“How many weeks pregnant are you?” Maya asked Leslie on a catch-up call. Leslie excitedly shared all the details and when she finished Maya said “I’m pregnant too!” Two college friends, now moms-to-be, are navigating pregnancy on opposite sides of the world and sharing their unique yet similar experiences with all things pregnancy from prenatal care, to cravings, to the impacts of COVID.
Leslie was born in Minneapolis, adopted New York as home for 7 years and recently relocated to Los Angeles. She is an actress, writer, creative consultant, and personal trainer. Maya is a Los Angeles native, currently based in Paris as a long-term expat for the past 8 years. She is a public health consultant as well as the creator of La Vie Locale , an online resource for empowering people to visit or move to Paris. The two originally met during college at UW-Madison where they bonded over dance, fitness, and their zeal for travel. They both are familiar with maintaining long distance relationships as they both respectfully have lived in different cities and countries before. One of Maya’s first international trips was to Brazil in 2011 to visit Leslie where she was studying abroad and sparked her desire to one day move overseas too. The two have managed to keep in touch despite living in different cities and Leslie recently visited Maya in Paris last year. This new shared milestone of pregnancy has led them to connect in a deeper way.
One of the first things both women had to figure out during their pregnancy journey was what type of care they wanted to have. Choosing to have a waterbirth in the comfort of her home with her husband, midwife and doula was something Leslie always dreamed of. This dream was ignited back in Leslie’s last year of undergraduate studies when she took the “Women’s Health and Medicine” history course. “I’ll never forget learning about Twilight Sleep, Margaret Charles Smith, Ina May, and watching the Business of Being Born Documentary,” Leslie shares. Ultimately she wrote a research paper on why having a homebirth is safer than a hospital birth in the United States and that has forever impacted her. When she became pregnant it was jarring to find out that the statistics of Black women maternal health rate had actually increased and that due to systemic inequities, reproductive health injustices, medical racism, lack of adequate health care and resources, amongst many other things not listed, Black women are now 3 – 4 times more likely to die during birth in the United States. Leslie knew without hesitation that a homebirth would be the best decision for her and her growing family to remain alive.
Searching for a midwife and doula was not a taxing task for Leslie because she had already been a fan of many birthing podcasts and knew a few names to look into. She wrote a list down, read each person’s entire website, social media pages, listened to interviews, researched pricing, and even read a few Yelp reviews. Once she narrowed down her list she and her husband met them each in person, this was before COVID. Her main criteria was years of experience, the person to be BIPOC or who have had experience working with a Black woman, and lastly that after meeting them her husband and her both connected with their personality and energy. A midwife in Los Angeles county can cost anywhere from $1,300 – $7,000 depending on whether prenatal visits will be done inside one’s home or at an office, the years of experience of the midwife, and whether or not you are choosing to birth at home or a birthing center. These were all out of pocket expenses for her family however she had been saving for this and she knew that the cost overall would be a lot cheaper than the hospital bill. Hospital costs can range anywhere from $3,000 to $37,000 uncomplicated vaginal birth and $8,000 to $71,000 for a cesarean birth. A doula can cost anywhere from $800 – $5,000 depending on experience, other certifications such as certified lactation consultant, postpartum doula, birth doula photographer or videographer and how many sessions the doula is offering before labor, day of labor, and after labor.
In France, health care is universal and this was one of the biggest perks Maya was looking forward to exploring, since it is completely the opposite compared to the US healthcare system. Since she completed her Masters of Public Health in Paris and had surgery in a French hospital for her hip which went well she is very familiar with how the healthcare system works and has decided to give birth at a hospital. Typically in France once you find out your pregnant one of the first things you have to do is decide where you will give birth. The most common option is a public hospital where all your care is free, or a private hospital/clinic. In Paris there are also a few alternative options such as a birthing center run completely by midwives or giving birth at home, which is less common but not impossible. You are often encouraged to choose where you will give birth within 30 minutes from where you live, and in Maya’s case she had the option of a larger public hospital or a small private clinic.
Given this is her first pregnancy, and she is doing it in a foreign country she wanted to be in a smaller environment that is a little more personalised so she decided to go with the private clinic. She has three colleagues who have given birth in the clinic she chose so that was a helpful deciding factor to have first hand input of their experience. There are some additional costs with giving birth in a private clinic to cover doctor’s fees, private rooms, or other services that aren’t fully covered by the national health care system. Overall her out of pocket cost will run around 2,000 euros but with the different supplementary insurances she has to complement the national health insurance she will only end up paying around 800 euros or so. Once you hit the 6 month mark of your pregnancy prenatal related visits are fully reimbursed so she has been taking advantage to see other providers such as a midwife, physical therapist, acupuncturist and an osteopath to complement her traditional prenatal care. As an American in France Maya still has the reflex to think about healthcare costs as a potential burden, but has been enjoying all the comprehensive prenatal care offered in France and is thankful her care costs aren’t a source of financial stress.
Leslie and Maya are essentially due around the same time so they have weekly check-ins where they share baby bump photos, discuss their prenatal visits, and update each other on baby movements or new body aches. They also share books that they are reading, both have dived into Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth book as well as Like A Mother by Angela Garbes just to name a few. They have shared their favorite prenatal yoga Youtube videos with each other and even some birthing videos. It has been helpful to hear what’s happening in each of their worlds as it has created reassurance and a reminder that “We are not alone.”
Taking into account the current context, pregnancy looks a lot different than they imagined and both mama’s are mourning their expectations around their pregnancy due to COVID. Maya was really looking forward to taking advantage of all the prenatal options offered in France such as birth preparation courses, meeting other pregnant moms, or traveling back to Los Angeles to see her family. Despite COVID her prenatal care still has been maintained, with mask ridden doctor’s appointments or having to experience pregnancy milestones like sonogram appointments alone. In the movies you often see birth lamaze classes of groups of couples sitting on the floor learning breathing and discussing their questions and fears around giving birth. In reality, Maya’s birthing classes have been online with just her and her partner and they have been very informative however the in person interaction with the instructor and other couples has been non-existent. Leslie’s prenatal care has adjusted like Maya’s with masks, but it’s still a nourishing environment where they are greeted with hugs by their birth team. Fortunately Leslie’s midwife and doctor have allowed her husband to be at all the appointments and the two sonogram visits together. Whereas that is not the case for many women who are having a hospital birth due to COVID.
In the past, Leslie has hosted and helped throw many of her friends’ baby showers and was really looking forward to having her own. That dream will no longer be able to be realized in person, but both Maya and Leslie are planning to have some sort of virtual baby shower. Not really sure what that will look like, will games be played, to open gifts or not, is there still food involved or not? It’s all such new territory. Letting go of what could have been has been hard, talking it over together has been helpful, knowing that they both have to rethink what a baby shower will look like has been comforting. With the impacts of COVID keeping them far away from loved ones and friends it can often feel like an isolated pregnancy with just them and their partners.
This year has truly been far from normal and both ladies are doing their best to adapt and find joy during their pregnancy. The skills and resilience that they are building upon now will only help them as they become mothers who will also need to adapt to a new human in their lives, changing diapers, late night and early morning feedings, as well as postpartum care. The search for joy won’t end with pregnancy but only just begun as they both anticipate meeting their babies in September, the real bundle of joy they’ve been waiting for months to meet.