Sometimes I look at my 11-month-old daughter and I cannot help but think of all the people who once insisted that she would never exist. People who truly believed that getting pregnant when you're plus size is always dangerous, and often entirely impossible — and therefore, that it'd be dangerous, if not impossible, for me.
There was the OB-GYN I first visited at 13 years old; the one who diagnosed my Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and told me motherhood would never be in my future. "Maybe, just maybe, if you lose all the weight," he said. "But probably not even then." There were half a dozen doctors after him who agreed. Not to mention family, friends, and teachers. "Don't even try to have a kid until you drop a few dress sizes, honey," a hair stylist I'd known for all of 20 minutes once told me. "It puts your baby at way too much risk."
In the Nov. 21 episode of This Is Us, Kate experiences what I can only imagine is one of the sharpest heartbreaks a human soul can withstand. She loses her baby after only just allowing herself to feel any joy or excitement over the pregnancy.
Although the reason behind the miscarriage is not revealed, I cannot help but wonder how many viewers will walk away blaming Kate's weight. After all, clinically-defined obesity is believed to increase the chances of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and miscarriage, and the character herself expressed concerns about her weight and age in relation to conceiving.
In light of this, I believe it's crucial to remember that while it's true that these conditions can affect expectant plus size mothers, as they do mothers of any size, experiencing a healthy pregnancy when you're plus size is also possible. So is having a healthy baby. I lived it, and I know plenty of other fat mamas who have, too.
Despite tipping the scales closer to 300 pounds than 200 in the fall of 2016, and despite being told for over a decade that my weight essentially made me sterile, I found myself at a walk-in women's clinic in Manhattan one Monday morning. There, I'd learn that I was 20 weeks pregnant.
Up until a couple of days prior, I'd shown no signs or symptoms. My weight hadn't fluctuated any more than usual. I never get a period anyway. There was no morning sickness; no aches or pains. Nothing. The whole thing ended up feeling like a goddamn miracle. Not because I ever truly believed that fat women don't have babies. Of course they do. But because I'd specifically been told over and over again that I couldn't. And here I was, not only pregnant, but having such an easy pregnancy that I hadn't even realized anything out of the ordinary was going on inside my body.
The remaining second and third trimester followed in similar suit. Doctors insisted on testing me for gestational diabetes three times — visibly shocked as the results repeatedly came back negative. It was the same shock that coated their faces whenever they took my blood pressure (and they took it a lot), only to see that it wasn't remotely high. In truth, the complications never came. With the exception of the back pain and restlessness common to all moms-to-be in the third trimester, my pregnancy was smooth sailing. Every exam suggested that I'd soon have a perfectly healthy baby girl in my arms.
I won't pretend that labor wasn't rough AF, of course. Fifty-two hours of contractions — pain I couldn't have even conceptualized before it hit me in the ovaries — can leave a body feeling pretty wrecked. That said, I was able to vaginally deliver my daughter in only two pushes when the time came — a feat all the doctors around me believed, once again, would be impossible because of my size. Unsurprisingly, to me anyway, Luna was born a perfectly healthy baby. She had all 10 fingers and 10 toes. Eleven months later, she's a funny little thing that can crawl and laugh and, apart from a couple of colds here and there, that's never been sick.
I don't say this all to brag, but simply to make a point. My weight rested anywhere between 260 and 290 pounds throughout my pregnancy — and there were no problems. This is, quite simply, because complications in pregnancy or labor are not a guarantee on the grounds of fatness alone.
It's something that plus size writer, model, and blogger Courtney Mina can attest to as well. "Being an overweight woman (and not just a little overweight, like 5'10" and 350-400 pound range), I've heard all about the things I can't do," she tells Bustle. "Drive a car, wear a bathing suit in public, feel beautiful and confident, and find an attractive, loving partner (to name a few). Not only have I been able to do all those things successfully and with ease, but I've also been able to prove that when it comes to having a baby, being overweight doesn't always have to play any factor in whether or not you have an easy, healthy pregnancy."
In Canada where Mina lives, her weight alone meant that she'd be assigned to the High Risk Unit at the hospital, where her pregnancy would be closely monitored from start to finish to ensure no complications arose. "Test after test, appointment after appointment, I kept going back home with a clean bill of health," she says. "My body was dealing with this beautifully, and I was a pregnancy goddess."
When it came time to deliver, she was induced and given a successful epidural (much like myself). Mina also delivered vaginally after a 14-hour labor. Her daughter was in perfect health at birth, and has remained so ever since. "It's important for me to tell women about this, not to brag or boast, because at the end of the day no woman should feel any kind of guilt for complications that arise that are not her fault, ever," Mina adds. "But [...] because it's important to know that the stereotypes put on fat women regarding pregnancy are just that: stereotypes. They aren't truth. Do fat women sometimes have difficult pregnancies? Yes, of course — but so do thin women. And on the flip side, fat women also have extremely healthy, easy, perfect pregnancies like I had."
Body positive influencer and plus size style blogger Dana Martinez had a slightly different experience. She was diagnosed with preeclampsia when she was pregnant with twins (a condition characterized by high blood pressure that develops specifically during pregnancy). Nonetheless, she carried and delivered both babies successfully.
"The preeclampsia was definitely an added challenge, but we women are very resilient and especially when it comes to protecting our young," Martinez tells Bustle. "We are given this strength that we may not know we possess."
To any plus size mom who's been frightened into not trying to conceive because of the medical community or "well-meaning" friends and family, Martinez says "don't be."
Evolutionarily, she believes that "our bodies, no matter how big or small, were made to bear a child. Take all precaution for your health and the babies' health as told by your doctor. You will get the best gift of your life once that little human is here and every moment of it will be worth the end result."
Although Kate's narrative on This Is Us took a turn for the bleak in this most recent episode, it ended with some hope. She and her partner Toby want to try to get pregnant again: Someday, in the not-so-distant future.
And perhaps this time — like so many other self-identified fat babes in this world — Kate will carry a perfectly healthy baby to full term. Perhaps this time she herself will feel strong and well throughout all nine months of pregnancy. Perhaps this time, the show will take the opportunity to bust some myths.
If not, there will at least remain plenty of plus size moms IRL busting them for us.