After finding out I was pregnant only a few weeks after moving to Paris, I immediately dug into the complexities of maternity in France such as getting a local medical card, finding a doctor and a place to give birth. Like every pregnant woman, I was swiftly warned about avoiding certain foods. But somehow these restrictions are harder in France than elsewhere.
On this list of no-no’s were:
Unpasteurized dairy products, alcohol, caffeinated drinks, under-cooked meats, fish and eggs. Deli meats, cured meats, and cold leftovers of any kind are also forbidden.
Avoiding many of 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 must abstain from that addictive French cheese and say no to cafe au lait. Nor shall I indulge in any charcuterie, devour any steak tartare, or slurp up most egg dishes. Even many deserts are off limits as they often violate the terms above (and below). Oh and… French wine!
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.
But that’s not all.
In France, there is an additional concern, Taxoplasmos, a parasite found in soil and spread by cats. Many French women have already been exposed and are immune. But if you are not immune, like me, it is very important you do not consume the parasite while pregnant or risk your child having severe congenital health problems. It is so serious an issue, I have to get a blood test each month during pregnancy to check for evidence of exposure. And if they find the parasite has infected the fetus before 24 weeks, the doctors will suggest you terminate your pregnancy.
So if you are pregnant and not already immunized, it is not the best time for a trip to Paris! How great the risk, nobody seems to know exactly. But it is sure a maddening preoccupation for pregnant women here.
Taxoplasmos can be found in uncooked or unwashed fruits and veggies throughout France. To avoid it, it is important to vigorously wash any produce. Many will soak produce in vinegar-water. And to be safe, it is best to avoid any uncooked foods in restaurants or cafes such as lettuce or even fresh squeezed orange juice. You never know if they really washed their produce well. The parasite can also be found in meat. And so, meats being well cooked becomes even more important.
Abiding by these rules 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 they understand – they’ll tell the kitchen I’m pregnant and my food will be well cooked – it never comes right the first time. I always have to send my food back (often multiple times) whether it’s eggs, meat, or even chicken. Yes, even chicken comes a bit pink here sometimes.
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. It is irritating at best.
French chefs also have a compulsion to finish plates with a garnish such as fresh herbs, chopped chives, or edible flower petals. Ehem. These are raw and thus I can’t be sure not infected with Taxoplasmos. So even if the cook leaves the salad off the plate, and I ask for no garnish of any kind, and they prepare the meat to over-cooked perfection, there is always chopped parsely. It is 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.
I am really not enjoying being sandwiched between the dietary restrictions of pregnancy and the persnickety local French culture. However, I am keeping my eye on the prize. And I know it is all worth it in the end.