The Busy Giffs: Stigmatized.

June 11, 2011


I went back and forth a few times about writing this post last night. I started writing it 6 seperate times and just couldn't bring myself to finish it because honestly, I'm just too self-conscious.  I have always prided myself on looking "with it".  It's superficial and I'm not exactly proud of it but it has always been important for me to keep up appearances.  I always have a designer bag, even if it was bought at a second-hand store or at a purse party and I've always found ways to get what I want, without paying the full price for it.  It's a gift I guess but it's also just smart.  I have wants and desires but I am smart enough to know that NO bag is worth $400. . That being said, I have always made sure I was set. 

2009 was probably the greatest year I ever had.  I went on some amazing vacations, saw a couple of wonderful concerts, and I worked 7 days a week at two jobs to make sure I had those luxuries.  I never looked for a handout and I never put something silly over something important.  I paid off almost all of my debts that year, while having that much fun, because I worked even harder. 

Two days ago I wrote that David had been denied unemployment. I want to be optimistic and believe that the appeal will go through and he will get somethign but until that happens I need to be honest with myself and admit that we went from a 2 income household to a no income household in a matter of weeks.  Yes, I have a job to go back to and yes, we have money put away but we put away enough to cover me, not me and him and a new baby for god knows how long until he finds a job.

Yesterday I swallowed my pride and Dave and I went to the New Bedford Welfare office (you have no idea how hard this is to type) to get screened for assistance.  Now picture an office full of minorities, people with babies, about three languages being spoken and one other white person: the security cop.  I felt so out of place I wanted to cry right there.  Waiting in line, standing in front of everyone was terrible.  I could see everyone single one of them staring at me wondering why I was there.  We got our number and sat down and I did what every other person would have done: judged everyone else sitting in that room.  A woman was talking about how her babydaddy was watching the kid so she could come get her benefits, another walked in with not only Dunkin Donuts, but a bag of candy from Cumbys, also to get cash assistance.  I tried to listen to the 3 converstaions that were in Spanish or Portuguese but I'm apparently not fluent enough to get it.  The cop kept looking over at us, in our own little corner with a half-smile.  It was like he felt bad for us.  I could almost hear him thinking "They don't belong here". 

They called our number and we left the waiting room to get "screened", meaning they ask us a bunch of quetsions about our income, our bills, how much money we have, and what exactly we are looking for.  I wanted to cry again. It's horrible to look at someone and tell them your insecurities and then wait for them to decide if you're worth helping. 

The case worker was wonderful.  She was sympathetic and understanding and told us straight out that she was amazed we were there.  She said so many married couples are too embarrassed to come in becuase of the stigma of going for help.  She said she was happy to help us becuase we were the first people she had seen all day that truely needed the help.  It was nice to hear.  As a case worker, she gets sick of seeing women come in with their nails done, with a weave, claiming how much help they need, but then she sees them drive off with baby daddy driving his caddy and the kids unbuckled in the back seat.  Normally you get screened, and if they decide that you look eligible, you go back a few days later for a full hour long interview where you verify rent and utilities, show proof of who you are, etc and the earliest appointment she can book us was for Wednesday.  She then looked at me and said "You're probably not going to make it until then are you?" so we laughed and she asked for us to stay a few more minutes and she'd be right back.  She left and when she came back she informed us that she had pulled some strings and informed someone higher up that we were in an emergency situation since I was already overdue and had no income coming in for the past 2 weeks.  She then informed us that we had been approved for emergency food stamps but we'd have to come back still on Wed to see what else was available.  Because it's a government funded program and they like to check in with thier clients, if we don't show on Wed, they take everything back so she scribbled in huge letters... "Was due June 5th-- May not make appointment" and signed it so we are covered if for some reason we need to push it back.  She brought us out front and set us up with an EBT card and told us that today at 11 am they would deposit money that would cover our 2 family household.  When the baby does join us, we'll go back and they'll up us to a 3 person household AND put us on WIC.  In addition, she faxed the unemployment denial letter to Masshealth so that our full coverage can go through.  So in the excruiating embarrassing hour that it took to go to the Welfare office, we secured help with groceries, more help and a good diet for me while I'm breastfeeding, and health insurance that will cover labor and delivery.

Can I say that I am proud that I am now on welfare? Nope.
Can I say that I am happy that this is the position me and my family are in? Nope.

But I can be proud of myself.  Because I faced one of my biggest demons, stared down my insecurities and did what I needed to do to take care of my family and my baby. 

When I started writing the blog I was ashamed and embarrassed to share with all of you that I have become a stereotypical New Bedford welfare mother, but now I realize I havent.  I have become someone who truely put her family first and I guess that's what makes a good mom. And more importantly, I hope that I've given someone else the courage to share when they feel like its only them. 

I know that I've spoken about her a few times, but a friend of mine is battling infertility and her blog shares the everyday up and down and she's not ashamed to tell others.  Why should she be? It's her life and her family and she is doing everything she can to get what she wants and needs.  If I hadn't read her story and seen how vulnerable she has made herself to others, I may not have written this but then I think of how "in the open" she's being.  She's shedding light on infertility and making it less taboo to speak about.  Welfare is the same way.  No one wants to talk about it and no one wants to admit that they "have" it but if more people talked about it, maybe it wouldn't be so bad.  Maybe if it was the people who were embarrassed and insecure about it were the ones talking about how its helped them, maybe, just maybe, asking for help wouldn't be so stigmatizing.

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