A Cambridge woman is pregnant and recently unemployed. This is how she’s dealing with the coronavirus pandemic

"It really makes you reflect on what's most important."

Eli Fels and Matt McDowell.
Eli Fels and Matt McDowell at the Head of the Charles. –Courtesy of Eli Fels

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This story was told by Eli Fels from Cambridge, who is 11 weeks pregnant, and has been transcribed and edited from a conversation with Kristi Palma.

My name is Eli Fels. I worked as a swim instructor at HealthFitness, which manages the athletic centers at Harvard and MIT. I’m also a personal trainer at Wellbridge Athletic Club in Cambridge. Wellbridge shut down, as did Harvard and MIT, so I think the decision was made that it would be better to lay off workers so they could apply for unemployment benefits. I have never filed for unemployment before in my life, so that was a new experience for me. Part of me had mixed feelings about applying for public assistance because, you know, my identity is a person who works a lot and owns my own money. But, on the other hand, I think this is what public assistance exists for. It’s intimidating and a little complicated filling out forms online.

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I’m in a domestic partnership with Matt McDowell, who is a personal trainer, pilates instructor, and manager on duty at Harvard University Recreation. We’re extremely grateful for HealthFitness, because they’ve kept his full-time job and health insurance. Probably one of the biggest worries pregnant women are having right now is [thinking], ‘Will I lose my health insurance with my job or my partner’s job?’ We have moved our furniture so that he can exercise and train with clients at home over Zoom.

I’m 11 weeks pregnant. We find out in a couple weeks if it’s a boy or girl and I’m really excited. One major, immediate challenge is working with the medical team to decide how often to come in for prenatal appointments. We don’t have a car and attended our last ultrasound taking an Uber and that was, obviously, a big source of anxiety. We were able to change our OBGYN to a different hospital, Mount Auburn, that’s within walking distance. In a typical pregnancy, there might be between nine and 12 prenatal appointments at a hospital. I think, if I’m not mistaken, at many hospitals, there’s one entrance that anyone entering the hospital will come in, including possible patients who feel sick. So we’re trying to limit our exposure. My OBGYN’s office has recommended that I buy a blood pressure monitor so that I can take my blood pressure at home. One thing I’ve worried about is, if I got COVID-19, would it affect my body’s ability to give my baby enough oxygen?

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Partners are not allowed in hospitals during prenatal appointments, so [Matt] has been planning to walk with me to the hospital and then wait outside. His sister sewed us masks that we can wash at home. We also have nitrile gloves and it has been recommended to me to bring a Ziploc bag of wipes. We also have ordered basic lab goggles, which are inexpensive on Amazon. It sounds a little silly, but when you have a baby, you can’t be too careful. We live in a crowded apartment building on the top floor. Our OBGYN also has recommended that both of us limit the time we spend in hallways, stairways, and elevators just because of the potential of aerosol spread. We’re taking the stairs, but also we don’t go outside frequently because of people going in and out of stairwells. People who have houses with yards are really lucky during this time.

Just opening the windows, listening to the birds outside, and looking at the trees start to sprout has been a good thing for me to do to help ease my mind. I also found that reading children’s books that we intend to read to our future child is a good stress relief.

We are so grateful for Boston Organics. We essentially signed up for a weekly delivery of fruits and vegetables. You have an option to add on items like canned beans or eggs. I begged my partner to stop grocery shopping in mid-March, just because it seemed unsafe. We’re definitely low on Kleenex. We’ve been cutting them in half to make them last longer. Big picture, we’re just really focused on the baby and meeting our basic nutrition needs. If we run out of toilet paper, we can take showers. We have sponges we can use for cleaning if we run out of paper towels. Being pregnant, it really makes you reflect on what’s most important, which is your friends and families’ health and doing one’s best to ensure a healthy birth. Running out of toilet paper is really the least of our worries.

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My partner has also been extremely supportive. In our relationship, I’m usually the person who cooks more. I’m really grateful to have him step up and learn how to cook the sorts of foods that are now available to us. He learned how to make frittatas and lentil soup. Because I’ve been so nauseous, I haven’t been able to exercise. But once I start again, he’s going to help me with that.

My family is in Tennessee and my mom is on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Matt’s entire family is in Oregon and Hawaii. One thing that pregnant women are probably concerned about is the possibility of having their families be together for the birth. But we’ve been having a lot of phone and Skype calls. Even if we can’t be together in person for the birth, I’ve really appreciated the outpouring of support from our family members from far away. All of their kind words mean a lot.

I’m definitely worried about the prospect of my partner not being able to be in the delivery room when I give birth. That said, I completely respect the decisions of the hospital. [Not] being able to hold Matt’s hand is, frankly, scary. On the other hand, we’re in the mode of, ‘We have to do what we have to do.’ Even if Matt has to be waiting outside the hospital, I know that he’ll be with me in spirit.


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