Thursday, 21 February 2013

A crying shame

Today I got a call from George's daycare to say he had a temperature and could I pick him up. I headed across the road and picked both George and Ella up. A lovely friend looked after Ella while I took George to the doctor. He has had a cold for a few days plus is teething and with a stuffy nose, he has had trouble feeding. While we waited he felt hot and between grinning at everyone in the waiting room, he grizzled and his face had the look of a kid whose head is stuffy, with big bags under his eyes.

The doctor has a look at him as I explained his symptoms. He had a few spots on his hands and dermatitis from the constant chewing on his fingers to relieve his sore gums. I said that we had been in earlier in the week to get them checked as some kids at his daycare have been sent home with chicken pox and scabies. I hadn't wanted to send him along with spots without knowing he was fine. The doctor said hand foot and mouth virus had been going through the local daycare.

He proceded to check George's temperature, his ears, throat and his chest. He diagnosed viral tonsilitis with a possible ear infection and said that it was possible it could turn into bronchiolitis. I nodded.
"Do you know what that is?"
"Yes, I've seen it at work."
"Where do you work?"
"A teen parent unit in Otara".
The doctor gave me a wry smile and nodded.

Thankfully the appointment was free, since George is an infant. I headed to the pharmacy to pick up some more paracetamol. While I waited I also got some baby balsam to help ease his congestion and a "snot sucker" to help clear his nose so he can have his bottle. When I went to pay it came to $37. The paracetamol free because of the government subsidy but the rest was pretty pricey.

When I got home it really started to hit me. George goes to the same daycare. He is exposed to the same germs as all the other babies, many of whom are the babies of the mothers I teach. They love their kids just like I do. Today, when we had the doctor at school, we had four Mums who wanted the doctor to see their baby. Most of them had already seen a doctor in the last few days about the same issue they were concerned about. They really care about the well being of their kids. Some are formula fed and some are breastfed. It doesn't seem to make much difference to how often their kids are sick. It hasn't made any difference so far to George. This this first time he has been sick since he was born and he is formula fed.

What seems to make the difference is money. George lives in a dry house with only three other people. It is a cold house in winter but we can afford to have a fire and a heater in every room that needs to be warm. It is expensive to keep the house warm but we can afford it (just).

Another thing that makes a difference is control. There are only 4 people in our house and hubby and I call the shots. We don't smoke and we don't have to deal with anyone who might want to smoke inside our house. The women I teach are often living in houses with their parents, aunties and uncles, older siblings, and or older adults, who may smoke and have more control of what happens in the house. It is pretty hard to stop bugs spreading when there are four people to a room, no heating and the house has no insulation. Expecially if the heating is an LPG gas heater which fills the room with condensation, and in many situations, carbon monoxide.

Oh and getting their own place is not an option. A Mum on her own on the DPB will get a maximum of about $380 per week, including the accommodation supplement, which is a maximum of $165/week. With rent for a damp and cold 2 bedroom unit in a dodgy area starting at about $280/week, you can see that it would be financially impossible to live independently with your child. If you have a partner you get a benefit based on being in that relationship but you then have two adults to feed, clothe and transport and it will be less than the DPB plus his benefit. If your partner works you probably won't qualify for anything. Hmm, benefit fraud doesn't seem so shocking anymore and more like the action of a mother who can do maths.

If you are under 19 you get less and  if you are under 16 you get nothing and have to depend on your parents to either pass on a portion of the benefit they get for you to pay for nappies etc. or to support you and baby with no extra assistance). So overcrowding is really pretty predictable and as well as being the only option when living with multiple generations is the cultural norm, it is also an unavoidable reality of affording a roof over your head. Things are pretty tight when the offer of a corrugated iron garage with a cold concrete floor seems like a blessing.

It is also pretty hard to afford to buy healthy, fresh food when you are living on so little money. It is even harder to prepare that food when every adult in the house is working shift work and no-one knows when anyone else will be home. You may also live in a house where only Grandma knows how to cook. But she has had a stroke and so can't cook. And Mum can't work cause she's looking after Grandma cause they don't believe in rest homes and couldn't afford it even if they wanted to ship her out for a stranger to shower her and change her and feed her.

So things are a bit different for the Mums I work with and their babies. I drove George straight to the doctor cause I have a car. To have a car you have be able to afford to buy it, put petrol in it, register it. Insurance is a bit of a bonus. If you don't have a car you have to take your sick kid on the bus or walk to the doctor. And you probably can't afford a pram that lies flat for a really young baby. So you have to carry them. Oh and if your baby gets really sick and you have to go to hospital you could call an ambulance. But when you get discharged with a still-sick-but-not-in-danger baby, you still won't have a car and will have to catch the bus (if you have any money left after having to buy your meals cause no-one brings you food when no-one else has a car or money) or walk.

If you check out the Ministry of the Health website, scabies, bronchiolitis and other illnesses are common when you combine the trifecta of overcrowding, poor housing and poor diet. Add smoking and you have an almost certain recipe for preventable, communicable illness.

So this is the crying shame, that my beautiful boy who I love, just by the accident of being born as my son, is probably going to be fine. But another child, just as loved and beautiful and with just as much miraculous potential, won't. Because the love of a mother, her whanau, her community, just isn't enough. Because poverty does exist in New Zealand.

People look at me funny some times when I say my kids go to daycare in Otara. They also say my job must be pretty hard working with teenage Mums. But you know what makes it hard? Not the mums, not their babies. Instead it is the injustice that tonight while my son sleeps fitfully and needs cuddles and more cuddles, another Mum is worrying about her baby as he gets sicker. And there is nothing she can do about it.

It's a crying shame...

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this insightful post. More, please!

    More people need to praise young mums who really are doing their best, and call out the effect of the poverty their kids live in. Thank you.