I never thought I would be in a position where I couldn’t provide for my child. On the outside, everything in our life seemed to be going well. My husband just started a great new job (and I quit my job so we could move), we had just bought our first house, and I became pregnant with our second child. But it wasn’t too long before we realized we had made some big, big mistakes. We were way in over our head.
We had taken on a lot of debt very quickly after buying our house. We were very naive and assumed we would be able to handle everything that came along with that. Our furniture got ruined in our move, so we bought some on credit. We had a car loan. We had credit card debt from moving expenses and living in a hotel when our closing date got pushed back several times. We were accumulating medical debt from my pregnancy. It quickly became clear that our expenses and debt payments were significantly higher than our income. Interest charges were piling up. We were getting crushed.
I cut coupons. I looked for jobs. I tried to babysit for extra money. I sold items we didn’t need. It still wasn’t enough. I would cry almost every day as I nervously tracked every transaction in our bank account, wondering how we were going to make it through until our next paycheck. I had to decide which bills to pay late each month. My anxiety was coupled with shame. I did not tell a soul what an awful situation we had gotten ourselves into. It was humiliating to realize it was all our own fault. I thought we didn’t deserve help.
One day I realized that I had made a mistake in calculating how many diapers we needed. Seemingly out of nowhere, we were down to one diaper. I took my little boy to CVS to buy a small pack of diapers. As the cashier told me what my total was, I was a little nervous wondering if I would have enough in our bank account. My card was declined. I pulled out a credit card. It was declined. I tried our second credit card. Also declined. They were all maxed out. I anxiously searched through my wallet as tears welled in my eyes and the cashier impatiently waited. I was searching for something, anything, that would help me pay for these diapers. Even though I knew there was nothing.
I mumbled some excuse to the cashier and rushed out of there with my little boy. I put him in his car seat and started sobbing. It was such an incredibly low moment to realize we were completely out of options. I called my husband crying. I yelled, “We can’t even buy diapers for our baby! I can’t take care of my own child and I am a terrible mother! What are we going to do?!” He quietly replied, “I don’t know.”
I drove home as the tears flowed continuously. My chest rose and fell rapidly as I struggled to breathe. I prayed that my son wouldn’t fill up his diaper too quickly…and especially hoped he didn’t poop. I began thinking of how I would clothe him once we ran out of diapers. I was afraid of the future. It felt so surreal.
When my husband got home that day, he managed to find a few extra dollars in the car and we were able to buy our son’s diapers. While the immediate problem was solved, our troubles were far from over. That day was a huge turning point for us. We took some drastic steps to restructure our financial situation, and we were slowly able to crawl our way out, but it took years. This was a hard lesson for us to learn, but I am glad that we were able to grow from it.
I know that we were still privileged and lucky that our situation wasn’t more dire. Many people experience much worse every day. Now that I know what being in that position feels like, even for a small moment, I have a much broader perspective on what some families face. No one wants to be in this situation. No one wants to be met with irritation and eye rolls when your card gets declined. No one wants to be seen as “less than.” And most certainly…they don’t need condemnation and judgement. There’s plenty enough of that floating around.
What people need is help. They need to know what I didn’t know–that you shouldn’t let yourself sink into despair from embarrassment. For anyone who is in this situation now: there are programs out there specifically for situations like yours. You do not need to feel ashamed. No baby deserves to go hungry or naked. Reaching out for help means that you are doing exactly what a parent should do: taking care of your child. Period.
Anyone needing help in the Oklahoma City area can contact the Infant Crisis Services. Their mission is to ensure that no baby goes without food or diapers.