the birth diaries, Victoria Jelinek

Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.  Erma Bombeck


The sage-femmes (midwives) at the hospital were great. Through them, I learned to nurse and bathe my child, as well as to take his temperature. They were also the ones who would come and relieve me, or check on us during the night, making me feel that my baby boy and I were tended to. 

But the sage-femme assigned to me by the obstetrician for pre-and-post-birth care was useless. Before my boy was born, my husband and I went into her office and, sitting before her little desk, waited for several moments to see what she would do because we had no idea what we were doing. 

She didn’t say a word. 


Finally, we asked some tentative questions about the care in the hospital that we should expect, which had already been answered by my good doctor, but we wanted to be polite. She would answer them as an adolescent might, with as few words as possible and giving no opportunity for elaboration. It was a struggle and that 15-minute appointment seemed to last an hour. 

Post birth, however, one is meant to go to the sage-femme for ten visits in order to recuperate properly. It’s actually prescribed by the paediatrician at the hospital, and the l’Assurance Medicale, the health bureau, reimburses you for the visits. 
This is a very good and holistic approach to the birthing process that I highly commend about the French system in theory, but I’ve gone to this sage femme a few times now, and I still find it useless. 
On one such visit she put a long towel, sheet type-of-thing around my lower back and near my pelvis, and pulled it tightly around the area. I asked what this was for and she told me it would help ‘reshape’ my womb. 
On another visit, she pulled out an appliance that looked like a combination between an electric razor and a vibrator and proceeded to put it into my vagina. I asked her what this was for and she told me that it sent out electrical currents that would help ‘reshape’ my vagina and womb. 
Another time she had me practice getting down and up off of the floor and doing sit ups. I’d ask her questions that I thought she might know that were relevant to me, such as about the blood blisters on the breasts, and the left breast’s drying up, and the lack of sleep, and doctor’s visits, and she was not able to provide any answers. She doesn’t have children. I could be her mother. Oh! I did find the visit in which she took out the stitches from my caesarean very useful.  

Perhaps finding a good sage femme is akin to finding a good psychologist? This is very American of me, the land of people who seek to discuss their problems (and why not? I think the world would be a better place if everyone could unload all their worries and problems on a person they paid to listen to them and eliminate the need to unload on your friends and family). Anyway. Perhaps it’s like a psychologist in the sense that if you get a bad one, an incompetent one, then it will turn you off going to one ever again. 
I would have stopped going to this sage femme, but at the end of every visit I felt bullied into making the next appointment, so I would make one in order to get out of the room. 
After several visits, I decided I didn’t want to go anymore and tried to tell her that it just wasn’t ‘my cup of tea’ and it ‘doesn’t seem to be working for me,’ and I don’t want her to ‘waste’ her time on me anymore. 
She gave me an angry lecture on how irresponsible I am being to my body by giving up the visits before they’re over! I listened to her quietly, and then suggested we call it ten visits, as prescribed, submit it to the relevant authorities for her to be reimbursed, and I’ll give her the co-pay in cash. She immediately agreed. 


As much as I’ve appreciated other medical care in France, I’ve found my sage femme visits the least helpful. I will presume that she is an anomaly. 

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