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What they say about poor girls

An excerpt from a ground-breaking book on class oppression in the US


Image
Pregnant woman at a public Women
Infants and Children clinic, Virginia, USA.
photo: Ken Hammond (USDA)

I know what they say about poor girls.

Tryin’ to get pregnant to keep a boy around.

Havin’ babies to get a welfare cheque.

Trappin’ men by tellin’ ’em they’re on the pill when they’re not.

I don’t even recognize what people say about poor girls though.

Trying to get pregnant?

All my life I’ve been with girls and women doing everything they could to avoid pregnancy. Well, almost everything, since most of them still had sex. So, I’ll put it this way – the girls and women I knew who were having sex were doing everything they could to not get pregnant. And they talked about it all the time.

This pill.

That pill.

This condom.

That condom.

Pull out.

Watch the calendar.

Count days from your period.

Know your options if it happens.

The costs

Let me be clear here. The girls and women in my family think kids are just as adorable as the next person does. We just knew the costs.

Mostly we knew about the financial costs like being out of work because you’re sick while you’re pregnant then being out of work because you’re in the hospital having the baby then being out of work because you’re recovering then being out of work because your kid is sick then being out of work because the babysitter didn’t show up then being out of work because you’re just too damn exhausted to get your ass out of bed on time to go to work.

One day off work could mean the light bill isn’t paid.

Two days could mean rent is short.

Three days? Don’t even go there.

We knew the financial costs because every woman we knew suffered those. We didn’t know anyone who was salaried or got paid personal days, paid maternity leave, paid vacation.

We didn’t know a woman who didn’t worry too much about going in an hour or so late when a kid was sick.

Clocking in, clocking out

We only knew women who clocked in and clocked out and were only paid for the work their bodies did during the minutes between those two times.

We only knew women who busted their asses on the restaurant floor, behind a bar, on the factory line, cleaning someone else’s house, over the café grill, watching someone else’s kids, poking cash register keys, dry-cleaning clothes.

“Other girls, to my amazement, seem to have the pleasure and luxury of focusing on the ‘joy’ of pregnancy, the ‘joy’ of nursing, the ‘joy’ of child-rearing, the ‘joy’ of becoming a mother....”

We watched our women come home off the bus, out of a friend’s car, out of a relative’s car, out of a borrowed car, out of a barely-gonna-make-it-but-it’s-my-own car, and they were tired.

Pooped.

Exhausted. And they knew and we knew that still when the cheque came in or the tips were added up it wasn’t going to quite cover what it needed to cover.

It wasn’t gonna cover the grocery bill after all the bills were paid, it wasn’t gonna cover the field trip money expected at school, it wasn’t gonna cover the new shoes little Sammy needed after his toes burst out the front, it wasn’t gonna cover the drive-in movie she promised the kids on the weekend, it wasn’t gonna cover bus fare or gas or the small payment she gave to her friend who drove every day.

It never quite covered.

Something was always left uncovered.

Exposed.

A full-time job

My world of you-better-not-get-pregnant-girl and dear-god-it’s-me-poor-girl-please-don’t-let-me-be-pregnant and oh-my-god-what-am-I-gonna-do-now weebled from side to side when I realised that some girls tried to get pregnant.

Rich girls though.

Not only did some girls (or women, by the time I knew them) plan to get pregnant, they made it a full-time job to figure out how to get pregnant.

Damn.

These girls are se-ri-ous. Fertility books, visits to the doctor, prenatal vitamins months before they even thought they would try to conceive, halting their alcohol habits, curbing their caffeine intakes, thermometers, sex on certain days, calling in their spouses when the temperature was just right, doing all kinds of yoga positions immediately following sex, reading more books, seeing more doctors, getting shots, paying thousands and thousands of dollars to try to get pregnant.

I mean damn. Again.

Poor girls are so strapped by their finances we can’t imagine a pregnancy, the furniture needed, time away from work, the long-term financial costs, the exhaustion after a double shift, the food, the bottles, the formula, the child care.

The ‘joy’

Other girls, to my amazement, seem to have the pleasure and luxury of focusing on the ‘joy’ of pregnancy, the ‘joy’ of nursing, the ‘joy’ of child-rearing, the ‘joy’ of becoming a mother who has the time and resources to make a room for the newcomer, to buy all the necessities (plus) for the baby, to take time off work to recuperate, to visit the doctor without worrying about the bills, to take the baby to a pediatrician who works in a colourful, spacious, inviting office in the suburbs rather than wait in long lines at the cold, damp, gray, local health clinic to see the one pediatrician who comes each month.

I know what they say about poor girls.

But I think they got it wrong.

I’m 37 years old now, and after giving birth to an unplanned beautiful baby girl who is now seven years old and the love of my life, I’m still trying to avoid pregnancy.

It’s in me.

The fear.

The anxiety.

I have insurance now.

A salary.

Time off when I need it.

And the room for a new baby in the family.

But I know the costs.

And I still feel exposed.



Material reprinted from Stephanie Jones, ‘What They Say about Poor Girls’ in Class Lives: Stories from across Our Economic Divide, edited by Chuck Collins, Jennifer Ladd, Maynard Seider and Felice Yeskel. Copyright © 2014 by Cornell University. Used by permission of the publisher, Cornell University Press.

Topics: Class