I’ve always said that my maternity leave was amazing. Ayva was a super baby, and because I nursed her and we co-slept, I never had to wake up to heat up bottles. Those 12 weeks rocked. Before it started, though, I was anything but relaxed. Although I worked full-time and had insurance, much of my maternity leave was unpaid. The first 7 months of my pregnancy was extremely difficult, and I ended up having to use most of my paid sick, vacation, and other discretionary days before Ayva was even born. Thank God for WIC and SNAP benefits.
When I was pregnant, I struggled financially. At the beginning of my pregnancy, I’d moved into my apartment based on the additional income I was going to make from my part-time teaching jobs. Of course, I didn’t anticipate not being able to shower without laying down for an hour afterwards, so I had no idea that providing instruction to 20 middle-schoolers at a time would be impossible. Things went downhill really quickly, and even though my entire paycheck went to paying rent, I still made too much to qualify for any assistance. There were times that friends and family stepped in to buy groceries for me so that my daughter would be born healthy.
I was humiliated.
After Ayva was born, she and I suffered from low blood iron, so a thoughtful nurse at the hospital gave us a letter that allowed us to sign up for WIC due to health issues. My first appointment was when Ayva was a week old. While we were there, a WIC Counselor checked our iron level and gave me tips for increasing them, we were weighed, and I left with vouchers for free grains, eggs, cereal, milk, juice, and fresh fruits and vegetables. I was surprised to get the voucher for the fruit and veggies. I learned that WIC had partnered with local farmers markets to provide an opportunity for mothers and elderly people to receive fresh produce monthly. It was truly a godsend.
A few days later, after filling out tons of paperwork online, I had an appointment at Social Services for SNAP benefits, or “food stamps” as the program is often still referred to. The meeting was surprisingly simple. I was called in to a cubicle, and a SNAP rep went through my answers. She took a look at the letter from my job that stated I was not receiving any pay during my leave, and asked me questions about things like my insurance and my assets. Then, I was sent to a Career Counselor who asked my plans for after my SNAP benefits (were I approved) ran out. I let her know that I’d be returning to work in 12 weeks, and wouldn’t need the benefits after that. She was pleased with the answer, and then started to understand that I had just hit a rough patch and needed a little help. She told me about the one time cash benefit that I was eligible for ($280), and approved me for $243 worth of SNAP benefits for 3 months.
It felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders.
We were able to get through maternity leave thanks to the provisions that WIC provided, a hardship loan from my 401K to pay rent so I wouldn’t get evicted, the three months of SNAP benefits (that I stretched, with coupons and deals, to last 5 months), Target gift cards (which allowed me to shop for my baby and relish in being a new mom), an unexpected check from a writing gig, support from family and friends, and prayers. During that time, I learned that Target, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods all accept SNAP payments. I discovered the value of a coupon, and I was able to get back on my feet after feeling knocked down for the previous 9 months.
A few weeks ago, SNAP funding was slashed, and now, the government shut down will likely affect WIC. If the shut down continues, there are millions of women who won’t be able to take care of their families because WIC will be closed. The program that was created to support Women, Infant and Children may run out of funding in many states. And then…what? Children go hungry?
I can tell you, from my own experience, that these programs are essential. WIC and SNAP helped me to have the time to bond with my newborn without going hungry. I had access to healthy food options, which was so crucial to me as a nursing mother. I was able to take care of myself again. I know many mothers who have had similar experiences. I’m sharing my story in hopes of showing an alternative perspective. Most poor people don’t want to be poor. They don’t want to sit on their couches and be lazy. They aren’t looking for a handout. They just need a hand.