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Parents

Stop Shaming Poor Parents

I'm not saying please. Just stop.

I wrote a piece a little while ago about having a baby when you’re broke. I went out of my way to describe the circumstances that led to my husband and me having no money around the time our son was born — I was preempting a flood of internet vitriol about how irresponsible it is to have a baby when you’re poor.

I wanted to make it abundantly clear to any reader that when we made the decision to have a child our financial situation was fine, or so we thought. And while I take full responsibility for that fact that our predicament was partly due to some poor judgment on our behalf, we did have a lot of shitty luck, and there was no way we could have predicted the final straw in our financial collapse: being stranded interstate with a premature baby.

I wrote the piece in the hope that other people who were stressing about money before or around the time of introducing a new family member might find some practical help in it, or at the very least feel comforted that they’re not alone. Having a kid is stressful enough on its own (especially when you’re a clueless first-timer), Having money problems lumped on top of that can break you.

“Having a kid is stressful enough on its own (especially when you’re a clueless first-timer), Having money problems lumped on top of that can break you.”

I remember being kept in Emergency with crazy high blood pressure for three hours one evening after spending the day in the Special Care Nursery with our son because some arsehole had told my husband that, due to our very unusual situation, he wasn’t entitled to any government payments. The time we should have been enjoying with our newborn was tainted with worry about where our next meal was coming from and how we were going to survive long term.

Despite my efforts to explain our situation, someone still managed to sneak in a judge-y response.

The comment probably isn’t even that bad, not in the scheme of internet comments, and was more passive aggressive than outright nasty, but it has been resurfacing to niggle at me over the past month. Usually, if a comment bugs me, and I ignore it, it will evaporate in a day — three max. (I’m the first to admit I’m probably a bit on the sensitive side and overthinking side of things, so I probably hold on a bit longer than most.)

And then I asked myself some “whys.”

Why had that particular response managed to bury in so deep?

For starters, it wasn’t just aimed at me. It was a general “you shouldn’t have a baby if you’re poor” and a fairly sanctimonious “I’m not poor, but I still don’t think I could afford a baby.” To me, it had a faint vibe of “I wouldn’t do such a thing to my child” about it. I could be wrong, but it didn’t sit right with me.

Then I began to question my own actions.

Why had I gone to such great lengths to make sure everyone knew we hadn’t been poor (well, not dirt poor) when we’d decided to have a baby? Why couldn’t I have just shared some of the tips that helped get us through those first few months?

Suddenly, I was in the sanctimonious commenter’s shoes. I wanted to make it known that I’d tried to be responsible, that I wouldn’t have chosen to have a child on shaky financial ground because “I wouldn’t do such a thing to my child.”

“There are so many reasons why people may have a child when they’re poor, and even if they have deliberately made that choice it’s nobody else’s business.”

When my husband and I had the discussion about seriously TTC (trying to conceive for the uninitiated), there were so many factors we considered: my age (33 at the time); the fact that I had endometriosis, and it could take a long time; what we would do if we couldn’t get pregnant naturally; whether we were ready to look after any baby we had (including one with a severe disability); and, of course, if we thought we could afford it.

The main deciding factors were my age combined with the endometriosis — if it was possibly going to take a very long time, better to start sooner. We probably wouldn’t be able to afford fertility treatments or adoption, so getting pregnant naturally was our only option, which meant it was definitely better to start sooner. We even had a Plan B in the event we couldn’t have a child: more dogs and maybe a couple of goats.

So, now I’m asking myself if we would have gone for it even if we knew our financial situation wasn’t as good as we thought.

And the answer is probably yes. The biological clock/possible fertility issues would have likely won out, and we would have made it work.

We have made it work.

A year after having literally no money — actually minus money because we had some debt — we’ve got a very healthy emergency fund, and we’re living comfortably. If anything, being penniless when our son was born taught us how resourceful we could be when the pressure’s on.

There are so many reasons why people may have a child when they’re poor, and even if they have deliberately made that choice it’s nobody else’s business. As long as a kid’s got what it needs, everyone else should butt out (and make sure you measure “needs” appropriately— love and adequate nutrition and shelter and the like).

And if you have personally made the decision to not have children because of your monetary circumstances, that’s great. Good on you. If you’re happy with that decision, if you think it’s the right one for you, wonderful. But maybe pause and think before you force it down other people’s throats from your lofty palace on the high moral ground.

I know I threw my story into the realm of other people’s business as soon as I made it public, and if you really feel you must make a judge-y comment because that’s your God given right as a person on the internet, go for it. Just don’t expect a polite response.

This piece was originally published on Medium.

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