Back in 2014, my partner and I lived day-to-day as a poor family in America, trying to provide for our unexpected, premature and newborn twins to the best of our ability. It’s difficult to look back on those early days with our little family, in all honesty. Those were supposed to be the greatest moments of our lives. Instead, my husband was laid off of a really great job, medical bills were steadily rolling in, and for a month or so, we were really struggling.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that my in-laws own a local restaurant, my husband and I would have, quite literally, been very hungry. Call it pride or embarrassment, but we didn’t want to put our families out for our financial issues, so we never let them know the depths of our troubles. Instead, we cooked canned vegetables on the stovetop and ate them bland when we were too ashamed to go to the diner twice in one day.
Being a new, pumping mother to two, now with an onset of postpartum depression, it was my milk supply I noticed starting to suffer. I was always an over-producer, so my babies weren’t hurting, even when their dad and I were. These were new feelings for us … to be angry, hateful, anxious, depressed, sometimes hungrier than we should have been, and all because of a lack of money.
When we realized we weren’t going to climb out of this financial rabbit hole without help, we applied for government assistance. Within a day, we had food stamps, and within a week, we had full WIC benefits. WIC stands for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children and it “provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.”
I was given a brand new pump with WIC’s assistance since my used one was now lacking suction. The breastfeeding experience was made easier with a lactation consultant in-office to help with my nursing needs. All the while, my family was provided a majority of the basics we needed: milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, pasta, beans.
Without food stamps, we would’ve continued living in a perpetual cycle of food insecurity. Without WIC benefits, however, our little family would truly have suffered even more.
My husband found a new job rather quickly, and I started working part-time, causing our food stamp balance to decrease to nearly nothing — and quickly. Meanwhile, WIC’s benefits stayed the same, even increasing with a couple dozen cans of formula each month once I stopped breastfeeding. Thank the high heavens for that, too, because my twins were using an $18 can of it (sometimes more) each day. If we wouldn’t have had WIC benefits, that would have resulted in us paying almost $550 a month … nearly the amount we paid for our rent.
A year after using WIC’s support, my husband and I were able to get back on our own two feet without assistance — we just needed a little help to get us there. You see, there’s a misconception that the people in this program are lazy, unmotivated and wasting everyone else’s tax dollars.
But that harmful stereotype ignores the realities. Finding reliable daycare is expensive and impossible for some. Minimum wage incomes aren’t enough to afford rent anywhere in the U.S., and even parents working two minimum wage jobs can’t afford it with their other expenses either. Dare I even mention the cost of healthcare, or do we all have proof from the medical bills taking up space in our desk drawers?
Times are rough for so many families, and we cannot continue on with a harmful thought process about those in need unless we are ready to witness millions of families and children going hungry.
The use of WIC for low-income pregnant mothers is a branch of prenatal care in and of itself. Though it never claims to substitute for an actual visit with an OB, WIC advocates for pregnant mothers to seek routine prenatal care. As a result, babies born to mothers in the program are less likely to be born premature or still, and are more likely to have a healthy birth weight and to be given immunizations.
WIC also encourages moms to breastfeed, but when formula is the best option for a family, over 90% of infants are given the recommended, iron-fortified formulas. Some infants and children have allergies — WIC handles that too. Whether it be formula, milk, cheese, etc., prescriptions can be made to receive whatever is needed, and food groups can be rearranged or changed to ensure a household is still getting its fill.
Just because a mom is poor doesn’t mean she isn’t a good mom. If a mom takes her children to a WIC appointment, receives the food she is given, and feeds it to her children, she is doing the best she can in that moment for her children. People are poor, and we can’t lose compassion toward them just because we aren’t.
Poor families are worthy of nutrition and good health too.
Poor. People. Are. People. Too.
While being one of the most successful, cost-effective nutritional programs in this nation, WIC also saves lives, and that is something we can never put a price tag on.