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Like so many moms, Bathshua makes daily sacrifices so she can give her 9-month old daughter everything she needs. For someone living in the South Jamaica public houses, that means sheltering her daughter from some of the harsher realities of the neighborhood and piecing together a tight budget so she can afford costly diapers and baby formula while she recovers from a high-risk pregnancy. She shares her story from the perspective of a parent in our Healthy Families program.
“I have been living in Jamaica all my life. I moved to this building 15 years ago after my mother and my father separated.
I go to school online so I can be an anesthesiologist for children. The last time I was working, I was a PA in a hospital, but I haven’t gone back yet. I had to take the time off for my daughter because I was a very high risk pregnancy when I was carrying her. I am looking to go back by the end of next month, hopefully before then.
I was high risk because I have diabetes. I made it down to 120 lbs and maintained that for 3 years. I wasn’t exercising or eating healthy before that. Eating healthy costs a lot of money, and I don’t have money, so I have to eat what I can get.
It got crazier when I got pregnant because my hormones were imbalanced. The whole pregnancy was very stressful. I had to go to the doctor three times a week, sometimes every day to keep checking on my baby, to make sure she was breathing and growing. During my last month, my pressure kept on going up so I had to be at the doctor every day, so there was no way I could go to work.
When I first got pregnant, I had to ask myself how I was going to survive. I was thinking about finances and how I was going to get things for my daughter, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
I applied for public assistance, but it didn’t start working for a month and a half. Then I started getting food stamps. Then I found out about Sheltering Arms/Safe Space because I knew I would need extra help, even after I had my baby, because public assistance doesn’t give enough money to do everything. You have to really budget yourself because you only get money every two weeks.
When I get my public assistance, I call it my “pickup”, I live off of layaway. So for example, the way I get my daughter’s clothes, I put them on layaway. When I pick up something, I put another item on layaway.
For diapers, I go to BJs once a month, so I buy them in bulk. For milk, I use all my food stamps to buy milk because WIC cannot help me with milk. My daughter has to drink a special type of milk called Similac Advanced. WIC doesn’t supply Similac Advanced because it is too expensive and the government isn’t funding that, so I have to use my whole $300 that I get in food stamps for her milk. The whole month, that’s how much the milk costs! So I’m not even eating off of my food stamps, my daughter is. My mom helps me so that I have food for myself to eat.
Amia had to have the special milk because she had diabetes. The infant milk had too much sugar. Her body wasn’t taking it, it was rejecting it. So they tried all the types of milk until they got to Similac Advanced and that was the only type of milk that held. She was in the hospital for a week after I had her because of her diabetes level, until they finally got her on the Similac and then her levels started improving. And that was, of course, the expensive milk.
So I budget myself. I buy everything in bulk for her. And me? I just forget about myself. It’s all about my daughter. As long as she is okay, I’m okay.
I have been through times where I could not afford diapers. That’s when I asked Sheltering Arms / Safe Space for help, and my mother has to help me with that too. Every new mother I know that is single is going through this.
I don’t let my daughter sit in a wet diaper. When she is wet, she’s wet. She’s the type of kid that doesn’t like anything soggy on her. I just change and worry about the cost later. I refuse to let my daughter sit in a diaper for five hours. She would get diaper rashes if I did that, but she hasn’t had one yet.
Diapers are very expensive. The bigger they are, the less you get inside the box. The only thing that stays the same price are the wipes at BJs, but the diapers cost more the bigger she gets and you get fewer in a box. So you know what I do? I have to buy two boxes for the month and a box of wipes. The wipes will last me the whole month, but I have to buy two cases of diapers and they are $40 each. And for my public assistance, I only get $140/month, so you do the math. It’s gone. Every first of the month, that assistance is gone because it is spent on pampers and wipes and then my food stamps is gone because it all goes to her milk. So everything is gone.
I was concerned when I got pregnant because I had stopped working. I wasn’t able to get Public Assistance for a long time. I didn’t get on until I was about four months, and when I got on, I was only getting $90 every two weeks. That was car fare money to go back and forth to the doctor. That’s what I was using it for, honestly, or some water and something to eat in between my doctor’s appointments. Baby clothes are not even that expensive because I can do layaway. It’s THE MILK and the DIAPERS. I can say those two are the worst right now. Honestly. If I get help with those things, I’m A-okay.
I had to sacrifice everything for myself. All of that has to wait until I go back to work. I don’t want to leave my daughter, so I don’t really ‘go out’ to do things with friends. If she can’t go, I don’t go. I’m going to go through a lot when I have to go back to work. For the first couple of weeks, I’m probably going to be depressed.
The Healthy Families Program helps me out with everything: clothes, diapers, wipes, toys. Everything you can think of that you might need for your child, they can find a way to help you get it. I’m so happy that I found this program when I was pregnant because it really helps me. [The social worker] teaches me different activities like how to read to my daughter, how to massage my daughter, how to do different activities, how to make toys from home. She teaches me everything and anything. There is so much that we do.
When I’m out with Amia, I teach her. “This is the tree, this is the train.” When I’m pushing her in the stroller, we stop a lot and I show her everything. I take her to the library on Saturday. I read to her. She’s ahead in learning. She’s very smart. We do games on the computer since I have a computer now. My mom helps me with things like the computer or things I can’t afford.
I don’t have concerns about her being raised in the neighborhood because I go do everything outside of the neighborhood. I go to the City. I show her that atmosphere. She would never know what’s out here because I’m always going to keep her away, but hopefully, God willing, I’m going to move by the beginning of next year. Until then, I always keep her out. Like when I go to the park, I always go all the way on Jamaica Avenue by the Courthouse, or I go on the train and go all the way to the City. I don’t let her intertwine with anything over here. We come in, we go out. That’s it. Supermarkets? I go all the way on Jamaica Avenue. Nothing near here.
I want to keep her sheltered from the area because of the drug dealing, the lack of knowledge, and the bad influences. My mother did the same thing I do with us. When we moved here, she did everything outside of the projects. So I said to myself, when I get better and when I get stable and back on my feet, I’ll just do everything like my mother did. She took us out of the projects. She would just come in and go out, say hello, but keep it moving.
If I could, I’d change everything about this apartment. I would paint, get new cabinets, new furniture, everything! But it’s the projects, so you can’t take anything with you if you change or improve it. They bug-bombed so many times that we don’t really see roaches anymore. I have sticky traps out just in case. They come in to spray for roaches and they spray high so that it doesn’t impact my daughter. I keep a very clean house, but we were still seeing bugs because of the neighbors who would leave trash. I want to move somewhere quiet in long island, like Hempstead or one of those places
If I won the lottery tomorrow, the first thing I would do is go get myself a job. I always said if I won the lotto, I would still work and I would still live like I don’t have anything so that the money would last. But I’d buy a new house, buy a car, and make sure my mother is taken care of. Other than that, I’d still work every day, and I wouldn’t splurge. I wouldn’t tell anyone, only my mother. I’ve always said that.
I do not want to have any more kids. I look at it from the perspective of a single mother. It’s hard when it’s just you, and I’d be afraid. I’d have to be married in order to have another child because then I’d know for sure that that partner is with me. I do get frustrated when I think about her father not being here, but I don’t take it out on my child. It’s sad to say, but I don’t think about him.
My first goal for the future is that I have to go back to work. And I just want to work to make sure Amia has a great life, and she has everything and that she doesn’t want for anything.”
Healthy Families is a program which pairs social workers who are prenatal/natal health specialists with low-income parents. The specialists visit the mothers and fathers in their homes during pregnancy and throughout the baby’s first years to monitor healthy growth and teach parents strategies for facilitating on-time childhood development (social, physical, mental, and emotional). The program also connects parents to resources such as WIC, food stamps, car seats, diapers, cribs, safe housing, medical care, etc.