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...

1 comment:

  1. I'm sort of speechless. I wish I had something pithy to contribute, but I don't and all I want to do right now is teleport myself to Oregon so I could squeeze you in my arms right now. Not too hard, though, I know yer sensitive. ;-)