In 2002, I quit a job with decent pay and good benefits to become a teacher making $5,000 less per month, and having to move in with my father-in-law for the first 11 months. Because I was uncredentialed, I was hired in the intern program, but that year, the Governor decided to cut school funding and nearly every person teaching as an intern was let go at the end of the school year, so in 2003, I was unemployed. Then, I discovered at the end of June that I was pregnant. This was after buying a fixer-upper house, our first home. I wasn’t worried, though as I had never had a problem getting a job before, and DH had only been out of work for a little over a year (He was the Stay at home dad). He had lots of skills, and temp work is usually easy to find.
Then DH started applying at temp agencies. One after another turned him down. Select Personnel told him they didn’t believe he was a stay at home dad and he needed a letter from his “minister” to prove it. I was pregnant and went on job interviews knowing the law states they can’t discriminate against me for being pregnant. We were very frugal. We made the house livable (like installing toilets, putting in carpet—it was bare concrete when we got it), but not nice. Using the last of my art supplies, I stenciled the alphabet onto Molly’s bedroom walls (a room she would not sleep in for another year), and free hand painted animals onto her walls.
In January, I was 9 months pregnant. Morgan was due at the end of the month, and I went on a job interview wearing my best maternity suit. The interview was for a hiring list, not an actual job, with the County. It was one of those lists they only open once a year, so I had to go to the interview. I made the list.
We continued living on savings. My mom came from Oklahoma for a visit and bought us groceries (we loved when she came to visit; we could buy paper towels!). My insurance had run out in September, and we couldn’t afford COBRA. I discovered that I qualified for Medi-CAL or AIM (Assistance for Infants and Mothers). AIM was a pay-for service, that was inexpensive and I qualified based on my previous year’s income. Medi-CAL is free and based on my current income. We went with AIM. I paid approximately $700 for AIM, and got decent care. Luckily, too, Morgan was an easy birth (my easiest of the four). I was out of the hospital the same day she was born, though looking back, my lousy insurance may have helped speed my discharge. We signed Molly up for Kaiser which we paid out of pocket.
Six weeks after the baby was born, I was applying at temp agencies. DH had tried everywhere, but no one would take him seriously. In Bakersfield, CA, no one will hire a SAHD, it seemed. On my first day, first agency, I was offered a job as the assistant to the General Manager of a major citrus/grape producer. Odd that when I was pregnant, there were no positions anywhere. The pay was much, much lower than I wanted, but I was promised benefits in 30 days.
At this point, we were at an all time low: we had no benefits; we had low pay; we had a newborn; we had to sell the Civic to pay bills leaving us with a regular cab truck, so we couldn’t go anywhere together. My coworkers told me to apply for WIC as they knew the situation I was in. One of them said she had used it before during a tight period. I qualified for WIC and food stamps, for that matter. I couldn’t believe I was in my 30’s, working full time away from my babies, but still couldn’t make enough money to get out of WIC and food stamp level. I had three college degrees! What was wrong with me? I was very depressed. I packed up the baby and drove to the WIC office to apply. This is what it’s for, right? To help people through the tough patches? This was our toughest patch ever. I sat in the car and cried. I got out of the car, carried the baby across the parking lot, than turned around and got back in the car. I cried more because my pride stopped me from getting the help we really could have used.
To save money, knowing I was getting insurance in 30 days, I cancelled Molly’s Kaiser a couple of days before insurance was to be effective. Then I was called in and told that I would not be getting the benefits as it was deemed too expensive to hire me as promised. The 30 days the agency quoted me was 30 working days, where the company and I thought it meant 30 calendar days. I had two more months before I was to get benefits. I called up Kaiser to resubscribe Molly, and started contacting other agencies to find another job.
Meanwhile, in the less-than-a-week Molly was insurance free, she dislocated her elbow climbing in and out of the playpen when she fell without letting go. $3,000 later, and two trips to the emergency room, she was better. Our savings was gone. My wages were low. We were saving every bit we could. Morgan was dressed in hand-me-downs only, I had the breastpump from Molly (and pumped up a storm with Morgan), so no formula costs. We learned how to cook beans and rice and lentils, a lot. Lots of pasta. Some days, we didn’t eat at all, making sure Molly had enough food.
After tons of interviews, in September, I finally found another job. This one was also temp-to-hire through another agency. I would be benefit-free for another three months, however, until I became permanent. Then the day before I started the new job, I found out I was pregnant again.
Morgan was still breastfeeding full time, and I hadn’t even started my periods again after her birth, but there I was: breastfeeding is NOT a contraceptive. I didn’t tell my new employer, but I was pregnant with no benefits, again. I turned to AIM again. AIM had changed the program and the care was much worse this time, but it was still care. In December, just before my temp-to-hire period ended, I told my boss.
The next day, he came in and said he thought about it and decided to hire me anyway because it would take too long to train another person. This was him being generous. I was thankful, though at the same time bitter. I hated being in that limbo between temp and permanent. When I was hired, benefits began in January, which meant the last few months of pregnancy I would switch to a new doctor. Being on the job less than a year meant that my health insurance wouldn’t be paid for during my maternity leave. Luckily, I had another normal birth with Maddie, so I was out of the hospital quickly, and back to work in 6 weeks.
Again, I qualified for assistance, but ended up not taking it. I got a lot of free stuff from my new job like nuts. We often had nuts for lunch and dinner. I was lucky that our boss took us out to lunch a lot or we entertained clients with food, and I would get some of that and take it home. I worked a lot of overtime to help build up some reserves again, and there was always plenty of overtime. I ended up leaving that job, and getting another one after a couple of years. One that led me on the career path I’m on now. That job paid me little enough that we qualified for discounts on electricity and things like that. It wasn’t until last year that I made enough to support the whole family comfortably. We’re not well off, and we don’t have a large savings, but we’re working on it. We can buy paper towels now, and go to Disneyland (helps not needing a motel).
In hindsight, we probably should have taken the help. I’m bothered that I was too ashamed to take the help. I don’t look down at people buying food with the food stamp card or with the WIC books, but I know lots of people do. I’m bothered that I couldn’t swallow my pride for the sake of my family. I’m bothered that some people abuse the system when there are plenty of people who could use it who don’t.
I tried to condense two years into the smallest space I could, so I hope I didn’t make it more confusing. Thanks for reading.