Soooo… what’s with the funky name?

Choosing a name is scary, and selecting something that fit our criteria was just about as painful as we had expected. In the end we short listed thirty names. Some were names of family members, others were names of people we found inspirational, and others were just names that had a nice ring to them. Now, surprisingly, getting to thirty was painful, but getting to within the legal limit (three names) and the correct sort order was actually not so bad.

We ended up giving each of the above names a trial run, and tested out which ones stuck. In France, you have to register your child within three days of birth, which didn’t leave us with a ton of time so we came up with the idea to change names every time he ate. He’d start as Hugo, finish as Felix, and change to Eli three hours later. This actually worked out really well. We quickly discovered that most of the names either didn’t fit the boy, or didn’t fit our mouthes. Felix, as it turns out, is actually a bit of a pain to say — try ripping it off thirty times, and then compare to something softer, like Eli. Hugo was nice, but didn’t fit with the last name, and Sarah felt bad saying ‘No’ to her son every time she called him Noah.

By the third day, we were sifting through the final five:

  • Theodore – A great name, used by great people. Very flexible in terms of nicknames later in life. 
  • Xavier – Leftover from a Patrick Stewart kick; this name came with French and English roots, but isn’t super common in either place.
  • Augustus – It rolls off the tongue as a middle name, and may lead to world domination leadership later in life. Also, shortens to Gus, in case he needs a more modest version.
  • Reuben – From my Grandfather, who fought in Normandy. The only French connection in my family until now.
  • Elliot – An unexpected hanger-on from early spring. Had a nice ring, and shortens to Eli, one of the other options.

A few hours later, when we announced that Baby X was going to be called “Xavier Elliot Reuben” one of our friends very astutely asked ‘Is that two middle names? Or two first?” Yeah, it’s two first. 😉 The final selection was pretty easy actually, we each had a favourite first name, and both agreed that Reuben was a stellar middle name. In the end, the final order really came down to practicality. Xavier suits the region, and is the only name on the list that won’t come with pronunciation trouble. At least here, Sarah’s Grandma can’t quite get the hang of it, so he’s Elliot to her.

How was the birth?

Sometimes people ask you unexpected questions — sometimes a lot of people unexpectedly ask you the same question. We had prepared ourselves for a lot of “How are you?” or “How is the baby?” but by far the most common question was “How was it?”

For me? Easy peasy.
For Sarah? Less easy.

Having been relatively removed from much of the process, the best answer that I could truthfully give was that things went pretty well. When pressed, I would add: Giving birth is like a 10 step marathon, with an explosion at the end. Things were good up until the explosion, and then there was yelling, and then there was baby, and then there were smiles.

Sarah made it through the first 5 steps with little to no issue (and nothing in the way of pain killers) in a relatively short amount of time. Steps 6-8 involved a lot of yelling, and the last bit was surprisingly short (at most 40 minutes, I think the pushing part was less than 10). The entire process lasted just over 9 hours from start to finish, which I think is pretty good for a first timer.

There are a few more details that I’ll record here so that I can remind my wife from time to time. It seems newborn babies emit a short term memory erasing pheromone that causes mom to forget everything that happened in the preceding 5 hours. By writing this down, and regularly emailing it to Sarah, I hope to prevent having to buy a minivan in a few years. Those of you who are less interested in the details can safely stop here. There are no big surprises.


First of all, it’s important to mention that the birth was induced. This concerned a lot of our friends back home, as induction is normally only done in North America when there is a problem or when the mother is overdue; in all other cases, they take a wait and see approach. In France, it is much more common for Dr’s to intervene directly in the health of their patient. When we asked the Dr’s about why they were intervening (French Doctors are not likely to volunteer information) we got two solid answers. First, the baby’s weight gain had been slowing down, and the Doctor hoped that the little guy would gain more weight, faster, out than in. Second, the date of the induction was a Friday, the last day before the weekend. By inducing on their schedule, the Hospital could be sure that all of the right people and facilities would be available. Adding to the whole thing was the fact that Sarah was basically ready to go, and had been at that state for about a week. Even though the estimated date was about a week later, the timing was right, so we might as well act.

On Friday morning, bright and much-too-early, we packed a bag and walked the six blocks to the hospital. After arriving, Sarah was given some time to make herself comfortable, and the mid-wife came in to conduct a few tests. At around 11:40, they hooked her up to an IV with a baby-inducing hormone drip.

As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that the mid-wife does nearly all of the work in a French birth. A Doctor did come in a few times, but only to confirm an opinion or to see if everything was going according to plan. During the pushing part, the role of the Doctor was really quite limited… all he did was stand back and yell “Allez! Allez!”. He should have brought pom-poms.

By noon, the contractions had started, and about twenty minutes later someone asked if Sarah would like her epidural now. For at least three months leading up to the delivery room Sarah had been going back and forth as to whether to do a natural vs epidural assisted birth. The Epidural rate in France is extremely high (over 95%), so it was just naturally assumed that drugs would factor in as early as possible. As the contractions began, she took the Canadian decision: wait and see. The mid-wife assured us that she could choose the epidural at any stage later on, so the risk was pretty minimal. After that, she came back in every 20 minutes to see if Sarah had come to her senses. Each time we said no, she smiled and gave us the ‘crazy foreigner’ look as she left the room.

So, what happened after that?
Well, like I said, the first five steps were really went by really quickly. It took a few hours, but Sarah averaged about 40 minutes per cm until she hit the halfway point. During this stage, pain relief can actually be managed with some back rubbing and words of encouragement. Sarah was hooked up to a machine that monitored both her heartbeat, and something related to contractions. About 10 seconds before each contraction the beeping from the machine would quicken in a kind of ‘grab-something-pain-is-now’ alarm. Between back rubbing, and teeth clenching, this part was actually, surprisingly, not so bad.

Part way through this process we realized that I was fulfilling the role of a tens machine — small electro-pulse massagers that attach to your lower back. When I popped out to the nursing station to see if they had one, a nice English speaking mid-wife explained to me that Tens machines aren’t used in France because everyone takes the epidural. And, besides, they are only really useful for the first 5cm, and Sarah was at 4, so there wasn’t much point.

Turns out she was bang on with her estimate. Once Sarah made it to the halfway mark, the husband masseuse was fired. You’d have to ask her to confirm, but my impression is that the pain from 5-6cm was roughly equivalent to the sum of the sensation from 0-5cm. No amount of back rubbing seemed to help. It was time for drugs.

There are two really cool things about Epidurals here compared to Epidurals back home. First, when you get one back home, you are toast from the bellybutton down. Here, you are still completely functional (but walking is discouraged). Second, when they give you the Epidural here, they only set it up; they don’t actually administer anything. All drugs are self-administered by the patient, with a machine regulated maximum set by the anaesthesiologist in advance. The patient is given a little button, and whenever you push it you get a beep, and a hit of drugs. I think the end result is the same as if the Dr had drugged you up herself, but the aspect of control is nice.

Forty minutes and four beeps later things were calm again. Our pastor — who has much experience in this matter — had warned me in advance that Sarah would swear like a sailor through much of the ordeal; hurling vitriolic obscenities at the person who ‘got her into this mess’. But, I managed to get off relatively easy. As I texted to a friend during the 7th hour:

Things pretty much stayed that way until just over 8cm. The rest of what happened was very blur like. To put things in perspective Sarah hit the 8cm mark around 8:00 pm. After that, things went sort of like this.

The Mid-wife came to see what was happening, and then called for the anaesthesiologist. She asked if Sarah could feel her legs. Shocked that the answer as yes, she administered one, two, three more shots of whatever liquid magic she had given her earlier in the evening. Then the mid-wife yelled something in French, and people started pouring into the room as if an ambulance shaped clown car had just pulled up in the lobby. The table was lowered, stirrups were raised, tools were pulled from whatever nook they had previously been hidden in, and I think someone may have started boiling water, but I’m not sure.

The drugs started to kick in a little, and Sarah began losing feeling in her legs at the same time that I was losing feeling in my fingers. The nice lady with the drugs gave Sarah another shot and lined up dose number 5 while the pushing began. This is when I noticed that Sarah’s sense of rhythm was a little off (not normally something I’d dare comment on) so I asked her a few questions and didn’t get much in the way of a response other than something about tomatoes. My first thought was “Oh no! No wonder the drugs weren’t working, you’ve put the thing in backwards and numbed her brain!! What are we going to do?!” I think that I may have vocalized that thought, because the anaesthesiologist stopped talking to me at that point. But, she did seem to agree that a fifth hit of magic juice was probably too much. There was more pushing, and a whole lot of people explaining to Sarah exactly when she was supposed to push, and that she should hold her breath when she does so, and that she she stop holding her breath when she stops pushing, and that she had to breathe in at certain points too, and, and and… of course all of this was coming at her in French, English, and some mixed dialect in between. The Doctor came in at this point to cheer like a football fan, and then everyone started yelling ‘Go Go Go’, ‘Push, Push, Push’, ‘Allez! Allez! Allez!’, ‘Attaque! Attaque! Attaque!’ and so on. Then yelling, cutting, yelling (from me this time — I almost hit the floor during the episiotomy. If you don’t know what that is, don’t look it up. You’re better off not knowing.), cheering, pulling, pushing, and finally baby. All was done at 9:02 pm.

At 9:05, she was holding our son.

At 9:06, she asked me to turn on Strauss’s Second Horn Concerto. By 9:11, feet still in stirrups, covered in gore, and still breathless from the pushing, I kid you not, she used the words “…for the next one…” and then “…it wasn’t really that bad…”.

So, there you go. The official verdict right from the mommy’s mouth —

                 “It wasn’t really that bad.”

Baby stuff… stuff and more stuff.

This weekend we went to a bi-annual ‘Bring and Buy’ swap meet organized by the English Speaking Mothers group in France.

As we entered the sale room, it was clear that we were in for absolute CHAOS!!

The place was bustling with new and expecting moms, and the parents of toddlers desperately trying to free up space in their teeny parisian apartments. Above the din of screaming children you could hear hundreds of mothers haggling for the best priced booties, prams and nounou’s. Clothes and books and blankies were flying everywhere, and this was at a slow period.

I don’t think I was ready for this.

But, after some careful dodging and negotiation, we did manage to make a pretty decent haul for the prices. In total, we picked up a feeding pillow, a Baby Bjorn carrier, a Petunia Picklebottom diaper bag, a book on baby’s first year, half a dozen (maybe more) organic cotton onesies, a cashmere sweater, 11 packages of curry, and a copy of Charlie Wilson’s War. Total cost: 70 euro. Not bad.

But the the best thing we got was a lesson in just how much stuff you can accumulate in a very short period of time. We were talking with one of the vendors who was quite relieved to be going home with only a small pile – 5ft by 18in by 2 ft – of clothes. That’s right – 15 cubic feet of clothing is a small pile. It seems she came at the beginning of the day with three times that much.

“Wow! That’s a lot of stuff… And how many children do you have?”
“Oh, just the two, a boy and a girl.”

Looking around again we quickly got the sense that children are a great incentive for an un-be-leeve-able amount of useless shopping. We’ve managed to keep our consumerism relatively in check over the last few years, and the thought of owning our combined weight in baby clothes is just terrifying.

I think, the best trick is to set up a good trickle-down system where you find a parent about 9-12 months out of your schedule, and you can pass things down the line as yours outgrows them. We’ve been really lucky on the receiving end of this system so far, having received a crib, a pram, a baby carrier, and a few other bigger ticket items. What we really need is the next person down the line. Two friends of ours just got married this past weekend, and were given a nice long speech by the officiant on the duty of newlyweds to further the development of the French nation via French babies. Maybe with that kind of encouragement we might have a hand-me-down channel in just enough time.

An introduction to taste.

In the last week our baby has grown taste buds and is starting to form as sense of what he likes, dislikes, favourites foods, etc. So we decided that we are going to help the little runt discover new foods now, before he has the opportunity to shut his mouth and throw spaghetti at us.

This morning, as I was preparing to go to the market, Sarah mentioned to me how she thought maybe she should eat a mushroom, just for the purposes of passing on the taste experience. This is a pretty big statement coming from my wife; she doesn’t distinguish between fungal varieties, and considers chantrelle’s and athlete’s foot to be in the same culinary family. Anyhow, she said this to me, perhaps in a short lucid moment in between dreams, and then promptly tucked herself back into bed, leaving me to go to the market on my own.

I’m taking this as free license to rework our standard menu items. So, this week, I tried to avoid our standard fare as much as possible, and try out a few of the things we never order.

On the menu this week:

  • Paupiette de Veau (Veal, wrapped in bacon, covered with a tomato slice and some olives, and then wrapped in a mesh of fat that holds the whole thing together)
  • Lobster mushrooms, fried with butter and garlic.
  • Roast duck leg – Still looking for a good recipe.
  • A ‘mélange de champignons marinés’, or mixture of wild mushrooms marinated in olive oil.
  • Sundried tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella.
  • Fresh Avacado with an organic lemon and olive oil dressing and a pinch of ‘sel guerande’.
  • A Sweet variety of potato, sort of a mix of yukon gold and turnip.
  • Mango Lassi, made with sheep’s yoghurt.
  • And then the more standard fare of veggies, fruits, cheese and olives. 

I didn’t want to totally overdo it, so I drew the line about half way through the market. Assuming this weeks experiment goes well, I think that next saturday I’ll move on to artichokes, various terrines (a kind of Pate) and the mysterious knobbly root vegetable that I see from time to time.

It’s a bo(y/mb)!

This past Monday we went for the second official, fourth actual, sonogram. This is ‘gender’ one, where we get to find out which colour of booties to buy.

I arrived a touch earlier than my wife, and had to push my way past a few agitated security guards and a middle aged couple in order to get into the main office. For some reason they kept pointing at the ground and yelling. Bunch of tourists.

Sarah’s decided that our Doctor’s habit of maintaining a 60 minutes lag is best addressed with a corresponding  half hour check-in delay. Had I known this in advance, I think I would have been appropriately delayed as well; instead I got to enjoy the peace and quiet of the waiting room until Sarah called around 3:20 to tell me she couldn’t come in. The door and, soon after, the street, had been barred from access by the Police.

I wanted to see this for myself, so I poked my head out the front door and found myself looking right at a couple of stressed out officers standing where the security guards had been a few minutes earlier. They didn’t have a lot of patience for anyone attempting to come into, or out of, the door. A portly Parisian policeman ushered me back to where I’d come from and made some reference about an issue of paramount security. I asked if I could leave, and he shook his head, and then let everyone else in the building know that the office would be closed indefinitely, and we were not permitted to exit or enter the building for an indeterminate amount of time. Then he said a bunch of stuff in rapid French and left through the front door.

“Qu’est-ce qui se passe?” I asked the receptionist.

“Je ne sais pas.Un problème de sécurité tres important. Une bombe peut-être…” She replied calmly.

“A bomb!?!”

“Peut-être.” She shrugged – of course she would shrug – and got back to work.

OK. Great. I’m stuck in a building, there is potentially a bomb buried underneath the front door and my pregnant wife is trying to get in. Super.

Meanwhile, in the outside world, Sarah had been directed into the next available door on the street, which the policeman had told her was the alternate entrance to the Doctor’s office. She gave me another call and asked what was up. I told her: “It seems there is a bomb in front of the door. There might be a back door on the other side of the building.”

“A bomb?! Should we be concerned?”

“I dunno. I asked the lady. She shrugged.” I really hate it when they shrug. “Where are you?”

“I think the Portuguese embassy. They can’t help me. I’m going to see if there’s another door.”

Anyhow, long story short, Sarah made it into the building around 3:50, just in time for our 3:00 appointment. The appointment was slightly longer than usual, on account of the Doctor leaving us every few minutes to watch the bomb squad, who were working just 2 meters outside of his window, but it was eventful.

After measuring the head, the legs, the arms, the legs again, and so on, he broke the news that ‘C’est un garcon.’ I don’t know how he could tell, the only sure fire sign that I’m aware of having never been visible on the screen. But he was very confident.

So, if you find yourself looking for booties or bonnets, better stick with blue. It’s going to be a boy.

For our next trick: coming up with a list of names!