Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: humor

PoP # 12: Preschool Graduation Humor

When you pay $$,$$$ for 4.5 years of full-time, year-round infant/toddler/preschool daycare, you’re damn right we get a tassel.

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There goes your college fund, Kid. Love you. Hope you had fun.

Just kidding.

We never had plans for a college fund. That’s why your mom teaches at a university.

For the win. Again.

PoP # 11: Where Do All My Hair Ties Go?

“It needed a seat belt, Mama.”

 

Pieces of Parenthood # 5: Sock Plinko

You know the saying, “It’s always the things that aren’t toys that they play with the most?”

Yeah.

In that spirit, I give you, “Sock Plinko.”

For ages:

  • 0+

Time: Variable

Items needed:

  • Sock
  • Shoe rack

 

 

Pieces of Parenthood # 3: “The Most Fun Thing to Play On” a.k.a. “The Most Dangerous Time of Day”

A lot happens in the last twenty minutes before bedtime.

 

Pieces of Parenthood # 2: Time Travel, Movement, and Peanut Butter

Today’s installment of Pieces of Parenthood comes to you as a video mash-up.

Theme: Movement

Movement is physical. It’s maneuvering and taking first steps. It’s also traveling with objects and experimenting with how those objects may travel on their own.

Movement can also be abstract. Photos take us back to moments in history, which proves to be a challenging concept for the growing preschooler. Was that when you and daddy were born, she asked just before the video started.

Movement is also seen in language, in the give-and-take of those first interactions. It’s verbal and non-verbal, words, gestures, smiles, and laughter.

And, of course, peanut butter, which has now been categorized as safe to expose to infants (granted they haven’t had reactions to other foods).

By the way, that’s not just pure peanut butter. It’s mixed with cereal and milk.

When It All Goes to Shit (Literally)

Holy Mary, Mother of God…

I’m not Catholic, but this is what I feel like saying when I’ve opened my baby’s diaper lately.

Just… Dear God…

But that’s not where this story starts. No, this story starts way back in a more peaceful, almost utopian, moment in time called “Our Anniversary.”

It was a time of Hotel Bliss. A time of Sleeping In and Room Service. A time of Binge-Watching and Massages. There was even Sex!

Yes, we’ve been married for twelve years.

It was last Saturday afternoon. Snow softly fell outside of our swanky hotel room. We ate a delightful lunch, brought to us on trays and adorned with cloth napkins and adorable bottles of Heinz ketchup. And because I could, I ate that delightful lunch in my bathrobe.

We spend time hammering out several scripts for upcoming episodes for our YouTube channel. (Check it out here).

We talked about the future. Of possible Ph. D. programs and how old we’ll be when the kids graduate.

We talked about politics. Of just how many men in media and politics and business will fall from grace under the crashing wave of sexual harassment allegations. Of the possibility of a pedophile in our U.S. Senate. (Dodged that bullet. Thank God for small favors.)

And of course, we talked about our kids. They’re such good kids, aren’t they? We really lucked out. Felicity has such a big heart. And “my little man”… Oh, I can’t get enough of that face! (taking phone out) I just have to see that face one more time. Oh my God… He is so ridiculously cute. Mama loves you, Big Boy!

It was perfect.

Too perfect.

family

***

When we arrived home on Sunday afternoon, the Conveyor Belt of Life from which we disembarked on Friday afternoon had accelerated from Challenging-But-Doable to All-Systems-Go.

We still needed to:

  • buy and decorate a Christmas tree
  • pick up the gifts from church for the family for which we’re coordinating for our Adopt-a-Family Christmas program.
  • put away the 9 loads of laundry that I did in a flurry on Friday morning
  • cook for the weekly meal
  • cook the oatmeal for the week
  • vacuum
  • prepare Christmas cards for daycare and Sunday School teachers (Round 3 of Christmas cards. Round 4 = all the people who sent you cards whom you forgot to send cards or didn’t have the new address to send cards)
  • feed everyone several more times before the day was over
  • clean dishes from those meals
  • make bottles for the next day
  • make sure all their sheets, clothes, and bibs were already in their backpacks for Monday
  • do the bedtime rituals

This is the point in the story when It All Goes to Shit.

Literally.

As I was feeding Henry his 3:00 p.m. bottle, Diarrhea was engaged.

Okay. I knew this was coming. My mom (who was watching them while we were away) told me that he was having bad diapers since she picked them up at daycare on Friday (He had an explosion in the highchair… From shoulder blades to knees…)

But we were on vacation.

And Mom had it under control. And when Mom has things under control, everything is fine.

We would come home just as the diarrhea was going away.

Right?

Oh, sweet naive little Me.

Sunday evening was unpleasant, but we survived. I explained to Felicity that “the puking bug” that was going around daycare wasn’t something that was going to crawl into her food, like a spider.

“It’s a virus,” I tell her. “It’s a… a… really small germ that can get into your mouth and make you sick.”

Her new saying that she likes to apply to all contexts is, “Well, I was going to…”

So what she said was: “Well, I was not going to eat the puking bug.”

“Good idea,” I told her.

And then…

It was early Monday morning.

3:00 a.m. He was crying. A cry that said,

Harmph… What is wrong with me? I don’t like Life. Life blows. Argh… < asleep >

Wait… I still think Life blows… < asleep >

Arghhh! Isn’t anyone going to come help me? < asleep >

Arghhhhhhhh!!!!!

As I stared at the ceiling, I kept praying that he’d work it out. That he would eventually go back to sleep. I was going to get up to exercise at 4:30. At least, that was the plan.

Plans. Ha.

I ended up holding him from 4:00 until 5:30 that morning as he softly protested, moaning and groaning, clearly fighting something.

We pulled through. We got them to daycare. We worked. I thought back longingly to the Anniversary Weekend. It felt like that had been months ago instead of the mere 24 hours that it had been. I listened to my co-workers talk about their lazy Sundays of Not Doing Much of Anything.

I was intensely jealous. But I kept it in check. You’re the one who wanted to have kids, my Evil Ego said. Then, there was my Good Ego, saying, Don’t freak out on people who don’t deserve it. This too shall pass.

***

That evening, the Conveyor Belt of Life kicked into Panic Mode.

We spent an hour just feeding and changing Henry’s diaper. Over and over again. Which doesn’t sound too bad until I tell you what is involved in that process.

  • Ear-piercing screaming. Screams so shrill they may burst your eardrums.
  • A red-faced baby that you happen to love with all your heart, covered in tears.
  • A mobile baby who can do a full, twisting plank while you’re trying to wipe.
    • A wrong maneuver on anyone’s part here can spread the sloshing poop on the baby’s foot, your hands, the changing pad…
  • Farts (hopefully) and poop (hopefully not) sporadically shooting out at you as you wipe. (Stay out of Danger Zone, friends).
  • Globs and globs of diaper cream. All over. Just… All over.
  • Vigorous handwashing

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Every single time that he poops.

It’s a vicious cycle of, Should I feed him? What should I feed him? He just calmed down. Should I really give him something else? I don’t want him to get dehydrated. But he needs protein. But is soy formula okay? Or not? How many days is this going to go on? Should I call the doctor? 

Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday.

A midnight cry that turns quickly into a scream.

The smell.

It takes a moment to realize, but you do. It starts with unzipping the footed pajamas that you hoped would contain any leakage. (Wishful thinking.)

But it’s on his legs, his belly, even his torso. It’s all over his footed pajamas.

For the love of God, it‘s between his toes

There’s poop everywhere.

On his sheet. On his blanket.

It’s the definition of Lovely.

Then the screams, the tears, the twisting full-planked baby, fighting your every move to stop you from removing all the shit that is literally everywhere.

It makes you frustrated that you can’t just do the Shitty Job that you have to do.

You have to do the Shitty Job while your ears bleed and you’re tired and you’re angry and you just want to go to sleep and your baby can’t say, Thank you. Hell, your baby isn’t even non-verbally saying thank you by just going to bed.

No.

He’s going to scream way down into the Seventh Circle of Hell while you try to shush and rock and sway him to sleep. You try patting his back and butt the way your husband does (It works every time. He likes it that way.)

All to no avail.

So you leave your baby screaming in his crib, shut the door, and cry in the hallway.

Then, you call in your husband and pray that he’s able to get the baby back to sleep.

It makes you hate your baby.

It makes you sad that you just thought that you hate your baby.

It makes you feel like a failure.

***

But by the time morning comes, the night terror is a distant memory.

He’s awake.

And covered in poop again. (Of course.)

With my hands under his armpits, I carry him at arm’s length directly to the bathtub.

And we try again.

Maybe this will be the last day of this Shit.

Literally.

From the Vault: 8 Lessons from my Childhood Diary

6:00 a.m.

Day after Thanksgiving.

Sitting on the floor with one of my legs pinned over my baby’s chest, the other leg over his legs, making a human cage. Because this is the only way I can change the diaper of a child that can flip and crawl away from me.

And he’s screaming.

That eardrum-piercing shriek that cries out to the world, Help!!! I’m being murdered!!! 

But which I interpret as, I won’t let you do it! I WON’T!!!

Today is my birthday.

“Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me,” I sing.

He stops screaming and pays attention to my voice, the tears still coming down.

But when I reach the end of the song, he starts winding up for a second round of protest. I switch the melody.

“Oh wow, look at ‘im now, Zuckerman’s famous pig. Sue-y, whaddya see? The greatest hog in history. Fine swine, wish he was mine. What if he’s not so big? He’s some terrific, radiant, humble, thing-a-ma-jig-of-a-pig.”

And just like that, I’ve hypnotized him with Charlotte’s Web (the 1973 version, of course).

I keep singing it until he’s dressed.

***

Moms put up with a lot.

I think our society kind of knows that.

Kind of.

And then there are moments like these that deserve to be plastered on a Someecards meme that chirps about how rewarding motherhood truly is (Someone pass the wine,  it would probably read).

It makes me wonder what it was like to be my mom, mother of five.

For most of my life, I’ve only seen motherhood from the lens of a daughter.

And that lens can be pretty amusing.

***

This summer while I was cataloging some old photos and taking stock of some mementos, I found my first diary, which my mother purchased for me when I was eight years old.

Within its pastel, scented pages, my writing career began.

IMG_20171124_135710

I loved this diary.

Like, LOVED.

I wrote in it every single day. And when I was too tired to write, I asked my mother to write about my day. (And she actually did. For that alone, she won Mother of the Year for 1990.)

IMG_20171124_135754

Cecilia Tjaden: Mother of the Year, 1990

I wrote about such riveting topics like my breakfast, what my siblings did (or didn’t do), and what I learned in school.

Here’s a sample page:

img_20171124_135830.jpg

Food. Siblings. Video games. It was a great life.

Here are some gem excerpts and the life lessons we can glean from them.

***

Lesson # 1: Kids Don’t Appreciate Irony

Sunday, November 11, 1990

Today I got up and went to church. I learned about loving one another. Phillip got two bars of soap in his mouth. DeAnna got one bar of soap in her mouth. Holly made another mark on my Magna Doodle. I had a sluply joe. (sloppy joe) I have to go. Good-by.

Lesson # 2: Kids Don’t Really Understand Pregnancy

Saturday, November 17, 1990

Today, I got up and watched Look Who’s TalkingThey showed us what it looks like when you get pregnite. Phillip only needs the red ring in the Legend of Zelda. Mommy came home and she made me stay out of the house for one hour. I had potatoes, stuffing, and turkey. I have to go. Good-by.

Lesson # 3: Kids assume everyone knows what they’re talking about.

Wednesday, November 21, 1990

Today I got up and I had pancakes for breakfast. Annie and I played barbies. I finally got to see Zelda. Gannon was big, ugly, rude, and huge. The only way to see Zelda is to hit the fire. Then, they held two Triforces above their heads. I have to go. Good-by.

Lesson #4: Kids completely miss clues that their parents might be stressed.

Saturday, March 9, 1991

Today, I got up and had to stay in bed. I took the TV in my bedroom and watched cartoons. (not sure how I did that?) Mommy went to work for 10 hours. My temperature was 101.8 today. Mommy might take me to the doctor tomorrow to get a shot. DeAnna felt a lot better today. Mommy paid me $2.00 for babysitting. I’ve got to go now. Good-by.

Lesson # 5: Kids are surprisingly capable creatures.

Thursday, March 28, 1991 (spring break)

Today I got up and get DeAnna dressed. Then I gave her some breakfast. Nate helped me do the dishes. I put on cartoons for Holly and DeAnna. Later, I watched The Price is Right. I had a cherry pie. Mommy came home and said she would have to go to bed. I watched the Simpsons. I have to go. Goodby.

Lesson # 6: Sometimes, kids really don’t see their responsibility.

Saturday, July 19, 1991

Today I got up and went to Howard’s (Pharmacy). I bought some candy cigarettes. Dad almost won all the time when he played Duck Hunt. Mom comes home and blames me, Holly, and DeAnna for the mess. It’s not our fault. Daddy didn’t bother to watch them. First thing, I didn’t even touch the room. Now she blaming it one me. I have to go. By!!

Lesson # 7: Kids can experience hardship as adventure.

Tuesday, July 29, 1991

Today I got up and had to get up. We all walked to the bus stop. We took a bus to Dayton. Then took a bus to Englewood. We got off at Rolling Pin Bakery. On our way back, we stopped at McDonald’s. Then we went to Jo-Ann Fabrics. Then we got on another bus to our house. We had rice for supper. I’ll see you later. I’ve gotta go. Good-by.

Lesson # 8: The World is Just So Unfair!

Friday, February 20, 1992

Today I was waiting for the Science Fair to start. It was from 1:30-3:15. Unforently, I didn’t win. They were all fifth graders. And a kid won 2 times in a row! Katie Owens did a stupid poster and got 3rd place. It’s just not fair!! I wish they had a rule you can’t win twice! Well I better go. Good-by.

***

So bravo to you, Mom, for hanging in there. Through five kids, unreliable transportation, and the ingratitude of whining children, you persevered.

And thanks for the diary.

I’m pretty sure it was the best gift you ever gave me.

Love,

Sharon

Happy birthday to someone who wasn't welcomed into the world via tweet or status update.

 

Gigantic Baby

He didn’t start out that way.

That’s what everyone always asks when I tell them that I have a big baby.

How big was he at birth?

For being born at 41 weeks 4 days? I mean, okay, he was big, but not huge. He was born 8 pounds 10 ounces (which, I assure you, felt like 25 pounds, 10  ounces). Google tells me that is the 86th percentile for weight.

IMG_3823

1 week old

We’re actually used to having big babies. Our daughter hugged the 90-100th percentile growth curve since she was one month old. (She was born at 50% percentile for both weight and height.) And she’s still tall. She is several inches taller than most of the boys in her class.

When I think back to her babyhood days, I remember that she was about one year old (maybe a little older) when she started pushing me away when she was sleepy, no longer wanting me to hold her as she fell asleep.

Ouch.

But okay. That’s what she wanted. To be honest, she was getting kind of big for me to comfortably rock her anymore. By that time, she was the size of an average 18-month old. So I acquiesced.

So when I was pregnant this time around, I thought, Maybe this one will be different. Maybe this time, I’ll get to hold a smaller baby for a little longer.

Ha.

Ha. Ha.

image-20170222_145134

3 weeks old

Until he was 5 1/2 months old, Henry regularly needed someone to rock him to sleep and transfer him (in such and such way) to his crib. At first, it was rocking in the chair, his stomach turned toward mine, his head resting on the inside of my elbow.

But around 4 1/2 months, he wasn’t digging that position anymore. He would fuss and arch his back, pulling his head away from me. So I stood and held him to me again, stomach to stomach, rotating at the hips until he would close his eyes. (I found out later that his favorite daycare teacher had been putting him down for naps like that during the day. I thought that was pretty adorable.)

IMG_4210

4 months old (He hit himself in the face with his keys.)

And then at 5 1/2 months, he was just having none of it. No more rocking. No more holding. No more shushing. No more patting on the back. It was just all out screaming, his head digging into the mattress, until I would walk out the door and close it behind me.

Then, silence.

Truth be told, we still had to do the whole Cry-it-Out process several weeks later since he had developed a penchant for reverting back to night feedings, but his preferences for falling asleep just transformed overnight.

It was almost kind of like, God, Mom. Just back off and let me do this.

To which I said, Seriously, dude?  This is my last time around this merry-go-round. Don’t I get some say in when I stop rocking you to sleep?

No? 

Well, fine.

IMG_4850

Seven months old

***

I guess it makes sense, though. At 6 months, he was as big as my daughter when she wanted to put herself to sleep. (Maybe he was just getting too big for me to make him comfortable?)

Also at 6 months, he outgrew his “pumpkin seat” car seat and we had to upgrade to the monster spaceship carseat that stays strapped into the car unless you want to go through the headache of removing it.

Daycare pickup and drop-off now involves me lugging a gia-normous baby, his bag, and his sister’s lunch bag while keeping an eye on his sister (who is carrying her bag) and making sure that she’s not giving into the temptation to dawdle and pick up trash in the parking lot. Sometimes, I strap Gia-normous Baby into the stroller to manage all the weight, but geez, he really hates the stroller.

I know he’s a baby, but he’s such a baby about some things. Sudden, loud noises, riding in a stroller, an unexpected face–and joy instantly turns into terror. Because those are the only two options. Joy and terror. (If you’ve never been around babies, hunger and tiredness are expressed as terror.)

IMG_4222

8 months old

To summarize, here’s what his growth has looked like:

  • Newborn: newborn-sized clothing for 5 days, then 0-3 months
  • Age: 1 month, Size 3 months (about 14 pounds)
  • Age: 3 months, Size 9 months (about 18 pounds)
  • Age: 6 months, Size 18 months (21 pounds, 4 ounces)
  • Age: 9 months, Size 24 months (24 pounds)

24 pounds is heavy.

Especially when your baby is just now starting to crawl and cruise. I am lifting this baby all the time.

Every time he goes for a wire or outlet or approaches an ant trap. Every time he barrels headfirst toward the TV stand, where a nest of juicy, welcoming wires await his inquiring mind. Come to think of it, he loves the wires that lead to everything: laptops, baby monitors, lamps, blenders, TVs, dusty PlayStations that I have dreams of playing (When? I’m not sure I have a valid answer. Perhaps I should just box them up and give them to Henry when he descends into the inevitable phase of video game obsession that middle school boys all seem to experience?)

Anyway. Wires. He just really loves wires.

If you think about it, I’m basically lifting weights all weekend long. (I have one mean left bicep.)

But it’s his height that has really taken me by surprise.

  • Newborn: 21.5 inches
  • 8 weeks: 24 inches
  • 4 months: 27 inches
  • 6 months: 29 inches
  • 9 months: 31.5 inches

I started to really notice how big he was when I was feeding him in the glider and realized that my 7-month-old baby’s feet were reaching my knees, while his head was resting on my shoulder. And I’m 5′ 6.5.” (I used to be nearly 5′ 8″. Hey, did you know that pregnancy can rob you of height? That’s a fun fact.)

What!?!?

IMG_4895

8 1/2 months old

This huge change matches what his 6- and 9-month check-ups reported. Beginning at 6 months, he outpaced the 100th percentile curve. Now, it looks like he’s approaching 110th.

People ask us where Henry gets his height from.

Pretty sure it’s from my side.

My father was 6′ 2″. My brothers are 6′ 4″ and 6′ 7″. My mother and sister are also taller than me.

So, we’ve got another big child.

There are advantages.

When he practices his “walking” by holding onto my fingertips, I don’t have to stoop over. He’s tall enough that he can hold onto my fingers while we walk. He can romp around with his older sister without being completely overrun by her. He even finds it funny when she crawls on the floor like he does.

But, hey, it’s all good.

Healthy baby.

Healthy me.

Life is good.

Chef Henry 9 months

9 months old

 

 

Week 10: The Baby Weight

You know how you feel when you wake up one morning and you see an enormous zit right in the center of your chin?

You think, Ick. This isn’t how I look.

Maybe you meet someone for the first time on this day that you have this huge zit on your face, you end up thinking, Oh, please don’t think this is the way that I always look. I usually look a lot better than this.

When you’re in the bathroom washing your hands and you look up in the mirror, you think, No… That’s not really me.

That’s how I feel about the baby weight.

fit-belly-and-tape-measures-1483641452sx4

***

At two months postpartum, the uterus is done shrinking. You’ve lost the baby, the placenta, and all the excess fluids. And what remains is officially “the baby weight.”

In this pregnancy, I gained 45 pounds.

Pregnancy books will reassure you not to worry. A lot of women lose up to 25 pounds in the first few weeks!

Ha. Ha.

I’m only down 23 pounds.

Wait… Wait…

Damn it.

Trust me, it doesn’t feel so stupendous when you’re still carrying around another 22 extra pounds.

***

The first pounds are always the easiest.

After the birth, I was already down 12 pounds.

At two weeks postpartum, my body went into flush-the-system-out mode and I started shedding pound after pound. Sure, it was mostly water weight, but God, it felt good every other day to look down and see my weight another pound closer to my pre-pregnancy weight.

This is awesome, I thought. Keep on going!

Then at four weeks postpartum, my weight stabilized. I started walking 30 to 40 minutes every day and I enjoyed that. It improved my mood, for sure, but it didn’t do much for dropping more weight.

Then, at five weeks postpartum, I noticed that most of my maternity pants weren’t fitting very well anymore.  (Okay, one pair of leggings got a huge snag in them and I had to throw those ones away, but nevertheless.)

A good sign, I thought.

So I went to Macy’s and grabbed a few pairs of black stretchy athletic pants. Sweatpants? Perhaps. Yoga pants? Sure. Running pants? I was open to it. Whatever made me feel like I somewhat possessed an inkling of the figure that I had before this pregnancy.

Now, you have to remember, I had no idea what size I was anymore. I hadn’t worn anything but maternity leggings, yoga pants, pajama pants, and dresses for the past six months.

Staring at the sizes, I thought, Okay, be liberal here. Get a size above what you think you are. 

So I did. And I got the size above that one.

I pulled on the smaller size first. When the waistband hit my thighs, I thought, Oh, sweet Jesus…

I should have stopped there, but I thought, Go ahead and see if the second larger size fits.

Another bad idea. I got them up over my hips, but really, who was I kidding? My entire midsection was shaped like a shitake mushroom.

Defeated, I went back out and picked up the next larger size.

At least they’re on clearance. And I’ll be able to use my 20% off coupon that I got in the mail.

“Sorry,” the cashier said, “You can only use that offer on sale and clearance items.”

“Isn’t this a clearance item?” I asked

“Oh, actually this is a Last Chance item.”

“Oh good God,” I said.

“I know, it takes a while to know the different kinds of sales.”

“Yeah, I don’t speak Macy’s.”

“Will you be using your Macy’s card today?”

“Sure.”

After I swipe my card, I see a screen of available offers come up. Oh! There’s the 20% off one!

“Look at that!” I point it out to her.

“Oh, yeah, that won’t work,” she says as she folds my pants and puts them in a bag.

“Why is it being offered to me if it doesn’t work?”

“I mean, you can try, but it won’t work on this item.”

I try. It doesn’t work.

“Well, that’s just cruel,” I say.

“Yeah…” she agrees. “I keep telling them they need to fix that glitch.”

***

I’ve lost the baby weight before.

Okay, all but the last five pounds. But still.

I remember that it took until ten months postpartum for my thyroid to stop going completely bonkers and for all the cardio kickboxing and portion controlling to finally eat away at that stubborn extra layer week after week after week.

I remember telling my husband that I wish I had been kinder to myself at two months postpartum, when it felt like I should just stop caring. The rationale went something like this: You’re not getting much sleep, but at least you can look forward to eating all day.

Another part of me cared tremendously about seizing opportunities to return to my pre-pregnancy physical condition. And when I fell short of my own expectations, I would get upset at myself.

Today, the rational side of my brain tells me, Your body is amazing. You just sustained another life for three-quarters of a year. You gave birth to a healthy baby (without tearing!) and lost 23 pounds in eight weeks. Give yourself a break. 

***

It is hard to keep this all in perspective, but I try.

I tell myself that people don’t usually stare at the big ol’ zit. While we think they’re looking at all our flaws, they’re usually looking at the whole package of who we are. Smile. Confidence. Congeniality.

In the meantime, I’m doing the daily work of exercise and portion control. It’s hard. Especially when I need to get up at 4:00 a.m. to exercise. And all my exercise clothes are tight. And I’ve gone two weeks without any change in weight or inches.

The truth is, exercise improves my mood. So even if I don’t lose weight, I know I’ll keep doing this.

But I’ll still have to acquire a transitional work wardrobe while I’m dropping the weight.

And that means a lot of time in fitting rooms, learning to love myself through this.

Week 5: The Hospital Bill Arrives (A.K.A. Why You Can’t Shop for Health Care)

One of the major talking points of Republicans about their plans for replacing the Affordable Care Act is that…

“It will encourage Americans to shop around for their health care.”

To which I say…

Bullshit.

“Shopping around” for health care isn’t a thing in the United States.

You cannot shop around when you don’t know the prices ahead of time.

I mean… Duh.

(You also cannot shop around if there is only one hospital in your area, as is true for all Americans who live far from larger cities.)

If we’re “consumers” of health care, shouldn’t we have the same amount of information that we have when we are consumers of cars or computers, or even breakfast cereal?

But we don’t.

We often don’t know how much our health care costs until we tear open the bill that finally comes to our mailbox weeks later.

Surprise!

***

Before we had this baby, I tried to figure out about how much it was going to cost us out-of-pocket.

You know. For budgeting.

For planning our Flexible Spending Accounts.

You know. Because we want to be responsible. Because we want to make sure we’ve saved enough money to cover our health care costs.

We’re not in poor health. We don’t have pre-existing conditions. We’re fairly young. We’re gainfully employed.

Republicans should love us. Any plan put forth by them should definitely benefit us right? We’re kind of what they had in mind for good American health care “consumers.”

But the truth is you can’t blame “consumers” for the complicated mess that is the health insurance industry, nor can you blame them for the high costs of health care. You can’t tell Americans to just save their money and choose wisely.

I tried that approach and it didn’t work. Not because I didn’t try hard enough, but because the system is not designed to be transparent to patients.

The patients are an afterthought.

***

Our health insurance provider had some estimates for the costs of giving birth in the two main hospitals where I live. These costs were based on their negotiated rates for medical procedures with those hospitals.

But they were just estimates.

So I called the hospital’s pricing line, staffed by the billing department, for a more precise answer.

Ha. Ha.

First, no one picked up the line. It went straight to voicemail. Over and over again.

So I left a message.

Someone called me back the next day.

When I asked the billing department’s representative about specific prices for having a baby at their hospital, he said that he couldn’t give me any prices.

The pricing line. Couldn’t give me any prices.

So I got specific. I told him that I would be giving birth in the birthing center that is attached to the hospital, where I would be rooming in with my baby 24/7. So we wouldn’t be using the nursery. Would we be charged a fee for the nursery? I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s available to you.”

“So how much will the nursery cost us?”

“I can’t quote you a price on that. It all depends on your insurance and how long you stay.”

“But don’t you have average prices for average stays? Anything?”

“We have a price sheet you can look at, but it’s not going to be inclusive of all of your expenses.”

“I’ll take whatever you have,” I said.

So he referred me to this pricing list, published on the hospital’s website. Why he didn’t give this to me at the beginning of the phone call, I’ll never know.

hospital-claim-2

Indeed, these charges showed up on my insurance claim for the birth.

hospital-claim_ink_ink_li

But so did this mysterious $3500 charge. And a boatload of other charges that are all labeled “Ancillaries” and have no identifying characteristics other than a medical code that only medical transcribers can interpret.

hospital-claim-3_ink_li

I mean, really. Don’t I deserve a little more information than this? If we’re going to pay $1800, I’d kind of like to know what it pays for.

So I wait for the hospital bill to show up. Maybe they have more information than my health insurance company.

Not really.

IMG_20170306_134632

From this bill, I can see that the ambiguous $1850 charge on my insurance claim is actually for the “Recovery Room.” But the other charges?

Who can tell?

The underlying message here is,

Please just accept this price. Your insurance company and the hospital have already decided on a negotiated rate and it’s really just best that you accept this price, pay it, and move on. See how expensive this birth was? You’re lucky that your insurance company is paying so much. So just suck it up and pay. There’s no free lunch, Friend.

***

I’m not the only one who has a problem with this.

“Childbirth is the number one reason why people go to the hospital,” reports Vox’s Johnny Harris in this well-researched video on this very topic. He finds that prices for uncomplicated deliveries in the United States vary from $1189 to $11,986.

I have to admit, I am slightly jealous that their out-of-pocket expenses were only $841.

But who am I kidding? Many, many Americans now have deductibles as high as $6000 now, making my $1000 deductible seem enviable.

The truth is that knowing the costs of this birth would have been helpful for me and my husband, but it didn’t break our bank. We earn enough money jointly that we can absorb a financial blow like this.

But what about the millions of Americans who can’t save $5000 to have a baby in a hospital?

What about those Americans who are “too rich” to qualify for Medicaid, but not rich enough to afford any kind of useful health insurance plan? One that doesn’t deter people from seeing the doctor simply because of the cost?

So politicians, quit telling people that they should learn how to make wise choices so they can save for their health care costs.

And quit telling people that they should “shop around” for their health care costs. 

Not only is it demeaning, but often it is completely impossible.

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