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If I had the chance, what would I want Congress to know about families like mine?

Posted by Christie Donn on

I recently filled out an Interest Application to participate in Strolling Thunder with the Think Babies campaign. One family per state will be selected and given the chance to travel to Washington, DC to speak in front of Congress about the importance of paid family/medical leave and affordable childcare options for families.

I'm excited about this opportunity because I want to share my story so that other families like ours know that they are not alone.

  • If I had the chance, what would I want Congress to know about families like mine?

My husband and I started out like many young families.

We are the grandchildren of immigrants. We each grew up as part of working class families. We met while we were both working full-time at a pet store, we moved in together to save money to buy a house, we got married, and then children followed. We planned to put our children into day care to continue with our careers...
Up until the day I delivered our first daughter.

You see, she suffered a traumatic brain injury during birth, requiring a transfer to another hospital and a 10 day NICU stay. We both had private insurance through our employers, but the medical bills still cost over $87,000 and took us 3 years to pay.

As a full-time associate, I qualified for the Family Medical Leave Act. I understood how things were "supposed to be done," so I saved all of my vacation and sick time for the entire year. My pregnancy was uncomplicated, so I didn't have to worry about taking extra time off work. I was lucky to get 12 weeks of maternity leave, with 6 weeks paid from my earned PTO, and the rest was covered at 60% of my pay through our company's Short-Term Disability policy. 

Due to the circumstances of our birth story, I struggled with postpartum anxiety and medical post traumatic stress disorder. I didn't know how I could care for my child, my household bills, myself, and still pay our daughter's medical bills. Especially since I had to lose 40% of my income during my maternity leave.

I eventually realized the only option was for me to step down from my full time management position and become a stay-at-home mom. It actually cost our family less money per month if I quit my job and stayed home with the children than it would to have just one child in full-time day care. Our daughter was enrolled in Early On services, and we had monthly visits with our caseworker until she turned 3 years old.

I remained on staff as a part-time associate, working weekends only. Our daughter is 4 years old now, and we have a son who will turn one in February. As a part-time employee, I no longer earn paid time off work and do not qualify for FMLA. My maternity leave with our second child was only 6 weeks long, and completely unpaid, which made it extremely difficult for us to pay our bills.

During my pregnancy we reached out to our local WIC office for assistance with food and diapers so that we could make ends meet. We enrolled in Medicaid, and our daughter was granted a spot in a Head Start program. Now both children attend school through Starfish Family Services head start & early head start programs, where they each receive breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack every day. The Early Head Start program also provides diapers for my son, and the students even brush their teeth as part of the curriculum.

It may not seem like much to some families, but having my children receive food and diapers through their Head Start/Early Head Start programs saves my family money every day. Most people don't think about the cost of toothpaste, but a single-income family does when you have to budget down to the last dollar. Little expenses like these add up over time, and saving these costs means that we can use that money for other things our family needs - like electricity, or unexpected dental bills, or car repairs.

I grew up in a social setting where people were encouraged to hide our flaws at any cost. Especially if it came to mental health problems or family income.

Just like sweeping dirt under the rug doesn't actually make it go away, I've come to realize that not talking about our problems doesn't solve them. And knowing that you are not alone as you try to navigate through those muddy waters can help raise your spirits. 

In our case, we did everything that society tells us to do and it still hasn't been enough.

Knowing that there are others like you may not fix everything, but there is strength in solidarity. Knowing that someone understands you, and faces the same challenges as you can give you strength to stand up and find new ways to make the world a better place.  

And when we stand together with the strength to show our "flaws," we might just realize that the flaws don't actually lie with us at all. Maybe we are really just victims of an outdated and antiquated system that has been designed to oppress us, and that the people we have elected to help us aren't even aware of the reality of our circumstances. 



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1 comment

  • I’m glad you shared. You’ll find that speaking out, others who are in the same position will speak out with you, because they aren’t alone. You are brave, and ‘ordinary’ (in a good way). Feeling alone is hard, but you aren’t, and you’re doing a great job.

    mary on

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