For most English, Australian or Canadian parents the cost of healthcare doesn't add any weight to the mental load of parenthood. But for Americans the cost of healthcare is top of mind all the time and it is weighing mothers down.
As Motherly previously reported, the cost of medical care in America means some mothers go into debt for giving birth and it was a hot topic on Twitter last week after Elizabeth Bruenig, an opinion writer at The Washington Post, tweeted a photo of her $8,000 birth bill.
Parents flooded Twitter with stories of shocking hospital bills, and politicians took notice of the viral moment, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez retweeting Bruenig and Senator Bernie Sanders tweeting that the average cost of childbirth in the United States is $32,000, a number he hopes to reduce to zero with Medicare for All.
Bruenig was happy to see politicians taking note of the stories flooding her mentions. "I think the response indicates that lots and lots of parents experience anxiety and stress over this particular set of costs. And I'm definitely heartened by the response from politicians like AOC and Bernie. I think hospital bills are some of the most politically interesting documents of our era, and I'm glad to see them getting attention as we debate how to fix our broken healthcare system," she explained in a statement to Motherly.
Over the weekend Sanders continued the online conversation by posing a question: "What's the most absurd medical bill you have ever received?"
Many of the stories in those replies were horrifying, and the stories of the financial costs associated with pregnancy and infant loss proves how there is no room for compassion in the current system, and how grieving parents are burdened by bills that take a toll not only on their bank accounts, but on their mental health.
The stories are similar to one shared recently by Business Insider's Dave Mosher. He tweeted the receipts for his family's both costs, which came in at more than $54,000, despite it being a healthy pregnancy and uncomplicated delivery, according to Mosher.
Dr. Jen Gunter, a social-media savvy OB-GYN who's been called "Twitter's resident gynecologist," replied to Sen. Sanders with her own personal story showing that even those who work within and understand the system can be blindsided by hospital bills—and that even a small bill can be devastating.
Years ago Gunter gave birth to three sons, triplets. It's a heartbreaking story Gunter has recalled on her blog, in her book and in a recent piece for the New York Times. Only two of her three boys lived. The oldest, Aiden, was born 24 days before his brothers, at a gestational age which his parents and medical team knew he could not survive.
"As Aidan's parents we had decided that invasive procedures, like intravenous lines and a breathing tube in a one-pound body, would be pointless medical care. And so, as we planned, Aidan died," Gunter wrote in the Times.
This weekend on Twitter Gunter explained what happened when she was finally discharged from the hospital after her traumatic births. "When I got home this $600 bill came for Aidan. It was addressed to "Parent of Aidan XXX"...and for a second I thought his death was a dream and I got very hopeful he was alive and then confused. And then very sad," she explained.
She continued: "I had sepsis and was just home maybe 3 days. My other two were in the NICU. I really thought for a moment he was alive. Sigh."
The $600 wasn't insurmountable, but it wasn't a fair amount as her son did not get medical care. Soon Gunter was on the phone, arguing with her own hospital with people who "didn't believe me that I let him die without medical care."
This was before Twitter, so she "wrote a very threatening e-mail to the hospital CEO" and threatened to go to the newspaper.
Aiden's brothers are in high school now, Twitter is a thing and their mom is an internet star. So much has changed in the years since his death, but sadly, the medical system that burdens and bankrupts Americans has not.
We are grateful to high-profile women like Bruenig and Gunter for sharing their birth bill stories. Birth should not bankrupt parents, and grieving parents should not be burdened by bills reminding them of their loss. New mothers have so much to think about, the cost of healthcare should not be one of them.
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