Italy’s population is declining rapidly. The country is far from unique — the same issue is being faced by many others, including Japan, South Korea and Spain. Every year, the latest data is accompanied by alarmist headlines announcing the end of Italy. Elon Musk even said the country is dying.

And yes, the data is dire. The latest report by ISTAT, Italy’s statistics institute, said births in 2021 declined compared to the previous year and predicted a further decline in 2022. Every woman has an average of 1.25 children — below the European Union average of 1.50.

Far-right prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has spoken of “demographic glaciation”, making the issue a priority for the government — at least on paper. In her first speech as head of government last year, she promised a “massive plan, economic but also cultural, to rediscover the beauty of parenthood and put the family back at the centre of society.”

Limiting what a family means

The executive created an ad-hoc Minister for Family, Natality and Equal Opportunities and has already implemented some measures: it granted an extra month of parental leave (paid at 80%) and passed a budget for 2023 that boosted the single allowance for children up to age one and for large families with young children.

All this, however, was done with a specific family in mind: heterosexual, white, non-migrant, with children conceived in their own wombs. It is an idea of a family that excludes many other realities and seems contradictory to the desire to increase births, as I wrote last year when I looked at Meloni’s push for a full ban on surrogacy.

So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when earlier this month, the government instructed Milan’s city council to stop registering the children of same-sex parents. Same-sex couples registering their children had been possible since 2018 in the city of Milan, thanks to a legal loophole supported by the city’s mayor, Giuseppe Sala.

The government’s move left children of same-sex couples more abandoned than before.

At the same time, Italy’s Senate rejected a proposal for a standardised European parenthood certificate that would be valid across all 27 member states of the EU, which also recognises same-sex families.

For children, it would mean proof of parenthood, and for parents, it would be a guaranteed right to be recognised across the EU, protecting rights such as inheritance and citizenship.

Everyday issues to bigger problems

“Love is free, beautiful and sacred for all. A child needs a mom and a dad,” said Infrastructure Minister Matteo Salvini. “Brussels cannot impose the concept of family on us.”

I may have been not surprised by the move, but I was taken aback, nonetheless, by how open it all was. How can a government speak of natality and have only one type of child in mind? And what happens when such a myopic view of family becomes legislation — even if society is quickly evolving and families look more different every day?

Usually it is the children who suffer most in this situation. In a same-sex family where only one parent (and not both) are recognised, if the legal parent were to die, the children would remain orphaned. This is an extreme case, I know.

But think about all the everyday issues of having a parent not recognised on paper: from small nuisances (not being able to sign school papers, or go to the hospital, or travel without extra documentation) to larger problems around inheritance and property. I have a friend in a same-sex relationship who has decided against having a child because she can’t bear the idea of making her child so vulnerable.

No country for young children

“Italy is not a country for children,” Alessandra Minello, a researcher in demography at the Department of Statistical Sciences at the University of Padua, told me. “It goes without saying that if parents are not in the conditions to be parents, the first people to suffer are the children because there are few conditions for peaceful parenting.”

If you read Italian, I wrote more about how many resources Italy destines to children (limited) and how much EU funds help fill the gap in this piece for Slow News.

Otherwise, I would love to hear about what conception of family your respective governments have. How inclusive are policies? How much do they change as families change? Please share thoughts and resources below this article by becoming a paying member, or hit reply.

What I’ve been reading

This reportage in the New Yorker looks at perinatal or postpartum mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) and postpartum psychosis, starting from the tragedy of Lindsay Clancy, a labor-and-delivery nurse in the U.S., and her children. I say tragedy but it was more like the chronicle of several deaths foretold, as Clancy’s postpartum psychosis went undiagnosed. The piece looks at how — even in the rare case of a diagnosis — the U.S. does not have mother-baby inpatient psychiatric units, which means new mothers always have to be separated from their infants, which can create problems in and of itself. Author Jessica Winter also looks at how the system works in the Netherlands, and at the kind of support that the entire family gets in case of a diagnosis, which is extremely different from how isolated new parents are left in the U.S. The article offers a limited take on what really affects women, as writer Sarah Menkedick points out in her latest (beautiful) essay, but it offers important testimonies nonetheless.

What I’ve been listening to

This is a beautiful podcast about childhood memories of an Israeli Jew and his mother who survived the Holocaust in Poland. Writer Etgar Keret tries to describe his late mother, Orna Keret, but says he struggles with finding the right anecdotes because she could be like Maria in West Side Story and also like Thanos from The Avengers. What he ends up with are some great short stories that are a pleasure to listen to.

What I’ve been watching

I finally watched this BBC Africa Eye investigative documentary exposing how a Chinese video-making industry is exploiting African children, in some cases younger than five, to produce racist videos. It is a shocking piece, which speaks to the wider idea of how children’s privacy is mishandled on social media, and how liberally we divulge images of children from far-flung places without thinking about their well-being.

Who’s been inspiring me

These Indian community healthcare workers have come up with clever ways to help out pregnant women fight disinformation in rural areas. For example, one healthcare worker used WhatsApp to send a woman messages about how she could do nothing to determine the sex of her child — despite pressures that her husband was putting on her to have a boy. Accredited social health activists (ASHAs) have played a big role in slashing maternal mortality rate: in 2006, the maternal mortality rate was 254 deaths per 100,000 live births, one of the highest in the world. By 2020, it had gone down by over 60%, to 96 per 100,000 live births.

What members have been saying

Alexandra, a reader of The First 1,000 Days, had a great point regarding bedsharing, which I wrote about two weeks ago. “What about next-to-me cribs?” she asked. “I somehow adapted the position of the crib so that it was really next to me and I extended my arm inside it and breastfed this way. It had a bit of side effect, it’s very comfortable only for one side, and a bit less for another one (or you need to go upside down but it’s night and you are lazy you know. So effectively my left boob was kind of twice as more productive than my right one,” she wrote. It is a great point. I wonder who else managed to find solutions to breastfeeding at night that did not involve immediate bedsharing? As usual, I’d love to hear your stories. Hit reply, or leave a message below the piece on the website.

With love and care, 

📣 The First 1,000 Days is edited by community member and friend, Shaun Lavelle.

📸 Kasia on Unsplash, teddy bear on grass

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