Content warning: This post deals with miscarriage, and may be triggering for some readers.
Today is the day my son should have been born.
I was at a writer’s residency in Barcelona when I found out, at a 19-week ultrasound, that he had died at 16 weeks. I was told by my obstetrician that because I was so far along I would need to give birth to him.
I contacted my travel insurer immediately, and expected that they would do everything to facilitate my care. I was so wrong.
This was a precious baby, five years in the making, and my last chance at motherhood. I researched extensively and chose an insurance company that was underwritten by one of the largest global insurers, thinking they would be reliable.
I wanted to come home to give birth, so that my son could be held by my father who was dying, my mother, and his jubilant godmother who had come to every ultrasound. I wanted to have him cremated at a funeral service with all the people who loved him, and had so many hopes for him.
When I made a claim, I was managed through an Indonesian call centre. Despite my obstetrician, in an exclusive women’s hospital in Barcelona, signing the insurer’s document to say I was fit to fly, the insurer’s in-house doctor – without seeing me – overruled this decision. The in-house doctor’s ruling was that I needed a dilatation and curettage, which was the wrong procedure this late into the pregnancy.
Instead, the company said they would fly me home if I waived my right to insurance. I had three appointments with the Barcelona obstetrician to complete different rounds of paperwork, in order to be permitted to fly with my insurance rights intact. There were over 100 emails between the Philippines and with Australia, and endless late night phone calls trying to get me home. My friend Jane advocated on my behalf, badgering the Sydney office to take action. I had less than three hours sleep a day, as I tried to get assistance from the insurer.
My policy covered a friend or relative to come to Barcelona to assist me, and I asked Jane, primarily because I needed her to help manage the insurer.
The insurer agreed to accommodate Jane, but not me, close to the hospital. Despite how unsafe this was, I was expected to stay in my current accommodation, at a remote farmhouse forty-five minutes outside Barcelona, without access to transport.
What do you say to someone who’s lost a baby? (Post continues after audio…)
When Jane arrived in Barcelona at 11pm, the hotel did not have a reservation under her name. We wandered around the streets at midnight, me pregnant and distraught and her exhausted, to look for accommodation.
After more emails and calls, the company agreed I could stay in Jane’s room. They paid for accommodation from the 23rd to the 26th of July and said they would extend it to 31 July when we were due to fly home. My policy, as I understood it, covered accommodation for me, and separate accommodation for a friend.
Instead, Jane and I shared a tiny suite.
Each night, I was trying to sob as quietly as I could so that I wouldn’t wake her, while Jane tried to talk quietly at 2am, on the phone to her daughter in Sydney who was doing her HSC.
Despite at least a dozen calls and emails, accommodation for our final night was never paid for and we were locked out of our room. I put my head down on the reception desk to cry, while strangers watched on. I handed over my credit card and sat shaking in the lobby until I was handed a new room key.
The purpose of insurance is that you are covered financially and given assistance should you need it. Instead of assistance, there was endless arguing and obstruction.
On the 26th July, eleven days after notifying them, the travel insurer still did not have me home and there was no definite day for my return.
I was effectively compelled to give birth to my son in a foreign hospital.
I started to be induced at 8pm on Tuesday 26th July. The nursing and medical staff – everyone except for my obstetrician – did not speak English. 41 hours later, I went to the bathroom and my son was born in the bowl of the toilet. I was alone. I fished his tiny body out and placed him in a plastic bowl. He was later handed to me, rolled in gauze, in a medical tray.
This would not have happened if I had delivered him in Australia.
Without any assistance from the insurer I had to find out how to get my tiny boy cremated and how to get him home. I stood alone to watch my son, in his tiny white coffin, go into a furnace.
The case is currently before the Ombudsman, who the insurance company wrote to and admitted "there is room for improvement". They claim no responsibility for the consequences of their mismanagement, such as Jane’s loss of earnings after missing a week of work, the cost of my son’s cremation in Barcelona, and what I can only describe as deep trauma caused by their actions.
I would like to share my story to help other pregnant women looking for insurance not to make the same mistake.
Speaking to productreview.com.au, I found out what can help other pregnant women choose a travel insurer who will put their needs and wellbeing first. This is what they recommend looking out for:
1. Read the bad reviews of the insurance product rather looking at the score.
Companies get their score up by posting reviews on how easy it is to get the insurance, rather than what the service is like when it really counts. At www.productreview.com.au, type in the name of the insurance and choose ‘rating lowest’ under the ‘sort by’ button. Give credence to the reviews that are marked as ‘verified purchases'.
2. Who underwrites the policy and who provides their emergency assistance?
One company may sell a policy under two different brands and outsource their emergency care to another company. You would need to research each branch of the tree equally.
3. Be up front with your history.
Email the company and double check that your particular circumstances and destination are covered. If your insurer company finds out you had pre-existing pregnancy complications, miscarriages or other conditions, they may “treat the policy as if does not exist”. It's wise to be open and honest about your medical history, so that if any issues arise, you know you are covered.
4. Extra questions to ask...
Does the insurance provider cover IVF/assisted pregnancy? Will they cover you if you have pre-existing pregnancy complications? Are twin/multiple pregnancies covered? Will they cover birth and up to how many weeks of pregnancy? If the baby is born, will it be covered for neonatal care? These are very important questions for pregnant women to ask. Unfortunately, the answer in almost all cases is no, so it pays to make sure.
Have you had trouble with travel insurance while overseas? Let us know in the comments below...
If you or a loved one has recently miscarried, and looking for support, Mamamia urges you to contact SANDS here.