Pontifications · Rants · Rural Life

Poverty & Judgement

People gripe about systemic abuse in the welfare programs available today to the point my Facebook feed is bloated with memes adjudicating people via made up narratives and flawed logic that spreads intense class warfare. I take direct issue with that based on the lack of actual fact behind it and because, while I do believe the system is broken, I do not believe abuse of the system is the problem – I believe it is the lack of any real attempt to get rid of poverty by bolstering people out of it.

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Most of the people that have a lot to say about such programs have never been on one. And those that see the transactions, the barter method in parking lots or among friends, and the ‘freegan’-esque movement taking place with loud-mouth and ethic lacking freeloaders, addicts, and asshole relatives protectively assume the world is full of awfulness and any help is going, merely, to the bottom feeders. The ire from all this sends good people down the path of judgement and assumptions, despite the fact they have no real idea how much they fund welfare programs out of their tax money (which is a lot less than they think), and most have never even picked up or understand the application processes for welfare recipients. The average, middle class citizen has not any idea the hamster wheel of the welfare trap they have helped construct all in order to curb abuses, which both perpetuates poverty and divides us as a people.

The reason I say this, and I will admit it, is that we looked into WIC out of desperation.

What is WIC?:

“The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a federal assistance program of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for healthcare and nutrition of low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants and children under the age of five. ”
Read More Here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WIC
And here: http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/women-infants-and-children-wic

It’s a social welfare program and something I never thought I’d look at for help. It was a really ego-crushing moment, one I never thought I’d talk about. But it was an incredibly educational experience and one worthy of discussion, partly because it made me realize how incredibly judgemental and afraid I had been trained to be by the society and social comforts I had growing up with.

The year our girls were born my husband’s base pay was only $34,000. Yes, it was a gamble having kids on such a low starting salary, one that paid off now, but it also came with a dose of life throwing us a curveball. We ‘planned’ we’d have one baby and we’d wait a few years for the next one, like most people do, and we’d shaved down our expenses to accommodate accordingly. Then, BAM! Twins! That rocked our little world and meager budget.

The next big shake up was not far behind and that was the prematurity of their birth, which is something pretty expected with me being a first-time mom with multiples, as multiples in general are high risk and are statistically more likely to arrive prematurely. The cost requirements that came at us at full speed, too.

Sure, we had fantastic insurance – the problem was the formula my kids were going to need and the cost of that. I was in the midst of torturing myself trying to breastfeed but my kids couldn’t latch so I was left to breast pumps and lactation consultants. Yes, sanctomommies and their judgement everywhere helped propel me into Herculean efforts to try and make that happen. Every two hours since they were born I pumped and I drove William nuts trying so hard. I cried and cried; I took supplements, I took the beat down from the lactation consultants who began blaming me because ‘it is rare for women not to produce milk at all! You aren’t doing enough! You aren’t pumping enough! You need more supplements!’. Actually, my milk just never came in. At max  I was making 5ml per breast. I pumped during the ‘golden hours’ – sometimes falling over on the machine, exhausted. I drank so much water and took so much fenugreek I smelled like and pissed the scent of strong maple syrup for weeks. Nothing changed my dismal prolactin levels. And then I had a mental breakdown and the hospital social worker took me to an OB/GYN.

She was the nicest, sweetest OB/GYN I’ve ever encountered and after assessing me she basically told me the lactation consultants are noble people but good intentions do pave the way to hell and idealization. This doctor had a preemie, too, and assured me we are all human — and unexpected things happen even to doctors, too, who can’t control even their own fates at times. She explained she couldn’t breastfeed and she tried. She even admitted buying domperidone from Thailand. And she cried about it in front of me because I was just a wall of tears. And then she said, “If you need permission to stop this, as a doctor I give you my damn permission. Your kids were born premature because twins tend to do that, it is not your fault and you might not work right. You did not get enough hormones to jumpstart lactation. So when you’re ready, let it go.

I took it to heart and I decided I would keep trying until it revealed totally futile. It was what it was and the final, cruel, stroke was when a lactation consultant/PICU nurse dumped my supply kit out in the pump room. I let it go, then, because most of the fight I had left in me was the energy my kids deserved. I would never produce much more than a swallows worth of milk and had to face the cost of formula for preemie twins. That can run anywhere from $250-$400 a month for the specialty formulas that the NICU prescribes.

Do you know how fucking worthless you feel when your own body basically fails and that fucks your budget?

Yeah. That’s what I felt like.

We were staring down the barrel at hundreds of dollars more than we had actually anticipated and we’d cut every ounce of fat we could already. My inability to breastfeed was going to cost us a hell of a lot more. No, I am not whining – we brought kids into the world and you run the gambit when you do that but it doesn’t mean you’re going to actually come out on top. It was just a shock to be standing where chance and choice takes you.

Thankfully, we have family who understood we were strapped and they helped whenever they could. I’m sure people judged us – I get that – but we tried as hard as we could to keep from asking for help and we took what help we felt wasn’t imposing. We didn’t ask for night help or weekends off, we tried to act within our means, we tried very hard to keep on a straight and narrow. We didn’t want to pressure the people we loved with our choices or mistakes. If they wanted to give us a nudge, we would accept it and we did. But we tried never to abuse or assume that any of that goodness was going to be there. We appreciated all of it more than most of those people can comprehend.

Yet, what many people lack any compassion for is the fact that many people just don’t even have that kind of backup in life. For all of my insufferable pride, we were down and out in those days, I cannot imagine being there with nowhere to turn but the state.

I will say that what we did prepare was enough to pay the copays on half-a-million dollars worth of medical treatment, travel, lodging, and food the month I was in Burlington while the girls were in the NICU. And, full stop, if we’d been any less prepared, frankly, we would have been in ruins right there. Instead, I was taking my own C-section crimp staples out to avoid having to pay yet another copay (especially for the damn giant infection that was brewing in having them in too long) and I walked to the hospital or used free public transport.

While I was staying at the Ronald McDonald Charity house near the hospital where my kids were, Will continued to work ridiculous hours. He tried to come on the weekends to the NICU — although he couldn’t some weekends, which was soul crushing to have him five, six hours away from his babies and me. Yet we pressed on.

I was an emotional, neurotic basket-case when we came home because my kids still had issues and he’d only seen his children four times since we had them and they were a month old when we spent our first night home.

We had sold my car and cut our cable a few months prior, so we had one vehicle and were down that bill. We only had a single prepaid cell phone for my husband’s work (I ditched my cellphone and haven’t had one in over three years). We ultimately would cut our landline for free VOIP that I set up to chop down our bills further and I cloth diapered for 7 months. Instead of the preferred formula, our pediatrician approved a substitute Walmart Brand formula that was a copy of the high-end brand for neonatal preemies, but at half the cost. The only catch was that the product was being discontinued and was hard to find. I had to buy it online in bulk, so it was hundreds of dollars upfront for bulk products, and I put my mother and my mother-in-law on watch if they saw it in stores to buy all they could. Sadly, NICU parents now no longer have this option because it was completely discontinued.

We put our rent and utilities on credit which we finally paid off with our tax returns the following year. We bought very few groceries — Will ate at work and his mom would send us food from the diner she owns and my parents sent up meat and brought up meals when they visited. I will also attest my husband and I had the luxury of our parents bringing us a ton of baby food and food to pureed (or must pre-masticated) which saved us a small fortune when the kids started on solids. Amazing family friends brought us food on occasion, too.

I remember that I stayed in the house for nearly four month straight — alone, save for occasional visitors, and with no extended breaks until I could peel away to start getting groceries. I tended to the kids round the clock until I could hardly move. Will reprieved me for one feeding on work nights and then whenever he could on the weekends as well as helping me doing housework. Will working, 3 or 4, 16 hour days with a two hour roundtrip commute and one or two eight hour days. The house we were in was under construction, so we lived in a total of 900 square feet and slept on an ancient full size mattress in that one room with me and the two girls. We were at the end of the tether, in the red, and barely making it. I don’t, honestly, think many people had any idea how tight we were or how many tears were shed on my laundry room floor or times I screamed into a pillow.

Some people casually assumed that, since our parents made their lot in life that we somehow were at that level too. We were the living, breathing low-middle class, a brush away from actual poverty. To know that people were out there without the safety net we had within our social community, people that the welfare system is trying to aid, was eye opening.

The day I dialed to see the limits on WIC I remember being in a hallway just outside the transitional unit that was going to release my children within 48 hours. My babies had been upgraded but I was back in a pit of embarrassing despair. I had Will’s pay stub in my hands and I was shaking. That’s when they told us the numbers and that we didn’t qualify that month because we were $20 dollars over. He’d put in mandatory Over Time six weeks prior (that’s the number of weeks our OT is delayed). I was simultaneously relieved we didn’t have to ‘stoop’ to the line of asking for assistance from a government program and crushed we had to beg and borrow to make end. I cannot express how much relief filled me when, the night before our girls were discharged, the nurses overfilled several bags with formula for us from the unit — which they were not suppose to do.

Ultimately, we technically and overall qualified for WIC that year and simultaneously didn’t qualify for WIC some months. Regardless, we never acted upon its viability.

Why?

Well, it wasn’t over the lack of leniency. I got why there is no leniency in WIC, to avoid the system abuses people are so worried about, and I respected it at that time. What really set me off, though, was when the WIC lady literally told us, “You know, if he didn’t work overtime you’d be able to get this at your base [pay].”

And, at that, I was fucking irate.

That is a welfare trap statement, in a nutshell. If you can qualify for help, and yet they help hobble you. And that’s just WIC — I can’t imagine signing into any other social welfare programs.

I still wonder if we’d done the right thing by not taken advantage of it the months we most needed it. I wanted to feel proud we’d avoided it but that bothered me. I saw the reality of the stigmatization that WIC recipients receive, even by my own hand. As a state of judgement escalates the further people are down the rabbit hole, I wonder where that leads us.

If Will didn’t have a job with the growth potential, benefits, and family we have then we would have been brought to our knees. We would have needed WIC every month we could have gotten it that year if we hadn’t had the family help we did. The only safety nets out there absolutely encourage people to work, but not too much or they drop you on your face before you can get lift-off to a truly self-sustaining state. So the perpetuation of the system is that there is no real way to lead people out of poverty on these programs and they fail to even bolster full time, skilled working-class people.

I say that latter part because, for what it’s worth, we suffered and toiled for what we wanted. But in ways I am not sure I’d be comfortable, as a citizen, foisting off onto other people. Most people are not as lucky as we were — to be together, even if non-traditional in a few ways; to have supportive families on both sides with financial means backing them; to have wonderful friends who were watchful and helpful. To have people suffer like we did, yet without the perks on the side, would be to ask people and their children to go hungry or to give up.

What I hope people take from this is that a lot of memes and regurgitated ‘notions’ out there are fictitious when it comes to the idea of welfare abuse. Those things feeding narratives and agendas of politics and perpetrate incredible social injustices without a fleck of fact involved. The reality is much more complex and the solutions mean trusting people we’ve been pushed to believe are less worthy of help in the first place because we see them as leeches. The statistical reality is that the vast majority are working their ass off and just trying to make end. It’s just that the rope they’re getting pulled up by is really just a noose, bound to its own limited functions that are there to curtail the perceived notion of abuse and snaring people to stay where they are, lest they not get a morsel more than their poverty ‘deserves‘.

Now, I am not asking for people to become bleeding hearts willing to play Robin Hood for the poor. What I am asking is that before you judge the poor and assign them a label as lazy or system abusers that we look at the larger problems first verses the anecdotal micro-spectrums we see for the sake of pandering to outrage. Look at the gaps that keep people trapped, the lack of opportunities that stop people from being able to take off and self-sustain, and the support systems that aren’t there just for people who are struggling verses being outright impoverished. Sometimes prevention is half the cure, if you know what I’m saying.

I am asking that you look at the poor as people, like you and me, and asking yourself what you can do and learn about poverty before you open your mouth, or your newsfeed, to preach the gospel of class warfare which does not serve a solution but does create an even greater divide.

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