What I want you to know about being pregnant, sick, and on state benefits

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Kari.

I see it. Every day, these “clever” Facebook posts about all of these lazy people “enjoying” state benefits that "you" pay for with your hard-earned money. "You" continually berate these people, insinuating that they stay at home all day, enjoying a carefree life and living off your hard work.

And, well…there’s a few things I’d like you to know.

I wish you could understand what it is like to be in a hospital room, sick, newly pregnant, without food in the house or any income. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. A delayed job…a high risk pregnancy….and we caved. You see, we didn’t plan this. We married with high hopes and dreams. I was in graduate school. He was working a great job. But he got laid off, and I was student teaching, preparing for a new career. We had scraped and struggled financially for almost three years. I had become an expert on $25/week grocery budgets. We cut every.single.corner. But it was no longer enough. We didn’t even have $5/week for food. And I was pregnant. I wish you could have felt the despair when I finally went to our state website and asked for help.

I’d like you to know what it is like to find yourself dealing with a high-risk pregnancy, knowing that your insurance expires in two months…and that your husband’s new job isn’t paying what they said. And that they retracted their offer of health insurance. I wish you could stand beside me when I hesitantly tell my ob-gyn’s receptionist that my insurance is switching to Medicaid and hear the scorn in her voice as she asks, “Why did you come here? Didn’t you know that we don’t accept Medicaid?”

I wish you could have been there in the room as I struggled for three weeks to nurse my new baby with a body that had been wracked with illness. And I wish you could have understood the sheer relief of knowing that there was help when, after three weeks of pumping, I produced only a few drops of milk per session. Thanks to WIC, I didn’t have to decide between paying the rent and feeding my baby. I also wish you could know what it felt like when I was diagnosed a few weeks later with a life-threatening illness requiring $15,000 treatments and know that there was no way to pay for them without help. Medicaid saved my life.

I want you to know the sheer shame of what it is like to walk into a dirty, crowded Social Security office and sit there for hours, looking at the floor, wondering how you got there. I would like you to walk with me to the window when my number is finally called and deal with derision given from calloused workers who have seen too much. I want you to understand how it takes all of my self-will to remain in that seat; when I think of walking out, I look down into the innocent blue eyes of my five month old daughter, and I know that I must stay.

I wish you could see how a little part in me dies every time I renew our EBT benefits or pay with an EBT card and see the look in the cashier’s eyes. And I wish you could see the defeat in my husband’s eyes as he comes home, tired and dirty from working for $10/hr, knowing it is not enough to meet the monthly bills.

But you’ll never see it because we’ll never let you see. See…I’m the lady who teaches your children in school…and in Sunday School. I’m a respected member of my church, and I have several impressive degrees hanging on my wall. My husband works hard all day long while I juggle child care, volunteer work, and side jobs while preparing to return to work as a full-time professor this fall. We’ve never let anyone see our pain. Or our poverty. We’ve carefully mended and dyed our clothes, politely declined invitations to expensive outings, and done what we could to maintain our pride.

There’s hope for us. In just a couple of months, we’ll finally be able to stop all state aid. My health has recovered. I have accepted a full-time position. You’ll never know the relief I feel that we’ll soon be able to provide our own food and health insurance. Ironically, I’ve listened to "you" talk derisively about women who choose their careers over their children, and I wonder if you realize the boxes in which you put people.

And while I know that there are many that abuse the system, I can guarantee this: You’ll never hear me slam a single person on state benefits. Because I’ve been there. I know the pain and the haunting poverty. And I think I’m a better person because of it.

I just wanted you to know.

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