Birth & Midwifery in France
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Françoise Bardes and Hélène Goninet

Françoise Bardes was born in Paris, France. She was a midwife at La Protection Maternelle et Infantile (PMI) for three years, followed by 14 years at the University of Paris (institute Mutaliste Montsouris). She has gained a new kind of birth experience in the last year by attending homebirths.

Hélène GoninetHélène Goninet has been a midwife since 1992, attending home births. She gave birth herself at home in 1983 and that gave her the desire to become a midwife. Hélène “met” Midwifery Today at the conference in Strasbourg, France, in 2010 and enjoyed meeting midwives and doulas from all other the world “who think like me!” She believes all babies should have the most natural birth possible and should be welcomed in the most gentle way, and that mothers should be well treated all over the world.



Homebirth and Doulas in France [April 2009]

In France the situation of maternity care is not very good. We still don’t have birth centers, even though seven birth centers (next to hospitals, as the first recommendations requested) are ready. They have not let them open. Several midwives (out of the around 50 who attend homebirth in the whole country) are stopping their activity because of the general midwives’ organization.

The National Academy of Medicine redacted a report of 10 pages last June (not very positive as you may guess), to which we answered with studies and support from our sisters from the UK. (We are translating those documents.)

We were requested by the Ministry of Health to make a presentation about doulas to a huge commission, composed of doctors, midwives, psychologists and other specialists. We were honored to have so many people come to see us, yet we were surprised because doulas have accompanied only 0.002% of all births in France, and we know that midwives and maternity centers need much more attention. Yet, we are making things change and we are proud of that.

We explained that Doulas de France is offering to develop standards that will help prevent “bad” practices, and if doulas aren’t available, it will be much worse.

Prior to this we had a terrible case where a woman who is a midwife in another country, but not recognized here, attended a birth in France illegally, and a baby died. We had counseled her against doing births, but with so few homebirth midwives, women have no one to turn to. She told the press that she was a midwife and also a doula, which journalists used to redefine doula as “one who attends unassisted childbirth.” As a result of this case, we spent a week redacting press releases and answering to journalists.

This case gave doctors an opportunity to claim that homebirth is dangerous, and that midwives and doulas are bad. Thanks to god and our wonderful team, we were able to speak on radio, TV and to the press immediately, so journalists began to see that that was not the correct conclusion.

Association Doulas de France

France’s Sage Femmes [June 2011]

It’s high time for women, especially les sage femmes (Fr. midwives; literally meaning “the wise women”) of France, to take over! Since 2002, midwives’ wages have thinned down. Of all professionals acting in health care, we have the lowest income, and costs keep going up.

The government is cutting down expenses in every public institution, so that midwives working in hospitals are under pressure: fewer midwives, more births! Therefore, we started our first movement in 2010, a demonstration in black. We were mourning our dying profession. This year we were 3500 (we are around 23,000 in total) strong to demonstrate in the streets of Paris (

Our demands:
One mother, one midwife

  • Birth centers
  • Insurance for homebirth
  • Better income and better working conditions
  • Independent teaching units inside universities (not a part of medicine departments)

The minister of health accorded us an interview with his first secretary. We did not even receive a promise, just a vague “we will think about it.” We foresee continuing to fight for true respect for our job.

Françoise Bardes