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  • Maia Dunkel

My baby was born in _______.

I was born on the island of Manhattan. New York City, baby! “Freak show central” as Al Pacino’s character famously called it in “Scent of a Woman.” I always took pride in the fact that I was born in a hospital on the upper west side, probably right next to a bagel shop or a jazz club. I feel an immediate sense of kinship when I meet another person who was born on the blessed isle. It’s akin to meeting someone who shares your birthday…you just get each other. As the Schuyler sisters sing in “Hamilton," it's “the greatest city in the world!"


For all of my thirties, to be referred to in this blog as the “baby-thinking years,” I lived in New York. In addition to being “great” and “freaky,” it’s also one of the most expensive cities on planet earth. But one accepts that for all it has to offer: great food, music, theater, people from all over the world. And the energy in NYC is electric.


Starting in 1999 I worked at several advertising agencies. By my late thirties I had been working in the "Mad Men" biz for a decade. My job took me traveling internationally with Client expense accounts and I worked with super creative people. I loved it. The money got better as the years went on. I was able to frequent nice restaurants, buy nice clothes, go to ballet classes three times a week and take the yearly trip abroad. I could go to the museums and the occasional broadway show. I didn't mind that the advertising business was so fickle. I was not only surviving but doing well.


But I was always on the edge. I knew I should be saving more but I also felt I should take advantage all the city has to offer. I mean, why else live in NYC? “Carpe Diem!” I’d say to myself at the ticket-to-whatever-must-see-show counter. Life in NYC is exciting but can also be cold-blooded if you are not constantly in hustle-mode.


To be able to do more fun stuff, I sacrificed on rent. I was not into paying 50% of my salary on housing which a lot of people do. I started in a mouse-friendly two-bedroom with a friend in Chinatown. After that I moved to a cockroach-heavy studio above a Chinese restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. Lesson Number 1: never live above a Chinese restaurant. Later I occupied a first-floor maid’s apartment in a brownstone in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. It was very cozy and by that I mean dark like a bear’s den. It was clean and it actually had laundry machines in the bathroom which is a rarity. Finally, as my salary continued to rise I stepped it up to a very serviceable apartment in Brooklyn Heights. I mean that literally. It was third-floor walk up but it had big windows and a great view. The landlady was certifiable but I loved looking down into the garden in the morning from up high. Shortly thereafter, I moved to what was my most “normal” apartment. It was on the fourth floor of a clean building that had a working elevator and a community garden with actual patio furniture. I was making progress. I would have loved a two-bedroom for guests but that would have meant moving to an undesirable neighborhood and a very long commute.


Just when I started to feel NYC was becoming manageable economically and psychologically, my biological clock started ticking hard core. Looking back perhaps I had to achieve a sense of accomplishment there before I moved on to the next phase of my life. It was then I realized I had to seriously analyze if I was living in the right place if I was lucky enough to have a baby come into my life.


Rent was one big piece of the puzzle. I felt I had to have a two bedroom. That was table stakes. I was not one of those die-hard New Yorkers that would sleep in the living room on a pull-out or have the breakfast nook repurposed to a baby’s room/area. There’s a major dry-wall business in NYC. People will turn a small dining room into a room for twins. Suddenly, your office is divided into two tiny rectangles. I have a friend whose ex-wife shares a studio on the lower east side with her fourteen-year-old son. These are the kind of people who will never consider living anywhere else. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it's just not me. I had many single, one-income friends outside of NY who had multiple bedrooms, huge closets, balconies, and big kitchens with tables actually inside of them. “Now this is civilized!” I thought.


So how did I go about this process? First I started with a list of pros and cons. It went something like this:


Pros for NYC:

  1. My Dad lives here

  2. Lots of friends

  3. Tons of advertising agencies

  4. Great Ballet and culture

  5. It’s NYC

Cons:

  1. Expensive!

  2. Costoso!

  3. Couteaux!

  4. Doroga!

  5. Teuer!

  6. It’s NYC

This is where simple but serious math comes into the picture because it really came down to raw numbers. I made a list of all my current expenses, the basics you can’t live without: rent, heat, electricity, toiletries, dry cleaning, food, and medical expenses. I added those up and matched them to my monthly net takeaway.


But basic expenses were just a start. I had to consider all of the other expenses that would come along with bébé: daycare, diapers, baby-sitting, clothes, mommy and me classes etc. I researched all those costs and was way, way over budget. And this was not even considering my going out to the occasional dinner or movie which now needed to include baby-sitting. Whereas going to a movie used to cost around $20, it was now going to cost $65. I'm sorry but even "Schindler's List" is not worth that.


Also, it was important to me to know that I could afford having a baby totally on my own, #oneincome. I did not want to have to rely on my parents for anything. They weren’t necessarily offering nor did I even discuss it with them. They already raised me and I was in my late thirties enjoying total independence since college. This was something I needed to do solely on my own.


After multiple rounds of excel sheets and projections, the result was always the same: if I wanted to live a “certain lifestyle” I was going to have to move. I knew I wanted a baby and that was more important to me than living in a specific place. I’d lived nearly my whole life in New York and was ready for a new adventure. Mentally, I was prepared.


As luck would have it, I was offered a job in Chicago about a year later. I’d like to think I also put out some good vibes. If you mentally build it, it will come. I always liked Chicago. It has the perfect blend of great culture and all a major city has to offer, but Chicago is also imbedded with a more midwestern mellow vibe. As I have family in Minnesota, I spent a lot of time in the Midwest so I felt very comfortable. People complain about the cold. It's true the winters are long, but with that comes an apartment on the lake at more than half the price (a lake you can swim in by the way).


I took to life in Chicago immediately. I spent two years getting acclimated to my job and the city. I dated a bit but was more focused on the plans that brought me to Chicago in the first place. On one fine summer day in 2013, I visited a fertility clinic. Six months later I got pregnant. The thing is, there are a lot of great cities in the world. And if you want, you can experience a few of them in a lifetime.


My baby was born in Chicago . I wonder where your baby will be born.


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