Friday, 21 September 2012

On being fat and pregnant

It was perhaps a mistake, shortly before the birth of my daughter, to write an article on being fat and pregnant for Easy Living Magazine. Not because I didn't strongly believe the article should be written - it was about the one size fits all approach to fat women when it comes to a failure to conceive and the determination to blame this on weight when weight is only an issue here if it prevents ovulation - but because it meant speaking to experts who were mostly all doom and gloom about pregnant women.

"Fat women who are pregnant," one obstetrician told me, "are much more likely to die in childbirth." "Gulp," I said, "because I'm rather large and 38 weeks pregnant." "I'm sure you'll be fine," she said, unconvincingly.

The thing is, something I don't think non fat people understand, no amount of telling us something is dangerous is going to sate our desire for a baby. I don't know what odds they would have to have given me against my survival to stop me trying for a family but given that in my trying to conceive madness I genuinely felt that I didn't see the point of life without children, I suspect they would have had to be pretty low, and I imagine my husband would have stopped it before me.

Still, I couldn't bring myself to watch 'One Born Every Minute: Fatties' last night as I enter my third trimester with number two, though I recorded it to keep for a moment when I feel particularly vulnerable, when I shall hunker down to watch it with a big bowl of ice cream and a mansize pack of tissues. They didn't call it that, you might cry, and no, they didn't, but they might as well have, as the euphemism of 'One Born Every Minute: Plus Size Mums' is really no better.

I wrote an email to the hospital's head midwife after the birth of my daughter. Stopping short of a formal complaint it offered some friendly advice. Don't make fat women feel shit by sending them to the special fat clinic midwife, it said, if when you get busy you say oh sod it, see a normal midwife today. Either stigmatise us and follow it through with consistency that we actually need someone specially trained to look at us pitifully and ask how much we exercise, or stop bloody stigmatising us.

This time round I'm more confident. "I'll make an appointment for you to see the midwife who specialises in nutrition," my midwife said at my booking in appointment. "No thanks", I replied, "I'm not fat because I'm ignorant, I'm fat because I'm greedy." 'Refused' she duly wrote next to the appointment in my notes.

Nor are fat women allowed to use the birth centre, where women push out babies while sitting on space hoppers with whale music in the background. I don't mind this - I'm an interventionist when it comes to most things, be it world peace or birth - but I know plenty of people who do. On the other hand, I found the idea that I needed a pre birth meeting with the anaesthetist in case I wanted an epidural (I did) a bit insulting. I swear my friend's right that they are just checking you have a spine. Turns out that the same anaestheist looked after me while I had a (non fat related) post birth op for a retained placenta. "Hi", he said, "we've not met before." I wasn't too out of it, or, ahem, spineless, to put him straight.

I'm no evidence denier. I'm sure there are more dangers to fat women in pregnancy and birth than to non fat women. But my guess is the most common danger is to our mental health, when we're treated differently, told to worry and made to feel, ironically, incredibly small.


  1. I'm pretty shocked at the treatment that you have experienced with both pregnancies. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect irrespective of the medical community's opinion. Scaring overweight women when they are already pregnant about their chances of mortality in labour is a bit of a moot point really and counterproductive to helping with a stress-free labour. I wish you well in your current pregnancy and look forward to reading that all goes well with your birth.

  2. I remember the only newspaper clipping in the scan room being a story about 'Obese mothers crippling NHS', being told the sonographer wouldn't do a full scan as I was too fat (not true), being told at 8 weeks pregnant that I wasn't allowed to birth at home (and having that written on my notes so noone would consider it), being told by a consultant I was probably going to die if I tried for a VBAC (transferred and complained), constantly being told in labour with my first that me being overweight was a problem (like I could drop ten stone right there if I only chose to do so) and the list goes on...

    The medical profession in general have an issue with how they treat obese individuals and if the epidemic is rising they need to think twice about their method of shame and disgust as it is clearly not working or helping.

  3. The problem is you are focusing on the wrong thing. Do not focus on how you are treated, but ask why are you being treated this way. Investigate the reason these things are being said. they are being said out of disappointment and fear. If they treated you like a Princess and said, do not get any bigger, would you then say I must do something about it. They want to make you have the same fear that they have inside of them, when they see you. And at the end of the day, you are just another patient, so it makes nothing to them. But means everything to you, your new child and your family. I had the same experience when I had my last child. Did not exercise, did not watch what I ate? My reasoning was always, I am pregnant. When I developed pre-eclampysia, and was told my little girl would die, or I would die. It hit home, as soon as I was well again, I started to diet, and exercise, and I have never looked back!

  4. massive hugs and good luck to you, most the time size is a choice, I choose not to diet and feel hungry, I choose to enjoy my food and I use it as a comfort, bad, yes we know, healthy well I am 41 and can still look after all 4 of my children fine thank you, I can still climb stairs, trees and go on the swings in the park, its a choice, we are not stupid as so many seem to treat us when Pregnant and overweight.
    I was and am obese, I am an older mother to boot too, but you know what, 3 out of 4 pregnancies were wonderful, I couldn't understand what all my friends were complaining about with ailments, it was wonderful carrying a baby and still enjoying my food!
    I am sorry there is so much negativity out there, I did a post about it last year I think and opened up a lot, sharing photos, I too am not one for pain, but my 3rd baby I enjoyed, wrong wording, I managed a water birth, blooming painful, give me an epidural anyday!
    I am what I am, take me as I am or leave me alone, you chose to live your life one way, I another, go be happy is what I say to anyone who is negative.
    Wishing you well and sending hugs Sadie
    here is my post I did about being overweight and pregnant, also being an older Mum

  5. Really like this post - I was classified as obese when I gave birth to my daughter nearly 6 months ago, but was never asked/told and it was never suggested that I see a nutritionist or specialist midwife due to my size, and I was never told I couldn't use the birthing equipment...I don't know if that's because we just don't have a nutritionist midwife here in Northern Ireland or maybe I wasn't quite at the high enough end of 'obese' to warrant it. Either way, if they had said that to me I would have felt the same as you - big women have just as much right as any other woman to have a child, and I had a totally healthy pregnancy, despite my size, and have now lost 26lbs and counting because I want to be a more active Mum - but I'm doing it for me and for my baby, not because someone patronised me into it - like you say, I'm an educated person and am not in ignorance of why I have a weight problem, but it is my decision to do something about it. All the best with your next little one! :)