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.”
“Do you know what a perineum is?”
The clattering of keyboards in the open floor plan office screeched to a halt.
“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.