When Hilary shared her forced cesarean birth story my heart broke.
Sadly, far too often care providers judge a person’s ability to give birth by their weight.
This is Hilary’s heart-wrenching story…
“You are too obese to give birth vaginally, so you will be having a C-section.”
These are the first words I remember my OB-GYN saying to me.
I was 5.5 weeks pregnant and weighed in at 211 lbs. I left his office stunned.
As I drove home crying, the guilt washed over me.
How could this be?
How could I do this to myself?
What about my baby, will this affect him?
Will it affect breastfeeding?
Once my husband got home, we talked about it- he seemed fine with it, he was born via c-section so he thought nothing of it.
For my next doctor's appointment, I decided to not mention my concerns about having a c-section until we were closer to my due date.
I walked to the back and the nurse weighed me. I turned around because I wasn't going to stress myself out by watching the numbers on the scale.
Gently, I told the nurse that I really preferred not to know my weight, to which she replied, “OH yea, OK.” As I got off the scale I expected her to put the scale back to O lbs, instead, she left it and smiled.
At first, I thought I was just sensitive and tried not to take it personally. She then took my blood pressure, she yelled right in my face, “YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE IS TOO HIGH! You need to calm yourself.”
I was shocked. Was yelling at me supposed to help?
This struck me as strange but I thoughts, ok everyone has a bad day – this nurse doesn't really know me yet, and maybe I have a little ‘white coat syndrome.
The rest of the appointment was pretty standard.
Nine weeks into my pregnancy, I began spotting.
I was terrified, this was my first child. I didn’t know that it could be from sex or the transvaginal ultrasound. So, I called the doctor and they squeezed me in for an appointment that morning.
There I was, alone in this paper gown, bleeding and thinking the worst; I was doing everything I could to keep from crying in front of the staff.
In walks the nurse, and she asked me why I was there again.
I told her about the spotting and that I was very scared. She let out a big sigh and basically laughed me off.
I was fuming when she went to take my blood pressure and asked her if she would please wait until after the ultrasound.
The nurse laughed and said no.
Again I had high blood pressure (shocker, right?) and again she yelled at me that I needed to calm myself and stop making something out of nothing.
Thankfully my baby was fine.
The doctor explained that spotting could be just normal for me; however, I needed to be on modified bed rest until further notice.
Every appointment after this went the same way, the nurse would weigh me, I would ask her to zero out the scale- which she wouldn’t do, followed by telling me the amount I gained that week.
Then she would take my blood pressure and when it was high, she would scream at me.
As my plus size pregnancy progressed, I kept feeling as though she was doing this to somehow shame me about my size and weight, but why?
Nurses have always been the people I respected the most, my mother is a nurse and I’ve seen her handle people in many situations and she was NEVER judgmental or cruel.
What could possibly be so bad about me, that this nurse felt she had to make me feel like I was some kind of monster?
I tried not to let it all get to me; after all, she was only at the doctor’s office, not in the delivery room.
When I was about 30 weeks pregnant, talk of the c-section came up again.
I decided to speak up and make myself heard by telling the doctor that I would like to try for a vaginal birth.
I wanted to be induced at 39 weeks instead of my appointment for the c-section.
He reluctantly agreed, but I could tell he was against it.
Thursday before my Monday induction I went in for my final check-up. The nurse stuck to her same schedule, weight (257 lbs), and then blood pressure.
She then screamed louder than she ever had, “You have such high blood pressure, WHY CAN’T YOU JUST CALM DOWN!” She ran out of the room before I could scream back at her.
In came the doctor, “You may be preeclamptic- I am sending you to the hospital and you may be having the c-section today. Your blood pressure is 160/110. They are waiting for you in Labor and Delivery.”
Out he walked. I sat on the table in shock.
I kept it together as I walked out of the office but I hit the parking garage and it hit me- every emotion rushed through me and before I knew it, I was hysterical calling my husband and telling him to meet me at the hospital.
We checked in and somehow in my hysteria, I was put in a gown and hooked up to every machine this hospital had.
The labor and delivery nurse was so warm and kind to us. She explained every possible thing that could happen or was happening.
The blood pressure machine started up for the first reading… 147/80.
“A little high.” Said the nurse. “You lay here and relax while I ask you some questions.”
She began asking all of the questions I expected.
How bad has your swelling been? Not that bad.
Have you had any headaches? Nope.
Have you been seeing spots? Nope.
The nurse asked me about my blood pressure and I told her exactly what had been going on with the nurse at the OBGYNs office.
She said that high blood pressure would be normal then! The nurse asked what my blood pressure was when the doctor took it- my response was simple, he’s never taken it.
She was shocked, as was I!
I never realized that he just always been taking her word for it! Even this time! The nurse left the room and would come back periodically to check my blood pressure readings. All of which were normal.
The nurse came in one last time to tell me that they were not going to deliver my baby since there was no reason for it. She also told me that she gave that doctor a what-for about his staff!
I finally felt like I was being treated like a human again.
The big day finally arrived and we went to begin the induction process. At 8:00 pm they applied the Cervadil to my cervix and they gave me something to help sleep through the contractions.
9:00 am they began the Pitocin.
10:00 am another wonderful nurse brought in my OB. He tried to check me but because I was in pain I flinched and he wouldn’t make the effort to calm me, so he just stood back up and said I was having a c-section.
After being in labor all night and exhausted, I was crying hysterically.
I wasn’t even given a chance! I could hear the nurse yell at him in the hallway and he yelled back.
A few minutes went by and she came back in. She sat down next to me, held my hand, and told me that the doctor had already ordered the c-section.
She tried to be cheery when she asked what time I would like my baby’s birthday, 12:00 pm or 4:00 pm. 4:00 pm it was.
A few hours later the Anesthesiologist walked in. He complained about my weight and how hard it will be to put the spinal block in. “Can you even sit Indian Style?”
Well, I may be big, but I am certainly not too big to sit cross-legged.
He was totally shocked that I was able to do this! The whole time he was looking at my back he was making comments about how big I was.
How big I was? Is 257lbs that enormous? People must see me and want to vomit!
Again the guilt set in. How could I do this to myself? It’s my fault that I can’t have my baby naturally.
The moment to walk back came and in I went. Shockingly they had no problem ding the spinal block! My husband was let in and sat beside me.
They prepped me and began the procedure.
Within a few minutes, I heard the cries of my beautiful child! “Cord x2!” was shouted shortly after the cries began.
My son had the cord wrapped twice around his neck, which would explain the REAL reason for a c-section, there was no way for him to descend into my pelvis.
It had nothing to do with my weight.
They sewed me back up and took my baby boy to the nursery to clean him, my husband went with him.
When it came time to lift me back onto the gurney, the chatter started again. “We are going to need like 5 people just to move her.” I pretended not to hear this.
All that really mattered was my child. He was finally here and damn, was he gorgeous!
Thankfully breastfeeding came naturally to us, no issues there.
But the guilt of the c-section was still lingering until I really thought about it.
While it would have impossible to have him naturally, due to the cord, did the doctor give up on me to quickly?
Did he think that I was just fat and lazy?
Was he ever going to allow me to try?
Or was the Pitocin the way to shut me up?
These questions will continue to haunt me for a long time, but none of it matters now.
Jonathan will celebrate his first birthday on June 8th, and that day is just a memory now.
Pregnant, with my second child, I have to have a c-section again.
The “rule” is no VBAC when the next pregnancy is within 2 years of the last.
I have accepted it now – I know it is not my fault, all that matters, in the end, is a healthy baby and a healthy mommy!!
Unfortunately, Hilary's forced cesarean story is not unique. There are countless studies to confirm a care provider bias against people of size.
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