My Mother’s Day Story: I’m a Mother Thanks To MCHIP

I promised to write a bit about my experiences a a mother with serious health issues/disabilities and the challenges of accessing healthcare. In light of the fact that it’s Mother’s Day, I thought for today I would focus on how I was able to become a mother. And aside from the whole conception part, the rest of the credit for my daughter’s birth goes to MCHIP.

MCHIP — Maryland Children’s Health Insurance Program — is a state-administered program that uses state and federal funds to provide “ provides full health benefits for children up to age 19, and pregnant women of any age who meet the income guidelines.”

I had just turned 21 when I found out I was pregnant, but more importantly, I had also recently been kicked off of my health insurance. This was in 2006, before Mental Health Parity laws were are thing in Maryland and a full six years before the ACA. My health insurance company had received notice from my therapist that I was struggling with a crippling eating disorder; I was a purging anorexic and had been for several years. But before my therapist insisted on contacting my general physician, I had managed to keep it off my official health history by seeing university counselors and paying out of pocket to see private therapists. My mother worked in insurance and so I knew that there was a risk that having this officially documented would endanger my health insurance.

When I discovered that not only was I pregnant (a shock in and off itself, given that I had religiously taken the Depo-Provera birth control shot for years), but that I was already five and a half months pregnant (!!!), I was forced to contend with that shocking reality in the absence of access to any affordable healthcare. At least as far as I knew. I had made things work the best I could over the past few months, in terms of my medications, thanks to the unbelievable kindness and compassion of a family doctor who issued my prescriptions to my mother so that I was able to function and continue my education.

But to suddenly be halfway through a pregnancy, with no health insurance was unimaginable. Aside from the obvious and urgent need for prenatal care, the stark reality was that my pregnancy was already high-risk: not only had I been actively anorexic, I had also received a Depo injection while pregnant…Depo is known to cause severe birth defects. I needed access to care that we simply couldn’t afford out-of-pocket. My boyfriend (now husband) and I were in college, neither set of our parents were in any position to pay for that kind of care.

Quite simply, we had no idea what to do, what was going to happen, how in the world we were going to get through this. We were incredibly fortunate that, as I mentioned earlier, my mother knows insurance like the back of her hand and that that knowledge extended to state programs that helped those in my situation. And our already unbelievably good luck was multiplied in that we lived in Maryland — in a wealthy, progressive state that has dedicated enormous resources to helping those who find themselves in situations like mine, in hard or even desperate straights. A state that takes seriously its obligations to the less fortunate. Given that I was pregnant, unmarried, and a full-time student, I was able to qualify for and quickly enroll in MCHIP.

My coverage through MCHIP came not a moment too soon; two to three weeks after discovering that I was pregnant, I went into pre-term labour in the middle of the night. I honestly don’t know what we would have done if I hadn’t had healthcare. I was 21, I had never been pregnant before, and I had absolutely zero idea what has going on. If I had been worried about the cost, about not having insurance…….maybe I would have waited. Maybe I would have waited too long, waited until it was too late. But I didn’t have to think about that. And thankfully, I got to the hospital in time and the amazing doctors and nurses were able to stop the pre-term labour.

I went to 37-weeks, almost full-term, but with various other complications throughout the pregnancy.

The delivery, though, was another story. As you may or may not know, depending on how you’ve come to be reading this post, but I have a connective tissue disorder: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I didn’t know it at the time. It would take another seven years before we had an explanation as to why our daughter’s birth unfolded the way it did. But the condensed version of the story is that my epidural was botched, causing a Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF) leak* that would resist not one, but two, attempts at blood patches. But thank goodness I was able to HAVE the epidural, because the other complication was that my labour lasted exactly 27-minutes. For those of you who have given birth, I will leave to your imagination the devastation that such a ….condensed… labour can do to a person!

Our daughter was born happy and healthy, on July 18, 2006. She was a gorgeous, perfect child who has been an absolute blessing in our lives. But without access to insurance and healthcare, I firmly believe that there is absolutely no way things would have unfolded the way they did and lead to our happy ending as a family.

*As an side, the CSF leak would eventually land me back in the hospital two days after we were discharged; again, this care was possible because of the MCHIP coverage. And as much as I wish that had been the end of the CSF leak saga, it is something that continues to plague me to this day, but that’s for another post, about the realities of parenting with severe health issues and disabilities. This is just about how my daughter got here, how thankful I am for that, and how eternally grateful I and my family are for the assistance that MCHIP provided us when we needed it the most.