It’s impossible to fully understand pregnancy until you’ve been pregnant.
We all have an idea, but beyond that there’s really no preparing.
I spent hours with my £36 What to Expect When You’re Expecting book shipped from the UK to my otherwise-Italian speaking home, desperately searching for answers. Is that normal? What about that? Holy hell what is that?
And for the most part, the advice was useful. It wasn’t, however, universal.
Reading an English book on pregnancy that touches on the US health care system, rules and regulations while in Italy I couldn’t help but wonder:
What fundamental part of your culture do you give up when you are pregnant?
In Japan do people stop eating sushi? In Sweden do they cut out Herring? Are subs filled with cold cuts ok in the United States? What about Italy?
In Italy they require monthly blood tests for toxoplasmosis for those who have never had it. A sickness that causes flu-like-symptoms for adults, it’s potentially deadly for unborn babies. Caused by contaminated pee from cats, it’s also extremely rare and not tested in any other country I’ve heard of so far. I guess the Italian health care system thinks it’s worth the time…maybe all those vegetable gardens with potentially deadly urine lurking in them.
You’d think that pregnant women are pregnant women everywhere, but being pregnant in Italy, and having only US-based pregnancy experiences previously, I realized that not all the rules are the same across the world.
The only universal thing about pregnancy is that you’re pregnant. Each pregnancy comes with rules, but just what rules depend on exactly where you are.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Italy Edition:
- Cheese is a minefield. Basically, you have to double check that the cheese has been pasteurized. (Ask if the cheese is “pastorizzato.”) When in doubt, go for the super aged cheeses. Avoid those with straight up mold inside (no more gorgonzola!) and no more delicious artisanal cheeses. So that homemade mascarpone in the small agriturismo in Le Marche? Better let your friends enjoy that one.
- No more raw foods. Like in America, sushi, smoked meats and fish and raw egg are all off limits. In Italy this means no more salumi. For the next nine months you can only enjoy mortadella (bologna) or cooked ham. You can however cheat by putting cold cuts on your pizza that is then cooked.
- Unlike in America, a little bit of coffee is ok here, even one espresso every morning. Contrary to popular belief, espresso doesn’t have a higher dose of caffeine, it’s just more concentrated. Actually, those enormous cups of American coffee tend to have more caffeine than one small espresso. Not only was my doctor not worried when I said I was dying for my daily cappuccino, but the nurses in the hospital brought me coffee and cookies to enjoy the morning before being induced. Viva l’Italia!
- On the other hand, there’s this totally weird, crazy attitude toward fresh vegetables. Following the overarching fear of the dreaded toxoplasmosis, some Italian doctors tell their patients not to eat fresh veggies unless they have been thoroughly washed in a hand sanitizer solution or baking soda. Insane. My doctor said that this could make sense for homegrown vegetables (read: vegetable gardens are more likely to have cats who might have toxoplasmosis and who might pee on those vegetables) but anything from the store is fine with just another at-home rinse. Thank God. As for restaurants: personal discretion is followed. If the place is nice and you know it and feel comfortable, order whatever you want. If not, stick to grilled or cooked options.
- I also noticed more attention given to how much weight you gain during pregnancy. Perhaps American doctors are just as attentive (I wouldn’t know) but it seems that American mom’s-to-be are less so. The overwhelming attitude I’ve always encountered in America is largely, “Eat up! You’re eating for two!” Here no one expects you to gain more than the healthy-range medical guidelines.
- In general, Italians won’t judge you based on what you eat while pregnant. I was offered regularly by friends, family and even waiters a glass of wine or beer with my meal. Nobody bats an eye. Though What to Expect will tell you to abstain from any and all alcohol, here doctors said a glass of red every now and then is perfectly fine and widely socially acceptable.
Overall, when I was pregnant in Italy I felt like a goddess. I was doted upon. Noticed. Given special care. People looked at me as if I were the reincarnation of beauty itself.
It’s no secret that Italians love babies. Turns out they love mammas just as much
It was the madonna-whore complex in the wild. Before I was pregnant, I was just another young girl. Once pregnant, I was a signora.
Of course they didn’t hesitate to give me a ton of advice – most conflicting – and total strangers felt completely free to touch my growing stomach, but they did it with such admiration and love that I couldn’t help but accept it. Italians go nuts over pregnancy!
Being pregnant abroad comes with a whole wealth of novelties and decisions. But so does simply being pregnant. Though the change is immense, in Italy I only ever felt accommodated. Restaurants would bring me fresh pineapple for dessert instead of tiramisu(which has uncooked eggs) even if it wasn’t on the menu. Public services have skip-the-line options for pregnant women. Completely strangers would stop to congratulate me. Auguri Signora!
So I had to lay off the subs, watch my weight and get a dozen more blood tests than my American counterparts. On the other hand I was treated like a Renaissance beauty, cared for while enjoying a glass of red wine every now and then, it tasted like freedom.
Read more about life and babies:
On Living the Life You Choose
“I’m able to create the exact type of life I want. One dictated by me, not by my parents, by education, by society. I believe that’s called freedom.”
Embracing Change With a Baby on The Way
“One day you’re flitting through your 20s keenly aware of how delicious it is to be selfish and the next you’re crying because it’s all been taken away. Then, you read about how your body produces different breast milk for boys and girls, calculating exactly what nutrients and antibodies both you and your baby need and you realize you’re a goddamn superhero. Nothing is being taken away.”
Raising an Italian-American Baby
“So my daughter won’t be reciting watered down renditions of A Christmas Carol at school. She won’t drink milk with lunch or know the joys of an elementary school chocolate chip cookie. Instead I’ll bring her fresh focaccia when I go to pick her up and she’ll sing Tu Scendi dalle Stelle for Natale. There’s something beautiful about the mix”
Life Abroad: Do You Like Living in Italy?
“Sometimes you have to laugh with friends who understand that like it or not, home is where you make it.”