Maisons & Maternage

You’d think there would be birth centers all over France. Natural birth advocate Michel Odent, is, after all French! This report on last night’s 8pm TF1 news shows that maisons de naissance (literally birthing ‘homes’) are fairly new in France. I suppose, if natural birth was encouraged for healthy pregnancies in more North American hospitals, there would be less of a felt need for a non-conventional birth route here too. At least one of my readers gave birth in a traditional French hospital equipped with ropes and slings and balls and swings – pretty cool!

There are at least 100 birth centers in Germany (which works out to be an incredible per capita number) and lucky for the Genevois, there are at least two new ones in Geneva: Maison de Naissance de la Roseraie and Dix Lunes (thanks Chris for tracking them down!).

Back to France, the maisons de naissance are few and far between. Here is a rare glimpse inside the Parisian birth center called Comme à la maison (‘just like at home‘) for those of you who understand French:

If you keep watching, the following segment links the birth center concept to the attachment parenting (AP) movement: maternage.

Natural birth is usually linked to AP in the States as well. However, in this report, maternage essentially boils down to baby wearing and sleeping near babies (not necessarily even co-sleeping) and maybe on demand nursing for six months, and staying at home with your child for the first years in rare cases.
I have my own reservations about some aspects of the AP movement. Still, for a significant segment of the French population, even these things seem extreme. These so-called ‘ancestral practices’ (wow!) go against many years of fighting for women’s rights, emancipation and equality. The tormentous conflict between sacrificing career to care for your children vs. self realization is hardly unique to French women. This is a conflict all educated women must face. (The fabulous article in the Atlantic  Why Women Still Can’t Have it All comes to mind.) Still, for many French people, it’s as if all of the sudden, we were refusing progress and accepting voluntary servility by caring so intensely for our children. “Many say that the choice of maternage poses a serious threat to a woman’s freedom and her free will” one article writes. “Feminism and maternage don’t go well together” it says.

So, what do you think? Why aren’t there more birthing centers in Europe? Is there still value birthing centers can bring in a healthy hospital environment? And, can one still be a feminist and an attachment parent?

*The AP movement I am more familiar with, is linked with co-sleeping, nursing for at least two years, baby wearing as long as possible, baby led weaning (letting your child feed themselves from the time solids are introduced), elimination communication and cloth diapering.

Lou Messugo

4 thoughts on “Maisons & Maternage

  1. I consider myself AP (most closely resembling) and a feminist. Just read this quote the other day and it sums up how i feel. “The reality is that breastfeeding mothers are less dependant on medical professionals and commercial products, which refutes Badinter’s assumption that formula is ‘liberation in a can’. Her equation of formula with women’s commercial freedom is a grossly false quasi-feminist gesture. It panders to a Patriarchal economic set up in which mothering is devalued and male ways of living are seen as the norm, femaleness as a deviation; A culture where bread-winning is revered, child-rearing belittled, where the functioning of women’s bodies is shameful, where pills are dished out to dry up the milk supply of new mothers and where men are more than happy to hand out formula whilst simultaneously lining their pockets. This doesn’t sound very feminist to me.”

    1. Well said, Diana! PS: I don’t know how this comment slipped though without me ever seeing it.

  2. The fact that I have never heard of either maisons de naissance or the word maternage speaks volumes for how little natural birthing practice there is in France. There were certainly no options like this when I had my babies 15 & 9 years ago. It’s interesting that France was once a leader in natural childbirth and when I was born in Paris in the late 60s my mum’s obstetrician, Dr Pierre Vellay, was a world leader in this field. His book “Childbirth without pain” was a best seller! Nowadays in France, there’s no pain because everyone has an epidural; I don’t think that’s quite what Dr Vellay meant! Thanks for linking up this thought provoking piece to #AllAboutFrance

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Phoebe!
      There is clearly a disconnect between France once being a leader in this field and what is valued today. It reminds me of the disconnect between healthy living in France and yet the lowest breastfeeding percentages in the developing world! Crazy! I tried hard not to force my bias in this post but my passion might just have come through! 😉

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