Having A Baby In The U.S. Can Cost $32K — Here's How I Gave Birth For Free

Photo: Courtesy of Julie Padovani.
In August 2011, a few months before my 29th birthday, I packed three enormous suitcases and set off to live in London. Having spent 10 years in New York, I was ready for a change, and a Frenchman living across the pond was the perfect excuse for an escape.

In the five years since, I’ve encountered my fair share of cultural differences. I quickly mastered the fine art of weather chat, and learned the hard way to never make a cup of tea without offering to make a cup for everyone else at the office.

Over the last few years, I’ve also come across criticism in the U.S. about Britain’s National Health Service, their universal healthcare system that’s been around since 1948. My first experience with the NHS was basically something out of an SNL skit. Plagued with a horribly sore throat, I stumbled into my local general practitioner for an emergency appointment. Upon leaving, I asked the receptionist where to pay. They looked at me as if I had three heads. I backed out quietly, certain that it was some sort of joke.

I went to fill my prescription in scenic Surrey Quays, which was just a five-minute walk down the road. When I was asked, "Do you pay?" I thought to myself, These people must be kidding me. In England, not everyone has to pay the standard 8.40 pounds (about $10) for prescriptions. Pregnant women and new mothers are exempt, as well as people on Income Support, people over 60, and a few other groups.

So, this is socialized medicine. Since I’ve moved to London, it’s taken some getting used to. Despite having insurance in America, there was always something to pay. Going to the doctor was often an expensive adventure, whether there was a co-pay, or a large chunk was being taken from my salary. But the NHS is different: I pay for access through the taxes on my paycheck. I originally qualified for NHS care through a work visa, and later through my husband, who is a citizen of the European Union.

Fast forward to April 2015 — in the midst of opening a bar and writing a book, I discovered that I was pregnant. What timing! I turned to my dear friend Google and found out that having a baby in the U.S. (with employer-provided, commercial insurance) could range from over $32,000 for a vaginal birth, to more than $51,000 for a Caesarean section, according to a 2013 analysis of medical and drug claims by Truven Health Analytics. I could expect my out-of-pocket costs, according to the same study, to be around 12% of that for a vaginal birth and 10% for a Caesarean.

Meanwhile, we were told that going private in London could also set us back thousands of dollars. I very quickly came to the conclusion that the NHS, which would cost me nothing, was best. I mean, it’s just a baby and not brain surgery, right? Still, I was far from the comforts of home, and not having my dearest friends or my own mother close by was difficult. I weighed the cost of a U.K. birth with a U.S. one, and wondered if I should go home. Instead, I decided to stay in London.

When we started this adventure of two-becomes-three, I wasn’t sure what to expect from socialized medicine. Would I give birth waiting in line, as some critics often threaten? I spent hours researching labor, delivery, and postnatal recovery. Finally, I felt ready for my first appointment.

Ahead, photos of my birth story in the U.K. — and why I chose not to go back to the U.S.

Julie Padovani is a mom, author and director of events and communications at the Experimental Group. The views expressed here are her own.

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