After numerous fights and negotiating between three translators, four nurses, two obgyns, my husband, my “lawyer” and myself, my son was finally born. Not what I would call the best way to spend my time when I should be focused on giving birth.
You see, I gave birth in Mainland China. Despite going to what was considered the best hospital in town, the staff practically forced me to get a c-section after messing with my body for 26 hours. Thinking that they could take advantage of me because I was an expat and therefore had lots of money, they proceeded to give me numerous injections when I first entered the hospital.
After my son was born, they tried to charge me for extra goods and services. The staff also had me convinced my condition was so severe that I couldn’t leave the hospital just so I would stay longer and rack up a bigger hospital bill.
Between the 26 hours of intense labor, laying in the hospital bed and arguing about money with the hospital staff, I learned a lot about what it takes to be ruthless with my money.
If You Don’t Stand Up For Yourself, Nobody Else Will
“Oh, it’s to help you relax,” the translator told me when a nurse came into the birthing room with an IV bag and a tray full of needles.
It relaxed me so much it stopped my contractions.
More nurses came in and out of my room over a period of 20 hours. Some drugs were to restart contractions while others stopped them completely. At one point, a translator came in and asked me if I wanted an epidural and a nurse rushed in to administer it right away, even when both my husband and I knew I wasn’t fully dilated enough.
The staff tried to tell me I was fine. I knew I wasn’t. My husband knew I wasn’t. In fact, he was texting so many questions to friends and family that his cell phone ran out of batteries and had to use mine.
Despite my physical and mental state, I managed to asked questions to any translator that walked by my room. If I noticed they felt uncomfortable or that when a doctor gave an answer and the translator hesitated to tell me something (AKA the answers were bullshit), I would repeat the question.
In fact, in the five days after I gave birth, all that came out of my mouth were questions.
I asked if I was going to get charged twice because I had two doctors in my care.
I asked if I really needed to take the medicine they offered me and exactly what it was for.
I asked for a list of items on my bill daily to make sure I was only paying for goods and services I agreed to.
Lesson learned: You need to care about your money more than anyone else does. Yes, you may have friends and family that’ll help you, but what if those people weren’t around? Are you going to shy away and let people take advantage of you because you’re afraid of sticking up for yourself?
I hated relying on the staff translators (it wasn’t their fault that the hospital was scamming me) so I end up using Google Translate and my limited Chinese speaking skills to communicate. I made sure to observe everyone’s body language to see if they were lying to me. I insisted more than a few times when I noticed they were going to triple charge me for the same doctor.
Yes, I was exhausted, but I ended up saving more than $20,000 because I stood up for myself.
Think about credit card statements you may have overlooked, salespeople who insisted on extended warranties or an insurance salesman who tried to convince you the extra add-ons was worth it.
Go over each and every single bill with a fine tooth comb, ask as many questions as you need to in order to understand what you’re getting into financially.
How much money do you stand to lose if you don’t stand up for yourself?
Your Partner Can Be Your Greatest Ally
It was about 24 hours into my labor that I noticed my husband disappeared. An hour later, good friend of mine appeared out of the blue, tapped me on the shoulder and asked me how I was doing.
“Don’t worry,” she whispered. “I’m pretending to be your lawyer and threatened to sue the hospital so they would finally stop giving you meds.”
As my husband walked into the room, I asked him if it was safer at this point to get a c-section. His answer? It was my body, my choice.
Lesson learned: Laying there waiting for the whole ordeal to be over, I realized that having trusted people around me helped me through a tough situation. My “lawyer” friend even went so far as to look the part (complete with a power suit and a fancy briefcase) so that the director of the hospital would be too intimidated to take advantage of us. My husband also yelled at the staff around me and refused to pay for extra nurses when none of them really looked after me.
There is no doubt in my mind that if I ever needed help with my finances, these people will rally for my cause. If you have these people in your life, never let them go.
Stay True to Your Values
Mothers who choose to breastfeed know that it’s hard enough to figure out the whole process in the beginning. What made my situation more aggravating was the nurses.
After trying to feed my son for all of five minutes, one of the nurses came in and grabbed him away from me. She mumbled something about needing to check my scar while the sound of his wailing echoed throughout the room. The same scenario happened about three more times before my husband yelled at the lot of them.
We discovered that they sold baby formula at the hospital, which came as no surprise to us as to why they weren’t happy with the breastfeeding.
I’m happy to say I stuck with it and everything turned out fine, saving me money in the process (take that, baby formula!).
Lesson learned: It doesn’t matter what you want to do with your money (as long as it’s legal), it’s your choice. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. After all, you’re the one who earned it.
Staying true to your values can be hard if everyone else around you has different ones, especially when it comes to money. For example, if you’re trying to be more frugal and your friends love to shop, it can be awkward when they want to go hang out with you at the mall.
Instead of flat out saying no, find a way to compromise. You could leave your credit card at home or go to a thrift shop. You could skip the shopping altogether and go to a movie instead.
Staying true to your values isn’t about saving money. It’s about using it as a tool to create happiness. I didn’t want to spend money on baby formula because I believed it was healthier for myself and my baby. Maybe you love to buy food from the farmer’s market because you want to support local businesses. Whatever it may be, staying true to your values will help you make more satisfying money decisions.
It’s OK to Enjoy Yourself
As part of the post-birth package, my son got what was known as a “baby spa.” They would bathe and massage my son and let him swim in a private pool. Afterwards, they’d give him another massage, put lotion on, sing to him and send him on his merry way.
This didn’t come cheap.
Remember when I mentioned I scrutinized every item on my hospital bill? I wanted to argue with the staff to get this option taken off but I stopped myself.
I was already stressed to the max and seeing my son kicking his legs and floating around made my heart melt. Those fifteen minutes helped me to cope with my traumatic birth experience. Yeah, it was an unexpected expense, but I paid for it because it was so much fun. Plus, I had the money for it.
Lesson learned: Even if you’re trying to scrimp and save, make time to enjoy the finer things in life. I’m not saying go into debt for it, but grabbing a coffee with a friend can make the difference between a meltdown and a good night’s sleep.
The truth of the matter is, we can make do with a little more pleasure in your lives. Doing so will help us cope with those days when nothing seems to be going right.
Because sooner or later, we all reach a point where we’re forced to be ruthless with our money. Salespeople will try to sell you more than what you need, advertisements will convince you to purchase their product so you will be “good enough”, or investment brokers will intimidate you so you’ll put your trust into their services, even if they have no clue what they’re doing.
None of that has to happen. We just need to be smart and stay the course.
Find someone you trust who can help you when you feel like you don’t know what to do with your money. Ask as many questions as you need to get to the heart of the matter, no matter how dumb you think they are. Listen to the wisdom inside of you bursting to come out. Take pleasure in spending money that brings you the most joy.
At the end of the day, money is meant to enhance every facet of your life. You can use it to get what you want and not be run over by a bulldozer. In vulnerable times or not, there are some things worth being ruthless over.