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Home birth: Pregnant mom starts online petition for United Healthcare to cover costs

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Westminster mom Wendy McKendrick left the hospital after giving birth to her first daughter feeling disempowered and unnecessarily medicated. "I felt like I was just a spectator to my own birth," she says.

So when she found out she was pregnant with a second daughter, McKendrick decided she'd like to deliver at home with a midwife instead. But her insurance plan has thus far refused to cover the much-lower cost of home birth. Not willing to take no for an answer, McKendrick has started a petition on Change.org.

The petition asks her insurer, United Healthcare, to cover the cost of her home birth. Thus far, more than 2,000 people have signed it. McKendrick's goal is 5,000 signatures.

"I'd seen other petitions and signed other petitions and I hadn't ever thought about starting my own," McKendrick says. "I'm not usually very outspoken or outgoing. But this was something where I thought maybe I could make a difference."

McKendrick, 34, gave birth to her first child, Jasmine, on December 1, 2010. She chose to deliver in a hospital. "I thought everyone delivered in a hospital and everyone delivered with an [obstetrician]," she says. "I didn't know much about midwives at that point."

But the experience wasn't what she'd hoped. The hospital staff ended up breaking her water, which increased the amount of pain she was in; the way Jasmine was positioned in the womb was causing so-called "back labor," and breaking McKendrick's water made it harder for Jasmine to re-position herself. The pain was most manageable when McKendrick was kneeling on her hands and knees, but the hospital forced her to lie in a bed so she could receive an IV and be hooked up to a fetal heart monitor. The pain was so intense that McKendrick opted to get an epidural to ease it. "I was strapped to the bed, unable to move," she says. "I just felt really stuck. From there, I was on their timeline."

McKendrick's obstetrician was sick that day and her replacement was busy. The hospital staff used medications to stop McKendrick's labor until the substitute doctor was ready and then used more medications to start it again. After a few pushes, Jasmine was born, but McKendrick wasn't allowed to hold her right away; the staff said the baby had experienced some "distress" during labor -- which McKendrick credits to the medications.

"It wasn't what I wanted and it wasn't what I thought birth should be," she says.

Continue for more of McKendrick's story. A few months later, McKendrick was there when her sister gave birth at a birthing center attended by a midwife. "It was completely natural and beautiful, and that opened my eyes to what birth could be," she says. "When I got pregnant again, I knew wanted a midwife."

McKendrick was uncomfortable with how far the state's only birthing center -- located in Englewood -- is from her home in Westminster, so she decided to have a home birth. After choosing a midwife, she submitted a billing form to United Healthcare. (She's covered by her husband's plan, which he receives through his job as an athletic club manager.)

But she says United told her it wouldn't cover the cost of her $3,600 home birth, even though it was significantly less than the $12,000 it cost to have her first daughter in the hospital. United, she says, told her it would only cover births attended by nurse-midwives, who practice in birthing centers and hospitals. Since hospital protocol was exactly what McKendrick objected to during her first birth, she knew she didn't want that option.

McKendrick appealed the decision, but her plea was rejected. She can appeal a second time, and she's hoping to include the petition signatures with her second one. But she only has until June 20 to submit it, a deadline she acknowledges is fast approaching. Her due date is also approaching; her second daughter is scheduled to arrive August 5.

"If I don't get it in in time for me, I'd like to continue with this, because I'm not the only one," McKendrick says. "There are people from all over the United States who have signed the petition and are saying they're having the same problem."

McKendrick e-mailed us a sampling of the comments she's received, including these:

This is near and dear to my heart. My insurance claim was also denied for my home birth, stating it was out of network. All birth should be covered, no matter the location. My home birth cost less than 25% of what a hospital birth costs and my babies and I are much healthier for having birthed at home.

Tammi Dixon Brighton, Colorado

We had a terrible hospital birth with our son. And with all this talk about women's rights I think our right to choose how and where we give birth should be the number 1 thing we fight for. We will be using a midwife for our next child and I am not going to pay premiums for an insurance that isn't going to pay for the birth I want to have.

Brianna Laughman Grants Pass, Oregon

I am also being denied my basic rights to birth the way I intend due to my out of network midwife. UHC covered her services 2 years prior and now are refusing my home birth. Shame on you UHC!!!

Kara Elliott Orange Park, Florida

McKendrick sums up her reasons for starting the petition with this: "Part of empowering women is having empowering births, and when women aren't allowed to choose where they birth or whom they birth with, that takes a lot of power away from a woman."

You can find McKendrick's petition on Change.org.

More from our News archives: "Midwives: Mom Jen Johnson's home-birth story."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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