June 7, 2015

International Birth Stories – Italy

Welcome back to the International Birth Stories series.  If you’re just joining us, make sure you check out the other testimonies in the series: France, Australia, Germany, Senegal, Switzerland, Japan, England, Djibouti, Northern Ireland, Brazil. This week we have Diane, with a birth story from Italy.

International Birth Stories thebestofbaby.com

Diane gave birth to her second child in a public hospital (though her OBGYN belonged to a private practice) in a suburb of Milan, Italy. 
International Birth Stories thebestofbaby.com

Intro: What brought you to Italy?

My husband plays wheelchair basketball professionally for a team in Italy and it is our second year living here.  Our Italian is basically non existent, but we are able to usually understand what people are talking about despite not being able to contribute.  Finding a doctor who spoke English was a bit of a project, but I managed to find a great OBGYN.  The doctor that we found works in private practice, as opposed to the National Health system, so we had to pay out of pocket for each appointment.  She was a great doctor with good English, however she lacked the confidence to talk to me about everything in English so we had to bring a friend to translate during my early appointments. 

1) What surprised you about prenatal care in Spain?

As this was my second child and I had the first half of my pregnancy at home in the States, I was not as concerned about prenatal care.  I knew what I needed to be doing and was able to request the blood tests that I required based on pre-existing health conditions.  I was surprised that the doctor never tested my urine — I did that when I had blood work done, but never at my appointments.  I never had my temperature taken my entire pregnancy and she never examined my legs or hands for swelling.  The last month of my pregnancy only had one appointment as opposed to one each of the final weeks of my pregnancy with my first child.  One of the best parts of my prenatal care was that I got an ultrasound at each appointment.  It was so encouraging to see the baby grow the last few months! 
My OBGYN told me that she would not be delivering me.  Instead it would be one of the two midwives in her practice.  Thankfully the midwife spoke great English and we got along very well.  She did warn me that if I went into labor or delivered on Christmas I would be charged the holiday rate- however that was not a concern because I was convinced I would deliver early like I had with my first daughter.  Of course I went into labor on the 25th of December and delivered before 1am on the 26th!

2) What surprised you about giving birth in Italy?

When I went into labor we were not convinced it was true labor.  We waited over an hour before packing up our sleeping 2 year old and heading to the hospital where the midwife met us.  Arriving at the hospital, I had to check in at the ER and then wait for the OB on call to come see if I was actually in labor.  Well, by the time she checked me I was ready to push.  I received no assistance climbing from the exam table onto the gurney to take me up to a delivery room.  I was instructed not to push on the way up!  I was only able to have one person in the delivery room, but because the midwife was medical she was able to be there. 
I never received instructions with regards to pushing from the doctor or nurses in the delivery room, but the midwife would tell me things as needed.  After I delivered I learned that the hospital staff did not say anything because my husband was doing such a good job being my labor coach.  I was never offered water or ice or anything during delivery.  After delivery I was able to hold my baby girl right away and so was my husband.  We kept asking her weight and length, but we were told they don’t do those until 2 hours after delivery.  Post delivery I was offered tea, but asked for water instead.  That was the only thing I was given until breakfast the next morning (which was tea and a packet of crackers). 
The food was terrible — like most hospitals.  I was given one bottle of water with each meal, but other then that, nothing was ever provided to drink.  My husband brought me water while I was in the hospital, as Italians don’t drink tap water.  He also brought me snacks each time he came.
I was told for my hospital stay that I would need to provide everything for myself and the baby — from the diapers the baby wore to the clothing I delivered in and even the pads for after delivery!  I gave birth in a t-shirt of my husbands and had to provide my own everything from the moment I walked in the door.  Turns out most Italians buy a specific set of clothing (very similar to American hospital gowns, but a little closer to a night gown) for their delivery!  I wore my husbands shirts and basketball shorts for the entire hospital stay. 
The baby was never given anything by the hospital — no cute t-shirt, no hat nothing.  In fact my daughter was the only child who wore hats in the hospital.  They also never swaddled her — she was put in a bed that had a thick blanket.  It honestly made me nervous that she had a thick blanket over her.  The Italians were surprised when I would only have her in a pajama onesie (long sleeved) and insisted on another onesie underneath. 
The rooms had bathrooms but no showers and the “floor shower” was in a kind of storeroom which made it an uncomfortable experience.  I was checked maybe 3 times a day the first and second day, but by the third day I was only checked on once.   I felt very neglected.  The checks were very basic, but I was never offered any type of pain management (after a natural birth I was extremely sore) and the baby was hardly ever checked on except in the morning by the doctor.  The beds were very basic with no function for sitting up — only laying down — and the pillows were uncomfortable at best.  When you called for a nurse they would reply on the intercom and they avoided coming to see you at all costs. At times we had trouble locating any staff to talk to at all on the floor!

3) What surprised you about postnatal care in Italy?

 Post-natal care was basically non-existent.  No pain management, no home instructions at discharge, no follow up appointments.  I received stitches and was told to watch for them to fall out- no dissolvable stitches here! I made an appointment with my OB to be checked out, but there was nothing else offered or encouraged.  The standard length of stay is 3 days FridayMonday for me, and, I’ve been told, longer if you have a C-section.
4) Overall impression of the pregnancy and birth culture in Italy
I expected a different experience from my first birth, and that is what I got.  I am glad that I had a very positive experience with my first child, because if I had experience this the first time around, I would have never done it again! People were very sweet to me when I was pregnant and now that I have a 2 month old, they are very sweet to her.  Italians love babies, but the standard of care for child birth could be greatly improved! 
International Birth Stories thebestofbaby.com
Stay tuned next week for another installment in the International Birth Stories series!

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Iulia is a former educator turned stay-at-home mama of a spunky toddler and a squishy infant. With a touch of sass and a good dose of self-deprecating humor, she has an ever-expanding repertoire of bloopers, insights, stories, and impassioned opinions to share. Iulia likes to think she has this parenting gig figured out, but her littles remind her daily just how far from the truth that is.

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  • Sydneyv@yahoo.com'
    Reply Christina June 7, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Reading this series is always so interesting because the expectations as Americans regarding birth and care appear to be so different than what I have found here in Canada. For instance bringing your own diapers, wipes, pads etc is the norm here (they usually give you 2 or so and you are required to bring the rest) because it is accepted that we need to keep the costs low since it is socialized medicine. Similarly with the different view on post partum care. I loved being left alone after having babies and even going home just a few hours after the birth of my last two children. With midwives we have 3 home visits the first week and are able to contact a midwife 24/7 if there are concerns but otherwise we are on our own. It’s really neat to see how views, expectations and societal views impact how we view birth experiences in other countries.

  • daffny@dontdareblink.com'
    Reply Daffny June 23, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    I love all the details Diane gave with her story! I think giving birth in Italy wouldn’t be so bad if you’re prepared… Except for the showers. *shudder.*

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