After only a few weeks of moving to Paris, I found out I was pregnant. My husband and I, although surprised, embraced this new beginning with joy and excitement. And we immediately dug into the complexities of maternity in France from healthcare to insurance.
Like every pregnant woman, I was swiftly warned by my midwife about avoiding certain foods. But somehow these restrictions seem even harder in France than elsewhere for a handful of reasons.
On this list of no-no’s were:
Unpasterized dairy products, alcohol, caffeinated drinks, under-cooked meats, poultry, fish and eggs as well as deli meats, cured meats, or cold leftovers of any kind.
What??? I can’t eat the delicious French cheese I see in the windows of the fromageries I pass on the street? Or indulge in any charcuterie? Or drink any wine? Or devour any steak tartare? Or finish my meal with a desert as they often violate the terms above?
Avoiding all these items in my new home is a challenge because consuming them was the very benefit I was most looking forward to as I moved to this delicious city. And now I must practice a sensei-like willpower to protect my unborn child.
I tell myself, at least I can still have the baguettes and croissants. And I dream of the cheese bender I will go on when this is all said and done.
What? I can’t have a salad?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. In France there is an additional concern. And that is, Taxoplasmos. It is a parasite that is spread by cats. Many French woman have already been exposed and are immune. But if you are not immune, like myself, it is very important you do not consume the parasite while pregnant or risk your child having severe congenital health problems.
And unfortunately, this parasite can be found in uncooked or unwashed fruits and veggies throughout France. To avoid it, it is important to vigorously wash any produce. And to be safe, it is best to avoid any uncooked foods such as lettuce or even fresh squeezed orange juice in restaurants or cafes. You never know if they really washed their produce well.
Taxoplasmos can also be found in meat. And so, meats being well cooked becomes even more important. But this is no easy feat in French restaurants.
When I order meat of any kind I must ask for it to be well done. And even if the server assures me she or he has got my back, they’ll tell the kitchen I’m pregnant and my food will be well cooked, it never is. I always have to send it back whether it’s eggs, meat, or even chicken. Yes, even chicken comes a bit pink here. It is irritating at best. Cooking meats well in this country seems to be a sin. And I must persuade those in the kitchen to commit it each time I dine out.
French chefs also love to garnish a finished plate with fresh herbs, or chopped chives, or edible flower petals. Ehem. This is raw and thus I can’t be sure not infected with taxoplasmos. So even if they leave the salad off the plate and I ask for no garnish of any kind, and they cook the meat to over-cooked perfection, there always is garnish. It’s maddening.
When my food finally comes to the table in a form I can consume only well after my husband has finished his meal, it is maimed and charred and often lost it’s appeal.
Sigh. What we do for our little ones.