I gave birth in the United States.
It was not easy.
Moving from Canada, I wrongly assumed that the United States-the so-called most powerful country in the world-would surely take care of its most precious and innocent-newborns.
I was wrong.
In Canada, mothers receive one year of maternity leave, their jobs are held for them, and all healthcare during pregnancy and after is fully covered.
The technician squirted the cool, clear gel on my growing belly and the picture of the little being living inside me, showed up on the black and white screen. “Do you want to know what you are having?” she asked.
“It’s a boy.”
Tears of joy rolled down my plump cheeks. I knew I was having a boy. I could just feel it, but it was so nice to have my mother’s intuition confirmed.
But my excitement quickly faded when I learned the hard truth about maternity leave in my newfound home. Three months.
The United States is the only developed country on the planet without paid maternity leave. This means that companies do not have to pay you a dime after you have a baby and neither does the government.
The silver lining for me was that I could take three measly months off from work to be home with my precious boy.
With all the extra vacation and sick days I had saved up, I could probably extend it to five months.
“You have to take all your vacation time and sick days during your maternity leave, so that you will get paid,” said my HR. “You can’t take any time beyond the three months, otherwise you will loose your health insurance.”
My heart sank. Only three months to nurse and nurture a newborn?
“But if I come back to work after three months and don’t have any vacation or sick days, what do I do if my son gets sick?” I pleaded.
The HR lady shrugged her shoulders in agreement. She had moved here from France and shared my frustration over the American system.
In the United States, healthcare is a business. Insurance companies and hospitals can charge whatever they want for health procedures.
Giving birth was going to cost me.
I called the insurance and the hospital and begged them to try to give me an idea of how much this financial transaction was going to cost. “The price depends on if you have a C-section or a vaginal birth.”
I looked down at my belly, rubbing it, whispering, “You’re so cute,” to my baby unseen. A feeling of fear also gripped me. How was this tiny human going to come out of my body?
The miracle of life still amazes me.
A little over a week before my due date, I felt an energy radiating from my back to my front. It kept happening throughout the day. “I think I’m going to have the baby soon,” I told my mother-in-law.
I had lost my mucus plug.
The next two days, the contractions continued. “You are going to have the baby tonight or tomorrow,” said the doctor as she prodded down below. “I can feel his hair.”
The time between my contractions was decreasing.
That night, I went to the hospital.
They lay me flat on my back and hooked me up to monitors and machines. “Arch your back and hold still,” they said as they injected the epidural into my delicate spine. A catheter inserted too.
I felt numb.
“Let’s break your water,” the doctor suggested next.
The contractions stalled. The baby’s heart rate increased. It all felt so clinical. So far from what nature intended.
A parade of nurses and doctors felt my cervix, announcing how many centimeters I had dilated.
I was shivering uncontrollably. My skin felt like it was crawling with bugs. The epidural was wreaking havoc on my body.
“Try to sleep,” the nurse said.
The next morning, the doctor said I had not dilated enough and that I would need a C-section since they had broken my amniotic sack.
More drugs were pumped into my body. I felt woozy as they wheeled me into the operating room. Bright lights blazed into eyes. I cried from fear because my own Mom was still in Canada, exhaustion because I had barely slept and excitement. I was going to finally meet my baby boy.
“You’re just going to feel some pressure now,” the surgeon said as they cut open my abdomen, rearranging my insides to slit my uterus and yank out the newborn.
The baby cried. His lungs were strong.
Once checked and swaddled, they brought him to my side. “I love you dhiko,” I said as I kissed his rosy cheek.
“Take him away from me,” I urged. “I am going to throw up!”
I passed out.
Later, I awoke in the recovery area. “Where’s my baby?” I asked immediately.
My eyeballs were rolling around in my head like a pair of marbles.
I resumed vomitting and passed out again.
The drugs seemed to linger in my healing body for several days. “Stay still or you can have a stroke,” cautioned the nurse as she picked at my stitches.
I didn’t shower for days. My breasts sore and bulging with the incoming milk. My son guzzled the colostrum hungrily. A man’s appetite.
One night, when my son lay next to me, I looked down at him and felt a mild panic. I am responsible for this child for the rest of his life.
When he lay on my chest, the heavenly smell of milk wafted into my nose. His cheeks were the softest velvet I had ever felt against mine.
My precious boy. I love you.
Days later, I came home. Bills started filling my mailbox. One from the hospital for sleeping in their bed. One from the anesthesiologist for pumping me up with drugs. Another from the surgeon for cutting me open (hospitals make more money when they perform C-sections). Another from the gynecologist. And yet another from the pediatrician. Even four years after my son was born, I received a bill for $500 from the hospital for some outstanding charge. I fought them, but they said that if I didn’t pay up, it would affect my credit.
In total I paid close to $6000 USD to give birth to my priceless child.
I will never understand how a country that claims to be so great, can put a price on human health and life.
And even though I love my son more than the air I breathe, the experience of having a C-section in this country and the bills that ensued, made me fearful of ever going through the same experience again. In the United States, being born is a business.
*According to the Center for Disease Control, 32% of births in the U.S. are C-section
What was your birth experience in the country where you live?