unpopular

This blog post is something I have been thinking about writing for a while now. Every time I start to write it, it comes out angry, or I start to feel embarrassed to share these thoughts and experiences with the Internet, but after many drafts, I feel like now it can come from a place of love and authenticity.

The topic of the blog will be the beautifully controversial topic that is… welfare. (Disclaimer: these are all based off of my experiences, so I am not speaking for everyone who has been on or is on welfare.)

Growing up, most of the family I grew up around was southern and conservative. Nothing against your political parties, but when you have Fox News playing in the waiting room of your school and are taught abstinence-only sex-ed, you grow up in a one-sided culture (I would say the same about my experience at Michigan, except on the complete opposite side of the spectrum…so I am balanced, right?!). Things I heard growing up from various family members and people I came in contact with include: “oh, just another mom on welfare” or “that lazy woman having a kid so she can get a check from the government.” I have seen all of the Facebook posts stating things like: “This Just Proves that The Majority of Americans have No Intentions of Making a Better Independent Life for Themselves and their Families and are content Living on The Tax Payers Dime for Eternity!” (Here is a snopes link showing the faults in that post, because those “un-employed” people “studied” were, in fact, children (who cannot be employed or else that would be considered child labor): http://www.snopes.com/politics/taxes/deathspiral.asp)

SO long story short, many years later, I get pregnant. I get pregnant while living on a graduate student salary which is very much non-existent. I get pregnant with someone who is not financially supportive. In this situation, I qualify for WIC, which stands for Women, Infants, and Children. (SIDE NOTE: This is not a “woe is me, feel sorry for my situation” post – this is an attempt to help my family understand the welfare system in a different way) Each month you get vouchers for certain foods as well as baby food for your child. Every 6 months, you have to go into the office and bring proof of income in order to get renewed into the program. This program is for low-income women and foster parents to be able to get food for their child(ren) until the child is 5 years old (if you continue to qualify based on your income). It saves parents a decent amount of money on food per month when there are other huge things you have to grapple with like going back to work, but also having to bear the cost of child care which can be around $800-$1,200 per month (for one child.. I know – freaking CRAZINESS!).

There would be times I would be in with my family or friends, and I would just feel embarrassed of my situation. I am working hard, I have a job, I chose to have my baby, but still the looks at the grocery store or the judgmental facebook posts from family members about experiences they have never had before or about groups of people they have never met before really made me feel like I was “less-than.” And honestly, being white and currently getting a high-quality education, the looks I get or the comments made to me are probably nothing compared to what some of the other single parents/welfare recipients out there have to deal with.

I am going to be honest; there are people who take advantage of the system. There are lazy people everywhere, even in corporate offices, even welfare participants. BUT, there are people who really need these programs, and if we condemn them because of the people who take advantage of the system, we take away these opportunities for low-income people to just get back on their feet after a difficult time in their life.

Something I have really thought about, coming from a religious, christian background/family, is how are these anti-welfare posts, comments, and judgments in any way “christian?” I know we have a president who “says it like it is,” but are these tweets and facebook posts coming from a place of Christian love for the other?

There are so many examples in the Bible about loving those less fortunate than you, giving to the poor, being generous, forgiving people infinity times. But I hear, “they aren’t pulling their weight” or “they are being lazy” or “they need to pull themselves up from their bootstraps.” Even if they are being lazy (which, at times, they are not) – you aren’t the judge in this situation, you are not the person who sets the records straight – God is that person. Romans 2:1 says “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Salt-N-Peppa also put it pretty clearly: “there’s only one true judge and that’s God, so chill and let the father do his job.”)

There are countless other examples: Luke 6:37 – “Do not judge and you will not be judged, do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” And John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son to the world to condemn the world, He sent his son to save.” I don’t understand – God had/has/will have every single right to condemn us, and he didn’t/he doesn’t. He shows us some freaking grace.

So, when you find it so easy to post a judgmental comment about a group of people (a group of people you may have never met or heard their story), whether they are in public housing or using welfare, remember that freaking grace you got. That freaking undeserved grace. Chances are, that mom you think is taking advantage of the system – can’t sleep at night because she is worrying about how to pay her rent or how she is going to be able to work when the price of child care is so expensive or where the money is going to come from if an emergency situation happens or becoming unemployed for the month so she can take care of her kids at home instead of pay for child care.

I think it is really important, when you are posting something on facebook, to think about whether you are being judgmental towards ANY group or ANY person, when you weren’t even called to judge them– myself included (because I am extremely far from perfection myself).

I realize, at this point, you probably think I am a looney Christian or a liberal snowflake, so it might be a good stopping point. My next post might be a little funnier and a little less controversial – if you still read my blog after this.

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Yep, I’m still winging it.

Half. A. Year. I have raised a baby for half a year. Previous to this, I have had no experience nannying, babysitting, and the last time I held a baby was when I was about 18/19 years old. I think a little bit of the inspiration to write this blog throughout Zara’s first months of her life comes from my complete lack of knowledge surrounding motherhood. We constantly see moms in movies or on TV just completely having their shit together. I think of Rachel from Friends who made having and raising a kid look absolutely sexy (maybe it was just Jennifer Aniston, but I digress). There are no portrayals of walking out of the house with a leaky boob, going a day without brushing your teeth or remembering to put deodorant on, or literally never changing out of your pjs for like 5 (ok 7) days. I am even guilty of posting the great times I have with Zara, so just for that I will make this blog’s picture a picture of Zara crying because her teeth hurt, which pretty much sums up months 4 and half of 5.

Months 4 and 5 ALMOST took me. Milestones that happened in months 4 and 5: major growth spurt, teething, I received my hospital bill, I realized that I might not be able to finish my summer classes, and nobody took naps. They say that babies get cranky/frustrated when they are on the verge of figuring a new skill out. LET ME TELL YOU: months 4 and 5 had a lot of frustration and then the last week of month 5 it was like BAM! I can roll on my belly! BAM! I can walk around in my walker and try to touch the outlets! BAM! I can eat! BAM! I have two teeth! Two months of a cranky baby turns into one week of milestone after milestone after milestone.

It is really hard to describe the rollercoaster of emotions that I have faced over the past months, but I’ll try. As a mom, I feel guilt, worry, anger (yes, at my own child), and loneliness usually all in one day. Am I spending enough time with my baby? But also – am I giving my baby enough time by herself to figure out her own problems (right – what problems do you have as a 4 month old who cries and then gets food??), did I let her cry too much today? Did I coddle her too much today? Did I seem too frustrated with her today? AND the one that gets me the most: Man, I counted down the hours to her bedtime STARTING AT 9AM! I must be a bad mom. Some days I wish I had a counterpart who was equally as invested in successfully raising a kid as I am, and some days I love getting into my bed alone. Some days I look back and say damn I mommed really amazingly today, and some days I look back and realize I spent the whole day stressed and tired and angry.

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Uncensored Motherhood

It has been a very long time since I have sat down to write a blog about my life, and it probably has to do with the fact that I only write (for the most part) when I feel I can put a funny spin on it. To be honest, the past 4 months have made it really hard to find that funny, blog-worthy spin. BUT, a lot has happened – I gave birth, my babe is 2 months old now, and my spring semester started (and is now close to ending). There is a lot of random stuff to cover, so bear with the disorganized structure – which is a great metaphor to how my life feels right now (yeah, I am fancy).

Birth is not like the movies. Not one bit. At least for me. I have learned that everyone’s experience with birth and motherhood is different (parents who say “kids should be sleeping through the night at (blank) months old” probably had a miraculous perfect baby and great for you – everyone is different), so by no means do I speak for all moms, some might have really enjoyed pushing a watermelon out of their canal – and that is really bad ass. I mean, my mom did it 3 times, wow. I went into labor at 4AM on Friday morning, which was actually really anticlimactic. I basically just sat in my bed while timing my contractions and told my mom and then told my sister and we took the day off, stayed in our pjs and basically just sat on the couch as the pain increased (which was at 6PM). No rushing, no frantic screaming, no crazy car ride – I actually drove through Chick-fil-a on my way to the hospital (maybe don’t bring in fast food when you are going to deliver, because you will get judged).

We make it to the hospital, and the main things I remember are: 1) Not being taken seriously at first (I couldn’t possibly know I was in labor without a husband!) until they realized I was 5 cm dilated and were like “oh shit, lets get you to a room.” 2) My sister (who is soft, and gentle, and nice) was the best birthing partner ever. I thought I needed a super intense, in-your-face push-helper, but her gentleness calmed my off the charts high blood pressure. She never once made a face like “OMG Lexi, a human head is emerging from your body and also destroying your lady bits at the same time.” 3) Feeling so relieved to have pushed that baby out, but also so freaked out because of how “not motherly” I felt.

It wasn’t like this “BAM! Baby is out, so now you feel like a parent with this special bond” for me. For me, holding Zara after the birth was kind of amazing yet terrifying, I mean a human (who was very smooshed) was looking at me (more because she was hungry and literally only wanted to eat) – I was probably as clueless as she was. And that is how I felt for the first month of her life- clueless and simply a source of food for her. (But, don’t get me started on breastfeeding – some might think it is gross, or weird to talk about, but it literally is the EXACT nutrients they need – freaking amazing.)

The first month of Zara’s life – A LOT of crying, like A LOT. From Zara, from me, more from Zara. My grandma and I drove to South Carolina to visit my parents and have my dad meet her for the first time and I am not lying when I say she cried the ENTIRE three days. I know for some people this is trivial, because babies can cry up to years in a row. I don’t know how those people do it, so if you ever know of someone going through that, go over and hold their screaming baby so they can grab an Advil.

I didn’t (and some days still don’t) feel like a mom. I felt like a babysitter who was like Pavlov’s dog and every time I heard the cry, I just whipped my boob out and started feeding a baby. Babies have bad eyesight, so it didn’t even really feel like Zara knew who I was or was looking at me. I started going back to classes, slowly falling behind, trying to squeeze in homework between crying and feeding, and most days I would end the day in my bed feeling like I was failing at school, failing at being a mom, and failing at keeping up with everyone/hanging out/actually asking my friends how THEY were doing. A lot of people told me, the mother-child bond is the greatest, and to be honest, I didn’t feel it right away. I don’t want to be a downer to people who want to have kids or are going to have kids, but you lose parts of yourself in the first months. My schedule for a while was wake up, feed Zara, go to class, feed Zara, go to class, feed Zara, rock crying (screaming) Zara until she fell asleep, go to sleep, and then wake up and do it all over again. Weeks go by and you are like “who the hell am I?”

It’s not all bad, it’s hard, but there are definitely silver linings. My grandma got to come stay with me for 3 weeks, and Zara got to know her great-grandma (who does not look as old as great-grandma sounds). My friends got to meet her, even some friends who went to college in Michigan with me. My mom, my dad, and my sisters all have helped me rock her to sleep, hung out with her, tried to stack cookies on her head, volunteered to change an explosive diaper. I have two friends, one who was due a month after me, another due two months after me who have formed a “mom gang” with me. I have called them to ask if they could just hold my kid while I take a shower, and they don’t hesitate to lend a hand.

This past month has been so much better, it takes every mom different times to finally reach a point where they feel like a parent, where they are connected, and although some days I still feel like a babysitter, I have really started to figure things out and feel confident in my abilities as a student, parent, and friend. These past few mornings, I have had to wake Zara up so I can feed her before I go to class. I walk over to her crib and talk to her excitedly and this kid lights up. She smiles and tries to hide it with her hands, but she really can’t contain it (so much so she usually gets gassy!) I have been in love before, but this love is a very different, very insane love. Zara could cry, I could be rocking her wrong, changing her diaper when she clearly doesn’t want me to, but as soon as I calm her down, she just smiles and tries to talk to me like I am the coolest person she has ever met. Zara doesn’t care that I’m barely making it at school or that I haven’t showered in three days or that I lost my patience the day before. The greatest thing about babies is that they don’t care if you are poor, rich, black, white, straight, gay, skinny, thick, what have you – all babies want is for you to show up. They are beautiful in how non-judgmental, trusting, and loving they are of all types of people.

The past 4 months have been anything but easy, but there are so many people in my life who have helped me do the dang thing. My dreams are not crushed and my life is not over. If you are in a similar situation, feel free to call me if you need some talking off a cliff, because I needed/need it daily. I am already blown away by how much love Zara and I have gotten in her mere two months of life on planet Earth. Thank you to all for your support and encouragement, a few lighthearted jokes and words go such a long way.