Saturday, February 16, 2013

Hard Choices... Part 2...

12oz Soy Caramel/Vanilla Latte

(a.k.a. tall soy Caramel Macchiato)
Cranberry Orange Scone

I have known many people denied various kinds of social services and benefits, even when they clearly qualified.  They have to fight, appeal, fight again.  And should the aid finally come through, it is too often insufficient to meet all their needs.  And for all, there is ever the specter of funding cuts.

So it was not for lack of love that I had to consider inflicting that terrible pain again.  It was for love of a child and a realistic look at what kind of life they might face.  Could we really afford everything they needed?  What kind of circumstances might we find ourselves in if we came up short and couldn't provide them with some kind of special equipment? medication? who knows what?  And would we be emotionally resilient enough to give them the emotional support they would need, even more than an otherwise "normal" child?

If I had traditional insurance with high co-pays and deductibles - or no insurance at all - I might have made a different choice.  Since I had Oregon Health Plan, and my extra ultrasounds and amniocentesis and all the labs were fully covered, we were able to determine that our boy did not have some of the more severe conditions, and that he had about a 95% chance of being completely in the clear.  We decided to take the chance - that much smaller chance - that our one and only child would be alright, that we could care for him, even if the worst case were to come true.  Again, my husband still had good credit...

We continued to monitor the anomaly through additional ultrasounds, and by the time our little Henry was born, his brain appeared to have normalized.  He has been robustly healthy and appeared to be developing normally, or faster - except in his speech. By the time he turned two, he was still about half a year behind where he should have been for his age, and it appeared to be contributing to some behavioral problems.  So, with a recommendation from our doctor, Henry was evaluated by the school district and has been receiving early intervention services over the last year.

He has come along wonderfully but still seems to be a bit behind.  He's going to be evaluated again soon to see if he is still eligible for additional intervention services.  Still, the help we've already received from Henry's teacher has made a huge difference in his behavior.  It would have been a much harder year in our home without it.  A lot more screaming and crying from the both of us, and, probably, from Henry's little brother.

Oliver... the other one who made it.

Like his older brother, Oliver's conception was not exactly planned, just not intentionally prevented.  Henry was about 11 months old and my husband and I had just decided that, yes, we wanted one more child.  Because there was help there if we needed it, we would try for just one more child, to complete our family.  A little later, though... because we wanted to be more financially comfortable (or less desperate), and one baby is plenty hard as it is, and, oh wait, we're pregnant again.  Ah, Valentine's Day...

So, we're off!  Again!  And this time's going to be harder, we know, but we wouldn't think of not going through with it now...  And then something unlikely comes along to put the fear, the uncertainty back in me.

The Ryan Budget.

I'm not trying to pick a partisan fight, or to engage in demagoguery.  This is truly the level of panic that was instilled in me when the details of the budget started coming out, just weeks after I had gotten my pregnancy confirmed (again) by Planned Parenthood (being without OHP or insurance again, after I had gone back to work).  We had a prologue as soon as the new Congress had been sworn in.  They had been swept in to get us jobs and the first thing they went after was Planned Parenthood and WIC.  Now, the Ryan Budget was supposedly going to try to cut more from these programs we relied on.

It was extremely uncertain how deep these cuts would go, and what they would mean, bottom line, in our own budget.  But the truth is, without the food stamps and WIC, month to month, we don't make it.  Even with them we've been living in the red all year, and that great big refund check is going to pass straight through our checkbook at the speed of our sigh and bullet to the credit card companies that have been propping us up.  (VISA and MasterCard would be most distressed if anything were to happen to that Earned Income Credit).  There's still going to be a little balance after we make that payment.

What would we do if we didn't qualify anymore, if our benefits were cut?  What if there was something wrong again, on that first ultrasound?  What if we had to start paying for some of the medical tests because of cuts to Medicaid?  What if we couldn't cover the kids anymore?  What if they got sick, or any one of us?  Medical cost are absolutely insane, even with insurance.  But with none...?  I had already destroyed my credit, so what would happen if we had to max out my husband's credit, too?

I began to regret that I had told people I was pregnant.  I cursed myself for not waiting a few more weeks, so they wouldn't have known... if...  How could I explain how terrifying that specter of budget cuts was to me?  To end the growing life of a wanted child?  To have already experienced the birth of a child, of holding him in my arms, and the love that has grown every day since his first breath...  To know that and still consider it?  Yes.  That is how much being poor has hurt.  That is how much the constant anxiety I have lived with has deteriorated me physically and mentally.  I wish I was stronger, but I am not.  Maybe I would have been if things hadn't always... always.. been like this.

But people knew already and I would have to explain.  I would have to explain to my husband that I was scared enough that we wouldn't be able to afford to care for two kids that I would chose to not have a child we both wanted.  I was afraid we wouldn't be able to afford just the three of us if these kinds of cuts went through...  I don't think I could have made him understand, though.  He had a much more stable life, and subscribes to that flimsy platitude that things will work out somehow, and we'll always get by.  I have learned, on the other hand, that things don't work out, or that deep and irreparable damage can be done in the getting by.

All this was greatly disturbing to him when we finally talked about it months later, after little Oliver was born.  He was shocked that I could even consider not having the baby.  He was more upset when I told him how often I had been thinking about suicide.  Not considering it - I'm a mother now, so checking out is not an option.  But it had been on my mind.  As I watched the play by play of the political theatre, and wondered bleakly if we'd come out safely on the other side of each successive deadline.  The feeling of doom... the feeling that things just never get better...  It felt like this abstract talk of budget cuts in far off Washington was a real sword of Damocles poised above my growing belly, and that I had made the wrong decision to have another child under that constant threat.

I still don't know if I made the right call, though I love and adore my boys and I could not now go back and unchoose either of them.  I don't know if I could have chosen differently with Bean, even knowing the pain it caused.  But if I had the chance to go back and have her, I would almost certainly be giving up one or both of my boys.  There is no way to have them all, though with all my heart, I wish I could.  I tell this deeply personal story now only to give a glimpse.  This lengthy story only sums up all the thoughts, the fears, that go into such a decision.

It's like that marshmallow test...

Many years ago, researchers put a marshmallow in front of a series of 4 year-olds and told them that if they didn't eat the marshmallow then they could have two marshmallows when the adult came back.  They found that the kids who lasted the longest, who waited for the bigger reward, did better later in life.  They concluded that it was their superior willpower.  However, a new study was done recently that showed that kids who didn't trust the adults around them to come back with a second marshmallow later, were first to eat the marshmallow in front of them (the researchers had biased the some of the kids by not coming through on a promise of stickers prior to promising the extra marshmallow).

So, if you're the kid who has learned to mistrust the world, that adults - your well-meaning family and friends, your elected representatives - will fail you at best, or screw you at worst; what kind of decisions do you think that kid is going to make in a situation as grave as this?  How much confidence do you think someone like that - like me - has to invest in something so important as a human being's lifetime happiness and well-being?

I've seen enough failings in the system to choose an abortion once, and to seriously consider it twice more.  But I have received help, and I had enough hope in the social safety nets to take the chance twice, to invest in the Future of America, as it were.

Just keep all this somewhere in mind during all this talk about how we're all going to have to make hard choices, how we're all going to have to make sacrifices...  Ask yourself who is doing the sacrificing, and what is the real cost.

** finished after an additional decaf espresso con pana, and some kind of chicken pannini thingy, because this took way too long, and if I weren't in a hurry I'd probably edit it down...

Hard Choices... Part 1...

Rogue Valley Roasting Company
Soy Mocha
Coconut Dream Bar

** This is in two parts because I keep running myself out of time to finish these while I'm actually Out of the house.  Also, some of the State of the Union speech was relevant to this wide-reaching topic, so I'm doing a little modifying of what I've already written and will post two separate blogs from about where I left off last week.  Hopefully the dramatic conclusion will follow fast. **

I'll write about drones next week (or not).  This week, I've decided to talk about hard choices.  All this talk about sequesters and minimum wage and mental health and other public services, kind of provoked this, though I've been thinking about writing this for a long time.

This is a story about three abortions - the one I had, and the two I didn't.  This is the story of how public policies played a part in each decision.  I'll try to keep it brief.

In the vice presidential debate last year, Paul Ryan mentioned his "little Bean" in his response to a question about abortion.  Well, I had a little Bean, too.  In fact, I got a tattoo of the kanji symbol for "Bean" on my belly on the day she would have been born.  My ex - her father - was with me, too, getting his own tattoo over his heart.  This was not an unwanted pregnancy.  Unintended, yes.  Unprepared for... but not unmourned for.  And we chose it - I chose it.

I was not a scared kid, either, with my whole future ahead of me.  I was 28.  And it was the past behind me, and the unstable present, that had driven my decision.  Everything I had learned in a lifetime of poverty, and debt-driven almost-middle-class poverty, was that what little help there is is usually not enough.  I had learned that the public assistance programs were so over-burdened that I usually didn't qualify, and the process could take weeks, months, years longer than you could last without the help.  I had learned that working hard - even above minimum wage, even more than 40 hours a week - wasn't enough to even pay for myself, let alone start a family on.  I had learned that something is always looming - the tires are getting balder, the cavities are burrowing deeper, and the people who have offered to help are about to be crushed with their own crises, and you're two breaths from being on your own again.  I had learned that I could live in my car if I had to, but I couldn't force all that stress and uncertainty and insecurity on a child.

It was not until that moment, though, that I knew how badly I wanted to be a mother.  And I learned then that, you can have a fair idea of your mind, but you really don't know what you would or would not do until you must decide what you will or will not do.  I didn't know if I'd ever get the chance again to have a child, but I knew that I'd never put myself in the situation where I would have to make that choice again.

I was wrong.

I had vowed at the time to get myself more financially stable so that I could raise a child without all the risks that Bean would have faced.  Instead, my finances basically imploded.  I tried going through one of those debt management services, but this was before the reform act that was passed in 2009.  The company got their fee up front, none of my creditors made me any offers - some of them pretended that the debt management company didn't exist - and on my thirtieth birthday I got court papers from my biggest creditor.  I suspect they decided to sue instead of negotiate a settlement because according to the paperwork the mediator had, I own a rafting company.  Imagine my surprise.  And still, when I try to get my credit report, I keep getting asked about my home mortgage.  (Anyone else see that report on 60 Minutes this last Sunday?  That's a whole other travesty.  Anyway...)

After the mediation hearing, where it was decided that I was going to have to file for bankruptcy, I turned to my future husband and said, "Well... it doesn't get any better than this!"  and we stopped using protection.  We were pregnant surprisingly quickly.  He still had good credit, after all.  And we had decided that we were willing to go into complete financial ruin if we had to, just to become parents in this lifetime.

Fortunately, there is such a thing as public assistance, and here in Oregon, it is much easier to navigate than in California where I had been with Bean.  Almost all my medical care was covered.  I received food stamps and WIC vouchers, not to mention invaluable nutritional advise and breastfeeding classes through WIC.  I also qualified for state and federal assistance for school, so I got a couple of classes in before I popped.  I could still get financial aid, now that I have dependents, but now that I have dependents, it's a little too difficult for me to manage going to school, too.

(I also have to give an extra shout-out to my bosses for being extremely accommodating of my extreme morning sickness.  It probably wasn't as bad as Kate Middleton's, but it was pretty debilitating and I missed a lot of work.  Very few employers would be so supportive, so thank you guys again).

So things were looking good, and I was uncharacteristically happy going into our first ultrasound.  We were expecting a boy - woo-hoo!  But we also found out then that we were expecting a boy who had an abnormality in his brain.  It's called an isolated ventriculomegaly.  It could signify a range of disabilities, including Down Syndrome and other developmental delays, some mild, some severe.  We weren't sure what we were facing, and we had to consider how able we would be to care for a child if he required intensive financial and other special care.

For the second time, I found myself facing the choice I never dreamed I would face.

** see the next blog for the dramatic (long) conclusion...

Friday, February 1, 2013

Toilet Coffee, Suspenders, and Hypnotic Henry.

Sleepytime tea
Ramen (Oriental flavor) and night-night pills

Three things: Toilet Coffee, Suspenders, and Hypnotic Henry.

1.  No, this is not a euphemism for something else.  A while ago, a friend suggested using coffee grounds as an air freshener/odor absorber.  So we put a little tupperware cup with coffee grounds on the back of the toilet (we have the diaper changer in the bathroom, as well...).  Then I got the brilliant idea to make it into a little zen garden instead.

Unfortunately, I didn't really think through my temporary instant coffee grounds idea.  Instant coffee likes water.  Where is there a lot of moisture?  Yep.  So after scraping the half-dissolved coffee into the trash next to the toilet, I refilled the zen garden with some lovely holiday coffee (on clearance, of course, because I'm not going to drop organic Kenya AA money on bathroom coffee).  As you might have guessed, during this process some instant coffee grounds got into the bowl of the toilet and... ta-da!  Toilet coffee.

2.  I have taken to wearing suspenders around the house.  I have a deviant body shape, and because I am a cheap bastard (as evidenced above) I will not shell out the money (and equally spare time) to get my pants properly fitted.  But wearing a belt actually hurts my hips and overall posture.  The suspenders relieve the pressure on my hips but the downside is twofold: they are made for men and, thus, the support is not perfect, and also availability and wearibility are limited for women.  So if anyone can score me some more lady-friendly suspenders... drop me a line...

3.  Yesterday, Henry took a piece off the ladder of his toy firetruck (I say "off" as if it has ever stayed "on") and swung it pendulum-like in front of my face while repeating, "cwose eyes, cwose eyes..."  I have no idea where he learned how to "hypnotize" people.  (Who's supervising this kid, anyway?).  I did, of course, cwose my eyes.  :)

Real blogs will resume this weekend.  Maybe.