It’s a bit of a cruel joke that in a nation which speaks incessantly of “family values,” having a baby can bankrupt you.
In the United States it can cost nearly $19 thousand on average to have a baby. Now, most of this can be covered by health insurance, but roughly 26 million Americans are uninsured. Even for those with health insurance, out-of-pocket costs for childbirth can reach into the thousands of dollars.
I am, however, getting a bit ahead of myself. In the post-Roe world, we must always remember that the total bill is forced upon American mothers in 14 states and counting.
The reactionaries love moaning about “individual responsibility” – is it not the responsible thing, for a poor mother to have an abortion if she wants one, rather than bankrupt herself and her children? Conservatives would deny a woman’s right to be responsible.
Now motherhood for many is an act borne of coercion, not love, and can lead to financial ruin. But we’ve once again skipped a step by assuming the mother will even be around to pay the hospital bills.
The United States has the highest maternal death rate of any developed nation – over 1,200 women died of maternal causes in 2021. Moreover, the maternal death rate for Black women is more than twice as high as the rate for white women.
But assume our mothers have survived forced childbirth and now owe thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket childbirth costs. How ever will they pay their debts? Fortunately for them, the kind and caring capitalist class is here to the rescue, putting women straight back to work.
In the U.S., only 21% of workers receive paid family leave through their employers. You might have been duped into thinking by our television shows and movies that mothers were supposed to love, care and bond with their babies. There’s no time for that! There are bills to be paid!
How these mothers are supposed to take care of a child and earn the money necessary to do just that is apparently unimportant to the American government, as the U.S. has no universal childcare, and spends extremely little on it compared to other rich nations.
“Weak investments in leave and childcare suggest that childcare is seen more as a private responsibility,” reads a UNICEF report regarding U.S. policy.
Once again, a “private,” individual responsibility.
“Individual responsibility” is the rallying cry of a country that does not care about its people, but the American attitude toward mothers is even worse than apathy. America feels downright contempt for its mothers.
How can it be denied? Motherhood is forced upon women against their will, and our rotten private healthcare system, which the reactionaries wrongly claim is better than the socialized medicine of the civilized world, leaves us with the highest maternal death rate of any rich country.
And if you survive? Good luck paying for it all. As if things couldn’t get any worse for American mothers, research has shown that being a mother can reduce a woman’s earnings. This could be for a variety of possible reasons, one being that mothers are often forced into part-time jobs in order to have time to take care of their kids.
What can we do about all this, we good people who don’t hate mothers?
First, motherhood should not be forced upon anyone. The total disempowerment of anyone who would seek to ban abortion should be our first aim.
Secondly, we must move toward a socialized healthcare system. This would not only save our mothers money from the exorbitant cost of childbirth, but it would also help to save their lives.
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American women are significantly more likely to skip or delay needed care because of costs compared to women in other wealthy nations, according to a 2022 Commonwealth Fund report. A system wherein healthcare is a human right would put an end to this.
Thirdly, the U.S. needs robust and guaranteed paid parental leave and universal childcare. Many other wealthy countries already do this, and if we cared about our mothers, we would do it, too.
So, America, maybe you can skip the flowers this Mother’s Day. Our mothers don’t need flowers, they need liberation. America must learn that mothers are above all human beings and should treat them accordingly. There’s no better Mother’s Day gift than human dignity.
Jared Quigg (he/him) is a senior studying journalism and political science.