I’m seven months pregnant and battling severe anemia. I take assurances that this means my baby girl is getting everything she needs (there just isn’t a lot left over for me). For a little less than a week I haven’t been able to drive, work, be on my feet for very long, cook, go to soccer practice with my son or really do any of the other things which define me. I am exhausted, weak, and sad. So this pregnancy has been hard, to say the least.
What’s been harder is navigating America’s healthcare system.
My hematologist’s solution to my anemia has been daily iron infusions where I am hooked up to an IV for an hour or so a day getting what my body desperately needs. Tomorrow I find out if my iron levels have improved enough to drive and get back to work. But, I have 11 more days of infusions. All of which have to be administered at a cancer center in NJ.
I feel lucky that there is a solution to my health problem. I’m nervous about the statistics I’ve read about such severe anemia. Things like I now have twice the maternal mortality rate of “normal” pregnant women during and after birth. Which, in America, is already the worst in the developed world and on the rise. Then again, it could be worse. I see worse each day I come in for my infusions. The couples holding hands as one of them receives chemo. The people who come in so severely malnourished, for whatever reason, that they need to stay for hours hooked up to an IV.
I feel lucky that I have a supportive team at work who’ve picked up the slack for me and stepped up for my students while I’m gone. I feel sad that, like many Americans, I don’t get paid maternity leave. So, every sick day I’m using is one less paid day at home with my baby girl when she gets here.
I feel lucky that I have insurance through work but angry that each of these appointments requires me to pay a $65 copay. This totals close to $900 for two weeks of treatments.
Sure, all of this could be worse. But it could be better. A lot better.
America is supposed to be progressive and free. It’s hard to believe that when I had my 8-year-old son I could only afford to take off three weeks of work before I had to go back – after a c-section. And now, when I’m older and more established in my career, I still have to use sick and vacation time to stay home with my daughter. I’ll be lucky if I get to spend 5 1/2 weeks with her. And yet, I feel lucky because so many people get far less.
But do I feel free? No. I feel tied to and burdened by a political system that clearly isn’t supporting the health of its people. Instead, it is making us sick, poor, and burnt out. This isn’t the America that was promised to us. So, what are we going to do about it?