The French government subsidizes dildos. OK, not really, but the French healthcare system covers perineum re-education, and that includes the purchase of a “sonde” (probe, in much scarier-sounding English) to be used by your professional perineum re-educator in determining the quality of your vaginal muscle.

What happened to doing a few Kegels and calling it a day?

The French are preoccupied with a woman’s state of affairs after giving birth. Invasively so. When my husband returned to work after his 11-day paternity leave (you won’t catch me complaining about that perk of the system), his co-workers asked the routine questions:

“The family is doing well? Baby is healthy?”

“Yes, we’re all doing great, thanks,” my husband replied.

“And your wife has started her perineum re-education sessions?”

Because apparently my hoo-ha and its elasticity are typical water cooler banter between colleagues and employee-whose-wife-just-had-a-baby.

After my first child was born, I went along with the state-sponsored plan to get my goods back in shape. I didn’t want to pee my pants every time I sneezed. I understood the importance of returning to business as usual. Or business as “usual” as you can get after giving birth to a 7 1/2-pound preemie.

I made my husband buy the probe because I’m mature like that. I showed up to the consultation with the physical therapist, government subsidized sonde in hand, and answered all sorts of embarrassing questions that sounded only slightly better with a French accent.

“OK, now undress and hop up on the exam table,” the physical therapist said, as if she hadn’t just told me to get naked in the middle of the room.

I looked around for a changing room or even a thin, paper gown. Nothing. She expected me to drop my drawers right there and shimmy over to the table? My American modesty paralyzed me.

“Is there a problem?” she asked.

“Um, no, um…” I glanced around and my eyes landed on the probe.

“Oh, don’t worry. We won’t be using la sonde today. Today I’ll just evaluate your situation and make recommendations for improvement.”

Like a face lift. Except not for your face.

I disrobed and managed to get through the appointment, squeezing out a few Kegels as she watched and took notes.

“Great job! We’ll see you next week. Don’t forget la sonde!”

In your dreams, lady. Between the demands of caring for a newborn and re-watching every episode of Scrubs, I decided to prioritize my remaining time off work and skip the supervised Kegel sessions.

Two years later, after my daughter was born, I didn’t even contemplate perineal re-education classes. I didn’t need a physical therapist to tell me you could throw a saucisse down my hallway, as it were. I would do my Kegels in the comfort of my own home, this time binge-watching House of Lies while cuddling with my second little bundle of joy.

Thinking all the unpleasantness of labor, delivery, and vaginal exercises was behind me, I returned to work eager for conversation with other adults.

“Welcome back!” my boss’s father said, kissing each cheek in the French custom. “We’re glad you’re here.”

“Thanks, it’s good to be back. Well, I better get to work!”

“Hold on. Do you have a second? I need to ask you something important.”

“Of course.”

“Do you know what a perineum is?”

The clattering of keyboards in the open floor plan office screeched to a halt.

“Um, yes.”

“And do you understand the importance of re-educating it after childbirth? Because it’s really important. My wife didn’t and…”

Tuning out was my only coping mechanism against this uncomfortable dialogue. This affront on my modesty. If only I could put a thin, paper gown between me and this conversation.

“… very important to do what your doctor says. Understand?”

I nodded numbly, then took me and my out-of-shape goods back to my desk. The keyboard clatter resumed, and the redness in my cheeks slowly drained away.

Welcome back to work, where your business is everyone’s business. Even the French government’s.

Vicki Lesage
Author

Vicki Lesage proves daily that raising two French kids isn't as easy as the hype lets on. In her three minutes of spare time per week, she writes, sips bubbly, and prepares for the impending zombie apocalypse. She lives in Paris with her French husband, rambunctious son, and charming daughter, all of whom mercifully don't laugh when she says "au revoir." She penned two books, Confessions of a Paris Party Girl and Confessions of a Paris Potty Trainer, in between diaper changes and wine refills. She writes about the ups and downs of life in Paris at VickiLesage.com.

16 Comments

  1. Alison Tedford

    Omg I would die of embarrassment. And I would also make him go out and buy it to because awkward standing in line conversations.

  2. So, what about breast re-education to prevent your boobs from being deflated after breast feeding? Or abdomen re-education for the flap of fat on your belly after giving birth? Some thigh re-education would be nice too!

  3. Lisa Webb

    Vicki both my girls were born in France and I can 100% relate to how crazy weird this is!! The first blog post I ever wrote was called Vagina Olympics and it was this exact topic. Those crazy French and their vagina exercises! *does kegel while typing*

  4. I make my husband buy all sorts of stuff because I’m too embarrassed. I’m not sure when I’ll be allowed to call myself an adult…

  5. YES. I could use all of these, and they sound at least marginally better than perineum re-education. However, I’m sure none of them come with babysitters so there’s still that.

  6. Hahaha, Europeans…wtf?

    So does your lady part basically look like an always open trap door since you didn’t adhere to your post birth appointments? This is all fascinating and very strange at the same time. My wife also birthed a 7.5 pound premie. Lol. What’s up with that?

  7. I just…I *gargle*…I mean, I know it’s the French and all…but…I just…

    YOUR BOSS’ FATHER.

  8. Don, are you sure you’re not actually my boss’s father in disguise?

    I bet people say to your wife all the time, “Imagine if the baby HADN’T been a preemie!” Yes, I know, we get it–BIG BABY. No one believed me he was a preemie.

  9. My husband is a regular at the pharmacy. When I walk in I’m sure they’re thinking, “Lady, we know your husband’s buying all that stuff for YOU. You’re not fooling anyone.” True, but at least I don’t have to face them. Makes all the difference.

  10. Uh oh! I had two babies in my country and I didn’t have to buy that thing! For the first one, I had one appointment with a therapist (a kine) and she said “no problems here, you can go back home… if you have another one, we will see then.” (I was overjoyed)
    For the second, it was a more manual approach and after three times, she said “ok, you can do it on your own. You know now what to do…”
    If I had to buy that thing, I would have escaped all appointments. Manual and natural therapies are better than all those. Brr…

  11. The manual approach sounds way less intrusive, but for me the biggest deal was having to go to the appointments at all. I could barely remember to eat while I was caring for a toddler and a newborn and I’m supposed to find time for this? I much preferred doing a few Kegels at home. Sounds like your kine gave you enough info to send you on your way, which is a happy medium 🙂

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