Is being on WIC embarrassing?

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Today, I want to tell you all about the time in my life when I was on WIC.

 

It’s not so much that I WANT to tell you all about it, but that I feel like maybe I should. Apparently, I’ve said or written things from time to time that have made some people nod along and others exclaim that I “have no compassion and no way of understanding!”

 

Well, I don’t *think* I lack compassion, but I guess if that’s how I’m being perceived, I have to accept it. What I KNOW, however, is that, while I would never claim to have walked in another’s shoes, I do know a thing or two about having to table pride in favor of making sure my family’s needs are met. 

 

This is that story.

 

Way back in 2009, when I was five months pregnant with G., everything was going pretty well for us. I had two preschoolers and a baby on the way. We owned a home in Indiana and, while we certainly needed to follow a budget, our lives were fairly comfortable.

 

And then my husband’s job was eliminated.

 

If you recall, this was sort of the start of when the economy totally tanked; jobs were in no way abundant. We had very real concerns that he would be able to find something in a timely fashion, even given the fact that we were willing to move across the country for it. It was scary.

 

You also all know that I delivered my second child extremely prematurely– at just barely (by MINUTES) 24 weeks. While my official diagnosis for that is “preterm labor/unknown causes”, there are plenty of doctors who have told me that the high level of stress I was under at the time likely contributed to it. Two of my big stressors in that pregnancy? My husband’s unemployment and the inability to afford quality food.

 

So.

 

When I found out that we no longer had a source of income, I felt the wave of panic sweep in. I fretted for awhile. I researched and pondered. And, then, I told my husband this,

 

“I’m going to apply for WIC.”

 

We talked it out. Neither of us liked the idea of any kind of government assistance. But you know what I liked even less? The thought of delivering my baby way too soon again. I have a history of struggling to gain weight in pregnancies and, at that point in my pregnancy with G., I was already getting chastised by the OB. I decided that, if I could get a little help ensuring I had adequate protein (beans) and dairy (milk and cheese), I’d be on a better track.

 

I applied for– and was approved for– WIC benefits.

 

It was interesting, to be honest. They test your hemoglobin and measure and weigh you there. My kids were both shockingly (their words, not mine) healthy. I kind of thought that might make us ineligible since we didn’t seem “nutritionally at risk”. But the dietician who was working with me told me, “We love to help families like yours. We can see you’re really trying– and that means the help we provide can make an even greater difference.”

 

Hmm. Okay.

 

So, moving forward, I had my WIC checks and that meant I had to take them to the store to use them.

 

Was this hard?

 

No. The WIC office provided me with a brochure that very clearly specified what types and brands of products were allowable. All I really had to do was consult the pamphlet and make my list accordingly.

 

Was it a little bit of a pain?

 

Yes. It’s a tad pesky to have to note down very specific numbers of ounces and flavors for items on a list. It’s time-consuming.

 

Did I mind that?

 

NO. I never felt put out by having to carefully construct my “WIC list.” Honestly, why would I? I can, with a completely honest heart, tell you that I felt completely grateful for the help and I wasn’t about to complain that it took some effort on my part. Quite frankly, couponing and matching sales takes the same kind of effort– you need to be sure you’ve got the right item. It wasn’t really a big deal.

 

So then came the actual shopping adventure.

 

I hear a lot of people bemoan the fact that WIC is embarrassing. That people can “tell what you’re doing” and then they judge you. That it’s “such a pain to have to sort everything with the checks” and then “it takes SO long for the cashier to ring it up!”

 

And you know what?

 

All true. 

 

To a certain degree.

 

But, let’s not forget, perspective and attitude go a long way in how something both feels and plays out…

 

When I used my WIC checks for the first time, I organized my items “by check” within the cart, as I shopped. It really wasn’t too terribly hard to unload them onto the belt. I told the cashier upfront, “This is my first time using these and I’m sorry if I’ve done anything wrong; please let me know.” I also apologized to the woman behind me, saying, “I hope this doesn’t hold you up too much– I’m not all that familiar with the process.”

 

And you know what happened?

 

That opened the doors of conversation. I was met with incredible compassion and they (the cashier and the customer) wanted to know more about my story. They were kind and sympathetic when they learned that my husband’s job of many years had suddenly been eliminated. The woman behind me offered to say a prayer.

 

Should I “have to” apologize for being on WIC?

 

Of course not. No more than I should “have to” apologize for having a stack of coupons. But I think that’s the wrong question. I think a better question might be, “Is it polite to apologize if your transaction might take longer?” And I think the answer is: YES.

 

So… the million dollar question:

 

Is being on WIC embarrassing?

 

Yep. A little bit. And I, for one, was okay with that. Because, when you allow the gratitude and confidence that you’re doing what’s right outweigh any discomfort, the rewards are very great…

and temporary.

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20 comments to Is being on WIC embarrassing?

  • We had to fall back on government assistance for almost everything a few years back. Stuff happened in our life that forced us to ask for the help or not be able to feed our family. All of our friends are farely well off so when we had to get on assistance I didn’t dare say anything. “live within your means” is a phrase I’ve heard a lot. And with a large family I feel like we were extra looked down own to need help. It has taken time to be ok with the fact that God does not want us to be well off like everyone else we know for whatever reaason. It’s a stink to our pride but maybe that is the leason we are suppose to be learning right now. IDK We do pray that our circumstances will make a turn for the better one day but until then we thank God that those programs or out there for people that truely need them for a time. It has been hard to be on programs that we disagree with but without them we would have started a long time ago. Embarrassing, a little, but we’ve learned to get over that :-)

    • I think there is a very good reason these programs are in existence! And, used properly, they are such a huge blessing. Also, used properly, they shouldn’t be cause for embarrassment. (Though the stinging pride is definitely there.) :)

  • Carrie

    While we don’t have WIC up here, there was a time when my (now ex) husband and I both became unemployed, him because of mental illness, and I was laid off (I think because of the husband’s mental illness but I couldn’t prove it). I was cooking dinner one night and new this.was.it. The cupboards were bare, this was our last meal, and there was no money coming in. I had lots of resumes out there, but no job prospects yet. I bawled and prayed. Our doorbell rang. It was a gentleman from our church, some of them had gotten together and made a hamper for us, food and gift cards for groceries and cash to help with our rent. We hadn’t asked for help, we were too ashamed, but God heard us anyways. During this time we also had to go to the food bank once, and they gave us so much fresh food that we wouldn’t be able to eat fast enough that we were giving away milk to single moms in the parking lot. Humbling and joyful at the same time. While I am glad my life circumstances are much better, I learned a lot during that time about budgeting, friends, grace and the power of prayer, and I think it is an important experience that made me who I am today. I am no longer ashamed, I am strong.

    Bless you for sharing your story.

  • I applaud you for saying what no one wants to talk about. People are so quick to judge others, and it’s a shame. Those programs are designed to help people … and they do! I’m sure there are people who abuse the system – but I’m guessing that people with legitimate need far outweigh the abusers.

    • Sadly, I think there are too many who abuse the system. And that is frustrating. As is the case with any man-made system, it is flawed, no doubt. Still, it is important to realize that there are legitimate cases and situations out there and it is hurtful when those individuals feel lumped in with those who might take advantage. Does that make sense? (And thank you, truly, for your supportive words!)

  • Celine

    I don’t think that being on WIC is embarrassing at all. The program is much different that the SNAP Program (formerly known as food s

    • Celine

      Oops hit the post button early..

      (formerly known as Food Stamps). Many people who do not qualify for SNAP do qualify for WIC. Even if you have a reasonably well paying job you could still qualify for WIC.

      I do like that the program is very specific about what can be bought and they are all healthy items (though mostly conventional). Those recieving WIC aren’t going out and buying junk food. The newest addition of fruits and vegetables definitely rounds out the offerings. I know for new parents the assistance with formula is really helpful, though sometimes I wonder if that hinders some people from breastfeeding.

      While the program runs generally the same throughout the country from talking with other people there is some differences. I know we end up seeing our Dr to fill out forms for height, weight, blood work and lead testing while in other states this is done in WIC office.

      • As I alluded to in the article linked to within this one, I wish the SNAP program were more like WIC, to be honest. I realize there are limitations and it would be nightmarish to set up but I, for one, appreciated that the program limited what it covered. To me (and, remember, I was ON the program), it only made sense that, if I was relying on help to stay nourished and healthy, that the foods I could get MUST fall in the “nutritious” camp. I didn’t need anyone to buy my candy or chips! Seems only logical to me. :) (And I think the program has been much improved since I was on it with the addition of fresh fruits and veggies and new grain options!)

    • Celine

      I will say it can be a bit annoying that there are specific things you have to buy. It is either buy it then or loose it. I wouldn’t buy juice or near as much milk as you get with WIC. I would rather have more fruit or veggies, though it’s definitely more in line with a SAD. I think they ultimately put things like that in the mix to get (semi) healthy things into children who might not otherwise eat them or get healthier alternatives.

  • Jamie

    When I get behind someone with WIC I always huff a little inside because it can take a long time… so I appreciate it when people have their stuff ready and organized (like you). I dislike that the system makes people need multiple transactions that inconvenience other shoppers. I IMMENSELY HATE when I then see people with WIC who do their WIC transactions and then go on to do their beer, cigarette, and junk food transaction- seriously you can afford that but not food for your kids?

    Anyway, excuse my mini comment vent and I appreciate your experience. It has made me look at people with WIC who may be like you versus the ones I have seen abuse the system.

    :-)

    • Yes, yes, YES to this, Jamie. I understand what you’re saying. It is INCREDIBLY frustrating to see people spend their “own” money on alcohol, tobacco, and junk while letting the “system” pay for “good food.” Still, to my mind, this beats the current food stamp system that allows people to get the junk food courtesy of the government, too… (I don’t know if you happened to read the first article I linked to in this post, but I kind of got into that there. Believe me. I get the frustration.)

  • Yes it beats the food stamp system, but it does pluck my nerves to see the cash go to smokes and beer. I suspect the only people embarrassed to be on WIC are the temporary users. I used to work with too many single moms with a handful of kid from different dads that actually spoke out loud about how they were about to run out of assistance so they better get pregnant…ugh! They were totally not embarrassed.
    It is really sad that the WIC people were shocked that your kids were healthy. That means the majority of the kids they see are unhealthy. :( I hope those kids are really reaping the positives of WIC.

  • Becki

    We had to apply for WIC last fall shortly after figuring out our infant was allergic to corn. His corn-free formula was $10/day!! At that time we could barely afford to pay our bills due to my job having changed drastically. I am very thankful for the formula help! And now that we are past the age of one, we are voluntarily giving up WIC, due to all the hassles- particularly the parts related to food allergies. The part that frustrates me the most is those in the office think that us being on the WIC program is what made our youngest so healthy. We had just switched his formula when we started WIC. At that time he was four months old and in the 5th percentile for weight. Now he is solidly in the 50th. The change was due to me being observant to him and discovering the allergy. They just supplied his specialty formula – they didn’t do any magic training, etc. But they will definitely use his increase in stats for their benefit and to promote themselves. Oh, and I always warned people that got in line behind us that it would take a while. Normally people were okay with that, but occasionally there would be people mad. But at least I gave them warning…

  • I think that personal care items and laundry detergent should be included in the food stamp program but just like WIC you only get a one voucher for each item a month. I’ve worked with children who had to re-wear dirty clothes(including underwear) because the food stamp program doesn’t pay for things like laundry detergent. I can’t help but think that clean clothes would have helped them stay healthier.

    I’ve seen a lot of abuse of system both when I worked in the projects and when I was in college. I had a friend in college who got food stamps. She had a paid for car and an allowance from her family, but she still got them. I worked two sometimes three jobs to pay for school and no car. I felt that even though I could apply for food stamps, it would be wrong to do so, as I was capable of meeting my needs. Sometimes I only had $5 to spend on food for the week; but, I made it work. I’m not aganist helping those that need it but the food stamps program is incredibly flawed. Personally, I think we might be better off if we went back to community/church based assistance instead of government assistance. It’s a lot harder to scam your neighbor vs. the government.

    We do our best to be good stewards of our money so that we can give more to those in need. We go without soda, chips, cable, second car, etc so that we can donate 25% of our grocery budget to our Church’s monthly food drive. We also skip a big thanksgiving dinner and donate all of that food to the Little Sisters of the Poor.

  • Cherie

    I know this is really late, but I am new to your blog. My son and I were on WIC a few years ago and it was a huge blessing! Someone mentioned that the formula they give is a hindrance to breastfeeding. In our state (PA) a hospital grade breast pump is available to working nursing moms instead of formula if you want it. There is NO WAY I would have been able to nurse my son for the entire first year of his life without their pump.

    • Oh, that is a wonderful benefit they were able to provide, Cherie! Hospital grade pumps are essential for moms who are going to be pumping a lot, in my opinion. We had to rent ours after our micropreemie was born, but it was worth every penny. :)

  • Lydia

    For thenlast 4 years, I have had SNAP benefits for my family of 4 boys. When their Dad decided to resign from his good job, and no longer pay his obligated child support, I really had few options. I have always been a bit of a “health nut,” and I am so grateful I can still feed my family well. We rarely eat out, and we avoid fast food, soda, etc. I SO appreciated then people who didnt judge me, especially in the beginning, since I would literally feel sick at the checkout line. I have learned a lot about being less prideful and more compassionate to others.

  • nicole

    Thank you so much for sharing your outlook on WIC. I am a new mother and I sometimes find WIC to be extremely embarrassing like all eyes in the store are on me.I know it is all in my head and I should let it go,because I am doing the best I can for my baby girl. The guilt of me trying my hardest and it still not being enough gets to me at times. Reading all the comments and posts made me feel much stronger and when I go through the line. I have a new refined view that I am not the only one.

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