Unlike the show, “Locked Up Abroad,” I can’t say I’ve ever been placed in a foreign jail – but I can chalk up “having a baby” to the list of things I never thought I’d be doing in a foreign country. And not only am I ecstatic to be having my first child, I’m actually grateful to be doing it here in Italy. After all, I’m about to become a sort of untouchable institution in this country: una mamma italiana.
Lately, I’ve been nesting like it’s my job – because technically, the Italian government has mandated that it is. Having reached the eight month mark, I’m no longer permitted by law to be working. In fact, I had to file a special request accompanied by a doctor’s certificate to stay in the office an extra thirty days, since the standard rule of leaving work actually kicks in at the completion of the seventh month of pregnancy. How ‘bout them cannolis?
Giving a bloated, anxious, sleep-deprived expectant mother the chance to relax and adequately prepare for one of the biggest events of her life, instead of working up until the day she gives birth: now there’s a novel idea.
In Italy, maternity leave lasts a total of five months, at full pay. Traditionally, these months are divided up into two before the due date, plus three after. Otherwise, as I’ve chosen, there’s the option of working an extra month before the due date then carrying that over for a total of four months of leave after the birth.
And it doesn’t end there:
Once you go back to work, you’re only required to be there for six hours a day – a little something called allatamento, or a nursing benefit. This reduced schedule is automatically extended to mothers until the child’s first birthday.
But wait, there’s more!
In addition to the standard five months, there’s also aspettativa, or an elective, additional leave of absence, paid at 30%. These available months total as many as twelve and can be used anytime – either all together, or split into days, weeks, or months. And get this: they don’t expire until the child is four years old. So if you need extra time (months or even years after your initial maternity leave) for whatever reason, you’re entitled to take it. Oh, and all of this is protected by law, meaning you obviously cannot be let go from your job for having taken advantage of these benefits.
All in all, not too shabby – and light years away from what we’re used to in the States.
Aside from the generous, kick-ass maternity laws, being in dolce attesa in Italy just seems a little sweeter in general. I’ve never had the experience of being pregnant in the States, so I may not be aware of the perks that exist at home. Whatever they are, though, they certainly aren’t as noticeable in daily life as they are here, or I’m sure I would’ve been aware of them at some point.
For example, all the major malls in Rome have special parking places next to the handicapped spots called posti rosa, which are reserved for pregnant women and recognizable by their pink painted lines and a sign like this one:
Welcome future mothers. We invite you to leave this spot available to expecting women. (Small writing) This request is not part of the street code (law), it’s an invitation to make a gesture of civility.
Of course, these spots are designed as part of an honor system, so who knows how many people don’t respect them. But hey, at least they exist.
Parking privileges are just the beginning. The pancione, or pregnant belly, elicits big smiles and “auguri” (congrats) from just about everyone I come in contact with. It comes along with quite a bit of unspoken respect and a certain sense of entitlement in public. I notice that older women especially take an extra second to lock eyes and give me a wink as they pass by, as if I’ve entered into some kind of secret club.
It’s also normal practice not to have to wait in lines of any kind. In fact, most major grocery stores actually have a separate line marked for those with special needs, where pregnant women are welcome to cut in at any time. And at stores without this designated line, all it usually takes is a pop of the belly and people move aside, graciously (or occasionally, not so much) leaving you to pass them and head directly to the checkout.
In terms of the quality of the medical care I’ve received throughout my pregnancy, I can honestly say it’s been top-notch and incredibly thorough. Between regular checkups and special screenings, I’ve had at least one ultrasound a month, with the newest equipment in an exceptionally clean and modern facility. I do consider myself lucky, since my insurance through work covers this private clinic – but it’s worth noting that all women, even those without insurance (the overwhelming majority), are entitled to the same routine checkups and tests in public facilities at no charge at all, thanks to Italy’s state healthcare system. No doubt, these public visits most likely mean more time, energy, and hassle, but regardless, they cost nothing. And having a baby in a public hospital, even via c-section, is completely free as well.
Both my gynecologist/obstetrician as well as the specialist I’ve seen have been great, and experiences in themselves. They’re both well-known as complete pros and baby delivering machines, but at first glance, you’d never know it.
My obstetrician is in his early forties and is so chill, he seems like one of our friends. Totally no-nonsense and relaxed, he never indulges me much in the “what happens if” questions. He’s pleasant, straight-forward, and delivers a slew of babies per week at one of the best maternity hospitals in Rome.
The specialist is so calm and collected, it’s almost unnerving. A bit older, I’ve seen him three times for the in-depth trimester checkups. Each time I walked in, he was leaning on his hands, looking like he was about to fall asleep at any moment. Instead of a white coat, he’s always in his street clothes, which consist of a tailored, decidedly snug (from his substantial pasta gut) button-down shirt and a Gucci belt.
But as soon as he starts the ultrasound, he’s all business – not saying a word, just moving decisively from one side of my belly to the next, calling out measurements for his assistant to record. During my first trimester screening at twelve weeks – without even asking if we wanted to know the sex – out of nowhere he blurted out, “Ecco, guarda che cosa abbiamo qui… un pisellino” (well, look what we have here… a little pee-pee). He then proceeded to print me a 3D picture of said pisellino.
And at the end of the big second trimester screening, which really confirms the solid development of the baby, he simply said, “Tanti cari auguri, signora,” (many heartfelt congratulations) and walked out.
I guess that’s all you really need to hear anyway.