It’s 1995 and MD, my live-in boyfriend, has checked himself into a 30 day rehab for sex addiction because I’d caught him lying and cheating one too many times and I was leaving him. I was 3 months pregnant with our first baby and had just taken maternity leave from my job as a cocktail server due to hardcore nausea, vomiting, and pregnancy precautions due to other issues. I had no money or income. After the first week with MD in rehab, I ran out of food.
When it had been 6 straight days with nothing to eat, I was physically weak and had a chronic splitting headache which I assume was due to my hypoglycemia issues plus developing pregnancy. I was sleeping like a bear in hibernation, constantly throughout the days and nights, to escape the maddening cravings for food. It was all I really could do. I had been isolated from my friends when we started dating and here I was unplanned and unexpectedly pregnant by a man who not only treated me worse than dirt on his shoe, but couldn’t keep his dick in his pants or tell the truth to save his life. I had only my precious cat, Porsche, for my best friend, my confidant, my snugglebuddy… Porsche and the tiny baby inside me were my whole world.
In my excessive sleeping, I’d recently begun having chronic wildly scary nightmares about the affect this malnutrition was going to have on my growing baby. I’d learned from my What To Expect When You’re Expecting book that the first trimester was a critical time for baby’s development. So my subconscious was working full force to descriptively show me in great gory detail all the horrifying possibilities of the damage being with done every famished second that passed.
Determined to find something in that kitchen to eat, whether it was an old beaten up can of kidney beans, an ancient forgotten can of creamed spinach, or whatever, I made a diligent, open-minded search! There was nothing left in the pantry, so I scavenged through the refrigerator like I had on many occasions in the days before, only this time my nightmares had scared me into an open mind for anything…literally. Anything.
Voila!! I see the leftovers I already picked through the same day MD had checked in to I Can’t Keep My Dick In my Pants rehab center. Now, these leftovers are about 2 weeks old. It’s a tuna casserole I’d made awhile prior to him leaving. I’d seen it before but had been a little scared to eat it because I wasn’t sure how long it stayed edible. I did a haphazard food inspection. There wasn’t any obvious mold; suddenly it was a casserole gold to my eyes…a delicious feast!!
I didn’t bother heating it up. Fork in hand, I stood right in front of the fridge with the saran wrap pulled half off the glass casserole dish and shoveled a few forkfuls into my mouth. It tasted horrible, dry and bland, but not yet rancid, so I figured it would do the trick.
After these bites of food, I grabbed the needle point I was working on (learning) and sat in a comfy chair in the living room with Porsche, my devoted cat curled next to me. After a while, I got very sleepy and dozed off for a few minutes. Suddenly I abruptly woke. My stomach was churning and flipping and I felt vomit quickly rising. I ran to the bathroom and puked. The vomit was mostly watery mixed with some chunks of tuna and chewed pasta shells. I wiped my face down, rinsed my mouth with some water right from the bathroom spigot and lied down in the bedroom. Still feeling terribly sick to my stomach, my mind started wondering. I had a scary thought: What if the food actually was spoiled and I had just poisoned my baby? If a pregnant woman inadvertently ate something poisonous, would it kill the baby? I didn’t know!
I started crying from fear and guilt, apologizing out loud to my stomach, rubbing it and saying, please be okay little baby, please be ok? Your momma is so sorry! I felt destitute and afraid for my baby so much that I telephoned my mother. My mother who had been angry, disappointed or downright disgusted with me for as long as I could recall, most likely since the day of my birth. It wasn’t an easy call for help to make. However, my mother married a wealthy business owner when I was little more than a toddler and enjoyed bragging of her luxury and financial comfort. And after all, she was a mother and would at least know if I should call 911 for the baby, right?
So, I phoned her, trying not to let on how hungry I was; I didn’t want her to insult and criticize my baby’s father. I made casual conversation at first. , during which she began explaining her latest car purchase, a flashy little red sports car. After listening earnestly and ooh-ing and ahh-ing over her latest indulgence for long enough that I felt a subject switch was appropriate, and still trying to downplay my desperation, I finally asked nonchalantly about eating spoiled food while pregnant and if that might hurt my baby. She wasn’t sure but she thought probably not, she thought that my body would most likely rid itself of the bacteria and only the nutrients would go to my baby. Okay, I thought to myself, I can eat that last bit of casserole very slowly each day. I felt much relieved… until I remembered there wasn’t much left of the spoiled tuna at all. I walked into the kitchen on the phone and peeked again at the dinner I’d been so proud to prepare for my boyfriend only a short while ago, which today felt like years, not weeks ago, and saw there was maybe 4 or five tablespoons of it left. Could I eat around 2 shell macaroni’s each day? No, even at that meager amount, I’d run out soon. It wouldn’t last three weeks, even if I could get it down as it spoiled more and more each day that would pass.
I knew I had no choice. My baby deserved food. Even if I deserved to starve to death, this innocent child inside me did not, of that I was certain!
So I sucked up my pride and asked this woman who had carried me inside her body 25 years ago, Would you please send me $50 for groceries ? It’s only three weeks til MD will be out of rehab, I just needed a little help to get through til then.
No, she says. Go get on welfare.
Ok, could I maybe please borrow $25 and pay you back in a few weeks?
No. You can get on welfare.
What? Welfare? I knew nothing of welfare and certainly didn’t feel entitled to it. I was living in MD’s decent 3 bedroom, two bath house! Welfare was for homeless people with 5 starving kids, not a 25 year old newly pregnant college student with a boyfriend in sex addiction rehab. I mean, I didn’t eat much anyway. I only needed bare food necessities for a few weeks….some milk or rice or maybe a bag of apples would do me. I could make that last a really long time! That wouldn’t be fair to ask for welfare! I wouldn’t eat much…At 5’8 “ and 106 pounds, I had already lost 7 pounds while carrying this baby these three stress filled months of domestic violence, mind boggling gas lighting, and cheating. Gosh, I didn’t need much. I don’t want to apply for welfare!! I’d even be fine without food for a while longer if I wasn’t pregnant, in fact I was sick so much lately, I actually preferred not to eat at all. But this growing guilt and stress of what it could do to this tiny heartbeat depending on me for its survival was causing these horrific nightmares of crying babies and distorted newborns. The guilt was eating my brain alive, just like my body was slowly feeding on my muscles to survive. (And in one particularly nasty dream I’d had, my body actually had fed on my fetus! EEK!) I may not deserve diddly squat for putting myself in this situation, but this innocent baby deserves food!!!! It’s not her fault! I just needed enough to give basic nourishment to this baby growing inside of me. I of course said nothing to Mother about these thoughts.
This rejection of even basic humanity and compassion from my mother hurt in a place I’d forgotten existed since I’d been out of her house and on my own….this strange, hollow place of pain, reminiscent of a piercing sharp hunger ache, only it was in my chest. I still don’t know exactly what that acute pain was, I clearly remembered feeling it as a little girl on many occasions, crying quietly to God in my room , begging Him to tell me how I could make myself good enough to be loved by my mother. Make me good enough to deserve love and affection. I’m not much of a prideful person per se, but after the second “no”, I quickly realized there’s no shame or pride involved in the “please help me keep my innocent baby from severe deformity or death” game! At this point I knew for certain, if anything happened to my baby’s health or life from my neglect of feeding it while it shared and depended on my body, I would wish for death. I could never survive that unceasing life-long guilt and shame….letting down this teeny living creature depending on me for its every comfort or survival. No, this, I could never live with. I would lick dirt off someone’s feet right now if I can just get food enough for two weeks! No, in this very moment full of these fears and hunger, sickness and nightmares, I would have gladly done that or anything really, for help.
“Mom, please?” I pleaded.
“That’s what welfare is for…people like you”, she answered with an unmistakable sneer in her voice. That tone of voice people use when it becomes evident that they are getting immense pleasure from the power of punishment in whatever they’re saying at that moment; I mean deep soul pleasure as though they’ve just been granted a fervent lifetime wish. I was all too familiar with this tone; it was a staple of all maternal communication towars me since my earliest memory. Hearing that so clearly in her voice, right now in this circumstance, I thought I might need a shower afterward to wash the filthy joy of cruelty this conversation was obviously giving her and I had this strange hopeless feeling that I had just called up Satan for help and offered to temporarily sell my soul for grocery money.
Ok, I said. I hung up the phone and looked in the phonebook for welfare. When I figured out the correct agency, I called to see if I could just get some temporary food assistance for a few weeks. I applied. I was eligible!! Due to my pregnancy and recent lack of nutrition, it took only a few days til the food stamps came through and I carefully rationed the leftover-leftovers of tuna casserole to get baby and me through those few days.
In hindsight, I realize my frame of mind here. Like a captive who doesn’t even run for freedom at his first chance. I didn’t even think to call my dad to ask him for fifty dollars or for help at all. Although I now realize how crazy that frame of mind was! He would have gladly sent me $100 or whatever he could afford! And still worried it may not be enough and would have called regularly to check on me, caring how baby and I were doing.
But mother had said no and I knew from experience, no meant no. And if your own mother doesn’t think you or your baby are worth loaning $25 to, then you must REALLY not be worth loaning grocery money to. You and your baby must not deserve help or food. I went instantly into my well-trained “accept your punishment quietly (or you’ll get it worse!)” mode even though I was technically an adult now. I don’t know what “worse” than possibly starving or deforming my unborn baby was, but I was trained VERY effectively to take my knocks and accept responsibility for my situation. No matter what it was, it had to be my fault, had to be exactly what I deserved. So if mother said no then clearly, my baby and I didn’t deserve anything but 4 tablespoons of spoiled tuna casserole for the next three weeks or …welfare…. After all, mommie dearest had said that’s what it’s for – for “people like me”.