When I was pregnant with my first child, we apparently had it all planned out.
My mom helped us find lots of second-hand, barely used nursery furniture, I sewed dupioni silk curtains, and she helped me make custom crib bedding. My husband installed planks and trim on the walls of the nursery and we painted the upper part of the nursery a perfect, gender neutral robin’s egg blue.
And with the help of several baby showers, we filled our daughter’s closet with months of baby clothes and diapers. We had socks and bottles, a stroller and a car seat. When the big day finally arrived, we were apparently prepared for anything.
That is, except for the actual cost of childbirth.
We were lucky, through my work’s health insurance, we had paid a few hundred dollars a month for the first 20 weeks of pregnancy to cover our share of the prenatal care I received, plus the cost of the obstetrician during the delivery which was not covered by the insurance.
But when our newborn daughter was a few months old, we started getting bills we weren’t prepared for: a separate bill for the anesthetist for the epidural that I decided to get at the last minute. There were the costs of staying in the hospital for two days, the cost of the care our new baby received, and the fees of other medical professionals who helped us during this time. Because our daughter had jaundice and we had to come back for repeat weigh-ins and bilirubin blood tests within a week or two of the birth, plus meet with a lactation consultant, the costs piled up.
I knew the birth was expensive, but we weren’t quite prepared. Even still, we were lucky – we ended up paying about $1,500 after the birth – which I knew was a bargain compared to the average $9,000 to $12,000 for a vaginal delivery in 2009.
But as costs have risen for everything in recent years, the cost of childbirth has skyrocketed. According to the Health Care Cost Institute, on average, a vaginal birth in the United States costs about $14,000. If you need a C-section to give birth or face other complications, the costs increase even more. The average cost of a C-section today in the United States is around $25,000.
Costs vary from state to state, with southern states generally being cheaper than places like California or Oregon – but southern states also have higher maternal mortality rates. If a mother experiences something like a miscarriage that requires medical intervention or even a stillbirth, the medical costs can be as high as if the child was born healthy. In my personal experience, nothing makes the horrible pain of losing a pregnancy worse than having to pay expensive medical bills for a baby you never brought home.
Globally, the United States has the second highest cost of childbirth, second only to Japan, where new parents pay an average of $61,800 to give birth.
So what should American mothers do? Insurance helps, but many parents even struggle to pay copayments or post-birth bills when they hit four or five figures. You can save for childbirth, which many people do, or set up a payment plan with the hospital, which my husband and I did after our first child. Some young adults are waiting to have children or decide not to have children at all.
But with costs rising with inflation and families already cutting costs where they can, we need to do more for new mothers. When the United States has the second highest cost of childbirth in the world and one of the only countries in the world without paid maternity leave, it’s a sign that we can — and must — do better.
Our future generation depends on it.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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