In January 2007, I was 24 years old, newly separated from the Air Force after serving for four years, and eight months pregnant. I had found out I was pregnant six months before my enlistment was up, right after I'd attended a job fair for Capital Police in D.C. Due to my law enforcement background in service, I had been spending my time lining up job interviews with local police departments and security firms, and had just sent in my application to the University of Maryland. Honorable discharge in hand, I was going to transition seamlessly into civilian life as I had seen many others from my squadron do, working and put myself through school. But once I found out I was having a baby and would be raising my son on my own, those plans evaporated and I was flung face first into civilian life with hardly anything set for myself.
Navigating civilian life as a pregnant woman proved to be far more difficult than I had anticipated. I was too close to having my son, and had very little experience in anything outside of police work to be hirable. I filed for unemployment and was initially rejected. I filed for disability compensation and healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs, but there was little they could do for me in terms of prenatal care until a decision was made on my claim, so I had to apply for social welfare benefits. I applied for Medicaid, WIC and TANF but was only eventually approved for the first two. Without any income, I was unable to rent a place of my own and was sleeping on a friend's couch while I tried to establish some semblance of stability before I delivered my son into the world.
Needless to say it was a very unsettling and dark season in our lives. Relations with my family were strained, I had no job & was awaiting an appeal on my unemployment decision, I was without support from my son's father, had very little means to support myself, and sleeping on a friend's couch. Every day things felt shaky and uncertain, with the possibility of things going even further south greeting me when I opened my eyes in the morning. As stressful and panic inducing as my circumstances were, it was bearable, or at least I forced myself to bear it because I had no other choice if I wanted us to live. I clearly remember determinining each day to keep fighting my way through every challenge and set back that arose. For the most part, I was able to maintain my resolve, but my toughest struggle for survival during that season was the lack of food available in my daily life.
I was pregnant but barely eating more than a meal a day because, well, I had no money. What I did eat came from friends offering to grab me something or $20 they'd give me for groceries here or there. It took nearly 6 weeks for my WIC to be approved and once it was, I was able to buy things like bread, peanut butter, milk, eggs, some fruit w/farmer's market vouchers and cereal. Between that, scrounging up change for double cheeseburgers on the dollar menu at McDonald's, and pushing large amounts of water, that's how I survived.
When I was in the final weeks of my last trimester, I won my appeal and my unemployment was approved, and my first check arrived the week I ended up giving birth. My checks were just under $500 every two weeks. When my son was a month old, I moved into a house where I rented a room for the two of us. My unemployment checks went to paying rent and 1/3 of utilities, gas, my cell phone bill, diapers, wipes & other toiletries for us, interview clothes and babysitter fees while I searched for a job, and once I stopped breastfeeding, formula & baby food. I hardly had enough left over every check to purchase enough groceries for myself to last until my next hit. I always ensured my son had what he needed to eat, even if it meant I had to eat very little or nothing at all. I wasn't starving, but I was surviving off of one meal a day max, usually oatmeal. I remember as a "splurge" (and because I'd be so hungry for something else filling) I'd go to Chipotle after cashing my check and spend $14 on two of their chicken burritos, fully loaded. I'd take them home and split them into four pieces-each one would be a meal during that week.
Emotionally, I remember experiencing despair, shame, and embarrassment. Asking for money from friends and family when I was at my hungriest and in between unemployment checks always filled me with dread as I worked up my nerve to ask, and guilt consumed me once I had rehearsed the shakiness out of my voice to finally do so. I always felt as though I had to justify why I couldn't feed myself; and prove that in spite of my inability to provide for myself, I was still doing my best to provide everything I could for my son, to prove that I was capable of being his mother. It was a painful experience that permanently changed me. I can't look back at my life then without tearing up.
From my own personal experience, there is nothing as torturous as hunger. Daily nourishment is such a basic, fundamental need, that not being able to satisfy it for an extended period of time can quickly pull you into a limbic fog that becomes inescapable. Physically, the gnawing sensations that crawl through your stomach in search of satiation eventually become stabbing pains that intensify with each breath you take in. The longer you go without adequate intake, the weaker your body can become as it turns on itself to burn the energy it needs to keep you alive. Your organs have to work harder to operate without the minimal calories and nutrients necessary to function so you can thrive. Your movement slows as it becomes harder to expend energy. I had fatigue and muscle and head aches daily. In addition to the sleep deprivation, stress and hormone fluctuations I was experiencing postpartum during those first 8 months, my mental & emotional state were impacted as well. There were days I felt so weak physically and emotionally I'd just lay in my bed with my son while he either slept or played quietly next to me.
It took me three to four years of relying on social welfare & veterans benefits, food pantries, and eventual employment to create a more stable life for us-one that didn't include facing hunger daily. Today, I'm privileged in that I can eat all day every day if I wanted to, but my experience with hunger is never far from my mind. It's one that drives me to find ways to combat it in my community and support national and global organizations committed to addressing it financially or with social media capital.
That's why I wanted to share my story to raise awareness about the Global Goals and encourage you to support them however you can.