Alison has lived in France for 13 years with her husband and 2 daughters. She joined the Girl Guides as a volunteer in 2013. She is now one of a 3 member team who looks after her local District, which is part of the British Guides Overseas. Read her story below.
I currently live in the South-West of France, with my husband and 2 daughters. We moved to this area of France in 2005, primarily because of my husband’s job with Airbus. I had already left my career as a Cabin Crew Trainer when we moved from Muscat, Oman the year before.
We rented a house initially, in a town close to Toulouse. It was a good base to get to know the area and work out where we would like to eventually buy. When we arrived, my daughter Elen was 8 months old. We also had my husband’s two sons with us, who were 11 and 13 then. It was a bigger adjustment for them being the ages they were. Although the boys went to the International school, I had every intention to give Elen the opportunity to be bilingual.
In between us leaving Oman and us then moving to France, I found out I was pregnant and we had a year in the UK. The midwives were fantastic and did an amazing job as I had had a long and difficult labour. Elen was born by emergency cesarean to the tune of ‘Wild Thing’ playing in the background. It became her theme tune!
After the rush of maternal love and the shock that I really did produce this little being, the reality of being a Mum hit hard. Although the team in the delivery suite had been amazing, life on the ward was something totally different. As I had had a cesarean, I needed to stay in hospital for 5 days. It was the last thing I wanted. The ward was full to capacity. It was constantly busy, day and night – which of course, with a ward of new borns should be expected! I struggled to breastfeed her, I just couldn’t get it right so there was a lot of frustration and upset on mine and Elen’s part! No-one had enough time to show me or help me. The stress and anxiety kept building. I remember texting my husband during night 3, in sheer desperation. He just HAD to come and get me and take me home! Of course he couldn’t but when the time came, I didn’t need to be told twice that I could leave.
My first few years in France was pretty much taken up with Elen and the boys and that was great, I liked being home for them but something was nagging me, I still felt something was missing. I had always considered myself a career girl, and never imagined not working. I loved the airline environment and missed the buzz of it, the people, and being part of something that I was contributing to. I missed being needed in a different sort of way to that of my family.
I started teaching English, as that seemed the only thing I could do really as my level of French was not very good. I did a TEFL course and an opportunity came up giving informal lessons at the community centre. It was only 2 hours a week, but it was quite fun and I enjoyed it. By this time Elen was doing well at school, the elder son had finished school and returned to the UK and I fell pregnant with Chloe!
From the start the whole pregnancy and baby thing was completely different to that in the UK. I had a check up every month with the obstetrician which included a scan of the baby. Then there were blood tests, so much blood taken and don’t mention the glucose test! That was the worst thing about being pregnant here! The care though was impeccable. Chloe has always kept us on our toes though and at 33 weeks I started having contractions, so I was instantly hospitalised for a week while the contractions were slowed down and they tried to keep baby where she was! I was able to leave but had to still take medication until I was in the ‘safe’ zone of 36 weeks. I had her at 37 weeks and it was a much quicker labour and delivery than Elen’s.
The wards aren’t big here, some rooms have perhaps 4 beds, others have 2 but we had our own room, which was really quite nice. It is a standard stay of 5 days even after a normal delivery, but it was calm and gave you the chance to have time with your baby.
It was like being a first time Mum again – I couldn’t remember what to do. I couldn’t remember what Elen was like to make any comparison. The lack of sleep seem to hit us much harder – how was I going to do this, to keep the rest of the family going? Get them to school? But of course, you just do.
At 4 months old, Chloe was diagnosed with Developmental Hip Dysplacia. We spent 8 days in hospital, while her legs were in traction, ready to have a full plaster cast fitted to retrain her hip. She was in a plaster cast in total, for 4 months. There were plenty of appointments to keep us busy. It’s still not perfect, but it doesn’t stop her doing anything at all and she’s has an annual check up to keep an eye on things.
I tried to work again. An opening to teach English to office employees came up. I did that for a year but was totally uninspired by it and just didn’t enjoy it. I was feeling a bit despondent, it was like I was in a waiting room, wondering how long it would take for something to come along. I just didn’t seem to fit into anywhere, my confidence was quite low. I was shy when I was a child and I felt like that again. It was hard to strike up a conversation with anyone and make friends.
Elen had joined Girl Guiding as a Rainbow and at 7 was ready to move up to Brownies. It was a great group to be part of, especially as she was going to a French school, so to have some English speaking buddies was good for her. A little while later, a call went out for volunteers who were needed to keep the Guides going. I thought, I could do this – I can do this. So I did and I joined the Girl Guides in 2013 as a Brownie leader and instantly loved it! I don’t know why I didn’t join earlier.
I needed them as much as they needed me. It gave me a circle of friends, confidence and that rewarding feeling you get when you can give something back to the community that you live in and watch the future generation grow. I have watched my own girls grow too. For me it fulfilled the feeling of belonging to something, that I am contributing, I am needed and it has brought my planning and organisation skills back into play.
Elen is almost 14, in her last few months as a Guide, and will become a Ranger soon. She is starting the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme through them. Chloe is 8 and a Brownie and enjoyed her first Brownie camp a few weeks ago. We’ve all benefitted from the opportunities Guiding has provided.
We are part of the British Guiding Overseas and we are in the BeNeLux and France county. Now I am one of the 3 member team who looks after our District – the girls and leaders.
I have just started as an agent for an estate agency, Leggett Immobilier. I am self employed so although I work under their name, it means I can be totally flexible and I can work around the girls and Guiding! I don’t know how long we will be in France – as long as we’re happy has been our mantra! It took a little while but I found my feet and feel a lot more settled.
The Girl Guides have units all over the world: www.british-girlguiding-overseas.org.uk
To find out if there is a unit in your area or if you would like to be involved: www.girlguiding.org.uk/get-involved/