Your interactive family guide to Italy as recommended by local mums | Last updated 12 months ago

Interviews with Mums

Isabel Abbott - Gubbio (Umbria)

"Nothing was explained to me properly and I had no idea what having a induction would mean - the staff seemed to think that patients werent entitled to ask about the procedures that they were going to have - it was very much - we are the doctors - you do what we say… " (IA, April 2013)

  • Isabel Abbott in Umbria

    Isabel Abbott, 38
    Lived in Umbria 8 years
    We live near Gubbio. We moved here 8 years ago after deciding to give up our sensible jobs and pursue our dream of renovating and old property and starting up our own Umbrian villa rental - so we could share with other people what we loved best about Umbria.
    We chose Umbria because 10 years ago when we were house hunting, it was affordable and we loved the fact that it was undeveloped and untouched. Also we were attracted by the fact there werent any other foreigners living in the area we were looking to move to - we didnt want to move to an ex-pat enclave in another countryŠ
    We live on a hill top surrounded by beautiful countryside and stunning views - it is isolated, but only a short walk or 5 minute drive to the 2 villages that are on either side of us. We live in a typical rural Umbrian farming community - the way of life is very traditional and people do not have a lot of material wealth - family and food is important to them.

    We are both British - but I was born in Belgium and have lived abroad for much of my life.

    Our children:
    Benjamin - 4 born in Gubbio
    Lucy 2- born in Gubbio
    William 1 - born in Gubbio

    (and our first baby we brought to ItalyŠ) -Ollie the black labrador - born in UK - age 8 this 4th of July!

    My first experience of having a baby in Italy with Benjamin was horrificŠ
    I did a fairly basic anti natal course (one of the first ever offered in our local town) in Gubbio - which covered breastfeeding the birth, and some natural birthing techniques - it seemed rather outdated compared to the information provided in the books I was reading from the UK - but I was fairly happy that there was the possibility of having a natural birth with as little intervention as possibleŠ
    But I dont think anything went to plan at allŠ we were just glad that at the end of it our baby was healthy!

    Gubbio had a new hospital - just opened in the weeks before I had BenŠso we had high hopes - they promised new techniques and a high standard of care for mothers and babies.

    What actually happened:
    I was rushed in a week before he was due with a liver problem and had have an emergency induction.
    Nothing was explained to me properly and I had no idea what having a induction would mean - the staff seemed to think that patients werent entitled to ask about the procedures that they were going to have - it was very much - we are the doctors - you do what we sayŠ
    I ended up having a double dose of the induction - as the first dose didnt work - and a 30 hour labour with very painful , very intense contractions every 1 to 2 minutes for over 15 hours!
    In Gubbio no pain relief was offered then in child birth unless you had a cesarean. I was so exhausted by the end of the labour I was begging the doctors to give me a cesarean - it was a horrendous experience. When I finally got to the last stage of labour and wanted to push - we couldnt find a nurse/doctor or anyone - we were in a bedroom on our own and both very frightened - it had been a very hot day and they had 5 births at onceŠso everyone was completely overwhelmed - as there were only 2 delivery suites!
    Eventually we found the receptionist who confirmed that Benjamin was in fact on his way imminently - and we were rushed to a delivery suite -
    I wasnt allowed to stand up pushing - or do any of the natural birthing techniques I had practiced - this really threw me - if felt totally alienated and that everything was out of my control - I felt panicked and bullied by the staff.
    I was made to give birth to Ben (who was the wrong way up - which know body told us - my husband found out when his head appeared!) lying flat on a bed with feet in stirups -
    The midwife was awful and even stormed out a one point because my husband asked her to stop poking me about.
    I pushed for well over half an hour and ended up having a major episiotomy, a severely bruised coccyx (that took over 6 months before I could sit down without pain) and I also injured my back.
    (There was no pain relief for any of this)

    Luckily Benjamin was born healthy - jaundice and suffering a bit - but basically healthyŠ

    My first birth experience was very traumatic and I was emotionally affected for months after - even to the point of having constant nightmares - and I am not a person who usually bothers about anythingŠ.

    The positives - I had a 5 night stay in hospital after the birth - which was great, as it gave me time to recover and get on my feet before going home - the support of the nursing staff was also great - help with breast feeding and the general level of care was also good. We did make a formal complaint to the hospital regarding the experience we had - but nothing every came of it - they didnt even apologies for the way we had been treated.

    After this experience, I was very reluctant to give birth in Italy againŠ

    After speaking with other mothers, my experience is not isolated - many mothers in Italy still go through this kind of experience - thus why caesarean rates are much higher in Italy than other countries.

    In this area of Italy - there isnt still much experience of natural birthing techniques - the focus is still very much on the baby and not on the motherŠit is quite an outdated approach to child birth.

    With Lucy, my second - I debated the idea of giving birth in the UK - but decided that it was not fair on Ben to leave himŠ

    My second experience of the same hospital couldnt have been more different from the firstŠ
    For a start - I was very outspoken with the staff from the off - I told them what I ideally wanted to happen and said categorically I was not going to give birth laying on a bed in stirrups unless there was an emergency situation and the baby was in danger! I found that the staff were responsive to my requests - and were this time much more willing to accommodate a more natural child birth. (It helped that I had experience of 1 birth and that I told them how bad the first experience was and that I didnt want a repeatŠ)
    Since the first experience - it seemed the staff had been trained on lots of alternative birthing techniques (balls, baths, massage - relaxing music were all now available ).
    The hospital had definitely moved on a bitŠ
    I had an almost pain free natural water birth - which was a very different experience from the first - I felt in control and able to cope - the staff were supportive but not overbearing.

    Again there was no pain relief offered - but this didnt matter.

    With William - I went to the same hospital again - he was a very large baby (4kg) and had to be induced at 2 weeks late.
    I was not looking forward to another induction experience - as STILL no pain relief is offered in Gubbio hospital during child birth - not even gas and air!
    I had a 12 hour labour - which was very painful - but I felt able to cope this time - as I knew what to expect - staff were very good - when the pain got overwhelming, I was offered the water bath - which helped and the midwife was very supportive and calm.

    The care given to me, the mother, was completely different during this birth- there was support and I was closely monitored - yet I very much felt a change in that way the hospital staff were interested in mother and baby this time (not just what was best for baby above all else ) The whole experience was much less medical and clinical and felt more personal.

    I had William in water after 12 hours without any interventionŠI felt calm and in control the whole time - aided by a doctor and very experienced midwife who trained in Perugia. What a difference to the first experienceŠ

    After my experience, and having spoken to many other mothers - in Italy the focus is still much more on the baby - in Umbria, I understand pain relief is still only offered in 2 of the largest hospitals.
    Many doctors still expect you to give birth lying on your back on a bed.
    Positives though - I had a private room after the baits we born- there is always a doctor, paediatrician and midwife present at the birth - reassuring if anything goes wrong.
    The level of care is good after the birth.

    I work - my husband and I run a family friendly villa rental - Villa Pian Di Cascina - together.
    We have 7 villas and apartments that sleep up to 30 people - there is a pool, home cooked food, a restaurant and we offer facilities and equipment for families with young children.
    We understand the needs of families on holiday - and have hopefully created the ideal environment for the whole family to relax and enjoy their holiday - in our little slice of Umbrian paradise!

    We bought our property - a listed 16th century farmstead - we renovated it completely and found the process very complicated, drawn out , expensive and stressful.
    Get a good geometra would be the best advice I could give anyoneŠhe is key to the whole project going well -we now know a good one in the Gubbio area!

    Our family are semi -integrated in village life - At the end of the day - we are very different to the rest of the people that live in our little farming village.
    We get on well with people and have friends, employ our staff locally and our children go to nursery locallyŠbut after 8 years of living here, we realise that we dont actually want to live like the locals - as we just are too different and come from such a different place - the things that are important to us are different - for example education is very important to us for our children - but is low priority for may other parents in the village. We are happy to be different and dip in and out of village life when it suits usŠthe best of both worlds we hope!

    We speak English to our children - they speak Italian outside the home. You cannot really live in this area of Umbria without speaking Italian.

    Education is ok - it really depends where you are as schools vary from place to place greatlyŠ
    Childcare is readily available - however not always formally - such as nurseries or child minders - it is much easier to find people to come and babysit in your own home.

    The advantages are your children can have a very family centred up bringing in lovely natural place where there is lots of fresh air and green grass to play on.
    We work from home - so all eat lunch together as a family everyday - we work together and involve the children in our daily tasks where possible. They also have access to a lovely life we would not have had in the UK - a swimming pool, animals, an outdoor life, sunny climate, fresh home grown foodŠ.

    In the winter when we are closed - we do feel very isolated at times - we also feel that we have a very different outlook on life and differing expectations for our children - this can be difficult at times.
    We never forget, however, how lucky we are to be able to live in such a beautiful place - the views alone remind us how lucky we are! We enjoy working with people and love how happy people are when their holiday experience meets their expectations.

    The locals were very welcoming - they were interested in us and although they can keep to themselves- they are always there in times of needŠ
    We have made some good friends and employ some very loyal, capable staff all of whom are locals.

    Italy on the whole welcomes children just about everywhere - although there are not that many facilities specifically for children here - you do feel that people welcome your children wherever you are or goŠ
    We would like the standard of education to be broader on the whole and do feel that the children do miss out in some areas - however it is nothing that cant be done at home.

    Recommendations? Ramba Zamba near Perugia - is a great indoor play centre - good for rainy days, childrens clothes and equipment is very expensive in Italy - we order online with M&S, Boden, Amazon and John Lewis - they only charge around seven pounds delivery to Italy - it is a great way of getting baby equipment and childrens clothes at reasonable prices - , Io Bimbo at Ponte San Giovani or Marcello Marciano in Gubbio are 2 of the better baby supply shops.

    If having a baby in Umbria - check out the hospitals first - only Fano and Perugia currently offer the option of pain relief - many hospitals dont have a neonatal unit and therefore, cant deal with pre-term or babies with health problems - consider this carefully before you choose the hospital.

    If transferring to Umbria with children - consider carefully where you live and check out the schools first - there are a few really good schools - but you have to live closely to get inŠdo your research.
    (Learn Italian - as you will need it!)
    It is easy to idealise living abroad. Iit is in reality quite difficult to live anywhere that differs so greatly from what you are used to. I have lived in 4 different countries now and although I have become good at adapting to different ways of lifeŠthe more I live abroad, the more I realise that for me to be happy, I need to take the bits I like and agree with from the place in which I live in - but for me it is also really important to keep true to the ideals, morals, and beliefs that brought me here.

    I couldnt live in Umbria without the internet - it keeps me up to date - delivers all the shopping I just dont have the time or energy to go and getŠand most importantly, keeps the children in touch with their Grandparents, Aunties and UnclesŠ

    I could live without the hunters - the Italian male is still obsessed with his right to hunt in the open countrysideŠI prefer to see the animals alive and running around the countryside!

    April 2013