Your inner universe shifts forever when you find out you’re pregnant. It is a powerful event, a spiritual quickening. So enjoy it, bathe in that avalanche of novel feelings. And resist letting your reveries be ruined by thoughts of administrative procedures, dossiers, and hospitals. Everything will work itself out in good time, even if you live in Paris, and even if you want a natural birth.
Now, a word about natural birth in France: Prepare to be treated like you are clinically insane for wanting one. But stick to your guns, for there is magic in this inner adventure. And you know you can do this. In the depths of your belly, right where that miraculous little ball of cells is currently multiplying like crazy, you know you can. So knock on some doors, do some digging. There are alternative solutions out there, and medical professionals with so much confidence in you that you will want to drop everything and envelop them in a big bear hug.
Finding The Right Establishment
Your first port of call is Groupe Naissances. It’s a friendly (for France) group of obstetricians and midwives who support natural birth, or “accouchement physiologique.” They hold regular meet-and-greets, open to pregnant women and their partners, at the Clinique Jeanne d’Arc in the 13th arrondissement. You can attend a meeting for free, ask your burning questions, and maybe even meet your new midwife. Groupe Naissances midwives practice home and birthing center-style births on what they call a “plateau technique”, which is the closest thing to a home birth you’ll find in a hospital clinic. If you’re on the fence about what kind of birth you want, talking through your options with them will be helpful. There’s no obligation to sign up with Groupe Naissances after the meeting, so treat it like a reconnaissance mission.
I did half of my pregnancy checkups with a Groupe Naissances midwife, having planned to give birth on their plateau technique. I ended up opting for a home birth, but my experience with the Groupe Naissances—and that of other mothers who have shared their stories with me—was very positive.
Another option is Le CALM (“Comme à la Maison”) in the 12th arrondissement. As its name suggests, it’s a homey birthing center that offers a good compromise between home birth and hospital birth. You labor in the comfort of a cocoon-like bedroom with a midwife, and no scary-looking medical apparatus. And, if need be, transfering to the hospital next door is quick and easy. To qualify to give birth at Le CALM you need to live within 30 minutes by public transport of the center, have a perfectly healthy pregnancy, and not be expecting multiples.
Maternité des Diaconesses
A more standard maternity ward, but one that has a good reputation for respecting pregnant women’s wishes, is the Maternité des Diaconesses, in the 12th arrondissement.
Finding A Doula
A great way of rapidly scoping out Parisian maternity wards is to contact a local doula. A doula is a non-medical birthing support figure, there to hold your hand and reassure you throughout your pregnancy, and on the big day. She can tell you which maternity wards support natural birth, since she knows them all. She also makes sure nobody takes advantage of your relatively disempowered status of “patient” by pressing unnecessary medical interventions on you without explaining the consequences. She’s like a calm but fierce lioness, using her experience, and faith in women’s power to birth naturally, to protect your righteous desire to maintain sovereignty over your body, and that of your unborn child.
A doula’s job is to help you to overcome your fears in the face of the unknown. Keep in mind that fear is an inner chemical process that can start a snowball effect of physiological consequences, resulting in halted dilation, and often, medical intervention. So think of a doula as insurance against your natural birthing plan going awry.
Finding The Fearlessness Within
Above all, dig deep and connect with your inner fearlessness. Look into the subject of natural birthing—watch the documentaries, read the books. A conscious pregnancy and birth is a golden opportunity for you to taste the true magnitude of your resilience and force. In the space of nine months, I went from being totally ignorant and fearful about all things baby, to feeling empowered, self-reliant, and unstoppable as a new mother. I wish that beautiful journey for you too.
Glossary: (A few words and phrases that I wish I’d known in the beginning.)
Accouchement physiologique – natural, intervention-free birth
Accouchement sur plateau technique – birthing center-style birth within a clinic
Maison de naissance – free-standing birthing center
Le travail d’accouchement – labor
Accouchement déclenché – induced labor
Bébé qui se présente par le siège – breech birth
Sage femme – midwife
Suites de couches – postpartum period
Rééducation du périnée – series of sessions with a midwife/physiotherapist to heal the pelvic floor after birth (reimbursed by social security)
Highly Recommended Books
Le bébé est un mammifère, Michel Odent
The Kind Mama, Alicia Silverstone
Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May Gaskin
- For information about having a baby in France and French maternity leave, head to Expatica.
- Read everything you need to know about being pregnant in Paris.
- Doula Paris provides a little black book for pregnancy and birth in Paris.