03 October 2013


Congress shut the government down two days ago.  Our daughter was born 3 months ago yesterday.  I quit my job so we could move to Vermont for Michael's dream job 4 months ago.  In the midst of all of this I've been trying to understand something: how were we supposed to do all this without government assistance?  What bootstraps were we supposed to grab?

Around this time last year, we realized we could indefinitely put off starting a family if we waited until conditions were just right.  Having both gone to private liberal arts colleges, we had an image of what being a grown-up should be.  Working jobs that didn't even pay what our colleges cost per year wasn't part of that.  But, we adjusted our expectations, realized plenty of people have families who are in situations similar to ours.  And we decided it was time.

Michael was working at a record store while doing everything he could to find a job that put his Masters degree to use.  Michael was able to get that Masters degree with financial help from the government while he was working. While he wasn't at work, he helped a professor edit a (hopefully) forthcoming book.  He still has yet to see a penny for doing that work.  He served on the board of the literary journal he edited the year before.  When that year's editor had to step down from her position, my husband and editors of other past editions stepped up.  When he wasn't busy with any of this, he was applying for jobs.

I was working a job where I put my Associates degree to work.  I was able to get my Associates degree because the government helped me pay for it while I was working a job in retail.  I was working a job in retail because I had previously burnt out in the human services field.  I went to the private liberal arts school to work in the human services field.  I was able to pay to go to the liberal arts school because I was born into a family that was able to pay for it.  Academically, I was able to get into the school because I grew up in a town with taxes that provided quality education for its residents. 

We both were doing what we loved.  I was working with animals and science.  Michael was editing.  He just wasn't getting paid for it.  Yet.

About three months before our daughter was due to be born, Michael received an email from a friend: there was a job opening that was pretty perfect.  It would put his self-designed Masters degree to work.  He applied, interviewed twice.  He didn't get the job because he was over-qualified.  The publishing company instead created a new position for him.  Saying no was not an option.  This is when things started to happen fast.

Michael commuted over an hour both ways for a month while we found a place to live.  We had to find a place to live that we knew we could afford with just one paycheck while I looked for work.  I let work know that I'd have to start my maternity leave a month earlier than expected so that we could move.  We found a place and moved up to Vermont a month and a half before our daughter Sadie's due date.  I found a new hospital for her birth.  I navigated health insurance.  My previous employer-provided coverage would last until 12 days before Sadie's due date.  After that, if I opted for COBRA, I would pay $574.27 a month.  On top of that, I would pay a $500 co-pay for our hospital stay when Sadie was born.  I applied for Vermont's state-funded health insurance and was accepted.  The coverage was retroactive to a month before we moved up to Vermont.  I let my employer know, who let the health insurance company know.  Bills that had been paid by Blue Cross Blue Shield would end up being covered by Dr. Dynasaur.

Due to the timing of all of this, I've been getting bills for all of our medical care.  The current tally is a little over $10,000.  Without government assistance, this is what I'd have had to pay to give birth to my child.  The best the federal government could have done with its provision of COBRA would be for me to pay around $1,100 the month my daughter was born and $575 a month after that.  The state of Vermont helped us spend nothing.  We are still "just getting by" while I look for work.

The question that I keep imagining asking someone who is "anti-big-government" is: Weren't we doing everything we could to "pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps"?  Where did we go wrong?  In wanting to start a family?  In striving for jobs that make us happy people?  Where?"  I can't imagine any logical or compassionate answer to this.