I came across an article the other day – apparently someone quite famous has had a little girl recently after 3 boys. I had no idea that Victoria Beckham was even pregnant again! "Where have you been?", I hear you scream. Rural France, that’s where!
It got me thinking though about how I felt when I found out I was going to have a daughter after having 4 sons. It was a really special moment, and something I have covered in the book I’m currently writing about our experiences as a family here in France. So, I thought I’d give you a sneak preview of part of the chapter entitled “Having Babies in France”, which shares my feelings and the events leading up to when I first found out I was carrying a girl.
“…My pregnancy experience with my 5th baby was not so straightforward. I discovered I was pregnant again soon after my 40th birthday (31st December 2006)– I really don’t know how it happened – I suppose you’d have thought I’d worked it out by now! Anyway, once I got over the initial shock I made an appointment to see my gynecologist in Toulouse. He was very welcoming and friendly – I explained I was pregnant again, he made a joke about maybe being a girl this time (at least that’s what I thought he said). We went into his examining room, he gave me an internal (which I was quite used to by now), but then he gave me a smear test (the test given to women to check for cervical cancer). Now, this threw me a little, as I didn’t think it was wise to be messing around unnecessarily at this early stage in the pregnancy. Anyway I got dressed and went back to his office and he recommended I go for a mammography and said it was best to go after my next period (not really sure why). “But I’m pregnant – do you mean wait until my periods return after the birth?” I said (in my best French of course). I had definitely told him I was pregnant when I first arrived, but perhaps he had misunderstood my accent. He looked a little confused, so back into the examining room we go and he puts a mini ultrasound scanner on my tummy and sure enough a tiny baby shows up on the computer screen. Amazing, so then he starts writing out prescriptions for ultrasound tests, blood tests etc and off I go. Less than a week later, I start loosing some blood – whether this was caused by the smear test I will never know. I ring the gynecologist and he recommends I go straight away for an ultrasound scan. The radiologist discovers a clot of blood in my uterus and strongly advises that I have complete bed rest for the next 4 weeks until I reach the 12 week stage and have my next ultrasound scan – if not I am likely to loose the baby. Four weeks in bed ! How on earth is that going to be possible with lively 2 and 5 year old boys? But, Gary absolutely insists that if that’s what the doctor orders, that is what is going to happen. He sets me up in one of the gîtes and I stay in bed for a month. It was incredibly boring – I read every book I could and tried watching French TV (as we didn’t have sky in the gîte) but discovered that there is nothing worth watching. We didn’t have a laptop at the time and I was lost without my computer. It was so difficult just lying there and hearing the bedlam exploding in the sitting room. Gary was brilliant and coped so well – he’s so calm in a crisis and just does what has to be done. Our sacrifices paid off because when I went for my 12 week scan the blood clot had disappeared and I was given the all clear. She also asked me did I want to know what sex the baby was “Non, merci” was my reply – I wanted to imagine that it might be a little girl this time, for just a little longer.
You have blood tests every month throughout the pregnancy here in France – another difference to the UK where I think you normally only have 1 or 2 blood tests during the course of the entire pregnancy (unless you have problems). In France they have special laboratories – you get your prescription for a blood test from the doctor or specialist, then make your appointment at the lab. It’s usual to go early in the morning ‘jaune’ – which means you haven’t had anything to drink or eat. After the blood has been taken, you are offered a coffee or hot chocolate and a croissant – very civilised. During the 4th month of pregnancy, there is a special blood test to calculate the risk of there being a problem with the baby. Unfortunately after a routine blood test, I got a letter to say that I was “High Risk” of there being a serious problem. They calculate the risk percentage based on a combination of the blood test results, the nuchal fold measurement (this is a measurement at the back of the neck which if taken at the right time during the pregnancy can be a strong indicator of potential problems) and the patients age (obviously the older you are the greater the risk of problems, although that doesn’t necessary mean that there will be problems). It was all very worrying and I had to go and see a genetic specialist in Toulouse. I understood that it was only an indicator and to be surer they would likely recommend me having an amniocentesis (an examination where they take a sample of amniotic fluid by putting a needle through the stomach and into the uterus). I spent many sleepless nights tossing all the scenarios over in my mind – if I had an amnio there is a slight risk of damaging the baby – was I prepared to take that risk when there could be nothing wrong with it? Also, if I found there was definitely something wrong with the baby, could I terminate the pregnancy at this stage after all the trouble we’d taken to save it? Was it fair to the other children if we had a disabled child? Could I cope with it? All these questions went round and round my head. In the end, after a lot of soul searching, I decided that there was no way I could go ahead with a termination at this stage – whatever was wrong with the baby we would face it together as a family and so whatever the genealogist said there was no point in having an amnio. I was much happier when I had come to this decision and so I went off to my appointment with my mind already made up. The genealogist asked lots of questions about family history and looked at all my test results. He advised having an amnio to make sure, but I told him I had decided against this. He explained that the nuchal fold test was fine, and only 1 of the 2 blood counters they use to assess the risk was lower than average – he said my age with the 1 abnormal test result was enough to put me statistically at risk, but there was a strong chance that there would be no problem with the baby. This was enough to put my mind at ease and I left there happy and didn’t let it bother me any more. What would be, would be.
At 32 weeks I had another routine scan and all seemed fine – the radiologist asked once again would I like to know what sex the baby was? This time I relented – it definitely felt different and if it really was a girl I wanted to go out and buy girly things in readiness for the birth. You can imagine after 18 years of buying boys clothes and having a house cluttered with cars and swords I wanted to make the most of buying pretty pink dresses and dolls! So, I took a deep breath and said, “Oui, merci” and mentally prepared myself for her to give me the news I was so used to hearing - it was another “garcon”. I was stunned when she told me it was “une fille” – my heart started beating fast and the blood rushed to my cheeks. I was so filled with emotion that I could hold back no longer and the tears streamed down my face. She looked really worried and asked if I was OK, I explained that it was just that I was so happy to be having a girl at last after 4 boys. Her concerned look was replaced by a large smiled and I could detect a few tears welling up in her eyes too. It must be so rewarding to give people such good news, I would imagine that it’s not always like that in her job. Now don’t get me wrong, I love each and every one of my boys. They are all gorgeous and I am very proud of them, but I do feel a bit outnumbered at times. It’s not easy being the only woman in a house full of testosterone, so it was nice to be evening out the stats (5 to 2 instead of 6 to 1). I was over the moon - it was the best 40th birthday present Gary could ever have given me. I was supposed to be going on a trip to Australia, but after finding out I was pregnant and all the difficulties I had in the early stages, that had to be shelved (probably permanently), but this was better than anything money could buy!
The rest of the pregnancy went smoothly and when I got the first contraction at 3.30pm one Sunday afternoon I called my parents straight away (who were now living 10 minutes away) we sped off to the hospital and I thought I was going to have her in the car on the way the contractions were so strong. When I got to the hospital I just had time to get my epidural done and within ½ an hour she was on her way – my gynecologist had been called, but he didn’t have time to get there and she had arrived by 6pm. Our beautiful baby girl at last - we named her Francesca (which means “from France”) and she was absolutely perfect. She was born on 30th September 2007 – exactly 3 years (to the day) after we left England for our new life in France…”
An extract from “We’re going to Live in France, A young family’s tale of living and surviving in France”, by Nikki McArthur