Category Archives: Expat Mom Stories

We have interview many moms about their life here in Italy. We have birthing stories, Their move here, and now a new one working moms.

Dominique Coindre: Working Mom Stories

Dominique Coindre, a French Canadian with many degrees, chose to change careers so she could start a family by adopting her beautiful daughter. She wanted to explore the world and travel, giving her now 10-year-old daughter opportunities she could cherish. Being a translator and a single mom has given her the bases to pursue this dream of travel.  At times, it can be tough being a single mom in a new country, but she takes this with determination and passion. She continues to show her daughter that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it. Dominique’s story is an inspiration to many single moms out there who are trying to live their dream of building a life in Italy.

At the age of 44, Dominique became a single mom when she adopted her “snow girl”, from Kazakhstan, in 2009. Her life with her daughter is made of the usual child raising difficulties, as for all mothers out there, but “Seeing her smile, seeing her becoming her own person, how she is starting to think on her own with the right values, makes me proud of her, and what I have accomplished so far with her.” Dominique had always envisioned “”to share” the world with her daughter, and living in Italy became of the plan”. They arrived in Italy, with their two cats and entire household, two years ago, when her daughter was 8 years old.

Dominique states, “It is not easy to be a single mom, because the burden lies on just one pair of shoulders, being in Italy does not change that reality”.  She has no break from parenting and no network to help in raising her child, as many others have with parents and close family members.  “Between work and being a mother, there is not much space for being a woman. I sometimes long to have more time to nurture old interests and develop new ones, but at the same time, I know this is our only time together and is short-lived. Soon enough, perhaps even too soon, she will go off on her own path”.  It is a constant struggle to balance being a single mom, but there is a positive aspect: nothing gets in the way of Dominique’s own version of how to raise her daughter.

When Dominique moved here, she did not have the Italian husband or family to help with settling into life here. She recounts, “I was psychologically prepared for the bureaucratic hurdles, but still found it all very daunting. The language barrier, of course, did not help, though I had some proficiency with Italian prior to moving. Simple things such as transferring the phone line, water supply, electricity, gas, to my name, getting the Internet, became protracted exercises in patience (and in  frustration…)”  The astounding amount of paperwork to get permission for her and her daughter to stay in Italy was confounding.  She recalls, “It was very tiring, if not exhausting” and this tortuous bureaucracy might well be a major factor in her future decision on whether to stay or leave Italy.

However, because of the Italians’ love of children, Dominique and her daughter found it relatively easy to adapt to the way of life here in Italy. Her daughter goes to the International School of Florence, where her main schooling is in English, and learns Italian as a second language. However, the school does not really provide for a social network, and not being able to rely on one certainly would make it harder to adapt. She says this is because of the fact she works from home and lives outside of Florence and therefore it restricts their ability to make closer friends. However, this is well satisfied, by the pleasures of living in the Tuscan hills, among the olive trees, and enjoying that oh so priceless cool breeze in the summer!  No matter what, both mother and daughter are so very happy to discover the country and to learn about the “Italian way of life”.  “That is why we do these things: to learn other ways, see how other people live and think, and this way we broaden our experience and understanding of the world we live in.”

In order to succeed in being a single mom and provide an income, Dominique changed her career from tax lawyer to translator, this way gaining flexibility with her working hours for raising her daughter. She acquired a University degree in translation and slowly started to build her practice. She was fully self-employed by the time she adopted her daughter. “I am bilingual in French and English. I had always done some translation work at various work places, so it sort of fell into place. I started with technical and creative writing, and then naturally moved to translating, which proved to be the more practical way of earning a decent living. This is what I did, and still do, which allows me to have the lifestyle I want (that is, working from anywhere in the world).”

Dominique’s practice, which is still in Canada, is her main source of income while living here in Italy. She first got her clients through networking. “I leverage my previous training and experience, that is being a tax lawyer, and therefore specialize in financial, legal, tax, etc. translation. I research the market, finding potential clients both in Canada and internationally, by sending my CV, sometimes having an introduction, most of the times not. There is fortunately a lot of work out there for good translators. Especially in Canada, where French and English are both official languages.” In the near future, Dominique plans to develop her European clientele, enabling her to earn Euros instead of Canadian dollars.  This would help sustain the cost of living here. “I am not sure if it is the living in Italy as much as the living in Tuscany/Florence which makes it harder, financially. It might be easier in other parts of Italy, where the cost of living is not so high.”

Because of Dominique’s schedule being flexible, she is able to participate more in her daughter’s life. She is able to go to school meetings, pick her up and drop her off at school, go to afterschool events, medical visits etc. In order to do so, she has to work longer hours at night, which does limit the time she can interact with other adults.  Because of the conversion from Canadian dollars to Euros, she has to work harder and longer hours to obtain the financial support needed to stay in Italy.  At times, this has “led to overworking, lack of sleep and having very little time to devote to my daughter.  Achieving the opposite effect of my desired outcome. It is at those times that I reconsider this whole decision of self-employment: getting a “regular” job, with stable hours, medical insurance and a retirement fund would have its pluses!”

I asked if she plans to stay here in Italy. She responded, “I don’t think we will stay here for as long as I had initially thought. I wanted to stay here for the rest of my daughter’s primary and secondary schooling but I do not think this will happen. We are going to stay one more year for sure, until she gets to middle school. Then, we shall see. I do like it here, and consider ourselves very lucky indeed to be here. I am not prepared to leave yet. Work opportunities will likely dictate our next move, but I am not there yet. I am not done with Italy. Will I ever leave? Is one really ever ready to leave?”

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

Working Moms Stories: Danielle Jennings

Danielle Jennings is an interior designer from Toronto, Canada and the mother of a six-year-old girl. She first came to Florence seventeen years ago with a study abroad program when, she met her husband.

“How did you meet your husband?”

“I met him in Piazza Santa Croce on a Saturday night in August.” she answers smiling. “I was out having drinks and dinner with my roommate, when a group of locals came over. Among them was my husband. We dated for the rest of my stay here.”

After that encounter, Danielle went back to Toronto to finish her Design studies. They visited one another until December of 2001, when Danielle officially moved to Florence.

“My husband owns his own IT company.  He has a web agency and develops on-line software for the hotel industry. This would have made it very difficult for him to move to Canada” explains Danielle her decision to move to Florence.

“Did you encounter any cultural differences that you had to overcome?”

“I am Italian descent so the differences weren’t so obvious for me. My mother is Italian from Bari.” Danielle replies. “Maybe one of the differences was the approach of people and how to go about making friendships. I found relationships to be more open here. At the beginning, it seemed very odd for me that girls were friends with guys. I was also struck by the different way to celebrate the festivities. In Canada the festivities felt so much more alive whereas in Italy they are more modern. It wasn’t what I was expecting.”

The first few years, Danielle worked in Design, but her job didn’t meet her needs to be creative. After building a career in fashion, she recently became a self-employed interior designer.

“I was working in the showroom of an Italian company, doing projects and reaching out to clients. But I felt like I was working in sales and that didn’t meet my needs. In 2003 I had an opportunity to work in fashion. I started off as an assistant in the buying office. I was working for American firms selling stock and also private label development. Later I started working with leather goods and leather development. In 2009 I started working for Jimmy Choo. I started my career there. I moved my way up in the company, the back office to private development and leather development. Two years ago, I started working in Design again. Now I am a self-employed interior designer.  I went back to my first passion and I am doing what I always wanted to do.”

Danielle has a six-year-old daughter and she gave birth at the Careggi Hospital. She describes her experience as an at least interesting one.

“The obstetricians were great, but as a metaphor I felt primitive. When my daughter was born, it was a really hot month of May. They kept the windows open and there were no bug screens, the lights were always on. We had to stay for four days in the hospital. I didn’t have enough milk so my daughter wasn’t recuperating her weight loss fast enough.   My experience there was extremely impersonal. I understand that nurses and doctors are just doing their jobs. What they didn’t understand, was that she was our first child and we didn’t know what to do very well. The health system in Canada is different in terms of aesthetics and sanitation. As for the cost it was exceptional and everything was well organized.”

When asked if she is comfortable with the Italian way of raising children, Danielle smiles, nodding in approval.

“I love it. I think the Italian way of raising children is more towards the needs of the child and more open. When we started the weaning process, we went for a visit in Canada. I would make the broth from scratch the way my pediatrician explained to me. My friends and family members were surprised that I am not using homogenized foods. I also found helpful the fact that you have your own personal pediatrician whom you can call and can help you. Everything is more industrialized in Canada. It makes it easier for the parents, but health wise the Italian way is better.

“On the other hand there are a lot of opinionated people here. It was hard at the beginning until I gained enough self-confidence. Everyone was trying to tell me what to do and I became frustrated.

“I was also pleased with the daycare system here. My daughter didn’t go to public school because we were among the last on the waiting list. I ended up opting for the private. I think that extra money we had to pay was worth it because I felt she was well taken care off where she is. This year she will start school and we chose a private school. We want her to have access to excellent development in English. The school she will be going to has an English section, Italian and bilingual sections. It was one of the reasons we chose it.”

As an expat mom, Danielle felt it was hard to make friends with other moms. Being a working mom, made interacting with other parents difficult. The only other moms she knew were work colleagues. Now, as a self-employed mom, she feels she has to juggle even more than before.

“I couldn’t wait to be self-employed and then when it happened it was different than I imagined. You think you know what the worries are going to be. You have to do everything. You are no longer a working mom. You have to be a mom and you also have to be a businesswoman every day. To juggle that in 24 hours is quite a challenge. Before when I had that 9 to 6 job and I could have weekends off and the paycheck was still coming in. However, when you are a self-employed mom everything happens seven days a week, nonstop. After I got my Partita Iva, I had bills coming in after the first three weeks.

There are also advantages of course. If I need to take a day off, if I need to be creative or if I have to do research, I get to decide what to do and when.”

Danielle believes that one of the biggest advantages of living in Italy is the quality of life and food. On the other side, she thinks that not having grocery stores or pharmacies opened 24 hours a day is a minus.

“It’s the small, everyday things that bother me; like going to the postal office or pay bills. But Italy has changed a lot in the past 15 years, Florence in particular.”

She never excluded the possibility of moving back to Canada.

“For now Florence is the right size. If I were to move to Canada it would be for my daughter and her future. Her living her childhood in Italy is great. I think she would profit better from Canadian schooling in the future though. Here a lot of people depend on what is passed to them. They don’t teach children the responsibility of being self-sustainable. They don’t teach them about the value of money and earning everything. That is not as valued here. I think kids need to learn the way the world works and the responsibilities that come with that. I feel that the system here for teaching life values is chaotic and without any structure.” states Danielle.

Towards the end of our talk, Danielle offers some advice for other expats who plan on moving here and start a family.

“You need to be able to communicate with your partner very well, because it takes a while to make friends. You need a good support system at the beginning. Also don’t to give up when it gets hard, because there are some days when you want to go back home. Italy has a lot to offer, you just have to find your space and it’s possible, especially in Florence.”

You can follow Danielle at www.dnj.design.

Author and journalist Ela Vasilescu

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