Birthing Stories

Expat Mom Birth Stories: Elsa Rich

Elsa Rich, a French expatriate, married her American husband 9 years ago. When she was pregnant with her third child, she thought all would go easy like with her first two children. That could not be any further from the truth.

Elsa met her husband in Paris through a dating website. She states, “Never thought I would meet my husband like that.” They moved around a lot and before moving to Italy, they lived in Switzerland. The differences between Switzerland and Italy are, “like day and night!” The move to Italy organized and paid by her husband’s company, consisted of their two children at the ages of 18 months and 1 month old.  The move to Italy affected her negatively, for many reasons. First two days after arriving, her husband had to fly to London for 5 days leaving her to handle their two children in a new country.  She also experienced postpartum depression after the birth of her second child.  She needed to find some help in dealing with the move and the depression to tolerate living here. When I asked about support system here in Italy, she stated, “If I really need help I fly my mom from Paris. I can ask help from friends but they are also busy with work and kids, so not so easy” She still finds it hard to live here but with each year it has been became easier. Their plans are to stay here because of her husband’s job. “FMs4Ms Network surely helped me to find some friends and support. The network has also very good tips/ explanations on how life works here.”

About 2 years ago, Elsa found out she was pregnant and was going to have her third baby delivered in Italy. Because she wanted to have a wonderful experience with her pregnancy and delivery, she got a referral of a private OBGYN but also made appointments through the ASL public system found here in Italy. She was very happy with her OBGYN and continued to have an uncomplicated pregnancy. She just had only the small, annoying normal pregnancy symptoms. Since this was her third pregnancy, she did not feel she needed to go to the prenatal classes

Elsa had a smooth sailing through the third pregnancy until she went to deliver five days before her due date at Torregalli Hospital.  She states why she chose Torregalli hospital, “I wanted the epidural and my doctor told me that was my best shot was at that hospital. was terrified of not having it. I had epidural for the first two and it really helped me.” At Torregalli, the rooms are old looking with old fashion beds, without remote control to adjust the bed head. As for the eating utensils she states, “I had to bring a mug and cutlery. I really thought it was a joke when my friend told me I had to bring those. I had my first meal (pasta) with a piece of bread replacing the fork.”

Because it was very crowded that day, while she was in labor she was placed in the hallway. When she finally arrived in the room after delivery, she was with three other pregnant women that were not in labor.  She was the only one with a baby in that room. One patient in the room was very sick and dehydrated as for the others; she was not sure why they were there, but none with babies. She explained her horrible labor experience with her third child in detail.

“Labor was short: 2h30, but very intense. I was in a corridor, as they had no space for me. No one was talking to me or looking me in the eyes. I was in labor and had perform the check in process of lots of questions. An example of those questions is, “What does your husband study and for how many years?” The same questions for me as well. I was thinking, “I am in labor, any chance you can ask me that at another moment?”

I asked for an epidural and they gave me the “yeah the anesthesiologist is coming soon” speech. He never came, of course. I made them call another one, but when she finally arrived, she only said, “you’ll have to push in 5 minutes so it’s not worth it”.

The head of the maternity ward arrived a bit before and literally, slapped my leg and said ” well, open your legs otherwise it won’t come out!” As if, I was the most idiot person in the world.

Because of the pain and the “French attitude “I yelled he should leave or he will get hurt.

Then my husband got mad and said it was outrageous that they make women suffer like this for nothing. I was scared they would send him out so asked him to calm down.

Every time the doctor, who did not look at me or talk to me, would check my dilatation it would give me horrible contractions. I got to the point where, I told her not to touch me again. I told her, “I will tell you when I feel the need to push”. The midwives acted as if they did not want to be there. I had to go to the bathroom by myself while in labor. Once I was seated, I screamed that I needed to push. They screamed, “don’t push!” Like I had any control of this! I asked for a wheel chair since the pain was paralyzing my legs. The nurses went on and on about who had the wheel chair, and where it was located. They were so unorganized and ridiculous.

I had to walk to the table. I looked at one doctor and said, “I’m scared, I need a 5 minute break from this pain.” She did not even respond or even say something encouraging.

I began pushing. My husband was cheering and supporting me like a champion, but I felt something was wrong. I was scared and no one was telling me anything about what was going on. I bent over and tried to reach for my baby to pull her out myself, as I have done for the other two. Three people held me back on the table.  I began to kick and scream, “Let me go! Do not touch me!” I am sure I hurt some of them and I saw the head of the maternity ward jerked back. I think I kicked him in the stomach. If I did, I feel he deserved it anyway! No one talked or comforted me while all this was happening.

Then I felt a horrible excruciating pain; it was the doctor’s hand scrapping my pelvic bone to free the baby.  I still did not understand what was happening. Then at last, I saw my sweet baby, but I was panicking and shaking, I did not get to enjoy this birthing experience. I could not hold her. I kept saying, “I’m sorry” over and over again, I was in shock and was trying to acknowledge what had happened, but I couldn’t. All I saw was bright lights and so many doctors.  My husband was against the wall. I was trying to see my baby, but everything was blurry.

The doctor told me I needed two stitches.  I jumped when she tried to make the local anesthesia. She rolled her eyes and said to the anesthesiologist “Just put her under will you. I had enough.”

Therefore, they gave me general anesthesia for two stitches but no epidural. This did not make sense, right?

When I woke up the baby was not with me. I was, again in the corridor, alone. I was wondering what had happened. Then a nurse arrived to tell me that they had to check the baby’s shoulder. She mentioned that she would be brought to me soon, because we needed to make a latch on as soon as possible. This was without asking me if I had made the choice to breastfeed or bottle feed.”

Since in Italy it is very big to force breast-feeding, I asked which she had chosen to do with her third child.  She tried to breast feed again with failing attempts, because that was what the hospital demanded. When she asked for a bottle, the nurses told her that she needed a consent from the pediatrician. “They treated me like a neglecting mom and they didn’t offer any support for helping me breastfeed. They gave a five minute lesson on how to make the baby latch.”  Her overall experience was, “It was the worst of all my three giving birth experiences. It really felt like women must suffer and must breastfeed as if we were in the 19th century’s. In addition, the way men doctors would talk to my husband and not me and women doctors would talk to me and ignoring my husband because “men don’t do these things” (like changing diapers etc…)”.

Elsa now pregnant with her fourth child has decided for obvious reasons that she will not be going to Torregalli to give birth.   She claims, “For this baby I’m going to try the Margherita center. At least I know that I will not get the epidural, but I’m hoping for a bit more humanity and support.”

Author: Kimberly Vanzi

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