When the hit television show I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant aired in 2009, I used to joke about how that would someday be me. As someone who spends a lot of time in their own head, and is subsequently pretty unobservant, I just figured I wouldn't notice the changes in my body. Fast forward to 2016, and I found myself sitting in the pocket-sized ultrasound room of a walk-in women's clinic in New York City. "You're 20 weeks pregnant," the nurses told me. "And you're having a girl." I'm reminded of this all as I watch the latest episodes of This Is Us, when Kate, a visibly plus size character learns she is pregnant. I don't doubt that pregnancy is difficult for most folks across the size spectrum. Even so, being fat and pregnant seems to come with its own unique breed of shaming.
With the often scaremongering information we're constantly fed about the risks of obesity, it can also be really f*cking frightening. Especially, in my case, when I didn't know for so long. Although it's possible that absent-mindedness factored into my unawareness of my pregnancy, in some small degree anyway, the main reason I hadn't suspected that anything was going on was because doctors had been telling me about my alleged infertility for years (it didn't help that I never get a period anyway, and that my first two trimesters were entirely symptom-free).
"Maybe if you lose 80 pounds, you'll have a shot," one OB mused in college. "It's highly difficult, not to mention dangerous, for a woman your size to have a child," another said. "Plus, your Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is so severe that it's not likely to be in your cards. I'm sorry."
In other words, I'd long been hearing that I was too fat to get pregnant; and that even if I did somehow manage it, my baby would be at risk from Day 1. The whats and whys of those risks were never explained to me. My body was said to be a problem, and that was that.
In the latest This Is Us episodes, viewers are initially led to believe that Kate is, once again, obsessing over losing weight. She refuses to miss a yoga class, even after her brother has just had surgery. She won't eat the "healthiest muffin in the world," as prepared by her partner. She has thrown all the non-organic food out of the fridge. We're even told that the last time she had sex with her fiancé, she spent the whole time checking her Fitbit.
It's at the end of Season 2's fourth episode that Kate's pregnancy is revealed. Her doctor applauds her for doing everything she can to "stay healthy" as Kate expresses fear over carrying a child at her age and weight. The scene lasts only seconds, but Kate's fear is palpable. "Is it still there?" she asks about the fetus.
In the following episode, her terror persists. Kate asks Toby to keep their news a secret from everyone, and to stop himself from feeling any excitement. She's convinced that she may not even carry the baby to full term as a 37-year-old, clinically obese woman. I remember that fear. I carried it through the four months of my pregnancy that I actually knew about. I was concerned about my lack of pre-natal care in the first 20 weeks. I worried about whether I'd had too much to drink or smoked too much before knowing about my child. But I also worried about my size.
As I finally started pre-natal care, doctors and nurses fed into that fear. They tested me for gestational diabetes three times. That's three three-hour-long tests. It took nine total hours for them to finally believe that my size didn't make gestational diabetes inevitable.
At my weigh-ins, I was repeatedly asked how I didn't realize that I was pregnant considering I was tipping the scales at approximately 270 pounds. "Wait, you're telling me this is normal for you?" a doctor's assistant asked in disdain. "You need to do everything you can not to gain anymore weight in your last trimester," one midwife advised. "You won't be allowed to give birth at some of the midwife-led centers if you do because you'll be classed as 'high risk.'" Never mind that the baby would be gaining the most weight in those last 12 weeks of pregnancy, so there was no way I wasn't going to be on the up-and-up, too.
The medical community wasn't solely responsible for making my pregnancy difficult, though. There's a whole lot of BS out there surrounding fatness and sex, as well as fatness and childbirth. I avoided posting news of my pregnancy on Instagram for some time, certain that negative commentary would pour in. "How did that even happen?" I feared some people might ask, with aggressive certainty that fat humans don't get f*cked. Perhaps some would tell me I'd be a terrible mother. This imagined commentary ran over and over in my head. "You can't take care of a kid when you can't even take care of yourself." "Aren't you worried your baby will be obese?" "Who would sleep with that?" "She's lying. She's too fat to be pregnant." "Fat idiot. How could she not know she was expecting?" "Your baby is going to die."
I'd seen similar comments on the Instagram photos of fellow plus size pregnant women. My fat friends with high social media followings had opened up to me about this sort of thing before. Unsurprisingly, I wasn't wrong to be cautious. All the comments came as soon as I revealed my big news, and started writing openly about pregnancy as a plus size woman.
Then there was the constant stream of questions in real life. Well-meaning, but no less frustrating, family members and friends would ask about my diet. They'd remind me that it's OK to work out when you're pregnant. They'd buy me ready-to-eat, perfectly sliced fruits and vegetables. They'd constantly ask if I was sure my baby was alright, no matter how many times I reassured them that every test had come back with positive results.
Being fat and pregnant felt like a never-ending trial. If I wasn't having to reiterate that fat people can, and very often do, have wonderful, hot, consensual sex with partners of all sizes, then I was having to reassure someone that I hadn't "infected" my kid with my fatness. If I wasn't having to try to convince a nurse that I felt OK — healthy, even — then I was pleading not to have to sit through another exam that I viewed as unnecessary.
In some ways, I'm grateful that I only really had to knowingly experience pregnancy for four months. I don't know how I would have coped otherwise. It's not unusual for fat people to have to defend their mere existences, pregnant or not, but as I awaited my daughter's arrival, it was as though I was having to do it tenfold.
It's why I'm curious to see how Kate's This Is Us storyline will develop. Will she obsess with her meals and workouts to the point of immense, agonizing stress? Will she have a breakdown when she considers whether her child will someday be fat, worried that the kid will experience all the sh*t she had to endure? Will the doctors deem her "high risk" simply because of her size, even if she shows no signs of ill health? Even if every test comes back OK? Will the first glimmer or optimism we saw from her at the end of Episode 5 continue to shine, only for her to lose the baby?
No matter what happens, it feels important that a visibly plus-size character on a popular show is expecting. Kate is multi-dimensional. She's a talented musician. She is loved. She has an eye for beautiful clothes. She enjoys, and often has, steamy sex. Now, she may get to be a mother as well.
In the real world, there are many plus size people getting laid. There are many getting pregnant. There are many who are mothers. Pregnancy is difficult no matter what. But having to constantly defend and prove all of this stuff makes it more difficult than it needs to be. Maybe Kate's journey can help show that side to the public so that the next plus size mother doesn't have to endure what I did.