“Life is always beautiful,” Flora Gualdani said, sitting at a table in the space she calls “the school,” a wood-paneled room in a small house she built in the early ‘80s on her property in rural Tuscany.
Of course, life has its difficulties too, she added, but “the struggle passes, and beauty endures.”
Flora seems particularly qualified to speak about life’s beauty and challenges. Now 81 years old, she spent over half that time welcoming new life into the world as a midwife. In more than 40 years she delivered an estimated 6,000 babies, sometimes in the most difficult circumstances life can offer – illness, death, war, poverty, and despair.
According to Davide Zanelli, Flora’s close collaborator and friend, who was once one of these newborn babies, the dark-haired, charismatic woman helped him “be born twice.”
The first time was when she helped his mother give birth to him in 1968, Zanelli said, and the second was when she opened his eyes as a young adult to the beauty of the Church’s teachings on human sexuality and the family.
The whole trajectory of his life was changed, he says: “Everything I have I owe to Flora.” (Flora was also a witness at Zanelli and his wife’s marriage and assisted at the birth of the first of Zanelli’s two daughters in the 90s.)
An encounter with a pregnant woman with cancer was a pivotal episode in the first part of Flora’s career as a trained midwife, when she was in her early 20s. The sick woman was being pressured by doctors to abort, against her wishes.
Abortion was then illegal in Italy, and it was not uncommon for Italian women to travel to London to procure the procedure, which Flora was shocked to learn on a visit to England as a young adult. Abortion was legalized in Italy in 1978.
With Flora’s support, the woman carried to term and gave birth to a healthy little girl. Afterward, however, the mother was in the hospital and too ill to care for her, so she asked young Flora to take charge of the girl.
This baby girl, born in 1964, was the first of Flora’s many “adoptive” children.
After the first, more babies with no place to go began to come home from the hospital with her. The second child she took in was the fourth daughter of a woman who died during labor.
The third was a baby boy whose mother, a prostitute, had abandoned him at the hospital.
There was no plan or organization behind it, Flora said. “It all happened spontaneously at that time.”
She was then still living with her parents and older brother, who were surprisingly tolerant of her habit of acquiring children, she said, and would watch after them whenever she was working.
Word of Flora’s generosity spread; her mother once answered a call from the courthouse in Florence, over 45 miles away, asking if she would take a baby in need of a home.
Read more at Catholic News Agency.