"I think were pretty well integrated, I chat to the neighbours when we meet in the street, they drop round fruit and veg from their gardens from time to time, its a very friendly little cul-de-sac. It took a little while with others, Im pretty shy so its not easy to make the first move especially in a foreign language, but Ive gradually built up casual relationships with other mums at Tillys school, enough to pass the time of day as we wait at the school gates. But I havent yet made any close friends here" (RC, Sep 11)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Maubeuge?
My name is Rachel Aicard, Im 38 years old and Ive lived in Maubeuge for just over a year, and in France since 2005.
Why did you move there?
My husband was out of work and found a job here, its also fairly close to my husbands parents which is handy for babysitting. We lived near here a few years ago, so knew the area pretty well.
What is the area like where you live?
Maubeuge is a very poor town, theres high unemployment and its a bit run down in general, although there are attractive parts like the Vauban fortifications around the town centre. But drive 10 minutes and youre in the Avesnois valley which is beautiful countryside, fields, hills, farms, rivers, quaint little villages, really lovely.
What nationality are you and your partner?
Im British, my husband is French.
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
We have two girls, Mathilde is almost five, she was born in Maubeuge when we lived here first time around. Estelle is nearly three, she was born in La Roche Sur Yon in Vendée.
What was your experience of having a baby in Maubeuge (if relevant)?
Mathilde was premature, born at 32 weeks pregnancy with a low birth weight (1130g) by emergency caesarean. The care during the pregnancy was fine, appointments and scans every month even though I had what seemed a perfectly normal pregnancy. I had planned to have the baby in a private clinic but as it turned out I had to be transferred to the city hospital because she was premature. I was disappointed that Paul my husband wasnt be with me during the birth, apparently the French frown on the idea of non-medical staff in the operation room during caesars, so I was scared and alone in what was a pretty terrifying situation and he was left to pace the floors outside. However the assistant anaesthetist was great, she held my hand through the whole thing, told me exactly what was going on and offered plenty of reassurance. I got a five minute cuddle with the smallest baby I had ever seen before she was whisked away to the neonatal unit and didnt see her again until the following afternoon when I was fit enough to pop into a wheelchair and be rolled up to see her, clearly that was quite traumatic.
After that though Ive really no complaints. The hospital let me stay 10 days rather than the usual 6 or 7 even though I was perfectly fit, just so I could stay close to the baby. The neonatal staff were great, we were always welcome during the 8 weeks Tilly spent there day and night. I spent long afternoons alone cuddling my baby in neonatal ward until Paul came in after work and took over for an hour or two, and we were encouraged to spend as much time as possible with her. They showed me how to wash, feed, change and handle her which was helpful, I think even with a normal newborn we feel a certain trepidation because they seem so tiny and fragile and that trepidation is amplified when the newborn is only half the normal size, and we were encouraged to take on as much of her daily care as possible. At the end of her stay, I spent 5 days in the special Mother and Baby room in the neonatal unit, which was a nice little room with fridge, tv, microwave, bed and chair for me, plus a little room for Tilly right next door, so she could stay hooked up to her monitors and the nurses could attend to her without disturbing me if necessary, but I could really care for her myself, waking up for the night feeds etc, getting in the rhythm with her, it was a lovely time for bonding with my little girl.
I had a lot of problems with my milk too, Tilly was too tiny to feed efficiently, so I was expressing and the milk was drying up because I was so stressed and hated expressing, I felt like an industrial cow, they offered lots of tips, recipes for herbal tea etc that would improve my yield and when nothing worked they were very reassuring about bottle feeding, which really helped as my self esteem was at a real low point. Tilly was really well cared for too and after 8 weeks I was able to take home a still small but solid and healthy baby.
What was your experience of relocating to Maubeuge with children (if relevant)?
Relocating to Maubeuge was no different from any of our other relocations, the kids were still small enough that it was only really a change of house for them. Tilly was due to start school and we moved in mid August so I was a little anxious we wouldnt find a place in a decent school (there arent very many good ones in Maubeuge). Luckily our local school is one of the best in town and the headmistress booked her in with no problems.
Do you work and if so what do you do?
Not at the moment. Estelle is due to start school in November, then I plan to take an online TEFL course and to start giving private English lessons, to help out with the household income.
Did you buy or rent your property? How did you find the process?
Were renting at the moment, we have a great house with a lovely garden. Finding a house to rent was tricky though, Pauls salary wasnt huge and we had to have a guarantor but a lot of the estate agents didnt want to accept our guarantor (Pauls granny) because her income came from property which they thought wasnt a secure income. Finally we found this house via the notaire. Our landlord is great, friendly and open to suggestions.
How well integrated would you say you and your family are?
I think were pretty well integrated, I chat to the neighbours when we meet in the street, they drop round fruit and veg from their gardens from time to time, its a very friendly little cul-de-sac. It took a little while with others, Im pretty shy so its not easy to make the first move especially in a foreign language, but Ive gradually built up casual relationships with other mums at Tillys school, enough to pass the time of day as we wait at the school gates. But I havent yet made any close friends here.
What language do you speak to your children?
I speak English but throw in the odd French word so that they learn, Pauls supposed to speak French but forgets half the time because they respond quicker to English.
Do you think it is essential for someone to speak French when relocating to the area?
It would be really hard to live in Maubeuge without speaking some French, Ive met no English speakers here at all, although if you drive 20 minutes up the road youre in Mons in Belgium where theres a big international community thanks to the S.H.A.P.E.
What is your impression of childcare and education in Maubeuge?
Tillys "ecole maternelle" is great, the teachers are friendly and always happy to spare you some time to discuss how your child is progressing. However apparently it is one of the few schools in Maubeuge that meets national standards and if she hadnt had a place there we would almost certainly have tried to get her into one of the two private schools here.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Maubeuge?
I dont think Im any different from anyone else. Although due to the large immigrant population here people are sometimes a little cold if not hostile when they hear a foreign accent until they realise that Im British rather than North African or something.
How welcoming were the locals when you arrived in Maubeuge?
We live in a nice street, the neighbours were generally friendly and welcoming. Of course it helps that Paul is French, so not really an outsider, but the northerners in general are a warm and friendly people.
Would you say your area is family-friendly and is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
There are nice places for the kids, play-parks and things, and there are sports and dance clubs but you have to winkle them out with research as they dont really advertise. Otherwise a little more care of the pavements would make the daily walk to school easier with the pushchair.
Are you able to recommend to other MumAbroad members in the area any local services (home delivery, plumbers, dentists, babysitters etc) or any activities, restaurants or shops for children in the area?
Not much. When we eat out we tend to go further afield to Brussels and combine it with a trip to the cinema so we can see the movie in original version, likewise for big shopping we go to LUsine near Lille which is big factory outlet. For days out with the kids, we often go to Val Joly, which is a lake about 30 mins drive away in the Avesnois, they have a nice play area and pedalos and its a lovely setting. Or to the zoo in Maubeuge which offers special reductions and occasional free days for residents of Maubeuge. Theres also the "farm" of the zoo of Maubeuge, which is free entry, they have a few sheep, goats and ponies to say hello to and a nice big play area.
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Maubeuge with children?
I think Id look for a house outside Maubeuge, its very easy to commute in and the villages around are much pleasanter and healthier and the quality of schooling is usually better in the more rural areas.
What couldn´t you live without in Maubeuge?
I love the hypermarket / commercial centre, you can get pretty much anything, its almost like a British shopping centre.
What could you live without in Maubeuge?!
I would love them to build a decent bypass, the main non-toll road from Belgium runs right through Maubeuge very close to our house which means there are constantly huge lorries trundling past as I walk the kids to school, its a bit nerve-wracking.