Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The cost of childbirth in America

After living in Europe for many years I always found it remarkable; the vast difference in healthcare costs between America and other developed countries. It wasn't until I received the bill for my daughter's birth that I truly understood how ridiculously unaffordable it is to have a baby in this country unless you have excellent health insurance. I never paid much attention to the cost of childbirth prior to getting pregnant for obvious reasons, but once I knew I was pregnant I was very interested to know what the entire process would cost us.

I started by speaking to friends and looking online and realized that the cost of the birth would vary greatly depending on the hospital, state,  type of birth, length of hospital stay etc. Basically there was no way to know for sure exactly what your bill would be until afterwards.  From my research I realized my best bet was to call my insurance company and to find out what percentage would be covered by them. I was pleased to discover that my employer had selected an extremely awesome health insurance plan that pretty much covered everything during the entire pregnancy and birth. I didn't have to pay anything during my entire pregnancy except a $15 copay at my first OB GYN visit. In addition, the entire birth would be fully covered, but I would have to pay $150.00 per night for every night I stayed in the hospital. Based on what I had heard from other people, I expected I might need to stay two or three nights so if everything went according to plan I would have to pay a maximum of $450. Yet everyone I spoke to insisted they received a bill ranging from $8,000 to $15,000 for their relatively straight forward childbirth. Needless to say I was really anxious to know how things would turn out, especially because a month before my daughter was born I received notification from my insurance company that my plan had been updated and my copay per night had gone up from $150 per night to $350 per night. I started to wonder what other fun surprises they would have in store for me, and if they would really hold their end of the bargain or not.

As I posted in my birth story, I ended up staying in the hospital for five days and four nights, I was induced unexpectedly and ultimately had a C-section. So I knew my hospital bill would be higher than a simple natural birth but it still turned out to be a lot more than I expected.  About 6 weeks after my daughter was born I received a bill from the hospital. The total cost for my daughters birth and our hospital stay came up to $21,490.25! Let me spell that out for you, Twenty-one thousand, four hundred and ninety dollars and twenty five cents...   To state the obvious, the average person simply doesn't have $21,000 lying around for the birth of each child!

The breakdown of the bill is shown in detail below. I highlighted the main charges, as you can see, the C-section itself cost over $6,500  and the cost of my private hospital room was over $1,000 per night, in addition to a long list of other charges for myself and my daughter.

Thankfully I only had to pay the $350 per night copay as promised, which meant a total of $1,200.00 for four nights. I thought that was pretty reasonable, all things considered.  It made stop and think how blessed I was to have insurance that covered nearly everything. It was shocking to realize that many hard working people in America with health insurance, end up with giant bills from the birth of their child for treatment that they thought would be covered by insurance. Our healthcare system is such a mess that the only way many people can afford to have a baby  is to get into debt and then try to pay it off gradually. What a joke!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Television for babies: Friend or Foe?

Prior to becoming a parent, I really liked "educational videos" for babies such as the baby Einstein DVDs shown above. I thought they provided such a sweet, cute and clever way to stimulate the minds of little ones and I made a mental note to remember to buy these when I had a child of my own. But during my pregnancy a coworker warned me to stay away from them and told me they really weren't as good for babies as advertised. I really didn't want to believe this because everyone had told me that baby dvd's were the best thing since sliced bread.  I decided not to worry about it too much because it didn't seem to be a big deal at that time.

Once my daughter was born, her pediatrician reiterated the same advice from my coworker that all forms of screen time should be avoided as much as possible before the age of one. She went further to state that even between the ages of one to two, TV time should be still be avoided or kept at a very low minimum where possible. My daughter was very interested in the television from as early as 6 weeks, she would strain her neck to watch it even if I faced her away from the screen. I really couldn't see what the big deal was about her watching it so I asked her doctor a lot of questions,  did a lot of research and also intently monitored my daughter when she was exposed to the television and these are the conclusions I came to;

Infants learn from interaction. This means that we need to sing, talk and play with them directly to teach them  anything we want them to learn. Simply placing them in front of a television at that early age doesn't provide them with any interaction or any education at all. They are too young at that stage to be able to grasp anything meaningful from the the fast paced activity on  TV. To make matters worse, usually when the TV is on,  parents will talk significantly less to the baby than they would if the TV wasn't on which means less interaction with the infant and less learning.

Zombie mode syndrome. Television for young babies and toddlers induces what I like to call the zombie mode. Every time my infant daughter would get a glimpse of the TV she would instantly fall into a 'tv coma' staring at the screen with glazed eyes and mouth open. It's almost as though she was in so much awe of the moving pictures she could hardly remember to blink, or even breathe.

Fast moving scene sequences actually confuse and unsettle young babies  and have been thought to be linked to attention deficit issues later in life. This is quiet logical, because the babies get used to the fast past movement on the screen and expect everything else to be the same. They end up losing interest in anything that isn't as "fun" as TV.  Excessive use of televisions, tablets and cellphones for young babies can also delay speech,  hinder vocabulary expansion and negatively impact social interaction.

Television dulls imagination. All the baby DVDs that are geared towards infants,  really only do one thing; they entertain the child. They capture their attention and keep them glued to the screen with bright colors, and fun music. However they also dull their minds because the baby need not do anything but stare at the screen. They don't have to lift a finger. This keeps them thinking inside the box of whatever is on the screen. A child would be better off playing with a blank piece of paper because they are encouraged to fully use their imagination and think as an individual.

For the most part, I agreed with and understood all the information against television for infants and young toddlers, although I'll be the first to admit it's not always practical. Whilst my daughter was still an infant, we would always face her away from the television when possible or turn if it off until she was asleep. Now that she is 20 months old we do let her watch Sesame Street, especially when I need to distract her whilst I am braiding her hair.  Although it has it's flaws, I like Sesame Street a lot. I used to watch is as a child and even though it has changed a lot since the days when I used to watch it, I really think it's still one of the best shows for children out there.We try to make it an interactive learning experience by talking back to the characters, singing, dancing and counting along with them.  As she gets older I hope we can continue to limit her screen time and keep it fun, educational and interactive.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Adventures in toddler foods: Baked tofu

I always thought of tofu as being bland, boring, soggy and pretty tasteless. I would tolerate small amounts of it in my hot and sour soup but never cooked it on my own or tried experimenting with it. Since I was  never really a big fan of soy products anyway,  I definitely didn't consider preparing this for my daughter. However I started experimenting with tofu when my husband went back to being a vegetarian. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that when marinated and baked, it can be so delicious! My daughter saw my husband eating it and really wanted to try it and she loved it right away, so I'll give her small amounts of it every now and then.

I experimented with different methods of cooking it before deciding that baked tofu tastes the best. Initially I wasn't even aware that there were different degrees of firmness. I always assumed that all tofu was soft and mushy, however I came to discover that most stores have a selection of tofu ranging from very soft, soft, firm, extra firm... etc...  For a chewy texture, I like to buy the firmest available. When I'm at my local supermarket I'll get the Extra Firm, but when when I go to Costco I'll get the #4 Firm shown below which is the only option they have.

It works out just fine because I found out that to make it even firmer I could press the excess water out.  Doing this is really straightforward. I just put blocks of tofu on a plate, place another plate on top of it and then put a heavy weight object such as a 28oz can on top. Within a few minutes all the water is pressed out of the tofu to make it even it even firmer.

Once that is done, I cut up the tofu into chunks and marinate it. I have tried several different marinades, some I make from scratch and others are store bought. My favorite so far is made up of plain yogurt, lemon juice, soy sauce and Vietnamese garlic chili sauce; its great on chicken too!

I'll usually leave the tofu to marinate for several hours in the fridge in a Hefty bag. The longer it marinates the better it tastes.

Once it's marinated long enough, I bake it on a cookie sheet  at 350 degrees for anywhere between 30 to 45 minutes, turning it every ten minutes or so. I started out using aluminum foil as a liner but have recently discovered parchment paper which is so much better!

Baked tofu is easy to make, easy to store and easy to add to any meal. My 20 month old toddler loves it and can't get enough of it!