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Holmen author Christy Wopat navigates the loss of her infant twins in new memoir

The comments were horrible, from the trite to the flippant, but the worst came from a relative:

“Surely there was something wrong with them,” the woman said. “They probably would have been serial killers.”

Offensive in any circumstance, the words were all the more distressing given their context — deep in the mourning process and unprepared for the misguided attempts at sympathy from family and friends, Christy Wopat had just lost her newborn twins.

Wopat

“I wanted to yell and fight back,” Wopat recalled. “You’re the one grieving, but you have to be the bigger person.”

Remaining a pillar in the face of tragedy is an impossible task, and through her blog, titled “Um, You Guys?” Wopat shared her emotional and mental struggle through dozens of posts, chronicled in a new memoir, “Almost a Mother: Love, Loss, and Finding Your People When Your Baby Dies.”

Wopat, 36, of Holmen, began writing her first book, scheduled for release in March, six years after Sophie and Aiden died April 2009, within 24 hours of their birth. A first-time mother, Wopat’s water broke at 21 weeks and she was put on bed rest until, three weeks later, an infection in her second placenta sent her into early labor. Sophie was born first, and Wopat was in the midst of birthing Aiden when nurses told her daughter would likely not survive. Twelve hours later, Sophie died. Her twin brother, though plagued with health concerns, was expected to pull through, but died the next afternoon. Wopat held them both in their last moments.

“I remember thinking, ‘This can’t be possible’ Wopat recalled. “It didn’t seem real. I was in the maternity room and I could hear the other babies crying. I was just angry, and I really wanted to deny it.”

Sophie and Aiden were cremated, and Wopat turned to books to find comfort, only to be disappointed with the clinical and placating selections. Nothing validated the resentment she felt at seeing an expectant mother or the jealousy of seeing a happy baby in her parent’s arms.

“I couldn’t find the book that said it’s OK to want to punch the pregnant woman at Target,” Wopat said.

Months passed, but the sorrow and anger remained, yet the support dwindled. Wopat chose not to return to finish out the school year at Evergreen Elementary, where she teaches fourth grade, and the decision was met with criticism from some. One colleague sent an email stating, “You really need to get over this and come back.”

“I was scared of going out,” Wopat said. “I didn’t know what people would say.”

While she dreaded the inconsiderate responses from some, the silence of others was far more distressing.

“It’s worse when you say nothing — I always wanted to talk about it,” Wopat said. “You get this feeling people are sick of the sadness and they get uncomfortable around it. They want it to stop.”

Almost A Mother by Christy Wopat

Despite, or perhaps because of her loss, Wopat became “obsessed” with getting pregnant but terrified when she learned she was expecting again. The pregnancy was healthy, but along with her joy she was both fearful about her daughter’s safety and plagued with guilt.

“I was so happy, but people assumed her being here would take away the grief, but it kind of made it bigger, because I was experiencing all the things I would have done with Sophie and Aiden,” Wopat said.

Through comments on her blog and social media page, Wopat discovered other mothers were equally conflicted, and relieved to find her fears and thoughts reciprocated. Writing, and the relationships she formed with readers, helped begin the healing process, though Wopat notes, “It’s the loss of an entire future — it never, ever goes away.”

The conversations she had, and the catharsis that came from them, encouraged Wopat to compose her memoir, which details the right and wrong things to say when it comes to loss, and how to respond, and the power of connecting with those who have experienced loss themselves.

“The best thing you can ask is, ‘Do you want to talk? What is it that you need?’” Wopat said.

Early reviews of “Almost a Mother” have been positive. Rachel Redhouse, director of Empty Cradle, a nonprofit based in California that offers support to parents who have lost a infant, said “The raw experiences and emotions (Wopat) shares are so relatable and heartwarming in the sense that you know you are not alone in your suffering and grief.”

Robynne Knight, a fellow author whose own daughter was stillborn, recommends the book for “anyone who has lost a baby or babies, and especially to friends or loved ones seeking to understand what it’s like to grieve the loss of a child at any age or gestation.”

Wopat, who is hosting a “Writing Through Grief” workshop next month at Pearl St. Books, hopes her memoir will be of comfort, and inspire others to take the often difficult step of actively confronting and sorting through their grief, be it through therapy, talking or writing.

“You have to work at it,” Wopat said. “But there will be a day when the light comes.”

Sophie and Aiden are still very much in her heart, and her children, Avery, now 7, and Evan, 5, at times ask about their siblings. Wopat navigates the hard questions as best she can, honestly but carefully, and the family finds little ways to honor the twins’ memories.

“(Our kids) know Sophie and Aiden are a part of the family,” Wopat said. “If we throw a coin in the fountain, we throw in two more.”


News
Where the work-for-welfare movement is heading

WASHINGTON (TNS) — As President Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Congress set out to impose tougher restrictions on welfare, their conservative allies across the country are trying to help them accomplish their mission, state by state.

Republican governors and state legislators are moving ahead with proposals that would make it harder for people to get and keep welfare benefits and restrict what benefits they get. Measures already have been floated in about a dozen states, and, policy analysts say, what happens in states in the coming year will serve as an indicator of what’s to come nationally.

Some state lawmakers are proposing new work requirements for people receiving food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, and for people receiving government-subsidized health insurance under Medicaid. Others want welfare recipients to pass drug tests. Many are looking to crack down on fraud by requiring recipients to prove their eligibility more frequently and with better documentation. Efforts to ban the purchase of junk food and soda with food stamps are also ongoing.

In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker last week called a special session for lawmakers to consider a package of draft legislation that would impose more restrictions on food stamps and Medicaid. His proposal and many others are driven by the philosophy that government benefits should only be temporary, and that people should earn the benefits if they can.

“Governor Walker has long believed that welfare should be more like a trampoline and not a hammock,” said Amy Hasenberg, Walker’s press secretary, in a statement to Stateline.

But Democratic leaders and welfare advocates say the restrictions Walker and others are pushing would strip people of the support that is allowing them to scrape by, and drive them deeper into poverty.

“These programs work,” said David Lee, executive director of Feeding Wisconsin, a statewide network of food banks. “They help people get the nutrition and health care they need in order to live, and work, and support their families. And that’s what we need to focus on.”

The movement to restrict welfare programs is being driven by conversations at the federal level. But Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C., said much of the change in the coming year will occur as states experiment with new ways to deliver their programs.

What happens in states, she said, “may be a bellwether for things to come down the road nationally.”

Republican governors say they are invigorated by the Trump administration’s recent promises to give states more control over how they run programs, including welfare.

The federal government sets rules for administering both food stamps and Medicaid, and many states for years have sought permission to impose greater restrictions on eligibility, such as work requirements and drug testing.

The administration this month signaled it will follow through on its promise, when for the first time it approved a request from a state — Kentucky — to require able-bodied, working-age Medicaid recipients to work, go to school, get job training or volunteer in order to receive benefits.

Ten other states have submitted similar requests, and at least another — Ohio — is in the planning stages. Now that the administration has granted one of the requests, policy analysts and welfare advocates say many more states are soon to follow.

“It will soon become the standard and the norm in the United States of America. And America will be better for it,” said Republican Gov. Matt Bevin at a news conference this month to announce that Kentucky’s request had been approved.

People already have to meet work requirements in order to receive housing assistance and cash assistance through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. And in the past five years, most states have reinstated work requirements for able-bodied adults without children receiving food stamps. The new proposals would require some Medicaid recipients to meet work requirements for the first time, and would expand the requirements for food stamp recipients.

The goal is to “get the idle population back into the labor force,” to overcome the workforce shortages that exist in many states, said Jason Turner, executive director of the Secretaries’ Innovation Group, a coalition of about 20 human service and workforce secretaries from states with Republican governors.

Creating standard rules across welfare programs, such as work requirements, sets expectations for recipients, Turner said. The group has proposed requiring able-bodied, working-age adults without children to meet work requirements for food stamps immediately, instead of after the three-month buffer period now permitted under federal law.

The group also supports implementing certain work requirements for some parents, which more states are considering.

Maine adopted a new rule this past summer that requires parents who receive food stamps to register with a state service that can help them find a job. And Wisconsin is testing a program next year that would require parents in some regions to meet certain work requirements. Walker has proposed making those requirements permanent and statewide.

Walker also is proposing to increase the food stamp work requirement from 20 hours a week to 30.

The idea of stricter work requirements has long been pushed by the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group based in Florida with staff in 14 states. Its advocacy work, policy analysts say, is driving many of the proposals for welfare restrictions in state legislatures.

Jon Ingram, the organization’s vice president of research, said he expects more states to impose Medicaid work requirements this year.

The ability to impose the work requirements may prompt leaders in conservative states to revive plans to expand Medicaid for the poor. State lawmakers in Kansas and Utah told The AP, for example, that Trump’s shift gives their states more flexibility. “I have a lot of confidence that they (the Trump administration) will be willing to work with us and approve this,” said Utah state Rep. Robert Spendlove, a Republican pushing for a partial expansion in his state.

In Kentucky, Bevin said the new Medicaid program, which offers workforce training and job search help, will empower recipients to change their lives.

Kentuckians want “an opportunity not to be put into a dead-end entitlement trap but rather to be given a path forward and upward so they can do for themselves,” Bevin said.

The Kentucky program, and the work requirements proposed in other states, wouldn’t apply to most people on Medicaid. Nearly two-thirds of the 68.2 million people on Medicaid would not be subject to the new rules because they are children, elderly or disabled.

The remaining third — about 24.6 million — are working-age adults without disabilities. But the work requirements also wouldn’t apply to many of them, who already work or don’t work for reasons that would make them exempt from the new rules — such as being caregivers or attending school, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

If the goal is to help people get jobs, policy analysts from left-leaning organizations say, work requirements won’t help. Instead, it will cause them to lose their health insurance, sending them into a downward spiral, said Judith Solomon, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“They won’t get the blood pressure medication, they won’t get their diabetes supplies,” she said, “and then they get sicker, and it’s worse.”

Having subsidized health insurance actually decreases the risk of job loss, according to a recent study by researchers from multiple universities.

In another study, which examined work requirements under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that requiring recipients to work did not significantly reduce the share of families living in poverty in most cases. And, the study found, recipients facing work requirements were likelier to live in deep poverty than above the poverty line.

While many state officials want fewer people to need Medicaid, the challenge is ensuring that the changes really help people get back to work, said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors.

“Are you cutting off your nose and saying, ‘Hey, my face weighs less. That’s a good thing,’” Salo said. “Or are you saying, ‘Hey, we are building a culture of volunteering, of working, and leading people to springboard out of poverty and into a situation where they can get health coverage elsewhere.’”

Salo expects legal challenges to the work requirements, and while more states may submit waiver requests, many may wait to see how those cases play out.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

Along with work requirements, more states may look to require welfare recipients to pass drug tests. Historically, states have had permission to impose the requirement on people receiving cash assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. At least 15 states drug test for that program, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But in March 2017, Trump signed legislation that allows states to require drug testing for residents to receive unemployment compensation. And some states want to test applicants or recipients of other forms of assistance.

Proposals this year in Illinois, South Carolina and Wisconsin would require some or all food stamp recipients to pass drug tests.

In South Carolina, state Rep. Mike Burns, a Republican who is sponsoring the measure, said spending public dollars on people who may be on drugs is bad policy that rewards bad behavior. “I’m not dishing out the folks in South Carolina’s money when in essence you aren’t rehabbing and treating the illness, you are just perpetuating it,” he said.

Many welfare advocates say drug testing won’t pay off. A report last year from ThinkProgress, a progressive journalism project of the Center for American Progress, found that the 15 states that test TANF applicants or recipients spent $1.3 million for drug testing. Out of 250,000 applicants and recipients, 2,826 were drug tested, and 369 of them tested positive.

Other proposals would restrict welfare benefits further.

Lawmakers in some states are continuing to propose bans on buying junk food with food stamps. But this is something that would require federal permission, and these requests have been denied in recent years. While some policy analysts thought the Trump administration might approve the requests, Maine’s was denied last week.

Other efforts focus on preventing fraud. The Foundation for Government Accountability continues to push for legislation that, in part, would allow states to hire contractors to check eligibility more frequently and using more sources. Bills already have been introduced this year in Alabama, Indiana, Michigan and West Virginia.

Walker and others are driven by the philosophy that government benefits should only be temporary, and that people should earn the benefits if they can.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE 

Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez (42) has his shot blocked by Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) in the first half on Sunday in Chicago.


Local
Western Wisconsin led nation in farm bankruptcies in 2017

MADISON — New federal court data shows the Western District of Wisconsin had the highest number of farm bankruptcies in the country last year.

The Western District had 28 Chapter 12 bankruptcy cases filed in 2017, a chapter specifically for family farmers or fishermen. The district includes 44 counties and covers more than half of the geographic area of the state.

The Eastern District of Wisconsin had 17 cases and the Minnesota District had 19 cases. There are 94 federal court districts in the United States.

“The increase in Chapter 12 bankruptcies is certainly an anomaly when you compare it to the other types of bankruptcies,” said Christopher Seelen, an Eau Claire attorney who represents creditors in bankruptcy court. “People seem to have jobs, and the economy seems to be going well for most folks. Unfortunately for some of these farmers who are suffering through these low grain prices, the economy is not going as well for them.”

Low commodity prices for corn, soybeans and milk mean Wisconsin farmers are earning less, while input costs have remained steady or increased.

“Rent per acre is a major contributing factor,” said Rachel Dux, vice president of corn exports for Compeer Financial, a farm credit cooperative. “We just haven’t seen them correct, if you will, to what the commodity prices are.”

Dux said some farms have taken on debt since commodity prices dropped in 2015. But she said others already had debt from purchasing equipment or other investments when prices were high.

“Some of that debt is catching up to them with the prices falling. We’re not seeing that income level that can handle the debt loads that they have,” Dux said.

Paul Mitchell, director of the Renk Agribusiness Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said there could be long-term impacts from more farms filing for bankruptcy or just going out of business.

While farmland values increased by 9.5 percent in Wisconsin last year, Mitchell said local prices could drop if large amounts of farmland starts becoming available.

“If it causes the price of land to come down, to become negative, then other people’s balance sheets can get goofed up,” Mitchell said. “They’ve got a lot of equity in their farm, then the land values come down and their equity starts to disappear. That’s a big concern.”

And Mitchell said more farmers are opening up lines of credit with seed or equipment companies instead of traditional agriculture lenders, a trend he’s worried could be leading to more bankruptcy cases.

Seelen said the more lenders a farm has, the more difficult it can be to resolve disputes outside of bankruptcy court.

“If you just had one lender, maybe that lender would be willing to let you ride it out for another year. But if you’ve got six or seven different lenders on different pieces of equipment, its difficult to keep juggling all of those balls in the air,” Seelen said. “Someone’s not going to get paid, they’re going to try to take their equipment back and you’re going to have to file for bankruptcy to try to stop that.”

As commodity price forecasts show little sign of improvement, Seelen said the state will likely see more farm bankruptcies in 2018.