Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 31, 2013

40 years ago in Sorrento

40 years ago today, 31st May 1973, my son Brando was born in the delightful southern Italian town of Sorrento.

I was 20 years old and found myself in the terrifying position of being in a hospital, where I understood just about nothing, and about to give birth to my first ( and only ) child. It is the terror I remember more than anything else.

He was born late at night after a 12 hour labour where I was offered no pain relief and left by myself for much of the time.  I went to sleep soon after the birth after having discovered I had a son and that everything was where it should be.

I awoke the next morning to find a line of people staring at me…that funny foreign girl…from the door to my room. I was apparently called the Diabolical One, because I had predicted that I would have a boy and I had not made a sound during the birth. I didn’t really predict that I would have a son, I just wanted a boy to replace the much loved 7 year old brother I had left behind in Australia…and I do recall swearing a bit.

As well as this, my mother had sent me some white baby clothes from Australia, little dresses really, that babies were dressed in at the time at home. Italians dressed their baby boys in navy blue knitted suits…I was truly strange.  In addition, my baby was the biggest in the hospital at almost 4.3 kilos.

I was presented with my new son for his first meal. I will never forget the wobbly head and the open mouth, just like a baby bird. I was able to have a good look at his lovely face for the first time. He looked just like me. He was born with black curly hair, like I was, and had blue eyes, like my father.

When we left the hospital 5 days later ( I was supposed to stay for 10 days, lying flat on my back all the time, but I couldn’t stand it) I was presented with the dry and shrivelled remains of his umbilical cord which had just dropped off. This was said to bring good luck. I was less than impressed and threw it in the gutter on the way to the car. The nurses all said, “See you next year” on my way out. “Not bloody likely” I whispered under my breath.

I had been advised not to bathe for the next 6 weeks. I went home, placed my baby in his cot and went straight to the bathroom, where I had the best hot shower I have ever had in my life.

Anyway, Brando grew to be a delightful, sweet natured little boy and he is now a delightful, intelligent, handsome, funny and friendly man. (I am his mother)

Happy birthday Brando!  I am glad I had you 40 years ago in Sorrento.


To see more of my past life in southern Italy, click here and here.


  1. I liked reading of your son’s birth. It was interesting

    • It was certainly a very interesting time…and it all turned out well.

  2. How brave you were! I didn’t have any of my kids in Italy even though I was married to an Italian, and the last one popped out in West Africa! Happy Birthday Brando and Happy Birth-Mum Day to you. These are always the strongest memories. Xcat

    • It was all a bit primitive 40 years ago. I would like to think it is much better now.

  3. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Brandon and also to you, Debra – after all it was and is your special day too. He certainly grew up to be a handsome man.

    • Thank you. He also grew to be a very tall man…more than a foot taller than me.

  4. A wonderful and, at the same time, amusing account!

    • It was a very special time in Sorrento.

  5. You reminded me my own story, my son’s birthday! You expressed so nicely dear Debra, I saw, I felt and I lived as if with you… Happy Birthday to your handsome boy. And Blessing and Happiness to you all. How passes years… I can’t believe… Everything like today in my mind…. Thank you, beautiful friend, dear Debra, love, nia

    • The time passes too quickly. I clearly remember taking home a baby…it seems like yesterday.

  6. Beautiful!

  7. What a poignant account about the birth of your son in a foreign country, a young mother at 20 – definitely an experience to call “unique”; and you have an unique son, Debra. Happy Birthday, Brandon! and Happy Brandon Birthdate for you, as his mother, 40 years on. “20” and “40” are such round figures. You are still a ‘young’ mother to Brandon. In 1989, I was “40” when I gave birth to a beautiful healthy son, Ben, in another country – USA, and that is another story! The births of our sons remain precious to the hearts of us mothers.

    • 20 seems quite young now, but it was not unusual at the time.

  8. Thank you Debra for sharing your amazing story of your baby boy, he sure looks handsome. I will be in Tuscany from June 19th till 29th in Mercantale close to the Trasimeno lake, it seems to be quite unknown. I almost can smell the Italian flair-air, so much looking forward to this. Would you happen to know about any interesting gardens and ongoing festivals I need to be.
    Viva Italia
    Bon Giorno

    • Ah so must turning my age now, I will celebrate my 60 years on earth pretty soon.

      • I turned 60 in March and I went to New York to spend my birthday with my Brando.

      • Ah wow what a treat!!! I went to N.Y. @ my 59th last year and I had a wonderful time.

    • You are not far from Tivoli gardens there I think. Go to Bomarzo for a bizarre experience. I am not sure of festivals in the area.

      • Oh thank you so much Debra, sounds great, I will do. Have a great weekend and I hope the wheather behaves!!!!!

  9. Amazing story, handsome guy!

    • I think he is handsome too.

  10. Gosh, that’s a very moving account of your son’s arrival,how terrifying that must have been for your 20 year old self. Happy Birthday to Brando!

    • I was young and healthy and I bounced back quickly, and luckily he was a big healthy baby.

  11. What a lovely story! Happy birthday to your son,Brando.

    • Thank you! I hope he reads this post.

  12. Such a wonderful memory of Sorrento

    • I will certainly never forget it.

  13. Your boy was 40 this year mine was 30 – love them so much – one is enough – cant improve on perfection !!!

    • One was enough for me.

  14. Debra- this is by far your funniest blog! We can all remember that first birth! I will never look at Sorrento the same. I remember Italians drinking from a straw they had jammed in an orange or lemon which i thought strange until a local there told me in had been infused with liquor and frozen so it was really like a homemade fruit slush!

    • I love Sorrento…what a great place to be born.

  15. I love this story. And I love the way you’ve told it. My birth experiences were so different in Italy, but I think there were a lot of reasons…different part of Italy, I was older…I’d been here longer already. Many things. But I love this tale of youthful courage and spirit, and how you were just yourself. And strong. I always think, now, that my children’s birthdays mean more to me than my own…clearly Brandon is like that for you. Happy birthday, then, to both of you.

    • It really was very primitive back then. I hope it has changed a lot for new mothers.

  16. Love this story. Recalls my youth and the road I did not take but came close 🙂 Same time period and many precious memories of Italy back then. Everything was so different from the way it is today. Those mountains you see surrounding BDL were terraced and farmed. When one came down to BDL you were entering what was then considered a very “cosmopolitan” city.
    Happy Birthday to your son and congratulations to you for your courage and zest!

    • I would love to have seen Bagni di Lucca 40 years ago. I should have come north.

  17. A beautiful posting Debra. You must be proud, Happy Birthday to Brando!

    • Thank you…and I am very proud of him.

  18. Not bloody likely! Wow, what an experience you had Deb, but despite that, you did a terrific job of being a Mum – and I think your summation of Brandon is on the mark. Good job Deb!

    • I am very pleased with the way he has turned out.

  19. A wonderful story and I definitely see you in Brandon’s face. I can just see you standing up to all the little old ladies in your town!

    • He does look like me, except that he is 6foot 4, and has a beard.

  20. GREAT story! Tanti auguri to you and your son!

    • Thank you. I hope he is having a lovely birthday in New York.

  21. Debra, your story is so delightful! Others will only remember the negative side of a cultural shock, but you managed to laugh through it and turned it into a most positive experience. Happy birthday to Brandon and best wishes to his very courageous Mum.

    • I’m not sure that I found it all that funny 40 years ago, but I do recall being amused the diabolical bit.

  22. Debra….this is you to a tee. I love this and love the posts where you open yourself up like this. Only children are special indeed. Brandon must be so proud of his beautiful, independent mum!

    • I don’t really like to talk about myself on the blog, but Brando’s birthday is a special occasion.

  23. Love this post. Such a big smile here. Now I have a very big soft spot for birth stories and ones that involve a different era and different country…even better.
    Happy Birthday Brandon, I hope you had a wonderful day. (And Happy Birthing Day Mama Debra. xx)

    • It probably wasn’t the best of births, but it all turned out well in the end.

  24. Mother knows best. If you say he is that delightful I will take your word for it. I’m sure he has your courage too… as well as a soupcon of napoletano air. I have to ask my friends about the umbilical cord part. Never heard of that before!
    Happy birthday!

    • <It was 40 years ago. Times have changed.

  25. Thanks Ma for an excellent post, made even better by the complete lack of baby photos with my donger out. Thanks all for the birthday wishes too

    • As you may have guessed, chewbacca is me,Brando. Trying to log in and getting old passwords and names mixed up. Confusticated contraptions, these computers

    • You are lucky Brand, that your baby photos are in Australia and I am in Italy. Enjoy being 40.

  26. Funnier on hindsight, I agree 🙂 Here they hire people to massage oil into you and give you scalding baths. I refused after day one.
    Happy birthday to Brando!

    • I like the sound of the massage, but I could live without the bath.

  27. May 31 is the best day for birthdays, if you ask me. 🙂 Happy Birthday to Brando. You and my mom share a similar story (not the Sorrento part, but all the rest).

    • Brando was born 20 minutes before midnight, so just made it for the 31st.

  28. Thanks for sharing this personal and lovely story. Your son is a handsome man and you are a lucky Mom to have him in your life.

    I’ve been thinking about you a lot these last few weeks and hope you are well. 🙂

    • I am very lucky to have such a lovely son.

  29. Happy Belated birthday Brandon – Sorrento will always be a special place for you, Deb for sure

    • I love Sorrento for many reasons…Brando being one of them.

  30. The fun things I have learned about my Blog Friends! This is fun to know, and best wishes to your son. Take care, Debra, and thanks for sharing your story. It must have been fun, in a terrifying way!

    • It was more terrifying than fun, but the result was good.

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