Thursday, February 3, 2011

Living in the Land of Little Rain, part 2

I finally started working on the financial aid applications for Tessy's medical bills. For some unexplained reason our portion of her hospital bills so far is almost $8,000.00. That's about $2,000 more than out expected "yearly out of pocket maximum" for our health insurance plan, and well over what we can pay upfront if we cash out our IRA.

We've been here before. Financially nervous. Not freaked out and drowning in debt (that would be our life in 2005 when we were totally unemployed with two children and living in Jon's parents house), but "uncomfortable."

Jon calls this our "20% in the red rule". God gives us a firm 80% each month for our family's expenses and the rest of our "extra" needs we sort of handle on a wing and a prayer.

I didn't know where the extra $2,000 was going to come from in our budget through if we ended up needing to pay the full amount. (Medicaid send us an official denial. Individual hospital determinations are still in the works.) So I started calling all of our Student Loan Creditors to see if there was any wiggle room in 2011.

The lady from a call center in India told me something so shocking, I dropped my jaw, the phone, and I almost dropped Baby Tess. "You have 16 more months of forbearance time on that loan Miss. . ."

Remember the prophet Elijah and how he granted a poor widow a jar of oil and that never ran out in the midst of a famine?

I've got the 21 Century equivalent, a Sallie Mae student loan forbearance on a gigantic law school loan debt that never runs out. It's been ELEVEN years and I have never, ever paid a dime on my student loans. Oh, I've paid blood money to the pesky private loans companies--but never on the main, gigantic loan.

Legally dodging my loan payments were "normal" for the first four years. Every student gets a 6 month deferment to find a job. I chose a low-paying job helping the poor, so I qualified for an extra deferment where the Federal Government paid the interest on my loans for another 2 to 3 years.

Then when I was expecting my first baby in 2003, my husband and I took out matching Federal Consolidation loans. We were both working at the time. We were surprised to find out that the "new" loan came with 4 "extra" years of forbearance time, which we immediately put to good use.

We were converted Catholics who used the "four year grace window" to scrambled to find a sane work/life balance for our new family. In four years we had 3 more pregnancies, we moved 4 times to 4 separate states, we started a new business, we lost a business, and finally found my artistic husband a steady job in Washington D.C. that almost supports a family of six.

In the back of my mind, I always thought I had to go back to work to pay back the monthly payments on my law school debt. Most of my friends don't know, but I stuffed my first 3 pregnancies so close together because I thought I'd only be home a short time.

After my miscarriage, I started to realize that God wanted me to be a stay-at-home mother full-time and forever. I got really scared. There was a period of about 18 months in my early Carmelite journey when I had this note on my prayer alter; "Jesus if you want me to be a full-time servant for you, I cost $109,092.78!" (That was the amount of my unpaid Student Loan Debt at the time).

In 2007, Jon started paying on his Sallie Mae loan as agreed.

It's 2011, and I still haven't started paying mine.

We are a husband and wife with matching Sallie Mae Consolidated Loan terms. We file joint tax returns as proof of our identical financial circumstances. When Jon calls to ask for extra forbearance time, the lady from India says "I'm sorry Mr. Benjamin, you have exhausted all of your forbearance time. You may receive more only if you become unemployed."

Abby, "Mrs. I'm Completely Unemployed For Jesus" calls, and it's "Oh, don't worry about it Mrs. Benjamin, you still have 16 more months left."

As a unpaid, stay-at-home Mom, I somehow got the forbearance pot that has never gone empty.

In 2007, I was told I had 12 extra months left. More forbearance time appeared for no reason in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, I suddenly had 24 extra months left. In 2011, I've got 16 more months left. 24 - 12 does NOT equal 16!

Then the Indian call-center lady, continued to make my day. (If my next daughter is named Preema, you'll know why!) Starting in April 2011, my entire student loan payment will effectively disappear. Sallie Mae changed the rules and now considers the educational loan debt of husband and wives together, instead of separately. We will pay the same amount on two grad school debts that would have owed with one.

After my last pesky private school loan is payed off in 2012, I will no longer be a stay-at-home wife with a gigantic inverse dowry for her husband. (A girl who brings large debt into her marriage.) I'll just turn into the regular wife that clips grocery store coupons for profit, rather than sadly sending out gigantic chunks of her family's income to her student loan debts.

Considering the circumstances, I think that we'll somehow be okay with Tessy's medical bills this year.* God has very surprising ways to bless poor families that depend upon his providence to care for "extra" sick babies placed in their midst.

*For you Math whizzes out there I know that an extra forbearance time isn't technically free as I still have to pay the accrued interest on my loans. However, my interest rate is so low that it's practically free. Considering the price of hiring a babysitter for Baby Tess, and paying Catholic School fees for her three older siblings, my "interest" penalty for stay-at-home motherhood is nothing.


  1. It is truly stunning how the Lord provides...

    I am working on whittling down some pesky debts in the next month or 2 to show my hubby how serious I am about an international special needs adoption...

    Today I just received a call for a 2-3 week document review project that will bring in over $2000!

    I was able to put together family and friend care for my almost 2 and just 4 year old...I can get the big kids off to school first before I leave and my 17 yo gets hone at 3!

    I could not have planned the timing any better myself, our God is an awesome God indeed!

  2. I am so glad you got some good news about your students loans! They can be such a terrible burden. Can the hospital at least create a payment plan for whatever you owe, so you can avoid touching your retirement money?

    Also, I was wondering if you could write about how you transition your babies from co-sleeping to the crib. I'm half-trying to transition my 8 month old but it isn't going well.


  3. I am continually amazed at how the Lord always provides what is needed. Like you, I am a Catholic convert and I walked away from a legal career to be a stay-at-home mom. My husband and I also have massive student loan debt and other bills. Career paths are often limited for in-house attorneys, yet my husband consistently manages to find himself on the fast track and receives significant raises, even in a rotten economy. We have gone to having enough money to get by for 6 months after leaving my job, to 18 months, to not having to go back at all (unless I want to). All this even with my husband being out of work for a 9-month stretch since I have been home. It has surely been difficult, yet God continues to provide and help us make it all work.

    - Heather in KC

  4. Wow, Abby, that is wonderful. I'm also an ex-attorney turned stay at home mom, and I feel bad that my husband's hard-earned money has to pay off a degree I'm not using. But I ought to be thanking God that I can stay home in spite of the debt!

    Also, I second the request for advice on a gentle transition from co-sleeping to crib. We're attempting that with our 11 month old, and it's hard. Thanks!

  5. When we were first married, my husband begged and pleaded me to stay home and have babies right away. But I owed $20,000 in student loans (which was a lot more, years ago), and I was determined to pay it off, first. I hated not being to pay back what I had borrowed and used. So I used contraception for years, against his will, and risked destroying our marriage by continuously refusing my husband his only and dearest wish.

    But I personally have no regrets, and 20 years later, I have to say wouldn't do it any differently --so people have to follow their hearts, and trust in what they believe.

  6. Hey, this is becoming the official blog for attorneys-turned-stay-at-home-moms!

    Btw, just my .02 ( but as a mom of 6 I feel I have some helpful experience to share)...

    I wait to move my babies out of my bed until between 18 months and 2 years, for several reasons 1) they can understand the process when you explain it to them, 2) they have passed growth spurts and are well established on solids, and my kids get teeth early and 2 yo molars are usually in 3) by this point they want to be a "big kid" and are excited to move in with older siblings! I just moved my almost-2 yo in with her big sisters just after Christmas and it was almost effortless ( and she has slept under my armpit ever night since she was born in our bed at home!)

    Dr. Jay gordon's website has a really good process for night-weaning/moving a child over 1 into their own bed...
    I understand some moms really want this and frankly, if you are a SAHM and available to your child all day, go for it!

    But I am lazy ;-)

    Peace and blessings!

  7. I'm an attorney turned SAHM too. Glad to be in such good company! Hilary (from above comment)

  8. Is there a Saint Preema?

  9. Sorry, I've got NO advice on transiting out of co-sleeping arrangements. The plan that worked for my oldest two kids, failed on baby number 3. Mimi still needs someone to rub her back to fall asleep at age 3 and spends many nights in a sleeping bag on our floor.

    Tessy came home being comfortable in a crib from age 3 weeks old because of her experience in the NICU.

    My favorite prayer for sleepless nights is from St. Thomas Moore, "Lord give us a good night rest and if we can't get sleep tonight, then make us cheerful in the morning."

    St. Peter Alcatera (St. Teresa of Avila's spiritual advisor) said that overcoming lack of sleep is the hardest thing for the body to fast from and thus the easiest route to becoming a saint. So sorry that our little babies are also pushing us all into major sleep fasts. When you are up at late night, me, Jon, Baby Tess and Baby Maria are right with you!

  10. St. Thomas Moore is the patron saint of attorneys, so he fits right in here... Along with the fact that between his 2 wives (he remarried a much younger woman after his beloved first wife died) he had something like 14 children!

  11. What a awesome miracle! The Lord is a great provider.

  12. Wonderful!! I hope you get some good news about the medical bills soon too.

    I know a young woman who is currently a missionary with FOCUS and is intending to go onto law school and I think of you often when I talk to her. I don't want to be too discouraging in her choices, but yet I would like to be frank and encourage her to think about potential future responsibilities too. A hard thing... I wish we didn't have an educational model where you are supposed to do all your education up front. But I digress! Thanks for sharing the good news.

  13. I've come the the conclusion after many years that the educational system is a big racket, and that student loans are evil. They really make the beginning of life hard.

    Because student loans are so easily and readily attained, it gives the schools an easy way to jack up prices of everything because the kids will be paying for the next 20 years while they can barely afford a house. This is another reason why being a SAHM is so difficult for couples to swing now.

    I can really see the wisdom of my mom wanting me not to have any loans, and my friend who took only the classes she could afford at the time even if it took a few more years to graduate. She has no debt and is about to graduate with her doctorate. Granted, she is 40, but she was able to be a SAHM to her kids while her hubby worked.

    My son is 15 and we are going to do what it takes to make sure he has no loans so he can start his life without that incredible burden on his back.

    I read the blog of an attorney awhile back who especially raked law schools and the Bar over the coals for creating so many hoops you have to go through in order become an attorney. Instead of becoming an apprentice at a law firm and spending time doing real cases (and making a paycheck) and learning to be an attorney then take the test, you have to put yourself in $100,000 worth of debt, waste time in school not really learning to be an attorney, then take the test, then finally learn to be an attorney, only to find out maybe it is not for you. It's a big racket. And I'm not a conspiracy type person but that is what our educational system has become. A big business with little care if our kids suffer.

  14. And your Bunny is so cute! Our prayers were answered.