Real Talk: Plus Size Pregnancy

Julia Horel is the publisher at Shameless Magazine.  She’s passionate about reproductive justice, fat acceptance and body image and in this Real Talk she shares with us her thoughts on all those things as she begins her pregnancy. 

Like many others, before becoming pregnant, I had a number of worries, fears and questions. Some of my worries were related to pregnancy in general, and some of them were specific to my fat identity. I’m now 19 weeks along in my second pregnancy after a miscarriage in June, and I’m happy to say that while there is still a lot of uncertainty, a lot of my fears have been alleviated, or at least pushed to the side while new ones have appeared (oh, right, I have to get this baby out eventually!).

Will I be able to get pregnant?

This fear isn’t unique to larger-bodied people, but there’s certainly a lot of fear-mongering out there about fat and fertility. It’s kind of funny to think about how much time many of us folks in hetero relationships spend trying not to get pregnant, only to switch tracks and worry about fertility if we decide to get pregnant. Until you start to try, you can’t know how easy or hard it might be to get pregnant. My partner and I were lucky: we got pregnant within three months of starting to try, and although we suffered a miscarriage, we conceived again the month after our loss. The important thing to remember is that many people of all sizes conceive easily, and many people have trouble. Lots of different factors make up fertility, but body size alone is not one of them.

Will I be able to stay pregnant?

Most people know that miscarriage is common, but it was still a deep loss for us when it happened. I admit that I did wonder if my body had failed the pregnancy somehow, but I’ve gotten past those feelings, especially after talking with my partner and realizing that he felt he was probably the “broken” one. Neither of us blames the other, and truthfully, there is no blame to be laid. It doesn’t help at all to hear “it just wasn’t meant to be” (please, don’t say that to someone who has experienced a pregnancy loss – it doesn’t help!), but there is a grain of truth in it. Most miscarriages are spontaneous and unexplained, and ours was no exception.

Will I be able to access caring and competent medical care?

Happily, my answer to this is a resounding yes. I’ve read and heard some terrible stories from people who have been shamed by medical professionals for becoming pregnant while fat, and forced into care plans they don’t want (including medically unnecessary interventions for assumed “risk factors” that they don’t have). My strategy to ensure that I receive equal and excellent care was to come out swinging and put my Health at Every Size principles out there from the beginning. My family doctor is already aware of my stance and respects my choice not to monitor my weight; she was my primary care provider during the miscarriage, treated me with compassion and never once suggested I lose weight prior to conceiving. When choosing a care provider for my pregnancy, I chose to work with a midwife and asked her flat-out during our consultation whether my size was an issue for her. She and her midwife partner have treated me with respect and have ignored my weight entirely throughout our relationship so far; I have been given the choice to monitor my weight gain or not (I’ve chosen not to, because I find regular trips to the scale triggering to my dieting past). We’ve also confirmed that there is no weight or BMI limit at the Toronto Birth Centre, where I hope to deliver in April.

Julia's birth announcement.

Julia’s birth announcement.

What will happen to my body?

This is still a work in progress! My relationship with food has been difficult because of morning sickness (a total misnomer: all-day sickness is more like it!) that lasted until week 18. It was a terrible feeling to know that I needed to eat filling, nutritious food for my health and that of my baby, but feeling like I would barf if I tried. The guilt is real! I am thrilled to report that I’m starting to feel much better and have an appetite again.

At 19 weeks, I’m starting to subtly “show”: my usual apple-shaped belly is protruding a bit more and is becoming rounder. I’m still wearing my regular clothes, though I’ve chosen to stick to stretchy things like leggings and dresses for maximum comfort. The typical “baby bump” we see in the media doesn’t necessarily represent the plus-size body and how it might look in the later stages of pregnancy. It may be shallow, but I want that cute bump, too! I’ve recently started to feel some small kicks and flutters, which really makes me realize there’s an actual baby in there! I’m looking forward to seeing how my shape changes as I move into the second half of my pregnancy.

Will I be a good parent?

I think this worry is universal. Along with the usual concerns about sleepless nights and tantrums, I also think a lot about raising a child to love their body and to have a healthy relationship with food. I hope that learning from the mistakes I’ve made and the work I’ve done to be at peace with myself will help me to make this happen.

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