing’ – and dined at an outdoor café on the lake.
I had been a little nervous about nursing my son in front of my brother, but then realized it’d be stupid to go and hide myself away each time the boy ate, which is every hour. Besides, scarves are immeasurably helpful for discretion (and luckily I carry one always, stuffed into a pocket of my purse or in a pocket, even before I began nursing!).

I live in an almost perpetual state of embarrassment for being an American in Europe given the antics of American politics, the shootings, and the disparate tax rates. But every once in awhile, I am reminded how wonderful we Americans can be. My brother and his wife are full of optimism and earthy pragmatism. They’re open and encourage others to be so. They’re warm and gracious. When I told them that the French doctor had said that my son was not gaining weight as he should be, they assured me the rates of growth are different, particularly in this early stage, and the important thing is that he is not losing weight.
When I told them that I didn’t know how to pass the time with the baby, who doesn’t seem to be able to do anything, they didn’t pretend to have all the answers. Instead, they assured me that no one really knows what they’re doing when they have their first child and you simply follow your new-born’s cues: eat when he eats. Sleep when he sleeps. Go outside and take a walk when you’re bored and stir crazy.
They advised me to enjoy this initial period of my baby’s new life as though we’re both convalescing (we are!). I admitted that I’m sleeping with the baby on my chest, which ‘everyone’ tells me not to do, but which seems right – I can’t move with the caesarean anyway- and they didn’t judge me. Instead, they went to a local baby store and found a soft, little, slightly slanting bed so the baby’s head is a bit higher than its lower torso, with two detachable soft sides to it to keep the baby from rolling, which the baby can sleep on and which fits right between the pillows that my husband and I sleep on.

I never imagined I’d be so grateful for assistance – even the opportunity to give the boy to another pair of trusted hands in order to de-gas him is appreciated.
I don’t think I have needed help as I do now. Perhaps it’s that in the past I was too proud to ask for and accept it, and now that there’s another person involved, I don’t have that same sense of ego?

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