Opting Out of WIC

I recently spent 50 minutes at a WIC clinic, yet left without any checks.

What happened, you ask?

For those of you unfamiliar with WIC, it is a “supplemental nutritional program for Women, Infants, and Children” (W, I, C… get it?), the majority of which are considered low-income. Being self-employed, we’ve struggled with making ends meet and having a little bit of assistance (WIC gives you checks to buy milk, eggs, etc) has always been a blessing for us, even though actually using the checks makes you feel like the biggest loser in the entire world. (We’ve had a couple cashiers in the last year who didn’t attempt to hide their judgments.)

Anyway, it was time for re-certification, so I took my baby girl to our appointment (coinciding right around nap time, awesome). For those of you who aren’t familiar with the program, it goes a little something like this:

1. Check in. Give them your folder, confirm who you are (drivers’ license) and how poor you are (tax return). At this point, I received a “satisfaction survey” to fill out. Apparently, it’s important to base your opinion from the super friendly check-in lady before you go through all the other steps.

2. Get weighed and measured. Pregnant ladies will need to do this too, otherwise it’s just the kiddos. This wasn’t so bad, as I’m always curious to see how fast my little girl is growing. Thankfully, she’s old enough where I didn’t have to strip her down, and they updated the height table so that she wasn’t laying in a wooden box that, last time, kinda reminded me of a coffin.

3. Talk to the nutritionist. I’ve only had experience with our county’s clinic, so I have no idea what other’s are like. I’ve talked to friends who have felt their nutritionist was extremely helpful and knowledgeable. Maybe it’s because I’m already pretty informed of what “healthy eating” looks like, but I’ve never felt like I’ve gotten much out of her. Mostly, it’s her asking questions, like what kind of milk my daughter drinks (breast), if she eats three meals a day (yep), if she gets snacks (yep, otherwise she’s a monster), what her snacks consist of (usually fruit), if she has any allergies (no), etc etc. I did ask her once about the peanut butter we were allowed to get on our checks (store brand, “spread” with the hydrogenated oil, nothing labeled “natural” allowed, although one cashier let me.. once), and she had no idea what the difference in peanut butter vs. spread was or why we got only one version (my bet is on price). Plus, despite all her encouragement about breastfeeding, she was quick to leave the room when I started to nurse my daughter; thankfully, I’m getting more comfortable with how uncomfortable others are about me nursing a 14-month old.

(3.5. Wait an ungodly amount of time so the other woman there who you really have no idea WHAT she does can chat you up about vaccinations and well baby visits, encouraging you that if you are on Medicaid, they are FREE! Note: please don’t let anything being “free” being the only reason why you choose something. I mean, if someone said, “Hey, here’s some crack, absolutely free”, feel free to say no. But I digress.)

4. Talk to the nurse. This, of course, happens last because, by this time, you have gone through so much that you can’t really back out. This is where they inform you that, oh yeah, by the way… we are going to take your child’s blood.

Now, this is a subject that I discussed with my husband at our last (and I mean, last) well baby visit when our daughter turned one. They wanted to test her blood for lead. My first thought was, I really don’t want anyone poking a needle into my daughter… but at the same time.. lead. Ugh. So we did it, it wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t great, either – mostly because our daughter is a rock star.

Now, we really like our doctor, for the most part. There are some things I can tell we don’t see eye-to-eye on, but he’s not pushy, he’s friendly, he’s good with our daughter, and he’s known her since she was born. He knows her history, our history, we have talked about our various decisions related to health and diet (he’s a pretty good breastfeeding supporter, at least for the first year). So, my thought is, if we have this great doctor we like and trust, why do we need to go through all this again with WIC?

So, at first, I said “No. We had already done a blood test at her last checkup.”

Apparently, no one has ever said “no” before.

Her response: “We have to check lead and iron levels.”

Me: “We’ve done that. Through our doctor.”

This continued for a while. She asked me to call my doctor to confirm the tests, so I did. Apparently they had only checked for lead, not iron. This didn’t sit well with the nurse, who continued to insist we have to check her iron levels. It will only be a prick, it’s not a big deal.

By this time, I was pretty well set in my decision, and getting a little irritated. If my doctor hadn’t ordered an iron test for whatever reason, apparently he didn’t think it was necessary or that we had a problem. After all, she’s pretty healthy and eats well. We have a good diet.

I’ll have to give her credit, my nurse did look genuinely concerned that I was preparing to opt out of my checks. She even left the room to check with the nutritionist on what we should do (why the nutritionist would know, I have no idea).

“We don’t NEED the lead test, but we DO need to do an iron test.”

Really? First it was, you have to check her blood for lead and iron… but all of a sudden, lead isn’t a big deal? We can opt out of that? What if my doctor had just done the iron test, but not the lead.. would things have been reversed? (Between waiting almost an hour plus trying to soothe a very cranky toddler, momma was getting a tad cranky herself.)

Eventually, I ended up just leaving. Without my checks. We were at a brick wall, neither of us willing to budge. Plus, the nurse had also informed me that they had to do these blood tests every three months until she turned two, and then every year after that. Because my husband and I had previously decided to forgo any more well-visits, combined with the fact that I did not, for whatever reason, feel comfortable with a clinic set up in a basement taking my daughter’s blood regularly, our WIC relationship was coming to an end anyway… either now or in three months.

I was a little bummed – it would have been nice to be able to “afford” some more milk, eggs and produce. But at the same time, I was kinda peeved too.

Now, for those of you saying to yourself, “What’s the big deal?”, let me try to explain.

I’m not entirely opposed to the blood tests, per se, as we obviously consented a couple months ago. And I know it’s just a finger-prick, quick and easy and probably relatively painless. My decision to say “no” stemmed more from principal.

Simply, I could not see any reason why the tests were required, especially if I A) had my own doctor and B) my daughter was completely healthy with no signs or symptoms of any sort of anemia. These WIC people didn’t know us, our history, our lifestyle choices. And it wasn’t like they were going to throw in an extra bag or two of beans if she was low. Really, what could they tell us we already didn’t know? Plus, when I had asked the nurse why the tests were required, she couldn’t tell me. The closest she could come was some sort of half-explanation about how WIC is specially funded.. but even then.. I couldn’t hear any sort of reason that had to do with the benefit or well-being of my daughter.

I know this isn’t just me being a freak, as this is what Google so helpfully suggested for me when I got home….


(Bonus for anyone who gets the “Pride & Prejudice” reference.)

Since then, I have done a LOT of research on iron deficiency and anemia in toddlers – I’m even considering turning that into a separate blog, as this one got pretty long-winded already. I’m not going to sit here and argue that iron deficiency isn’t a big deal. Rather, I’m a tad alarmed by any sort of state requirement that can’t be explained by the people enforcing it (similar to how I was alarmed when a doctor told me to “feed my baby orange and yellow vegetables before green” but when asked why, the only thing he could say was, “I don’t know. That’s just how they always taught us.”). If needles in any form (whether blood draws or vaccines or, God forbid, RFID chips) become a requirement for government assistance, than we will figure out how to do without.

An interesting tidbit: I found out AFTER this meeting that you CAN opt out of the blood draws for WIC through a simple religious or medical exemption. (Thank you, Alaska DHS!)

If I would have known this before, maybe it would have turned out a little differently. I’m honestly a little surprised that out of the five women running the clinic, no one knew of the exemption. Oh well. On one hand, the checks would have been kinda nice. On the other, we are one foot out of the system, and maybe us being out will enable another momma to get the help she desperately needs.

Bonus: no more glaring cashiers.

Maybe this was another blessing. If anything else, we will rely that much more on God to provide.

Phillipians 4:19: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Amen.

(Last-minute disclaimer: I am not in any way trying to encourage anyone to opt out of WIC or discourage anyone from signing up. Rather, I just wanted to relate my experiences and inform others that there ARE EXEMPTIONS for those who don’t feel comfortable otherwise. Also, I kind of wanted to document my story, in case something crazy happens like DHS gets called on us – call me paranoid, but after the whole home-birth-DHS-fiasco, I’d rather be cautious.)

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