I haven’t written in a long time because the things I wanted to write about had to be kept secret for just a little longer. I still have some secrets, but those will come out in time.
Not only did my husband, dog, cat and I move from Encinitas to Minneapolis, but there was someone else with us too. Three days after giving my two weeks’ notice at my former employer, I found out I am pregnant. I thought I just felt like crap and was stressed about moving. After wondering where my period was for 3 1/2 weeks, my husband convinced me to buy a home pregnancy test after almost throwing up at the table at our favorite Chinese restaurant. I locked myself in the bathroom, read the directions twice, and peed on the stick. I waited, still locked in the bathroom. I forget what the lines looked like, but they matched with the “you’re pregnant” lines in the instructions. I think the first thing I said was “fuck!” I peed on another stick, waited, and got the same result. I finally let my husband in. He had a big, knowing smile on his face and gave me a big hug. I went through angry, happy and freaked out all in one minute in that hug. I knew everything would be fine, but I felt like some control had been taken away from me.
I called my clinic the next morning and told them I’m pregnant, “now what?” I learned that clinics in California consider a positive home pregnancy test proof-of-pregnancy. The nurse said to come in at 10-12 weeks. “Everything is normal right? Like, you don’t expect anything about your pregnancy to be high-risk?” I told her no, but how the heck would I know. I told her in 10-12 weeks I would be in a different state, she said to just go to a clinic there. Well, OK. I guess I was expecting more fanfare with this phone call. Before we hung up she hurriedly said “start taking a prenatal vitamin!” A-ha! I’m smart, I HAVE been taking a prenatal. I figured we would have kids someday, so all the time before that is prenatal, right? So, at least I was slightly prepared.
Oh yeah, I quit smoking that morning.
See, the first 4 weeks of the baby’s life was quite celebratory. We were on our honeymoon. When we came back, we were still “on” our honeymoon. Everything deserved to be celebrated as we counted down our last days in California. Sometimes a little too much, and that’s where the cigarettes came in. I had picked up the habit again right before the wedding. I was a little stressed out, and friends encouraged me that this was an OK time to pick it up again, just for a little bit.
Not to worry, I’ve been cigarette, alcohol, caffeine and Claritin-free since Monday April 16th. I had to look on my calendar for that date. The day before it was the Tony Hawk Twitter Hunt, in which I ran down the hill from our house in an attempt to out-run some kids for a box of sweet gear from Tony Hawk. I felt like shit after that, but I just thought my period was finally coming. Oh nature.
Fast-forward to our arrival in Minnesota. I figured I would just pay the COBRA fee to extend my previous employer’s health insurance to cover my first prenatal visit in Minnesota. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, because I had seen the clinic’s name on my friend’s ultrasound photos on Facebook. I received the COBRA info in the mail, and was shocked to learn that my insurance carrier, Kaiser Permanente, does not have any facilities in Minnesota. The closest is in Ohio.
I figured we’d just go to the clinic I wanted to go to and just pay out of pocket. My husband encouraged me to apply for state assistance. We ran around town to find the Public Health office and tracked down the paperwork. I applied for just me, figuring that it would “ruin” my chances of coverage by including my husband. I received word two weeks later that I was covered under Minnesota Medical Assistance at no cost to me. I made my first prenatal appointment, which felt like a fire drill. The clinic got me in right away and I received the full treatment – pelvic exam, ultrasound and bloodwork. Finally, I had “proof” that there really was a baby inside of me and it was growing normally and I’m healthy too.
I saved the first bill for the scrapbook, $665. My obligation – $0. What a relief. It made my heart hurt for the women out there who do not know what assistance is available to them, which causes them to prolong getting very important prenatal care.
I thought I was out of the woods and now pregnancy and everything related to it would be a breeze! Then, my husband broke his finger playing catch with my dad at a grad party. We had to go to the ER. Geez, I should’ve put him on the application for Medical Assistance huh?
Then, I got the job I wanted! Great health insurance plan, premiums paid, etc. Not so fast. Did you know that pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition and can be excluded from coverage? Did you know that labor and delivery is generally not covered until you’ve been with the insurance plan for 12-18 months? Even though the Affordable Care Act passed two days after I got my new job, it didn’t help me much. I later found out that my insurance carrier would cover my prenatal visits because I was covered by health insurance for the previous year, which voided the “waiting period.” They will cover about half of my labor and delivery due to this previous coverage as well. If I had a gap of more than 1 month in coverage in the past year, that wouldn’t have been the case.
Now, everything is good, right? Nope. What about maternity leave and the Family Medical Leave Act? In the United States, employers with 50 or more employees have to offer unpaid and protected leave of 12 weeks to women after they have their baby. Some states have their own laws in addition to FMLA. Minnesota says that employers with 21 or more employees have to offer unpaid and protected leave of 6 weeks. I work for an office of less than 12 people. There’s no leave program, so I’m carving out my own path. Another note with FMLA is that you have to be employed with the same company for the previous year in order to be eligible. How antiquated is that?
So ladies and gentlemen: try to plan ahead. The United States wants you to work for a company of at least 50 employees for over a year before you think about having a baby. Not only that, make sure you know what your health insurance plan says about coverage: do you have to be on the plan for 12-18 months for labor and delivery to be covered? Find out!
Luckily, my company has a Cafeteria Plan (kind of like an HSA) for health expenses. I maxed that out for the remainder of this year as a savings account for labor and delivery expenses. I plan to ask the hospital if I can get a discount for paying up-front.
I think I’ve figured it all out. It was emotionally difficult and I felt like such an idiot at times. I have talked to a lot of my girlfriends, who I know are very smart, and they didn’t know about any of this.
The process thus far has made me feel a bit resentful of America’s antiquated ways. We are not even in the top third for maternity leave in the world. I believe that this directly relates to many behavioral issues with children. When mothers are not able or not encouraged to stay home with their children for even a few weeks to bond, it can set the stage for future problems. I’m really looking forward to that early bonding time and breastfeeding. I’ve been growing these grocery stores on my chest that will feed my kid for free!
My cousin in Canada is also pregnant, so it’s been “fun” to compare notes. She gets almost a year of maternity leave, most of it paid and protected. Even the books the hospital gave her are more “adult.” The books I received from the clinic in the US do not even show anatomy drawings of what is happening to my body. Hey, I know how I got myself in this position, so I’ve seen “parts.” I don’t need glossed over descriptions or words other than the correct anatomy terms to tell me what’s going on!
I hope that sharing my story helps someone to get prenatal care just a little quicker. Or helps someone be more assertive at work to find out more about their health plan and company policies. Because, believe me, my Google searches on these topics were pretty fruitless, leading mostly to laughable Yahoo! Answers pages.
Please add your lessons-learned in the comments, I’m sure I haven’t figured it ALL out yet.