In the field...

In the field...
Our Family awaiting baby #4

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

...More Difficult Decisions

When I got pregnant with Emilia late in 2009, she was going to be our fourth baby in seven years.  While this caused a bit of anxiety at first, we were excited to add another beautiful baby to our young family.  A few stressful events happened around this time though, all of which were constant reminders that God was guiding us and opening up doors for our family when others closed.

We obviously had serious concerns about having another baby.  The biggest one being that I had just graduated from Graduate School at UH and ultimately had to forfeit my student health insurance...which remember, is how we were able to get Billy's birth covered. 

My heart was so heavy. 

I was now officially uninsured and married to a minister with a good salary, but on paper (BEFORE taxes of about 27%....self employment tax...income tax...and both sides of Social Security Tax being our responsibility) made "too much" to get any type of assistance from anyone. 

It seemed like a middle class "catch 22" or something....

Grasping for straws, I did remember that I had limited VA benefits available with my honorable discharge.  So I made a B-line to the VA hospital to get a pregnancy test done.  The blood test was positive - no surprise there. 

NOTE: After four pregnancies in seven years, I can pretty much "know" that I'm pregnant within days of conceiving.  I simply can NOT relate to those "I didn't know I was pregnant" ladies?!  But everyone is different...I know =)

But then I had a rather pleasant surprise.  When the VA worker handed me the paper with the positive blood test result, they also gave me information on how to get an approved OB/GYN contracted through the VA hospital. 

Do what?!

Since when?

I didn't even know this was an option?!  WOW - thank you...God is good!!!

That was a God moment no doubt.  I later found out that the legislature had changed the women's veteran's benefits in 2006...way before Billy was born by the way.  But I didn't even have a clue about it then.  I had inquired with the VA about deliveries and maternity care in 2003 when Hailey was born, and right before my honorable discharge.   I did get a BIG and somewhat sarcastic, "no lady - we don't deliver babies"?!  That was disappointing...but I understood the actual VA hospitals were not equiped.

But THIS new development in our lives though was a pleasant surprise, to say the least.  We were SO relieved!

Within weeks, we were able to find a new midwife who owned her own free-standing birthing center in Pasadena, TX, less than a mile from the Pasadena hospital.  (BTW, Nativiti was not on the VA list, plus it was a bit too far from Liberty...especially with my history of fast, natural labor). 
Again, I LOVED my birth experience in Pasadena with this new midwife and doula and would be honored to blog Emilia's birth story sometime very soon!

Once we added Emilia to the family, things became quite a bit more hectic in the Sanford household.

Also with the new year of 2011 came the "Obamacare" scam, which gave us false hope that he would actually help all of those in this desperate middle class and self-employed position.  All it did was raise our premium for the same fact raising them so HIGH (even WITHOUT ME on the plan) that we had to change from a $5,000 deductible to a $10,000 deductible  - just to pay the SAME monthly premium amount every month.  Yikes...we were very dissapointed Obama...and we felt quite jilted.

So we quit going to the doctor for well check-ups (paying 100% with a "high-deductible" plan was just too expensive for 6 people)...

We ran out of money to get any dental work done, even cleanings were too expensive...and can you imagine the anxiety of having to tell your 5 year old "I"m sorry baby" while she cries from tooth aches?  HEARTBREAKING!!!! Ibuprofen can only go so far...

Jon had NOT had new glasses or contacts or even an eye exam in years...nor had the rest of us...

There was still NO way we could afford the vasectomy for....well know what that's for =)


It seemed hopeless...

As for the family side of things, with four little ones, even getting a babysitter was stressful (just being able to pay a teenager) or having the guts to ask a friend to watch ALL of them so I could "work" and hour here and there...we felt awkward to say the least.  We did have a few angels that would help us out of the goodness of their hearts, but I always felt bad or guilty about that.

We had four beautiful (and well behaved, might I add) kiddos that deserve the best in life...but a mommy and a daddy who were miles and miles from their family and any-time support structure.  Also a Daddy who gave it his all as a full time preacher and teacher, volunteered announcing local sports AND called dirt track racing for a little bit of extra money (during racing season only though).  Plus a  Mommy that wanted desperately to stay home with her amazing kiddos, but NEEDED to contribute something to our income and bills - we're talking simply to meet basic survival necessities!!! 

So at this point, I have a confession to make...I have always had a tendency to over-work myself!

People often say to me "I just don't know how you do it?"

I guess that shouldn't come as a surprise to those of you who know me.  I realize that it's probably quite typical for a lot of young moms too, especially with our economy the way it is.

Sometimes I think I thrive on over-working myself...or maybe it's a multi-tasking addiction...or even the fact that I get bored very easily and can't sit still.  Some say I'm just like my Mom (love you Mom)!  I'm not sure exactly, but even as a college student I had 4 part time jobs - HEB Cashier (for 7 yrs?!), Teaching Assistant for TxSU Music Dept, Army National Guard Bandsmen/AROTC Cadet AND I taught private lessons during the school year.  During my undergrad years, the scholarships ran out quickly. So I was trying to work my way through college for the most least that is how I justified the over-working in my head.

Upon getting married though, I was certainly up for the challenge of being a minister's wife (plus Bible class teacher/Education Dept. planner) and adoring mommy.  But I also wore the hats of teacher, graduate student and BC Home Spa Team leader and trainer....I began to see the over-working college student coming out in me once again.  But I wasn't really sure if that was a good thing...desperately NOT wanting to neglect my husband or kids in anyway. 

I never gave up though, thinking if I slept less and worked harder....

Somehow I could fix this....right?

By this summer, Jon and I were pretty frustrated with our situation and a little scared.  We were behind on needed dental procedures and had stopped buying some needed prescriptions (one was $680 for 10 pills?!)  The thing I discovered though, was that even with my talents and qualifications, no matter what I tried to do part-time (around wife and mommy duties of course), the private music lessons, the home spas, even my amazing part-time college teaching gig as a professor at TxSU in Spring of 2011 (my DREAM job) - NOTHING would qualifiy me for the benefits we so desperately needed...

EXCEPT for teaching with a school FULL-time!   

That was what I HAD to do help my family - I could save the day - SUPER MOM to the rescue!

But remember...this was something Jon and I had mutually agreed that I would NOT aspire to do until ALL of our kiddos were in school.  I felt like a failure not being able to live up to this promise.  What were we going to do now? 

What happened next, really fell in our laps...we got a lead on a local job opening at one of the Liberty schools teaching music - literally across the street from our house!!!  Yay, thank you God for looking out for us...right? With my Masters degree, there is NO way I would not be hired for this position, NO way.  Everyone was so supportive and Jon and I were almost giggling with the excitement of what what we could do with group health insurance benefits.  We would sit and plan out what we would do first, almost feeling giddy inside.  We would be SET and have hope for the first time in a long time...

BUT, what I thought was another God given opportunity, ended up not working out.  I did NOT get the job.  WHAT?!  I was so confused... 

But I didn't give up! be continued yet again (last time, I promise)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Difficult Decisions

Jon and I are in the middle of moving our young family from Liberty, TX to Austin, TX.   

Many of our friends and family know why this has come about, but you might not...  

As chaotic as our lives have been these past two months, it has really been quite difficult to communicate the reasons behind our decision with all of our friends and loved ones.  Do we owe an explanation to everyone...not necessarily.  But our story might enlighten you to help other young families in similar situations, so here it goes...

Since Jon and I married in 2003, we mutually agreed that we would pursue Jon's ministry career as the foundation for our lively hood.  Yes, even if that meant putting my music and teaching career aside until our kid(s) were in school.  My husband is SO blessed as a public speaker and really gifted as a gospel preacher.  When I first heard him preach, I sat in that pew (along with 22 other people in a small church in AL) and decided at that instant that I would marry him someday.  I was mesmerized by his friendly warmth, his flow with words and most importantly his message - sincere and straight from the Bible. He could also, could he sing! 

And yes...I also liked his deep Alabama accent, which was similar to my Aunt Sherry's (also from AL).  Definitely part of his southern charm =) 

I knew then I would follow him to the end of the earth if I had to...

We had a quick engagement and married just a few months later (read our love story here).  After getting married and conceiving our first child, I was given an honorable discharge from the Army due to my pregnancy.  With only a couple months before my due date, Jon started to apply for ministry jobs in LA and TX.  After a few visits and much prayer, we chose to move to Channelview, TX and start a ministry work with the church there.  

We were young and excited to start our family.  We loved each other and wanted the best for this wonderful congregation.  Upon our transition, we did have some concerns about loosing my military benefits...but we paid $2100 for 3 months of an extended Tricare Health care benefit as a premium to cover Hailey's birth (delivery charges extra of course).  After that we didn't really think about our lack of health care until I got pregnant with Tegan in 2005...then we kind of panicked.

In fact, we were so worried about our lack of benefits that we decided that I needed to start teaching full-time in order to get a group health care plan for our growing little family.  Just in case you haven't caught on yet, our churches are just not equiped to offer any type of health care benefits to their preachers.  Only the larger churches have enough employees to even begin to pursue a group plan benefit for their employees. 

So I applied to Crosby ISD and surprisingly got a job offer to teach 5th/6th music and choir.  We felt like this was a gift from God, as I was 5 months pregnant...and who would normally hire a pregnant teacher?  Now with the comfort of the group plan and benefits, we really excited about having our second baby. 

Before getting ever getting pregnant the second time, we had decided to pursue more natural birthing options. 

REMEMBER - Hailey's birth did NOT go as we had hoped, and I really wanted nothing to do with birthing at a hospital again.  It just did not feel right...did not feel like what God had designed my body to do.  I was determined to search for other options!  With my older sister's help, I did find a great midwife and a beautiful Birthing Center in the Woodlands (called Nativiti) that I LOVED and was so impressed with. 

NOTE: I will share about Tegan's actual birth it was beautiful, empowering and just about perfect.  I hope to encourage other Christian mother's to see that natural birthing without fear is really possible!

After having Tegan, I took 6 weeks off and cried my eyes out when I had to leave her and Hailey at a daycare upon returning to work.  I faithfully pumped twice a day at school and managed to successfully nurse Tegan with no supplementation for about 18 months.  I was very content with this and proud that I made it work.

But then...during my second year at Crosby, word spread around Houston about Jon's preaching ability and he was offered a new position in Tomball.  Curious about the possibilities with this new job, we agreed to move.  In order to keep our benefits, I attempted to commute from Tomball to Crosby (48 miles one way, but well over an hour driving) to teach for the remainder of that school year.  BUT, the horrible Houston traffic was gruelling and down-right torture in making that drive twice a day. 

At the end of my second year of teaching, I decided to stop teaching and pursue a graduate degree in music at University of Houston.  I had auditioned and earned a spot (and $10,000 scholarship!!) with the UH Graduate Woodwind Quintet.  My GI Bill was also a big part of that decision too...but either way that is what we did.  With this decision though, we lost our group benefits =(
So with Jon preaching (technically self-employed) and with me at UH, we were back to using individual health care options.  I did take on the UH student health care, but that would only cover ME, with no option for family members too. 
FYI: Important to note that individual health care plans do NOT cover maternity care in Texas AT ALL!    Not one penny.  Supposedly there are too many uninsured that do get covered, so we are out of luck.
No matter what coverage we had, Jon and I agreed that we were going to wait to have our 3rd baby until I was out of Grad school. 

But then comes Billy. 

Luckily I still had my UH student health care coverage.  Even then, I chose to birth at Nativiti again and managed to have another beautiful, natural water birth.  But surprisingly, the UH insurance DID cover the birthing center as well (after a few persistent requests).

By the end of 2008, Jon was again offered another new position, this time on the east side of the Houston area. And curious again, we moved. By 2009 I finished graduate school. This also left me without any health insurance, except my limited VA benefits (as I did not want to add more costs to our premium).

Then...oops...I got pregnant again. It was quite ironic to realize that my LAST cycle was on the LAST day of my LAST final in graduate school! Well, at least we are quite blessed to be so fertile, right? We really are...I don't mean to sound unappreciative. We LOVE our babies!

NOTE: I have issues with birth control pills! Yes, I tried them. No, I did not like them. I prefer not to live with hormone induced eczema. Sorry. And no, $1800 (paid up front) for a vasectomy was not exactly affordable for us at that point.

But this is when things got medically difficult for other reasons...

#1 Before getting pregnant with Billy, Hailey had been hospitalized with a severe allergic reaction to 2 scoops of almond and cashew butter I had given her after church one night.  She suffered through anaphylactic shock and could have died without medical help.  We paid quite a bit through this experience (towards our high deductible) and then needed to keep epi pens (not covered) on hand for emergencies.  

#2 Jon was diagnosed with Chron's disease and IBS.  He had some tests run and it was recommended that he go on medication and have part of his small intestines removed, due to damage that had already occurred.  Our answer to that option:  NO THANK YOU.  With a $5000 deductible, there was no way we could pay for that up front.  We just decided to watch his diet and pray.

#3 We delivered a super healthy baby boy and Billy was his name.  The birth was covered thanks to UH, but then he was added to our individual plan and of course the premium went up.  We also had to pay 100% of all of the pediatrician visits etc.  That stuff adds up.  So we just stopped going, as I was nursing him and he was doing great.

#4 Jon and I both needed serious dental procedures done, all out-of-pocket of course.  We did what we could do, but once again, we were not able to do everything that was recommended for optimum health.

Now let's address a few questions that Jon and I get a lot: 

Can't your family get assistance?
 Doesn't the government help families in your situation? 

In one word - NO.  We are unluckily stuck in the middle class category...just BARELY making too much (BEFORE taxes) to get any kind of government assistance with...well...anything.  We didn't really want government assistance at that time, so no complaints from us.   
During these 5 years we never questioned our path.  We knew that we had each other and things would get easier someday, right?  Well that someday has come, but in a way we never expected.  

To be continued...