On Being Fat and Pregnant (At the Same Time) – Danielle Gregori

Baby at 10 weeks.

I spent the better part of a decade fantasizing about how amazing it was going to be to welcome in a new human to this world. I had a plan for how I wanted my pregnancy to go, a timeline for the perfect experience that would ultimately fill my life with unparalleled joy. I knew I was going to be top-notch at being pregnant, even more impressive as a mother, and ultimately, the worlds most adorable and lovable grandma.

I wanted to get pregnant in my early thirties, find a midwife, and have a glorious water birth — just like all the videos and documentaries I watched. I harbored an unrelenting fear of hospitals: of doctors taking away my autonomy, of medical staff rushing me to dilate faster than my body wanted to, and ultimately landing me in an unplanned c-section. When I think about birth, there is nothing more terrifying to me than a c-section.

I thought evil hospitals were all I had to worry about when it came to finding quality care during this special time. I wasn’t prepared for the complications that would arise from existing in a fat body during my pregnancy.

In October, I found out I was pregnant. I was so excited — I was healthy, fit, and we got pregnant on the second try (much to everyone’s surprise). I was a year into recovery for an eating disorder and I felt like I was on top of the world. This was exactly how I expected to feel when I imagined being pregnant. Very quickly, however, I was advised by many people how completely temporary this all could be, and I spent several weeks terrified by what might be lurking around the corner. I was coached by many that I could lose this baby at any moment, especially because of my weight. This was just the beginning of the mountain of information I realized no one had told me until I was living a pregnant woman’s life.

During my 6 week visit to my gynecologist, she said I was going to be an easy, no-drama, low-risk pregnancy, though I did get a raised eyebrow and an awkward lecture about my blossoming weight. I felt more than relieved when she told me she didn’t see women past week 6. I would have to switch to a new doctor. I began my quest to find a midwife that would take me on.

The first challenge was that there was a midwifery conference happening the same week I was due, which many midwives were going to and thus were already booked for that week. I joked with one midwife that I didn’t mind — I could meet her at the conference when I went into labor. She didn’t laugh, and informed me it was all the way out in Bali. Bali sounded like a great place to give birth.

Regardless, I continued looking, jumping from one recommendation to another.

I had my 10 week sonogram — everything was amazing, and I was given two thumbs up for baby’s growth and health. I got a scolding about not having a doctor yet, but I was nearing the bottom of my list of names and trying not to panic too publicly. Finally, after a dry spell, I received an e-mail from a midwife stating that she had an opening for me, and wanted to talk to me on the phone.

Relief washed over me in a way I wasn’t expecting. I was finally going to have someone to take care of me! Along this journey, I had been honest about being in recovery, being fat, and actively working with a team of professionals regarding nutrition, mental health, and physical health. I thought I was the ideal patient. I called the midwife, ready to talk logistics, but she quickly put a pause on those plans.

I was too fat, she said. My BMI was way too high for her to take me on. There were dozens of things that could go wrong during a fat birth — I could bleed out, for example. I asked her if no thin people ever hemorrhaged. She ignored my question and apologized for not being willing to risk it. She continued to ask for my BMI, though I didn’t know it, and continued to tell me the ideal BMI for birth in case I wanted to chop a leg off or something? I realized much later that had I never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, she would have taken me on as a patient, and I would have starved myself through my pregnancy to maintain these numbers.

I asked her if all midwives were of a similar mindset. Was the conference everyone mentioned just a kind “no”? She refused to answer, and we hung up. I cried for a long time. No one warned me that I was too fat to have a baby. No one told me that the only thing that mattered was how much I weighed — not how I was living my life and taking care of my body. No one told me that being fat was a death sentence for me, an automatic membership to the gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia club.

When I could, I resigned myself to having to give birth in a hospital and started calling doctors. Most were booked by now, but one office referred me to a high-risk doctor. I called their office and told them that two doctors said I was low-risk, but I was having trouble finding an ob or midwife that would take me as a patient. The secretary checked with the doctor and they agreed to take me.

This is when the panic started to set in. I couldn’t tell if the office had done me a solid by taking me on, or if I was truly a high-risk pregnancy. By the way everyone spoke about my body, I was beginning to feel like I had made a huge mistake. I felt like I didn’t know myself anymore. How could it be that I felt so good but was a ticking time bomb, ready to keel over at any second?

I heard horror stories from other fat women regarding fetal monitors that don’t work on fat bodies, being forced to have a cesarean when they were taking longer than expected, nurses who were rough with their bodies because they found fatness disgusting. I realized that my own body wasn’t the thing trying to kill me, the system in which I was not allowed to be both fat and pregnant would.

My husband tried to calm me down on nights when I cried because I was scared of being disregarded during my labor, or of losing autonomy over my body rights because I weighed more than a long-dead statistician thought I should. I thought about how easy it would have been for me to get pregnant the year before, though I was not nearly as healthy as I was now. I felt myself growing bitter, distrusting my medical team, and planning my escape to the woods where I could give birth under a tree like in that one episode of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman.

Instead, I hired a doula. Two doulas, actually.

I explained how terrified I was, how determined to reclaim whatever I could of my shredded birth plan. They were on my team, and ready to help me out. I felt like I could breathe again. I took a deep, liberated breath, and got back to work figuring things out.

Lab test after lab test confirmed I was healthy and baby was doing great. Vitals continued to check out, and I kept up my physical regimen of strength training and working out baby-pushing muscles. I had people cheering me on in this journey, and it felt so good.

I even started to come around to my medical team, when we had a dreaded conversation about my weight gain during the pregnancy. She turned the screen away from me, respecting my wishes not to see my weight, and told me everything looked awesome. No judgement, no finger wagging. Just encouragement and respect. I nearly fainted.

As I approach month six of being a tiny human grower, I reflect on the huge number of gifts I’ve already received from this journey. I realize that my complication-free pregnancy nailed in the belief that weight is not an indicator of medical needs. Besides consistent and extremely annoying dry heaving, I haven’t experienced many other negative effects. I also hold firmly to the belief that medical health should not be a moral pre-requisite to being treated with kindness and dignity. Developing gestational diabetes does not mean I failed myself or my child. Thin people develop GD too. All it means is my body is doing a thing and it’s a thing that I have to work with on this journey.

Being pregnant gave me the gift of seeing myself for who I really am: Strong, badass, fat, smart. I fought really hard to be seen and to be handled with dignity and care. I did this despite my rockin’ blood sugar levels, or my astronomical BMI. There’s a person on the inside here, and though I have always been fat-positive, it really forced me to let go of that last bit of fatphobia swimming around: my worth is tied to my health. No matter what happens, no one can take that away from me.

I don’t know what will happen these last three and a half months. I might breeze by to birthing-time, a perfect pregnancy, or I may develop a complication that I need to act upon. Who knows! And honestly? Who cares! I’m traveling down this new road with an adorable companion kicking my bladder and a kickass partner supporting my dream of following my original birth plan as much as possible.

Life is too short to let the fatphobia and BMI-induced blindness of others take away experiences. You’re not too anything to have a baby — rock on with your bad self and bring more love into this world!

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