Adventures in Entitlement

I’d like to take just one moment for the fact that I was in the middle of signing up for WIC (a federal program that helps low-income pregnant women, infants and children purchase nutrition staples) when this whole Mitt Romney 47% thing started. If I had thirty seconds with him, I’d just like him to know that if he wants to see low-income people “take responsibility for their lives,” then he should sit in on a WIC orientation. We spent an hour listening to a lovely woman explain how the program works, why they encourage breastfeeding, all the breastfeeding resources available to women, how we to use the program as pregnant women and how to transition to using the program after our children are born. Then, we met one-on-one with a nutritionist. But obviously, we’re all lazy and don’t take care of ourselves.

Politics aside, I am pleased to report that the local WIC office is a nice place to be. There are fantastic pictures and posters of breastfeeding mother/infant pairs all over the place. The people are nice even when they’re busy. They really listened to me and my husband Nathan when we explained our situation. The nutritionist we saw is so excited that we are using donor milk to give our baby breast milk despite my setbacks that she dragged a colleague out to meet us. We got a set of “checks” to use at local farmers markets!

My worst fear was that I would leave humiliated. I thought I would be talked-down-to and waste an afternoon listening to why whole grains are better than not. I thought I would feel beyond incompetent because we qualify for WIC because I have no job.

None of that happened. The women I met take great pride in their work. They work to develop long-term relationships with the families they serve. They happily answer questions, even when it’s the end of the day and everyone is tired.

The program is also simpler to use than I thought it would be; we were given a set of “WIC checks” that are like travelers’ checks, but with lists of foods printed on them. We were also given a long list of foods that do and do not qualify, but the vouchers are good for whatever is printed on them. If you’ve got the “milk, bread & cheese” voucher in your hand, you pick out the least expensive of each, double check the rules and head to the checkout counter. The cashier watches you sign the voucher, checks it against the signature on your WIC card, writes in the total amount of money you spent, and you’re on your way. If the cheapest option at the store you’re using is brand-name Cheerios, then you buy the brand name. If you’re in a big grocery store, you buy the store brand. It’s pretty straightforward. I do love, though, that the fresh fruits and veggies, whether purchased at the farmers market or in a store, are just given a dollar amount, and you pay the difference. Got a $5 WIC voucher for fruits and veggies? Spend $6 and hand over $1 with your voucher. No rules about organic/non-organic or what you’re allowed to buy.

We now use SNAP (food stamps) and WIC. These programs let us buy extravagances like a car seat! diapers! wipes! It’s a luxurious lifestyle, I know, and I do feel a little guilty about all the taxpayer money that has gone to help my family. Oh, wait… no, I don’t! This is my life, and I don’t much feel like apologizing for any of it. In my family, we do our best to do the right thing. It may be shock you, but “the right thing” just is not always the choice that makes us more money. Often, it’s the choice that brings us more happiness or even just less stress. There’s a tradeoff; it’s easier to pull out a credit card than it is apply for and learn about SNAP and WIC. I’d like to have unlimited funds and not look at prices. That’s not where we are. So thank you, governmental entitlement programs and your undoubtedly underpaid staff, for helping us out. We need a hand and we are grateful that you’re there.

Week 34 Belly Pics (And Football)

This shirt was a gift from me to my husband. I gave it to him with a Jets onesie, so the baby will be a fan before and after birth. He’s not a rabid fan by any means, but the man watches a lot of football. The gift got a big smile! Also, my belly is surprising me every time I catch a glimpse in a mirror or a photo…

Joining the Club: Our Baby Shower

I have now been to one baby shower in my life–mine, last Saturday. This is what comes of living so far from close friends and family; I couldn’t even go to my sister’s shower. I found out months ago that my sister-in-law Peggy was planning to host a shower for me, and I was excited ever since. Peggy is a consummate host and a creative part-planner. But she’s also just really warm and lovely. My husband’s family (Peg is his sister) has embraced me as one of their own in a way I never thought was possible. Peggy and I were pregnant at the same time, until her third baby was born in July. Knowing that I’m not the most traditional mom and that most of my close female friends live far away, Peggy and my mother-in-law, Judy, planned a co-ed, family friendly backyard tea party. They called it “Anne-Marie in Wonderland” – my “un-shower.”

It was perfect. (The weather did actually threaten a tornado at one point, but that was before the party, and the rain waited until after we were done being outside to come down!) There were incredibly generous gifts and a bin full of books that included many I knew and loved. Friends drove all the way from Philly, and my cousin took the train all the way from Brooklyn. I often have a little social anxiety at parties, but there’s a magical perk to being the mom-to-be at your own baby shower–no one expects you to mingle! I sat on my “throne” decorated with beautiful hydrangea flowers and people came over to me to say hi!

We had tea, scones and finger sandwiches on beautiful china in the backyard. My friend Joseph is English and he said, “It’s like my childhood on a table!” so Peggy must have done her research. There were tiny signs on toothpicks in the sandwiches that said “Eat Me” just like the signs in the original Alice illustration. Corresponding “Drink Me” signs adorned the wine and iced tea that was served before the tea got started. The warmth and welcome was just palpable.

We eventually did go inside to open gifts (and many of our male guests retreated to the basement to mix cocktails at the full bar and avoid cooing over baby gifts) and this is where I really start to tear up at the memories. I hardly knew many of the guests, who were friends and family of our baby’s lovely grandparents and aunt and uncle, but as the evening progressed, I felt like they were welcoming Nathan and I (Nathan opened gifts, too!) into the Parents Club. It’s hard to explain, but all the smiles and thoughtful gifts and the stories shared about putting children to bed (or not) and favorite books… it all added to this feeling like we are about to do this very difficult thing (parenting) that many have done and survived before us. They seemed so happy for us at the joys we were about to experience and good-natured and funny about the not-so-joyful sleepless nights.

I did start to cry when my mother-in-law came over with a special gift just for me; it’s a series of little things, really, that are all about helping me experience childbirth in the positive, sacred way that I have planned. I had entertained the idea of throwing myself a Blessingway, a party that is much more about birth and is, admittedly, very “hippie.” Knowing that, Judy had made me a necklace with special beads to wear in preparation for labor. She started a scrapbook for me, not a baby book of traditional milestones, but of words and images that represent the joy and the calm that I want to surround my family as we move forward on our little journey. She had even found a CD perfect for playing in our hospital room to keep the ambiance calm and sweet. And she wrote a card expressing feelings I share: we are so glad to have one another as family.

My baby shower weekend turned into a celebration of family. I have heard stories of awful showers with the sharing of birth stories, some of them frightening, and advice, much of it based in fear. I have heard stories of moms-to-be overruled by grandmothers-to-be who want everything this or that way. I know a family whose registry and desire to use cloth diapers was completely ignored; instead, they received cases of disposable diapers and are now finding the money to buy diaper covers themselves. I was a little nervous. Not very nervous. Just a little. There was nothing to worry about. This party fit my taste and personality so perfectly, you would have thought that the closest friends in the world had planned it. Turns out, the family I married into is as close as my closest friends (even if topics of conversation are a bit different). We know and love each other well.

I am so happy to be bringing my baby into this family. Of course, far-away family sent gifts and good wishes, and they are part of my joy. Still, there is something special, something I grew up with and would never trade, about having family just a car-ride away. I am so lucky–to have the gifts we received on Saturday, of course, but much more to have the love of such kind and generous souls.