By Jana Phillips
My husband and I got pregnant a little sooner than expected. Actually, a lot sooner. We’d just moved to San Francisco a month earlier, and we didn’t have jobs, health insurance, or a place to live. But we did have a series of cat-sitting gigs and some family that we could stay with, so we decided to start trying because these things take time, and we thought that it would take six or seven months before we actually managed to conceive.
You can guess what happened. Just a few weeks after we threw out the condoms, I was nervously pissing onto something that looked like a miniature paintbrush, and my husband was rereading the instructions so we knew whether we were looking for a blue line, two blue lines, a blue cross, a blue smudge, or something else entirely. Two pregnancy tests later, and my hunch was confirmed: we were indeed going to be parents.
We realized that cat-sitting or couch-surfing was not the same as having a place of our own; I started negotiating the hellish, ridiculous health system; and we both buckled down and started working as many hours as possible to build up a nest egg. There were moments in those first few months when my pregnancy felt utterly nerve-wracking. I had my first scan at a free clinic that I later found out was a front for a prolife organization. I experienced exhaustion unlike anything I have encountered before, and I spent a solid three days on the phone with insurance providers, hospitals, and doctors’ offices, desperately trying to find a way to give birth in a way that wouldn’t bankrupt us.
There were moments in those first few months when my pregnancy felt utterly nerve-wracking. I spent a solid three days on the phone with insurance providers, hospitals, and doctors’ offices, desperately trying to find a way to give birth in a way that wouldn’t bankrupt us.
In the first trimester, I hated San Francisco. We’d moved to an apartment on the top of a hill (who doesn't live on one?) and trekking up and down that steep slope while feeling nauseous was a trial. The city’s fickle weather meant that I was always shivering uncontrollably or visibly sweating from every possible orifice. I’d read that pregnancy can wreak havoc on one’s inner thermometer, but somehow I thought I might be exempt from this particular symptom. Forget carrying a light jacket: I needed to be either naked or wrapped in a down comforter. And even at 15 weeks, we were too terrified to tell anyone we were pregnant because I still didn’t have insurance.
Thankfully, things improved. I got coverage through an amazing scheme called California Access for Infants and Mothers; we found a great hospital; and the second trimester was much better than the first. I started falling for the little being growing inside my belly. I began to enjoy my changing body and the weird gurgles, kicks, and movements that rocked my abdomen. And I started to really fall in love with SF.
On Muni the drivers always give me a big smile and ask when I’m due. People get up so that I can have a seat, and if someone doesn’t stand up, there’s always a fellow passenger who comes to my rescue and guilt-trips someone into handing over their spot. In the grocery store, people come over to congratulate me and ask if it’s a boy or a girl. And – most noticeable of all – the homeless community that congregates around my workplace has started sharing their wisdom and advice. Seriously, the nicest comments I’ve received have been from the people whom we don’t usually acknowledge in this city. I guess a pregnant woman brings out the best in people, and I feel really lucky to be on the receiving end of so much goodwill.
Of course, there are also the people who gravitate toward a protruding stomach and want to share their horror stories. When people begin telling me about their 72-hour labor or how many stitches they had to endure, I just let my eyes glaze over and imagine myself sticking my fingers in my ears while going “La, la, la, la, la, la.” I’ve started to explain to people that I want to hear only the good stuff about having a baby. They look at me with a mix of anger and confusion, but it seems to be working so far.
I started falling for the little being growing inside my belly. I began to enjoy my changing body and the weird gurgles, kicks, and movements that rocked my abdomen. And I started to really fall in love with SF.
To counteract some of the fear-mongering, my husband and I attended a hypnobirthing course. I found out about this technique from our hospital midwife and did a little research online. I liked the explanations of how mindfulness, knowledge of how our bodies are designed to give birth, and techniques to counteract tension can reduce the pain associated with having a baby. This course was my one blowout so far: it was expensive and is probably considered a luxury by many. But I come from the UK, which has a much more holistic approach to childbirth, and I wanted to do something to diminish the medicalization that is prevalent here in the States. Well, we certainly got that. As well as doing the breathing exercises and visualizations that I hope will make my labor more manageable, I also had my eyes opened to the various options available to someone who wants a natural birth. I balked at the descriptions of how best to prepare and eat my placenta. And I also discovered that a lotus birth is an actual thing (look it up if this is as alien to you as it was to me). My husband and I intend to just focus on giving birth the way we want to.
Meanwhile, we’re slowly purchasing all those items that you need when you have a baby. With a strict budget in place, we’ve turned to the wonder that is Craigslist to buy our stroller, crib, baby carrier, and numerous other bits and pieces. We’ve managed to kit out the unborn baby for under $200, leaving plenty of money for takeout for the first six months after the birth. I’ve been researching other resources for cash-strapped parents-to-be, and I’ve found that even in a city as expensive as San Francisco, there are ways to keep the costs down. Chloe’s Closet stocks secondhand kids’ clothes and toys at bargain prices (and it feels so much better to buy a well-loved item than to splash out on everything brand new). Our incredible public libraries offer a host of free workshops and storytelling groups for new moms and dads. And if you can time it right, you can take advantage of the range of free days at museums throughout the city.
Of course, there are some things that you just have to spend your hard-earned cash on. Just 11 weeks in, I had to bid farewell to my uniform of skinny jeans and cute shirts and buy a range of maternity wear that makes me look either like a fat sailor or an aging hippie (aaggghh, someone please design some maternity clothes that are semi-economical and just a little more flattering than a muumuu). Certain baby-related paraphernalia like car seats are worth buying new so that you can be assured of their safety. And there are still unexpected costs around the regular hospital visits, doctor’s appointments, and blood tests that make up a huge chunk of the preparations for having a baby.
For all the ups and downs, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Ultimately, I know we have so much to look forward to in bringing up a baby in this city.
However, for all the ups and downs, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sure, there are uncertainties. Will we be able to afford to live in the city when the baby arrives? Will I miss my family on the other side of the ocean when I have a child of my own? Will I actually have the strength to push a stroller loaded with a baby, diapers, spare onesies, and groceries back up the hill to our apartment? But ultimately, I know we have so much to look forward to in bringing up a baby in this city.
I can already envision days spent on the beach (in my childhood, this involved a two-hour drive to get to the nearest stretch of sand, only to discover that it was too cold to actually get out of the car). I love the idea that we can put the baby in a carrier and still hike our favorite trails. There are parks almost on our doorstep and coffee shops to escape to (and my God, how I’m looking forward to that first hit of full-on caffeine after the baby arrives). And then there are all the wacky and wonderful “only in SF” things that we can introduce our little one to: the Big Wheel races in our neighborhood, all the amazing community gardens in the city, the pets, the fog, the view you get from the Randall Museum, the giddiness of driving over the crest of a hill and feeling like you are on a roller coaster. I still get joy from all of these as a grown-up, so I can only imagine how my future two-year-old will feel.