When childbirth becomes a financial stress

On December 31, 2011 right before midnight, I took the test of excitement and new beginnings and found out that I was pregnant. While this news was joyous in nature, it was soon marred by uncertainty and harsh reality.

After my test, I followed up with a doctor’s visit a month later, as was expected, and soon learned that the cost for this bundle of joy would be around $12,000 to $15,000 plus. My husband was a student in school and while I did have insurance, I did not understand the terminology behind it.

Speaking to Jill, the financial advisor lady, I was told, “Since you have such a high deductible you will need to pay $450 a month for just the doctor’s visits and care, then once you meet your deductible you will owe a co-insurance portion owing up to $8,000 to $10,000 for the hospital room and delivery.”

I was at a loss. I had no idea what a deductible, co-insurance or an out-of-pocket max was and even still I would have still owed a total of $8,000 until I would have hit my out-of-pocket maximum, which I didn’t realize until after giving birth.

After attending that one doctor’s appointment, I did not go back simply because I knew with my $37,500/year salary that there was no way I would be able to afford this birth. I didn’t go to the doctor for another 6 months. I was ashamed and felt like a horrible mother because I knew with these birthing bills alone I could not afford this child. What made things worse was that when people found out that I was not going to the doctor they would question my decisions and add to my guilt.

After my boss found out that I was not going to the doctor, I began doing my research on doctors and hospitals to find which one would be the most cost effective one for me. I still had no idea what a deductible and co-insurance was and this lack of knowledge of terminology added to my frustration since the only thing I seemed to hear from doctors’ offices was that I owed $3,000 to $4,000 upfront for just the doctor’s fees. I was beginning to think I should have this baby at Walmart like Natalie Portman in Where the Heart Is.

I finally Googled natural birth centers since I already knew that I did not want an epidural or C-section or anything extra just because I was scared to add costs to the already high cost of me doing most of the work and pushing a baby out of my body. I even joked in seriousness to my friends and husband, “If I start screaming for an epidural just tell me it’ll be $10,000 and I will shut-up.”

So I called birthing centers and learned that for the doctor’s visits and birth I would owe only $900. This is because it was a very minimalist birth, me, the midwife, her assistant and then the baby. Granted there was no medication and I left the birthing center within 4 hours of birth, but now I can wear a t-shirt saying “I Survived Child Birth” and I ended up owing a lot less money for the birth allowing me more money to spend on diapers, clothes and toys.

A year later, I read an article about Kate Middleton who gave birth and it only cost her about $15,000 and this was with all the stops being pulled. This made me wonder why our health care system is so dysfunctional that something so miraculous as childbirth becomes another stress for American parents-to-be.

Ashley Lane was a runner-up, 2013 Costs of Care Essay Contest.

When childbirth becomes a financial stress

This post originally appeared on the Costs of Care Blog. Costs of Care is a 501c3 nonprofit that is transforming American health care delivery by empowering patients and their caregivers to deflate medical bills. Follow us on Twitter @costsofcare.

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