Two expats talk about pregnancy and childbirth in the Land Down Under

  • Erika, Sara e i loro bimbi
  • Erika
  • Brisbane by Sara
Published on 2020-09-02 at 11:34 by Francesca
Erika and Sara met in 2015 in Brisbane and immediately bonded. Both experienced pregnancy and childbirth in Australia, and are now enjoying their beautiful babies. From their friendship, and their expatriate experience, the ‘Mamme Down Under' Facebook group was born, which helps all Italian new mothers with information and advice.

Can you briefly introduce yourselves to our readers?

We are Erika and Sara, the founders of “Mamme Down Under”.

Erika: I'm 34, from Turin. It's been seven years since I decided to fly to Australia, where I currently live with my Australian husband and our two-year-old daughter. I have a masters degree in communication and advertising, and here in Australia, I studied accounting and fashion design. I have a lot of passions, and writing is one of them. This passion and the desire to connect with other Italian mothers abroad motivated me to start “Mamme Down Under”.

Sara: I'm 30, from Civita Castellana (VT). I have lived in Brisbane, Queensland since 2015. I met my husband here, and today we are the proud parents of a 9-month-old baby boy, Adriano. I studied tourism management, and I organise food and wine tours in Italy (which, unfortunately, have been put on hold by the global health crisis). Today, most of my free time is dedicated to “Mamme Down Under”, a project that is very close to my heart, thanks to which I can help to other expat mums.

What brought you to Australia?

Erika: For my part, I choose to stay in Australia due to a series of events. I initially left Italy in 2013 on a one-way ticket and a working holiday visa for a few months' adventure in the Land Down Under. I don't know if it's for the wonderful climate or the super friendly people, but I fell in love with this country, but also with a man who is now my husband. So after spending a year in Australia, I decided to extend my visa and stay for another year. I have been here for seven years now, on a permanent resident visa and with my little family.

Sara: I came here to improve my English language skills. So I enrolled in a language school, and in my free time, I used to travel and explore the Australian culture I was fascinated by. Italy was too "tight" for me, and I needed to find my place somewhere in the world. I was looking for the ideal solution to move for a few weeks and coming here as au pair guaranteed me a job and accommodation. It was a great starting point. I didn't intend to stay forever. Six months later, I met someone, and it's been two years since we're married.

What was your first reaction on your arrival in Australia?

Erika: When I got off the plane, I felt a little confused and tired. Travelling for 2 days was indeed exhausting. I remember sleeping for three hours, watching 8 movies and eating every 2 hours like babies. At the same time, however, I was happy and excited to discover the unknown. I landed in Sydney on a beautiful sunny day, and everyone around me was wearing flip flops and a smile on their faces. It was like being on a cloud nine.

Sara: The flight was so long, but despite the 10-hours jetlag, I felt light. I actually felt like a globetrotter. I remained calm and serene as I knew everything would be fine. I was eager to start exploring the country and settle down.

Did you find it hard to adapt during the first months following your move? Or did you have any other issues?

Erika: The language barrier was my biggest issue. Even though I love to talk and meet new people, not being able to communicate fluently in English was hindering me. With time and a lot of patience, since I'm lucky to have an English-speaking partner, this is no longer an issue. Today, I can speak two languages ​​fluently. Finding a job wasn't easy either due to the language barrier. I found a waitress job, although I used to have an office job in Italy. I had to reinvent myself, which allowed me to understand that the labels that we cover ourselves with are not necessarily correct. Moving abroad looked a bit like creating a new and free identity that really reflects who I am. I didn't find it hard to adapt to the Australian lifestyle, but I am happy and proud to have the Italian culture deep-rooted inside of me.

Sara: As an au pair, I used to live with the Australian family that hired me. That helped me to realise our cultural differences. Here in Australia, children grow up free, play outside, walk barefoot and get dirty. You don't see mum's warning their kids "you're going to catch a cold", like the Italians do. I have to admit that I had a kind of culture shock, but it was really a good thing. Today, I'm very relaxed and calm with my son. Being far from my family was the biggest challenge. Other months, I started missing them a lot. However, my heart was growing fonder of Australia, but it's hard to explain to our family why we chose to live miles away.

You created the Facebook page “Mamme Down Under” and manage a similar page on Instagram. What motivated you to do so?

Erika and Sara: We met by chance in 2015, then we found out that we are neighbours in Brisbane! Since then, we're friends and have been helping and supporting each other during our pregnancy and with our kids. So we're looking to support other mums, even virtually. Being a mom is a real challenge, especially when you're abroad. Solidarity from other moms who have faced similar challenges can definitely help. We thought of all the “new moms” who may not have been in Australia for long enough to know how to deal with pregnancy and childbirth. So we chose to advise and provide information to those moms via social media. Our targets are Italian moms in Australia and those who want to know more about the life of an Italian mom in Australia. These digital platforms allow us to share our experiences, provide useful information in a free, non-judgmental space where you can express yourself and get support.

Sunshine coast by Erika

Based on your respective experiences, how do you feel about pregnancy and childbirth in Australia?

Erika: I must admit that my experience was beyond my expectations. I subscribed to private health insurance before getting pregnant since the idea of ​​giving birth to a child abroad kind of scared me. Having private health insurance was reassuring. In general, you don't have to undergo a lot of checkups during pregnancy unless there are complications, so I didn't have to see a doctor or go to the hospitals often. It was quite a relief. Regarding childbirth, I was lucky to be able to deliver naturally in water, as I had always wanted. I received outstanding treatment from the doctors, nurses and midwives.

Sara: The doctor and midwives who were following me the public hospital were of great help. Initially, I was a little worried due to the differences with the Italian health system. For example, there are fewer blood tests. Here, pregnancy is considered a physiological process, so they have a very relaxed approach. I didn't have an ultrasound until the third trimester of my pregnancy. But I received excellent care at the hospital during the delivery. The midwives were very helpful, very calm and kind, and always smiling. So I delivered in a relaxed and reassuring environment. The birth of Adriano took place with background music and soft lights, in the presence of my mother and my husband. It was a great experience!

What is your take on the Australian health care system when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth?

Erika and Sara: They pay a lot of attention to women and new mums. During the first visit to the public hospital, the partner must undergo a test to assess any psychological discomfort. Throughout the pregnancy (and the months following the birth of the child), mums can rely on the support of the health system as well as specialised associations. Around the fifth month of pregnancy, prenatal courses are offered free of charge in public and private hospitals. These courses cover a variety of topics that help mums to better cope better with pregnancy and childbirth (visits to the delivery room, physiotherapy, information about labour and breastfeeding, etc.). Also, many associations provide postpartum follow-up, especially for breastfeeding and postpartum depression. Hospitals can put mums in touch with groups that organise meetings their neighbourhood, and this helps in creating fundamental support networks during the first months.

Did you get coverage from the Australian health system during childbirth?

Erika and Sara: According to a reciprocity agreement between Italy and Australia, Italians are entitled to the Medicare health card which valid for at least 6 months if you have a temporary visa) and indefinitely if you have a permanent visa). With Medicare, healthcare and assistance during pregnancy and childbirth are free of charge in the public health system. If you prefer private health care but don't have insurance, it can be very expensive. However, it is recommended that you take private health insurance. You can choose from different types of insurance, depending on your needs and budget. Pregnancy and childbirth will thus cost 2,000 - 2,500 AU$ on average.

Do you have any advice for expecting Italian expats mums?

Erika and Sara: This is a very delicate moment, so you will definitely need help and support. If you don't have family in the country, feel free to ask your friends and colleagues. Australians tend to be reserved and low-key and are unlikely to bother the new mom with frequent visits unless they are invited. So whenever you need help, you just have to ask. Living abroad has its plus side, such as being able to raise and educate your children without a lot of cultural or family conditioning.

What we would advise you is to:
Prepare tons of ready-to-freeze meals in the months preceding the birth of your child.
Make a stock of comfortable clothes for the first few weeks at home, as your bed and couch will be your best friends.
Before the baby arrives, take the time to clean up the house so that you don't have to lose time repairing broken stuff with a child in your arms.

Erika and Sara

What was the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on your expat lives? How did you adapt your children's routine to the lockdown?

Erika: Overall, we've been lucky in Australia,

especially in Queensland where we live. The lockdown wasn't too restrictive. It was complicated, though, with a hyperactive two-year-old daughter. Unfortunately, all weekly activities (baby gym, library, playgroups, etc.) were cancelled, and we were compelled to invent new games at home. Since we live by the sea, we could walk along the beach (which was allowed during the lockdown). Besides, I couldn't see my family as I had planned to because the borders are still closed.

Sara: We had planned to fly to Italy for Easter. Obviously, we had to cancel everything. It's heartbreaking to not know when my son will finally be able to meet the rest of the family. Also, I had just joined playgroups and started meeting other mums with their kids. Isolation affected Adriano's (who was only 4 months old) ability to connect with others. When we finally met people, he was terrified of the unfamiliar faces. This made me realise how crucial it is to maintain an active social life even when a child is still very young.

Has living abroad transformed your lives?

Erika and Sara: Living in Australia helped us to reconcile with Italy. We both left Italy with an intolerant mindset, but the distance and the cultural differences made us realise how much we really love Italy and its culture. We appreciate the little things much more, and no longer pay attention to appearances. We also learned to be tolerant. But above all, we have learned to relax, to smile and appreciate the life we have, without anxiety or fear. We are more independent and have a broader vision of things, especially as parents. Many mental constraints are simply due to the society we live in. However, they become meaningless when you connect to a different culture. Australia also helped us to be selfless and to feel responsible for building a better life for our children, genuinely respecting nature and the place where we live.