la mère porteuse

Jean-Marc Espinasse (c) Kristin Espinasse
Jean-Marc who earned the title "Chief Grape" after years of caring for his precious "babies". Read about them, in the following story. 

la mère porteuse (mair-por-tuhz) n.f.

  : surrogate mother

(One who carries a child for a couple or for a single person is also called "une mère accoucheuse")

Click on the following French sentence to hear it spoken by Jean-Marc:

La législation concernant les mères porteuses est encore assez floueThe legal position concerning surrogate mothers is still quite vague. 
--from Insider's French: Beyond the Dictionary

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Three days each week my husband can be found two-and-a-half hours north of here, in Sainte Cécile les Vignes, caring deeply for somebody else's grapevines.

While I am needed here at home, unable to join Jean-Marc during this exciting time, he does his best to share the experience with me.

"Oh, they are healthy!" he says of the vines, like a proud mother-to-be who has just received a clean bill of health from her midwife. Jean-Marc puts the portable phone to his belly, level with the tall vines, and I can just hear our "children's" heartbeat: it is the creaking of the dormant, woody vines as the wind whips through the valley of the Rhône.

"But isn't it cold?" I worry.

"The wind is good for them--keeps them dry and free from disease!" Jean-Marc assures me, as a mother-to-be might assure her husband that all the ice cream she is eating (calcium!) is, in fact, good for the fetus.

Lately, I see Jean-Marc as the surrogate mother. While he isn't actually carrying a baby, he is caring for someone else's grape, touching and nurturing vines that we hope will one day be ours. Our new vine babies are still in the womb, so to speak, as we cannot yet hold them--or rather "hold title" to them--and while we are hopeful to get the bank loan, we have yet to sign the final purchase papers.

But back to our surrogate mom who, I might add, positively glows these days as any woman with child would. I can't help but compare these very different, yet similar periods of gestation: just as Jean-Marc was helpless to assist when I was "with child," trusting me to eat right and get enough sleep, I must now trust that he is making the right decisions for our future "children".

"I am not going to use pesticides," he declares over the phone, in yet another long-distance call from our future vineyard. It is as if he has said "I am not going to give the children antibiotics!"

"But won't they fall ill?" I fret, a couple of hundred kilometers away from being able to help out (or to intervene!).

"It is important to build their resistance!" he says, rather protectively.

Hanging up the phone, I feel a sort of envy that only helpless husbands can feel for the glowing mother-to-be, maker of so many delicate and vital decisions. I want to participate in my "children's" development, yet can't. The only one I can care for is my tired and moody, ice-cream-guzzling "wife".

Returning home after another weekly trip north, our surrogate mother complains.

"Oh, j'ai mal au dos!"* he groans, taking off his heavy pruning belt. "Be careful with your back," I warn, fixing him a cup of tea, adding an extra bit of milk....

Tired as he is, our glowing mère porteuse* has already got the "nannies" lined up (a few calloused-handed men in steel-toe boots) and has given them their orders: no harsh chemicals, only organic supplements such as copper and sulfur.

"Be sure to feed them good minerals!" he orders, wondering if he should really trust others to care for his young'uns.

If all goes according to plan, we will hold title to twenty-one acres of vines by the end of March. For now, there is nothing for a future caretaker to do but to trust and wait; I must relax, letting my wife bring those grapes to term. The needy vines will be here soon enough, hungry, crying to be held (pruned), changed (harvested), and fed a careful and regular measure of minerals--at which point I will be left with one exhausted partner, moaning about how the past two trimesters have wreaked havoc on his once lithe body: "Oh, my chapped hands! Oh, my aching back." And I'll shake my head and think to myself, Oh, women!

Update: 1n 2012 Jean-Marc adopted some olive trees... and planted vines at Mas des Brun, near his beloved Mediterranean Sea. Read our memoir, The Lost Gardens, for the whole story.
avoir mal au dos = to have a backache; avoir mal au dos = to have a backache; la mère porteuse (f) = surrogate mother

Venddange jean-marc harvesting grapes in st cyr sur mer south of france

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety