Tuesday, July 31, 2007

French blockade on babies? Just say non...

A book attacking the hallowed cult of motherhood in France has raised more than Gallic eyebrows. Janine di Giovanni reports.
. . .
We live in a time of rapidly increasing pregnancy rates. So how I laughed at an angry, rather bitter little book witten by French economist/psychoanalyst Corinne Maier entitled, No Kid: 40 Reasons Not to Have Children.
. . .
But it's a touchy, awkward subject. It's as close to a taboo as you can get: admitting that you don't want children and that if you have them, perhaps life would have been better if you did not. It's the kind of thing you might say to your shrink, but not something you blurt out at a polite dinner party.
. . .
"In France, people go on too much about the glory of motherhood," Maier has said. "I thought it would be fun to take a dig at the myth that having children is wonderful."
. . .
It's. . . rather odd that it has been written by a French woman. France has the highest fecundity rate in Europe, 830,000 births in 2006, the average of 2.9 children per woman.

It even surpasses Ireland. Part of the reason is religion and tradition but also the fat subsidies the state hands out to pregnant women, babies, new mothers, and families. It's one of the few places I know where young girls start talking about having a "bébé" in their early twenties and where reproduction, rather than a career, is viewed as a viable option after leaving university.

This is the only country in the world, as far as I'm aware, where a state-paid helper arrives a week after you give birth to make you carrot soup and help arrange your layette. It is the only country I know of that pays for a physical therapist to work with you to get your stomach muscles (and your reproductive muscles, but that's another matter) strong again, so that you look good in a bikini a few months after giving birth (and reproduce swiftly again).

It is also the only country that gives you a 50 per cent tax break on your nanny and awards huge discounts on rail travel if you have a child. Of course the French state is bankrupt on the back of this, but never mind.

Maier complains about all the things that most people with children feel but would never say: the loss of those wonderful lazy weekends, lounging in bed and drinking coffee on Sunday mornings; the vast expense of having a child; the overwhelming sense of responsibility for the next two decades.
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It might be acceptable to write that book in New York, where women have always put career ahead of family, but not in France.

To me, Maier's book was humorous even if I could not relate to it. I had my son late in life, so his birth and his presence is a joy rather than an imposition. I had enough Saturday mornings lounging around drinking coffee to know it gets boring. I don't mind the fact that my son wears upmarket Bonpoint while I can't afford to go within 20 feet of Prada any more. I am thrilled that he takes up all my time. The way I see it, he has saved me from being a selfish egomaniac.

But Maier had her children younger . . . But, while I felt for her two children when I read the book . . . I do see the sense in some of her points. I do think society puts tremendous pressure on women to reproduce.

It happened to me, and it happens to my many friends who don't have children. Not just at drinks parties ("Do you have kids? Oh really? Why not?") but from family, colleagues and doctors (I changed doctors twice because, in my early thirties, I kept being hounded by mine to "get on with it and have a baby" when I really was not emotionally ready).

There is an unnecessary stigma attached to remaining childless.
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[This book] is little more than a chance to complain. After all, ''Il faut raler'' - you've got to complain - is the national anthem here.

British readers would be well advised to read this book, enjoy it, then throw it in the bin.
The author of this article seems utterly confused as to how she feels about the book. Perhaps it reflects her own mixed feelings about motherhood, and society's pressure to procreate.

Ultimately, it falls prey to the same traps as many other childfree book reviews written by self-reassuring parents: overbroad characterization of what a childfree life is like, (I have plenty of things to do on weekends besides drink coffee) blunt self-glorification of the noble sacrafices of parenthood, ("whah, I don't wear Prada anymore") and cavalier dismissal of points she admits are noteworthy and true as "complaints".

All in all, I am left glad I don't live in France.

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