From London to San Francisco: mum life in the US

Emma Morris moved from north London to San Francisco two years ago and now has a six-month-old baby. She tells us about the big move, re-training as a florist, making ‘mom’ friends on Facebook and what it’s like to raise children in the US…

Emma Morris, 31, lives in San Francisco (specifically the Inner Richmond district) with her husband Tom and their six-month-old daughter Amory

Life in San Francisco

“We live in a three-bedroom house built just prior to the 1906 earthquake (so fingers crossed we’re safe if the big one hits!). It feels huge compared to our home back in London, and is a real luxury to have the extra space with a baby in the house, particularly as I spend so much more time at home than I ever have.

We moved to a slightly more up-and-coming area of the city to get the space, garden and garage, but we love it – the week after we moved in our neighbours brought round homemade sourdough and Meyer lemons from their garden – again… I can’t imagine this happening in London.

I work part-time as a florist and I have a little workshop set-up in the garage which is ideal. I have all kinds of plans to make it a beautiful working environment, but right now it’s a bit of a dungeon.

Tom always jokes that San Francisco is the only city where people don’t think you’re evil because you work in investment banking

My husband works in finance and his company asked him to relocate. This was over two years ago now, so pre-baby – it really felt like if we didn’t do it then, we’d never do it. It was hard for me as I had to leave a job in branding that I really enjoyed, but I think we were maybe both ready for a change.

Tom always jokes that San Francisco is the only city where people don’t think you’re evil because you work in investment banking – over here the tech guys get all the slack because they’ve driven house prices up and churn up the roads with the commuter buses down to Silicon Valley.

We had been living in Islington in London before we made the move. We recently travelled back to the UK to visit family and rented an Airbnb just round the corner from our old house. We love the area and it always feels like coming home even thought we feels pretty settled in the US.

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They’re obviously both major cities, but San Francisco is so much smaller and much more manageable than London. We have friends who live on the other side of town, but it still only takes 20 mins to drive to their house. We live a few minutes away from the huge Golden Gate Park and a 10-minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge – it still seems crazy to have such iconic landmarks on our doorstep.

Much like London, there’s a huge foodie culture in SF, but people equally take advantage of an outdoor lifestyle over here – we love getting out for hikes and Tom has got into cycling. We’ve just ordered a running pram, so hopefully Amory will enjoy being just as active as us!

We definitely have a slower pace of life over here – fewer hangovers and more morning runs – but I guess that is to be expected now we’re in our 30s with a baby.

We got really lucky and got put in contact with a friend-of-a-friend and slotted straight into a ready made group of fabulous friends

The move itself was pretty draining, but we were lucky that we got help with the logistics from Tom’s company (visas, packing up our house etc). The hardest part was arriving at our corporate apartment in San Francisco (which we had for a couple of months before we found something longer term).

It was on the 18th floor of a pretty soulless apartment building and our cat Oscar, who arrived from London a few hours after us, couldn’t get used to not being able to go outside and would just hide under the bed. Both me and Oscar got pretty down in those first few weeks, as Tom was straight into work and I was still waiting for my visa paperwork to come through.

I’ve always thought as myself as the positive one in our marriage, but moving was a real test, I had to really motivate myself to start exploring SF but as soon as I did I started to be able to see myself really living here.

In the lead-up to the move, I was most concerned about making friends, I think. We got really lucky and were put in contact with a friend-of-a-friend so we slotted straight into a ready made group of fabulous friends (quite a few of whom are British).

We get out of the city most weekends and have the most beautiful beaches and countryside within 30-45 mins away

Back in London I worked for a branding agency – it was a fun and energetic environment and I really enjoyed it. I’d always had concerns about working for an agency and starting a family (the hours can be long and it’s a tricky job to do part-time), so I used the move to San Francisco as a chance to try something new.

Soon after I arrived, I interned for an amazing florist I’d followed on Instagram called Studio Choo. I got to manage the creative process in my old job, but I love being the one creating now. I’ve taken several months off work with Amory, but before that I was freelancing for florists around the city (mostly at weddings) and am hoping to start my own business very soon. California is a dream for a florist – the flowers I get to work with and the locations are pretty incredible.

On giving birth in the US

I was quite nervous about the prospect of giving birth in the US (I’d read lots about the use of drugs and higher rates of cesareans), but the care we received was fantastic. I still feel pretty uncomfortable with the healthcare system out here and was shocked at the medical bills that came through, even though we were fortunate enough to have most of it covered by insurance. I think if some people back in the UK could see the cost associated with having relatively straight-forward birth they might appreciate the NHS a little more.

The city is fantastic for parent groups and we’ve met a great group of mums (or moms) through a Facebook parents group. Although San Francisco gets its fare share of fog and cloudy days, the weather is generally great which makes it so easy to meet up in the park for play dates – we currently have a weekly 4 o’clock wine meet-up on a Friday in the park.

It’s also a really international city, so lots of people are in the same boat with being far from home and really look to each other as an extension of their own families. We’ve just started a babysitting circle so we can all start getting out for regular date nights.

Missing home…

I miss family and friends, grandparents taking on babysitting duties, decent news programmes (I still largely listen to Radio 4), pubs, going out for a Sunday roast as opposed to brunch, getting to wear proper winter coats, M&S ready meals (you can’t get good ones in the US, which is hell with a new baby), European city breaks, the supermarket biscuit aisle.

But San Francisco and the bay area feels like a great place to bring up a family. We get out of the city most weekends and have the most beautiful beaches and countryside within 30-45 mins away, and the weather being generally great makes it so much easier to make the most of it all.

I obviously have a bit of a wandering tendency, but I also love home

I also really believe in the confidence the US school system (or at least the good schools) instills in kids – there is a mentality that you can do anything over here. My high school was academically great, but I don’t feel they pushed us to believe in ourselves much beyond getting decent A-Level results. There is definitely still a sense of the American Dream in San Francisco, even if it is a bit broken round the edges.

We’ve been here just over two years now and can definitely see ourselves staying for another year and then thinking about heading home. We’ll debate whether that’s the right decision until the day we leave as we do truly love it here, but we also loved London and I think we both can’t quite see ourselves bringing up a family longterm in the US, and feel a little guilty about depriving grandparents of spending time with Amory. We joke that we’ll only go home because we want Amory to have a British accent, and not sound like a little American girl. This is only half true!

I’ve lived for short spells in New York, Sydney and now San Francisco, so I obviously have a bit of a wandering tendency, but I also love home and I’ve really grown to slightly romanticise the UK… though Brexit has slightly tarnished that rose-tinted view.”