This was the plan: I would have my baby in beautiful Cambridge, England. Not too far from N’s family in England, but most importantly, home to Chloe, a friend I’d made on the job at UNICEF-Croatia. A breast-feeding specialist as well as a mid-wife, I couldn’t imagine anyone else I’d rather have deliver my baby. There was no way I wanted to give birth in Zagreb where I was still living, especially after my obstetrician there prescribed tranquilizers for me, 6 months into my pregnancy. As a program officer for UNICEF I’d been in plenty of hospitals in Croatia and would prefer not to cross a maternity ward threshold as a mother-to-be. Then, my husband landed a plum (and turned out, very temporary) job in Brindisi, Italy. The baby’s due date was August 1. There was time.
In early June, I left Zagreb and joined N in the small town of Ostuni where he’d splurged on an incredible villa. I picked cherries and limes from the garden, filled vases with just-cut roses. I read and napped on the balcony, gazed at the fields of sunflowers and the shimmer of the Adriatic Sea in the distance. Seduced by the beauty and bliss of the place, I quizzed Chloe about what she thought about staying in Italy for the birth. She suggested a comparable choice might also be Sarajevo — still very much under siege. Southern Italian hospitals were poor and birthing attitudes very behind in terms of best practices for the mother.
So we stuck to our plans. I would depart for England in early July. There, I’d finally read the final chapter – about the 9th month – and face up to what I was in for. I’d bond with other pregnant women and learn to breathe and pant correctly. I’d eat fish and chips to my hearts content and revel in finally completely understanding everything said around me for the first time in almost 4 years.
Molly had other ideas: she was born almost 2 months early on June 13 in a tiny hospital in Ostuni. Whisked away from me to Brindisi Hospital, I barely glimpsed her, did not touch her. Chloe was right about the momma-care (it sucked) but not the neonatology department of Brindisi Hospital. Fancy facilities aren’t everything and the doctors and nurses who took care of (including singing to) my too-early Molly, were superb.
As I write, my daughter is back in Italy for 10 days with her high school’s Italian class. I mentally track her there – imagining what she is seeing, hearing, smelling, eating. I know she must be falling deeply in love with Italy. I can’t help but think she chose to be born there. The Puglia region is not on the school itinerary but Florence is – where I purchased a pregnancy kit that read “Si”. In Rome now, she probably sat on the Spanish steps, threw coins with her wishes, into the Trevi fountain. If the weather cooperates, she will visit Capri. We lost our camera on the boat back to Naples where her birth certificate and first passport were issued. Molly will cross the country by bus all the way back up to Venice, and every mile passed will pull her more deeply in love with this place of such rich beauty and spirit, this place where she first glimpsed the world. And in so many ways, this is a wish come true.