It’s a relatively daunting experience becoming a mother, so much responsibility and so many opportunities to mess up, but when you add moving countries and cultures into the mix, things get that bit more interesting. In the last two years I have been pregnant twice and lived in three different countries - Hong Kong (China), England and France, all offering their fair share of ups and downs.
Giving birth in France seems to be a much more affordable and routine affair (well, as standardised as a birth can be) than in Hong Kong or the UK. In France, hospitals insist on you staying in three days after the birth for a natural birth and one week for a caesarean. My experience in the UK was that even after an emergency caesarean, I could leave after one night’s rest and monitoring.
The morning programmes here for mothers, including my personal favourite La Maison des Maternelles, were talking about how Princess Kate walked out of hospital in the UK just hours after giving birth. They were very shocked by the UK procedures, as post-partum monitoring is stricter in France: midwives spend the days after birth teaching the new mother how to best look after her baby. Although I’m not a fan of hospitals, this extra care and attention seems like a jolly good idea.
Private care at a polyclinic is also much more affordable in France (a matter of a few hundred euros with insurance) versus the proportionately much larger cost of private care in the UK and Hong Kong. The latter ranges from €1,800 to €10,000 - although it must be said that Hong Kong’s very good, but jam-packed, public hospitals will charge only €10 for the experience - and you can even put the fee on your Octopus card, the equivalent of a underground pass or Navigo card!
More than in the UK, French mothers tend to go back to work after maternity leave. I’m sure it has something to do with the fantastic childcare options here.
Attending a creche is affordable as the government assists parents depending on their means, whereas Hong Kongers have to resort to helpers, grandparents, or pricey playgroups.
There is a waiting list for most creches, but I had the extraordinary good fortune of getting my first-born into a creche for 1½ days a week. The fantastic Directrice of Les Petites Canailles (the aptly named Little Rascals) and her team have made my immersion into the French culture and motherhood that much easier.
I would also say that this experience has given my boy the opportunity to thrive as a bilingual toddler. He listens to and speaks French to his carers whilst fine tuning his social, craft-making, toy-playing, and singing skills. I’ve seen creches in the UK, HK and France, and my experience with Les Petites Canailles makes me think that France has the better options.
The food is all made in house, fresh everyday... I look at the board when I take my child there and wish I was staying for lunch! Not such a great surprise though that the French demand fine quality food for their "little ‘uns" – I’ll refrain from commenting on Irish and British cuisine in comparison to the creche’s Michelin-star purée!
Mothers, local and foreign, need support groups to laugh about all kinds of daily incidents and share their cross-cultural experiences. No one tells you that motherhood is quite a lonely job, and that whilst you are used to KPIs and working in a team, no one slaps you on the back or gives you a mummy of the week prize for that well-placed nappy, fully dressed child with matching socks, or successful dinner.
The UK is great for creating support groups, even in its small towns: Hong Kong as a big city has its fair share, but the best one I’ve come across in our region in France is Mamans à Montpellier/Mothers in Montpellier. Having found that there are not enough activities for mothers who choose to stay home, or are working part time, I’ve launched the Facebook group Mothers in Avignon, Nîmes, Uzès and environs (MiANU) to bring expatriate mothers together. If mothers are reading this and want to share quality time, resources or trade stories with other mothers, feel free to sign up.