"I had 3 rounds of IVF in Milan at Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico. The experience I had there and the care I received was excellent. The process was quite difficult to navigate in Italian, I ended up going all over the place for various tests. Crucially apart from the medication the process was entirely free. There is a waiting list (relatively short), you need to be signed up for the health system and referred by your doctor. Once I became pregnant with my son I received the rest of my care in Varese. I had a private gynaecologist who spoke English and was highly recommended but I gave birth to my son at Del Ponte ospedale in Varese. I had complications at the end of my pregnancy and the birth was complicated ending in a c-section, but I am eternally grateful because I took a live healthy baby home from hospital and it could have been very different." (AB, April 2012)
> What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Varese?
Amy Bloodworth, 32 years old, I moved to Varese in August 2005
> Why did you decide to move there?
My partner at the time (now my husband) got a job teaching biology at the European School in Varese
> What nationality are you and your partner?
We are both British. My husband is bilingual Italian/english. His mum was italian and his dad was English. He was born in Italy but moved around with his dads job, first to India and then the UK.
> How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
I have 2 step-children, Sabina (18) and Gabriel (15), and our son Arlo (2)
> Do you work and if so what do you do?
I currently drive across the border every day to work in Switzerland, where I teach biology part-time at an American boarding school, but I am also in the process of setting up my own online business selling natural baby products, organic baby clothes etc. The tax system takes some effort but nothing a good accountant cant help with - they are worth their weight in gold!
> What was your experience of having a baby/babies in Varese?
I had 3 rounds of IVF in Milan at Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico. The experience I had there and the care I received was excellent. The process was quite difficult to navigate in Italian, I ended up going all over the place for various tests. Crucially apart from the medication the process was entirely free. There is a waiting list (relatively short), you need to be signed up for the health system and referred by your doctor. Once I became pregnant with my son I received the rest of my care in Varese. I had a private gynaecologist who spoke English and was highly recommended but I gave birth to my son at Del Ponte ospedale in Varese. I had complications at the end of my pregnancy and the birth was complicated ending in a c-section, but I am eternally grateful because I took a live healthy baby home from hospital and it could have been very different. In Italy when you have a c-section your husband is not allowed in with you which I found quite difficult. They also like to keep you in hospital forever (well 5 days but it felt like forever). I was offered coffee and biscuits for breakfast every morning, so my husband used to smuggle in a flask of tea and a bowl of cornflakes. I would have liked to have had more help with breastfeeding and gave up after 3 days. They were quite short staffed but this felt like the norm rather than the exception. Italians tend to have large families that live close by so lots of the care seemed to be done by them. My sister had a baby in the UK the day before me so when my mum came out to see me she had seen both systems in a matter of days. She was worried about the lack of security at the hospital, but I have to say that this didnt really concern me. What she loved the most was what she called the baby car wash. At 7.30 every morning you had to wheel your baby down to the nursery. You left them there in the line in their cot together with a little bag containing their clothes for the day, then headed back to your room. About 1 hour/ 1.5 later you would return to wheel them back fast asleep, freshly washed, dressed and bundled ready for the day ahead! I have no idea whether this a local thing or whether all Italian hospitals are like this.
> How well integrated would you say you and your child(ren) are?
I would say my son is well integrated but we are less so. My husband and I both teach in english in international schools and so this becomes your social circle. Although, now we have moved out of centre of Varese and into a smaller village the opportunities for local integration have been greater.
> What language do you speak to your child(ren)?
We mostly speak English at home but we also speak Italian.
> Do you rent or own a property and how did you find the renting/buying process?
We own a property, its a renovation project! The buying process was very Italian! It mostly involved various groups of people stretching the truth about how much the property was worth in order to secure a mortgage which would allow us to do some work. The difficult part has been finding good honest workmen to do the work. Our experiences have been varied, we have met some amazing craftsmen like our roofers and some terrible craftsmen like our first set of builders. The general rule applies everywhere, take their quote and triple it for something more realistic.
> How welcoming have the the locals have been towards you and your family?
I have found the Italians to be very sociable and friendly with their families but more wary of outsiders. I have found that generally northern italians are less friendly than their southern counterparts. There have been exceptions though.
> What is your impression of childcare and education in Varese?
I dont know very much about the Italian education system, but after speaking with a number of Italian teachers that I have met on various courses I probably wouldnt want my children to attend the Italian secondary system. As a biologist my concerns are particularly with the way in which science is taught. I like a more hands on approach.
> What school(s)/nursery(ies) do your children go to?
My step-daughter attended the European school in Varese and my son goes to our local asilo nido.
> Why did you choose this school/these schools and are you happy with your choice?
We chose the European school because my husband works there so we dont pay any fees. My step daughter completed the european baccalaureate which enabled her to apply to UK universities where she is studying for a degree in English. We chose a local asilo nido for our son, because we wanted him to learn Italian and make friends locally. In Sept he will move to the scuola materna. He will probably stay there until he is 4 or 5 and then we hope to send him to the European school but we are not sure whether we will put him in the English of the Italian section.
> Are there any services, activities for kids, day-trips for kids, family-friendly restaurants or kids’ shops you’d like to recommend?
I find Italian childrens shops overpriced and overly fancy with the sizing on the small side. To be honest with shops like John Lewis and M&S delivering to italy relatively cheaply I find very little need to shop for Arlo here. All restaurants here are family friendly (although it helps if you bring your own portable high chair). We love visiting local agriturismos, you get great food and Arlo gets to see farming in action. As a day or weekend trip we love the aquarium in Genoa. The local lakes are a great source of free entertainment from picnicking to biking, sailing and swimming.
> What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Varese?
There is a big international community living in Varese because of the CCR in Ispra, so although our italian social circle may be relatively small we have lots of lovely european friends. What is really lovely is that at our local mothers and toddlers group Arlo can sit down with a group of 8 different children all speaking a different language!
> Is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
More places for indoor play when the weather is bad, which is not unusual in the north. I would love to see childrens groups at the local library like they have in the UK.
> What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Varese with children?
Do it, the weather is beautiful (mostly), children live an active healthy outdoor life, and europe is on your doorstep for weekend exploration.
> What couldn´t you live without in Varese?
I love that in Italy children get their own dedicated paediatrician who they will see until they reach 16ish. Arlo sees the same doctor every time he is sick. He is obviously amazing with children, the waiting room is entirely child centred and my son loves him! We love the lakes here, Lago Varese, Lago Maggiorre, Lago Monate, each one offers something different. Varese is great for cycling round, Monate is great for swimming in and Maggiore is great for everything but mostly we love pottering around it in our little boat.
> What could you live without in Varese?
MacDonalds and Burger king! Who needs them when Italy has such great food!