Thursday, April 26, 2012

For want of $80


The below was first published on http://www.momsrising.org/ - an organization that since 2006 has been working to bring together millions of people who share a common concern about the need to build a more family-friendly America. The members are bringing important motherhood and family issues to the forefront of the country's awareness. Together, they are working to create both cultural and legislative change, on both the national and state levels.  Here, with a few additional photos, is that story.

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My name is Nancy, and these are just the highlights of my story. I am one amongst many.

A family of my own almost didn't happen.

I spent my 20s married to a wonderful man, but the relationship had gone its course by 2001. When we parted ways, he kept the house and the fragments of our life together. I packed up and moved to Europe with a one-way ticket.

I figured, if I was going to create a new life, I might as well be in a place where if I fell in love, it'd be in a country that took care of its constituency, particularly women, better than I could ever expect back home in the States.

I first moved to Paris France, and then on to Stockholm. There, I explored love - anticipating the wonderful family-friendly approach there in Sweden. Nine months maternity/paternity leave. Tenth month use it or lose it for the Father. 100% Healthcare DELIVERY (no talk of insurance which is NOT the same as healthcare actually being administered, more on that later). Childcare. Phenomenal schools. Five weeks minimum paid vacation. All state-funded. Not enough? There even were private insurance policies that covered sick days, should a parent need to take a day off for a sick child, leaving their own paid sick days for :shudder: for when a parent was sick. All this, and so much more. The cost was about the same in tax rate. In the US, when one combines the local, state, and Federal taxes, adds in what we pay to have similar services and benefits, we pay more - and still get less.

Love in Stockholm didn't work out, and for me, well, that's a prerequisite for starting a family.
When I returned to the States, my timing was off to be re-entering the workforce. It was a time of high unemployment, and with a two-year hole in my resume, I wasn't all that marketable. I couldn't get work in my field (lawyer), so my vagabond years began. I went from comfort, to living paycheck to paycheck, and lived amongst the uninsured for the first time in my life.

I moved back to my hometown of Louisville Kentucky, and explored a broader approach to finding work. I had to; none of the work I would choose could be found. I founded an arts organization, determined that what I did for a living wouldn't define who I was. I worked all sorts of jobs, but was wary of being insured while I looked for work in my field, which with it, would come insurance.

In 2006, I worked at White Castle (remember, I have a law degree). They were great. It is, to date, the best job I had, because of the life lessons I learned there. It made me live what I believe - what one does for a living isn't who we are.

Sadly, a month before I was to qualify for paid sick leave and health insurance, I had a miscarriage and missed work, which was unpaid. Medical bills on top of making just $7+/hour and a smaller paycheck because of missed work meant that when I had what I thought was the stomach flu shortly afterwards, I toughed it out. It happened just one day after I'd handed in notice for having found a "better" job as a bank teller (remember, I'm a lawyer, who was willing to do what it took to makes ends meet). I didn't want to just not show for my last two weeks, and also, $7/hour or not, I needed every one of those dollars because I (1) liked to eat, and (2) still had those medical bills from the miscarriage. I got more and more fatigued. Worked every day of my last two weeks. Two days into the new job, I finally scrounged up the $80 to go to an immediate care center. They rushed me out the door with strict orders to go to the ER. That stomach flu had been my appendix rupturing. Those abdominal pains I felt after that "flu" weren't a result of the miscarriage, but a result of the peritonitis and other resulting damage from the ruptured appendix.

My story appeared in a Velocity article
on the uninsured.  (This was the actual state
of my desk and the bills).
(c)2008 Courier-Journal
A few years before, I'd been flush, and being able to afford my share of medical expenses had been an inconvenience, but not a bar to my receiving the care I needed. But at the time, for want of $80, I nearly died. My organs had started to shut down, causing that fatigue that I had "worked through."
Fortunately, I was okay, but faced over $20,000 in medical bills after emergency surgery and a week's hospital staty for IV antibiotics. I was earning about $9/hour at the bank, had missed work, again. The new job? I was just 2 days into the insurance company mandated 30 day waiting period for coverage. Nice.

I did the best I could pecking away at those bills. I worked hard and liked being a teller. There's pride in a job well done. While at the bank, I met my now husband. I had another medical complication, which we later determined was the cause of that miscarriage, and we struggled to get together my share of the deductible.

The condition had gone two years undiagnosed because I hadn't had the money for an annual exam.  Fortunately, it was treatable by surgery.  Unfortunately, it might cost me my ability to carry a child. When I had the surgery, the surgeon advised me he would do his best to not have to take my entire uterus. He cautioned me that even if he was successful in saving enough of my uterus so I could carry, he warned that the infection from after my appendix had ruptured was likely to have compromised the function of my fallopian tubes. Nice. Again. Thanks medical "system" in the States responsible for my care. I'd busted my hump to NOT be a burden, and ended up nearly costing me my life, and then, nearly costing me the ability to have children. Just great.

I'd gotten what I thought was a better job, in my field of law, after working at the bank. Well, as it would happen, my husband and I conceived and I was able to carry. Fortunately, again, I had health insurance. Or so I thought. (Why insurance is tied to our place of employment, with as often as people change jobs, many of whom don't earn a living wage is beyond me.)
I was laid off, not long after I found out I was pregnant; a "pre-existing condition." But wait, if you can't get new coverage, you say, there's COBRA. I'd still be insured, right. Well, yes, IF you can afford the COBRA payments, that's your catch, isn't it Nancy.
Oh no. There's another hitch. Small businesses are not included in COBRA. Therefore, the unemployment relief of paying 60% of the COBRA payments that was being offered at the time, was not extended to me. Fortunately, the state did mandate that I could continue my health insurance, IF we made the payments. I boggled at the full cost - and somehow, we made those payments and the deductibles and copays.

We've since had not just one, but both of our girls. Greta Jo and Clara Lou. At the time of writing this, Greta Jo is 2-1/2, and Clara Lou is 18 months. I was on unemployment, unable to find work. I'd worked in corporate all those years, and used the time to be admitted to practice law, to broaden my job opportunities. Even if I had found work while pregnant those two consecutive years in 2009 and 20010, it frustrated me to think that a maternity leave would be woefully inadequate, in my humble opinion. Six weeks just doesn't cut it. And in a new job, the minimum is what I would get. That is IF I had been successful in finding someone to hire a pregnant new attorney.

So, 2009, there I was, laid off, and pregnant. Waddle Waddle into an interview and they know I'll be asking about a six week maternity leave.

SIX. LOUSY. WEEKS.

And even those were not a maternity leave, but cobbled together between sick pay and short-term disability. Really? A disability? Was no one who wrote these policies that became law aware that they too had been BORN to a mother?

Barbaric is what my friends in Europe, but particularly in Sweden, men and women alike, say about us here in the States. Not all women struggle with going back to work. A new Mama facing those first few months where a child is so dependent, I understand how, perhaps conflicted, som jump at the chance to leave babies for the familiar demands of work. I'm not starting a fight, between stay-at-home Moms. We women are all wonderfully different. I just believe all babies deserve the right of having a parent at home with them longer than is our cultural norm. I would suggest that either parent, like in Sweden, be able to use the maternity/paternity leave - and that leave ought to be longer than just a few short weeks. That said, having just gone through those early times in recent memory, I do appreciate the lure and trade-offs of not being a full-time Mama. Me, I just wanted the chance to work.

So I went to work for myself. The market is flooded with attorneys, and my practice is not only the only place that would have hired me pregnant, one year, and then kept me when immediately pregnant again... it's also the only place I know that wouldn't have FIRED me thus far. Babies get sick. Many childcare can't or are insufficient to care for sick children. Parents miss work as a result. FMLA or not, it's unpaid. Well, between my husband and I, when the girls are sick or something comes up, and Mamas you know how something ALWAYS comes up, it's me that does it. Something has to give, and it's the time dedicated to my law practice.

Having to figure out whether finding work is even worth it is part of the calculation. If we had gone the day-care route, it's a trade-off from our attachment parenting approach. That means family, and a nanny (found on sittercity.com with its criminal background checks), have partnered with me in watching the girls when I do manage to make it into the office. The nanny, to make ends meet for her household, has taken on not just a second job, but three - so she has gone from watching our girls four to just one day a week.

We have cobbled together childcare. The nanny watches one day, my sister for one morning, a Parent's Day Out program for two half days, and another sitter as back-up, all gives me one full day in the office, and two half days. That's it. Now it's summer, and I'm scrambling between two sitters and a camp for twos for our eldest, to be able to maintain my law practice, while having the girls tended when I'm not with them.

So, although I love the States. I love raising my girls here, in Louisville Kentucky. I sure do wish we had a few of the sensible public policies that make Sweden such an ideal place to live, work, play, and raise a family.

We must have a change in our priorities. We settle for what we have, because so many don't even fathom that it doesn't have to be this cobbled together broken system. I am committed to do whatever I am able, to gain the ears of those with spheres of influence, to change public policy, legislation, not to make it easier but make our lives make sense, if not for me, for our two girls. No one should have to risk their lives, their fertility for want of $80.

nancymoisehaws.blogspot.com
nancyesq.com
—Nancy Moise
KY

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