Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Confessions of a Grinch

Epiphany usually brings feelings of relief, finally returning to my modus operandi of calm, predictable, economical and low-maintenance (re: dry, boring, and sterile) after the Christmas craze.

Confessions of a Grinch: I enjoy boxing Christmas back into the attic.
But I caught something unexpected this Christmas, and it wasn't the annual "seasonal allergies" that simmer through Advent and then explode offensively in wheezing, sneezing, and coughing just as the priest invites us to extend the Sign of Peace at midnight Mass.

"Peace be with you."
My immediate, extended, in-law, out-law, in-town, out-of-town family kept unapologetically showing up with this contagious condition, and I finally caught it by Christmas evening.

There were crazy creative stocking stuffers from my parents on Christmas Eve, individually wrapped so it took twice as long to reach the bottom of the stocking. (4 minutes for me and Wally, 10 minutes for Josh, and never for Joe, because he stopped when he found a construction trucks movie)

Then this dancing cop video showed up in my inbox on Christmas morning. 

Some random parishioner shared a passionate testimony at Mass about how he experienced Jesus year-round. At least I think that's what he talked about. I overheard some inspirational phrases while foiling Josh's plan to climb into the pew behind us. 

Stop cringing at my image editing skills, and consider this a patent.
We arrived at Libby's house to a spread of surprisingly-healthy comfort food, beautifully-wrapped gifts under the tree, and a herd of excited children, ready to start the procession that would hopefully get a porcelain baby Jesus to the nativity in one piece.

Christmas shook off the tedious and overwhelming quality I'd assigned it. The love of family expressed with every detail and gesture of the season revealed a new understanding for me of the Immortal becoming mortal, not for the sake of annual decorum or exasperating traditions, but just for the sake of love.

And then I remembered that we had e-mailed giftcards to the people whose names we drew for the Christmas gift exchange. And I felt kind of sad. I guess we could try again next year.

But then I remembered that there are TWELVE days of Christmas, and this was only Day One. We put together Epiphany gifts of cookies, cocoa, and coffee as post-scripts to our uninspiring e-cards, and mailed them USPS in wrapping paper. (They may have been intercepted by a grinch postal worker who refuses to ship anything but brown parcels, but we hope not.)

This year, maybe for the first time, maybe just for the first time in a long time, I caught the Christmas spirit.

And my heartstrings pulled when Joe came running out of his bedroom on the morning after the wisemen finally visited Jesus, to find the Christmas season transformed back into a boring, old living room.

But what happened to the Christmas train, Mama?

Next year, Joe, next year!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What Women Want [Need]

When we found out about our surprise first baby, I really thought it would be best for everyone -- the child included -- for him or her to die. I actually prayed for a miscarriage, because it all just seemed like one big misunderstanding by the universe.

I'm queen of the pro-life Facebook posts and witty in-your-face factoids about why a baby in the womb should have some protections.

But I'm not sure why I act this way.

So I want to apologize, if my words cause eyes to roll, or exasperation at another seemingly clueless pro-lifer who just doesn't get the realities of life. Because I have been there. Some of the most vivid emotions I can remember are the fear, anxiety, and anger of being pregnant.

In the first few days, I was a little excited, caught up in the unfamiliar mystery happening inside a body I thought I knew, the anticipatory feeling that everything would change, that life wouldn't be the same again. I felt a little special, and even quietly celebrated Mother's Day with our secret two-week pregnancy.

But then the logistics hit. We were both contract employees, not getting much work. We had no health insurance, student loans to pay, heck, rent to pay. Yes, we wanted to have a family, someday, but there were things to get in order first.

I called hospitals to check how much it cost to have a baby without health insurance. I didn't even bother writing down the numbers in my naive little research spiral. I felt like a kindergartener who accidentally walked in on an administrator meeting, as I spoke with one medical provider after another.

"It's $2,030 up front, due on the first visit, plus labs, sonograms, and hospital fees. If you need a payment plan, you can pay $1,500 on the first visit at 4 weeks, and $1,500 on your second visit at 8 weeks. Hospital fees tend to run about $4,500. Unless you have complications, and then it's more..."

After one conversation, I hung up the phone in tears. But it wasn't from the usual helplessness of another obstetrician wanting nothing to do with an uninsured patient. The woman on the phone had actually said something nice to me, and it caught me off guard. Then the pregnancy hormones kicked in, and I realized I was crying because someone was nice to me, and I started laughing uncontrollably. That remains the most inexplicable emotional moment of my life. 

It wasn't just the medical costs that beat me down. I had just finished student teaching; I was applying for TEACHING jobs. No one wants to hire a new teacher who's pregnant and going to need maternity leave just as the second semester starts.

It felt like everything was wrong. The world didn't want this baby, and I was beginning to agree. It really would be easier to go back to the simple, pre-baby life, and I begged God to agree with me, and just quietly take this baby before things got worse.

It felt like no one was on my side, and all of the token pro-life/anti-abortion appeals sounded like empty, selfish words from people who lived easy lives.

And then I told a friend, and she responded with tears of joy, which confused me. I'd expected her to list the reasons it wouldn't work out, or counsel me through with "It's not so bad." She knew that we were poor, unemployed, without health insurance, but none of that compared with the joy she experienced for this new child. She also offered free babysitting for life.

After that, I felt better about our pregnancy, and months later, finally found the courage to share the news with others. The responses were surprising. Sure, there were a few unsolicited comments along the lines of, "What were you thinking?" But mostly, a lot of stories about surprise babies and life circumstances never being what we plan. It turns out a lot of good kids come out of crappy circumstances. And, crappy circumstances can change.

I don't like to talk about this. I feel like it's an ugly story, that reveals just how self-centered and hypocritical I can be. In truth, it just reveals how scary life can be, and how one person can help another experience hope.

I needed a friend who believed in me, and whose vision for my life wasn't limited by my circumstances. The problems that seem insurmountable when we're alone become possible in community.

This is why I love Loreto House. It's a calm in the storms that often accompany unplanned pregnancies. Loreto House asks women, "What do you need?" And it's okay if the answer is complicated. I need a car to get to work. I need a place to live. I need a job. I need childcare. I need to finish my education. I need healthcare. Loreto House mobilizes a community, to meet the needs of women in difficult circumstances, expand their options, and support their futures full of hope.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Letter To My Congressman

Hi Congressman Marchant,

We appreciate all the work you're doing for us, and enjoy following your email newsletters.
I’m writing with concern for the current state of healthcare, and to ask for your help in changing it for the better by co-sponsoring H.R. 207, which would make health care sharing ministries compatible with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).
Employer-sponsored health insurance isn’t accessible for my family, because my husband works full-time in a contract position, and I work part-time, so I’m more available to care for our kids and our home.
Did you know that in your district there isn’t a single independent health insurance plan that includes maternity care? Here is a quote from a recent conversation I had with an e-health insurance representative (one of the most popular online exchanges to compare health insurance options):
“There aren’t plans to cover maternity on our website in your area.”
Their website offers plans from Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and UnitedHealth, among others, and not one offers maternity care, apart from an employer-sponsored plan.  Regardless, even if they did, I’m certain it’s not at a price we could afford.
Granted, I know you’re not a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, but it seems to be an inevitable direction for our country, and in my opinion, at least it’s a step toward better healthcare access for all. When health insurance is mandatory for everyone, will it include maternity care, at an affordable premium, for families like mine?
Kenny, how is it that the Affordable Care Act can define mandatory wellness care for women to include the artificial altering of her system by the birth control pill, a Group I carcinogen according to the World Health Organization, but does not define women’s wellness care to include pregnancy: a natural, cyclical state of her body? The inclusion of compulsory birth control prescriptions in the ACA seem to imply natural fertility is a disease, and pregnancy the worst manifestation of this disease. But pregnancy is a woman’s healthy, natural, cyclical response to sex; if anything should be considered wellness care for women, it should be prenatal, childbirth, and postnatal care.
I’m actually not advocating free maternity healthcare for all; on the contrary, I understand that the responsibility of having children comes with the responsibility of paying for them.
Our family has found a great solution for affordable, comprehensive healthcare that allows us to be financially responsible, without depending on the government to foot our medical bills, but also doesn't force us into medical bankruptcy over childbirth. We are members of Samaritan Ministries, a healthcare cost sharing program, which covers all of our needs, including maternity, and we couldn't be happier.
We’re grateful that in the bureaucratic nightmare of the Affordable Care Act, Samaritan Ministries was able to ensure that members of health care sharing ministries will not be subject to the new insurance mandate, which requires individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. (And as I mentioned above, even if we were to purchase health insurance, there isn’t a plan available that would meet our need for both affordable premiums and maternity care.)
Since we are self-pay patients for medical care, our household would greatly benefit from an HSA. We already utilize price shopping and personal savings to provide for our medical needs, but an HSA would allow us, and possibly our employers, to contribute tax-free deposits to an account that’s specifically for our family’s healthcare.
As our nation goes through the challenge of enacting health care reform and addressing changes in our health care system, it is often the simplest ideas that make the best solutions. Please consider co-sponsoring H.R. 207 in support of HSAs for health care sharing ministries.
Thank you,
Charlene Bader