Friday, May 9, 2008


Up until the day that Oliver came into our home, we had never had an immediate family member on state medical insurance, WIC or any other form of government assistance. Therefore, I'd never had the experience of standing in front of a receptionist's counter, balancing a baby on my hip, keeping a watchful eye on two children curled up in chairs with books and directing an over-zealous five year-old while digging in my purse. O.k.--I actually have had similar experiences ... but none with the same outcome. See, nowadays, when I go rustling through my too-big bag, I usually come up with what is obviously a medical coupon instead of an insurance card. And the difference is huge. When people spot that tell-tale slip of paper, I have to tell you: the way they look at you changes.

In an instant, my children go from being cute little moppets to being poor waifs. I noticed this trend the first time Oliver had an doctor's appointment. A new woman--not the usual receptionist--was at the front desk. When we came to the front of the line, she commented on my numerous and beautiful children, then asked who I was checking in. I told her Oliver's name. The woman smiled at him broadly, then turned to find his file. I produced the coupon I'd been told was his proof of insurance and set it on the counter for her to deal with. That's what I do with our insurance card, so I figured it worked the same way. The minute she saw it, her smile faded. She proceeded to fill in the new patient chart for me, as if I couldn't possibly understand the intricacies of this complicated form. At the pharmacy, I dealt with the same thing. The pharmacist who filled Oliver's prescription counseled me on the the meds as if I were an idiot being entrusted with the king's jewels. The people in line behind me avoided making eye contact with me, as if my seeming poverty was contagious somehow.

We won't even talk about how the huffy teenager at the Fred Meyer register rolls her eyes when she sees me separating out the WIC items in my cart and placing the check on top. Or how fellow shoppers put their hands on their hips and stare when I remind the cashier to ring up the items on their own bill.

Suffice it to say, I do not appreciate being treated this way. But this form of prejudice has taught me a lot in the past few months. First, who I am is most definitely not defined by how I pay for services. While I have never been a person that has invested overly in others' perception of me, I recognize that I have always taken a bit of pride in being a "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" kind of girl. No matter how hard things have been for us financially in the past, we have never relied on government support. In hindsight, I think that may not have always been the wisest choice but there's nothing I can do about that ten years down the road, can I? Anyhow, that pride in my own ingenuity that I was talking about is deeply ingrained. And being seen as someone who is struggling (which is, by assumption, what it is to be a client of any social service) is far more hurtful to me than just about anything else. Believe it or not. This is my own problem, and it's one I am laying at the Lord's feet.

The bigger, over-arching and unspoken lesson here has been that there are thousands of people right now being treated the same way. And while many are simply caring for a grandchild they didn't expect to be raising, or are fostering a child because they feel it is God's call, many more very well may be struggling to stay afloat in the stream of life. But how much worse is it to hand over a med coupon and be greeted with near revulsion when you are already consumed with a feeling of failure? How demeaning to be treated as uneducated and inadequate when you already down?

The reason for my post is not to preach, but simply this: if you happen to be in line behind someone paying for their purchases with a WIC check or EBT this week, can you do me a favor? Smile at them. Give them a real, genuine smile that says, "You are a human being." If you see a mom fingering a tattered medical coupon as she waits with a feverish toddler in a waiting room, can you say hello? Can you validate them as individuals for a mere second? You never know where these people are coming from, and you never know where they've been. But if for one moment you have made any discomfort that they've felt somehow more bearable, I believe you have handed over that cold glass of water that speaks of your love of Christ.


Paula said...

Beautifully said MG!

Anonymous said...

Christy has made similar comments to me about her experience with WIC, etc., since Hope Giver joined our family. I told her that she'll be able to relate to this post quite easily.

Melissa said...

I have actually lived another side of this that was mentioned, the young single mom part. I think at first I did feel that people looked at me that way, but I eventually learned to just do my thing and not be bothered with what they may think. Which was good because I have always cared too much what others think. Come to think of it, maybe that's the "good" that the Lord wanted to bring out of that for me :)

Definitely something that everyone can think of in one way or another.

Anonymous said...

As Steve said, this is definitely something I have experienced, specifically when trying to obtain the WIC items. It's actually a sad thing...I am in a position in my job that enables me to help mothers/families that NEED WIC to be able to feed their family and we are using it as well due to our child being in the foster care system.
Your encouragement to others is right on target....we know nothing of what that person in front of us in the checkout line is going through in their life. You are so right....offering a smile to that person is like handing them a cool glass of water (that is so beautiful) on a hot day.
Thank you for sharing this experience--I pray that it reaches the hearts of many :)

Sarah said...

Well said! I will do just that!

anya* said...

preach it sister- seriously, i was nodding through out that entire post. i have never had to rely on govt assistance either, and it has been eye opening taking the kids to the dentist, drs, pharmacist. i was shocked how difficult it was to find a dentist who even took the coupon. never had that entered my mind before i brought the kids home..

Unknown said...

I've been at every corner of the triangle you describe: from consumer to cashier to bystander ~ the prejudice certainly IS real. I agree with you. That cup of cold water goes a long way. Both here and in eternity . . .

May we all consider our ways and ponder our paths, lest we fail those to whom He holds as the apple of His eye.

Sarah said...

Well said, and a good reminder.

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

Very good. Thanks so much for writing this down.

Recently added you to my bloglines. I've been enjoying your words.

Morgan said...

Amen! I have dealt with this for WIC before and it was really depressing. You just never know the circumstances behind them and most likely (as in my case) it was an unwanted and depressing enough situation. I have a new outlook for others because of my experience. Thank you for sharing this.

Alicia said...

Hi, I just stumbled on your blog and HAD to post a commment too! We just got our foster kids about 6 weeks ago and also are first time WICers. Even though I know in my heart why we are on WIC and that what we are doing is good and right, I feel like I have to appologize to the store clerk, the people behind me, and the whole store because I don't want anyone to think that I am a struggling mother. Sometimes I blurt out that they are foster kids and then feel terribly because no one needs to know that. The entire foster care package means forgetting what people think about you -- from your not so well behaved children, to them calling me "flower" instead of "mommy" in the store, to purchasing WIC items. It sure is interesting.
Thanks for posting on this, such good insight and well said!

Tami@ourhouse said...

Thank you for this post. This is a complicated subject, but there is nothing complicated about showing kindness and love.

By the way, someone recently told me that a family of six can make over $50,000 and still qualify for WIC. That tells me that working families may very well need this help- we love to just write assistance recipients off as lazy. This is actually lazy, uncaring thinking on our part.

Again, I really appreciate your thoughts.

ChristineMM said...

I'm sorry you go through that bad experience over and over.

I'd be tempted to start talking about fostering and enlighten some people about the big job that fostering is yet how little some people seem to appreciate those who do it. The least they could do is not judge you for using WIC to help defray some of the cost.

The state of New Jersey runs ads saying that a duel income family who owns a home and a car might still qualify for food stamps and they encourage people to apply. Now paying for advertising like that seems a bit odd but...even the idea of that surprised me, that people with a home and a car and two incomes could qualify.

Ticia said...

I had an interesting experience in the grocery store when I was a teenage mother. The checker ran all of my food then looked at me and practically yelled to the whole place YOU HAVE TO TELL ME ITS FOOD STAMPS BEFORE I RING IT UP! With a very snotty attitude.( back when it was monopoly money). I was just floored! And I said to him I don't have food stamps! OH that is all he said. He made an assumption based on appearances. But I just though what if I had been using food stamps! Who is he to judge? Needless to say I had a talk with the manager.

MadeByAmanda said...

My husband and I are thinking of fostering, and this is one of the things that I have worried about... my pride is getting in the way.

It won't stop us from fostering, it's just something I have to get my mind around.

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog from another blog.

Great post, BTW.

We are foster parents also. I've not dealt with many of the prejudices you've mentioned, or maybe I just didn't care.

However, once we adopted our girls, my husband became disabled. Although the girls have Medicaid insurance as part of the adoption agreement, I didn't. I'm a cardiac patient, so I now qualify for Medicaid also. It's so hard for me to say that I'm covered by Medicaid. Pride, I know.

I also "make" my husband do all the dealing with the food stamp office. I don't mind getting the groceries so much since you use a debit-card-ish card and not the Monopoly money these days.

Like I said, great post.