Throughout the years I’ve received countless e-mails from people thanking me for my work. Each time I cry…I cry happy tears because I know what it’s like to be plus size, pregnant and scared. I know what it’s like to feel like your bump will never pop or be upset that you expected a belly shaped like a D but ended up with one that looks more like a B. I cry because I’m so honored to have built this site and pulled together a community of plus size women supporting one another before, during and after pregnancy. Below is a letter Megan sent me, it’s her story from PCOS to motherhood, and she has given me permission to share it. I first met Megan when I spoke at the Birth Without Fear Denver Meetup and then she came to a book launch party of mine. She’s absolutely lovely and I’m delighted she has become my friend.
Hi Miss Jen,
I just wanted to drop you a line and tell you how incredibly grateful for you I am. I just watched your 5 year anniversary video and I can’t even express the amount of admiration I have for you and the work you’ve done on Plus Size Birth and Plus Mommy. I wanted to share my story with you and let you know how much you’ve impacted not only my life, but my wonderful son’s as well. I can’t help but imagine his life would be slightly different had things been different with my pregnancy and birth.
I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) when I was 18. The afternoon after my diagnosis, I cried on my way to work because the first thing I saw when I Googled PCOS was INFERTILITY. I always wanted to be a mommy and all I had were the heartbreaking search results that told me it would be a gift I might never receive.
Fast forward 3 years. About 6 months after I started my job at Denver Health, I visited the Women’s Care Clinic and saw a resident for my annual exam and to start the family planning process. My husband and I figured I had a good, stable job that I could make a career out of, and it was a good time to start thinking about expanding our family, knowing it would take a while and likely require medical intervention. I was in her exam room for less than 5 minutes when she came in and said “I see that you put family planning on your reason for this visit. Did you know your BMI is 44?” She didn’t look at me while she was talking. She didn’t introduce herself or allow me to tell her my name. She walked in the room, looked at my chart, and saw that I was 5’6 and 276 lbs. I told her that yes, my husband and I would like to start trying for a baby in the next few years and I just wanted to start preparing myself for that journey. I will never forget her voice saying this, “At 276 lbs, I would not recommend pregnancy for you. My recommendation is the Implanon birth control implant or an IUD. It’s effective for up to 5 years and in that time, I recommend you meet with our bariatric surgeon. You need to lose at least 100 lbs before I would consider you healthy enough for pregnancy and bariatric surgery would be your best option to lose such a large amount of weight.”
She went on to discuss my age and how I was too young to be considering a baby, but honestly, the rest of the visit was a blur. At 22 years old, I was timid and didn’t know how to (or that it was okay to) stand up for myself when being spoken to so harshly by a care provider. I do remember telling her that I would not, under any circumstances, have any implanted birth control. She rolled her eyes at me and ended the visit with an unsolicited prescription for birth control pills and the very strict instructions not to forget to take them. I went home and fell apart on my husband’s shoulder. He wasn’t quite ready for a family yet, but he pushed his hesitation aside for me for a few minutes enough to tell me to get a second opinion. He told me if I wanted to have a family, we’d find a way to make it happen. He told me to call around and find a specialist who would work with me regardless of my weight.
As an employee at Denver Health, my health insurance options are limited. The visit with the resident left a horrible taste in my mouth, but I didn’t have any option to see a provider outside of the Denver Health network. I talked to a few co-workers and they referred me to an amazing endocrinologist within our DH campus. I saw Dr. Bessesen for the first time in August 2012 for a second opinion and advice to lose weight ON MY OWN, if that was what it was really going to take to get pregnant in the near-ish future. He was the very first person to tell me that it was OKAY to be 276 lbs. It was OKAY to want a family. It was OKAY to be pregnant as a fat woman. It was even OKAY if my body needed a little bit of extra help to conceive and/or carry a healthy pregnancy. Through my half an hour appointment (and lots of tears) we decided to try a little bit of weight loss and see how I felt. If at that point I felt like I wanted to sign up for a Bariatric Seminar, he’d be happy to refer me, but he didn’t feel like it was necessary for me to get the results I wanted- a healthy pregnancy. I started on a prescription weight loss medication with the goal of losing 10% of my body weight, just to reduce the risk of diabetes, and gestational diabetes once the time came.
Between my visit with Dr. Bessesen in August 2012 and March 2013, I had lost 68.5 lbs. My clothes fit better, I had incredible amounts of energy, and my libido even went up! It was amazing, and to top it off we found out on March 21st that I was pregnant. It was unexpected, mostly because I had been told for so long that I would never be able to conceive without medical intervention. My husband had recently lost his job and there was a lot of panic at our surprising news, but there was also so much joy and pride that we were able to do this one thing on our own. I called my doctor immediately, took the next day off work, and we went happily along to my first prenatal appointment at my regular PCP office. Once there, I was hit with some unfortunate news. Because I had a history of blood clots, I was considered high risk and would not be able to do my prenatal appointments with my regular doctor. That meant I would have to be seen at the Women’s Care Clinic; the office where I had been told I was unfit for pregnancy and motherhood because I was fat. I bucked up and decided I was going to do whatever it took to make sure I could bring this precious baby into the world safely.
My first appointment in the High Risk Clinic was horrible. Fortunately, I didn’t have to see the same resident who I had seen previously, but I was scheduled with another student who didn’t know me from Joe Schmo. This person knew nothing about my history, nothing about my incredible weight loss, nothing about my personality. Within the first 5 minutes of my first prenatal appointment, she turned to me and said “With pregnancy and obesity, I just want to warn you that gestational diabetes will be a big hurdle. We’ll give you a book to track your blood sugar numbers and a meal plan, and then between 38 and 40 weeks we’ll talk about scheduling a c-section if the baby is too big.” I absolutely froze. I’m so grateful that my husband was there and snapped me out of my deer-in-headlights stare when he said, “You already know she has gestational diabetes? How do you know she’ll need a c-section already?” Thank you, Lord, for this man. The OB said that Gestational Diabetes (GD) was very common in obese women and even though Denver Health has one of the lowest c-section rates in the country, most of them are because of large babies due to GD. I finally asked why we were talking so much about Gestational diabetes and she said, “well, that’s why you’re in the High Risk clinic right? For Diabetes?” Only after I explained that I was referred to High Risk because of a history of blood clots did she even look at anything else on my chart. I did not receive an apology, just a “Okay, so you don’t have diabetes? We’ll discuss that part later then.”
For 2 months, every time I had a prenatal appointment the resident on call would ask if I’d had any issues with my sugars. Every time, I had to explain that I did not, in fact, have GD. After about the 4th appointment I’d had enough. That’s the time I discovered Plus Size Birth. I read your story and the stories of other plus size mamas who were in control of their bodies and had the births and pregnancies THEY wanted, not what was convenient for the doctor. It empowered me to start standing up for myself with my care and to do my own research on things before taking what I was told at face value. I begged to be transferred to the Midwifery program and I’m so glad I advocated for myself. Not only did they quit asking me about gestational diabetes, they actually started EDUCATING me about my pregnancy. I passed my glucose tests with flying colors, never had any issues with blood clotting, and started to enjoy my pregnancy. We found out we were expecting a boy, I started showing and making the very most of my “B” belly, and we were so happy with the way our care was going.
On November 15th at 37 weeks and 4 days, I went to my regular appointment and met a new midwife, Claudia. My blood pressure was higher than normal and she suggested we keep an eye on it for a little while in the OB Screening room. She gave me information about pre-eclampsia and said it was probably nothing, but she wanted me to be informed just in case I did show signs. After 3 hours and a negative urine test, they sent me home. I started making dinner and doing laundry to pack as we had just purchased a house and were getting ready to move and settle into our new home before our new bundle arrived. I received a call a few hours later that the lab had misread my urine results and I needed to return to Denver Health to be induced. I was terrified. My plans for a natural, medication free birth were crushed. I was still 3 weeks away from my due date and our home was torn apart. My wonderful husband calmed me down and said, “If this is it, this is it. Let’s go.” I called my doula and told her to meet us at the hospital.
We arrived at Denver Health and were expressed to Labor and Delivery where the midwife I had met earlier, Claudia, was waiting. She told me she was sorry things had to be like they were, but assured me that we were going to have a healthy baby no matter what. All I could think about was the c-section I was sure to have, that it was my fault because I had gained 70 lbs during pregnancy, and that my body couldn’t even do the ONE thing it was actually designed to do. They started induction medications and we waited. For 3 days, we waited. The midwife team came in and talked to me every few hours the entire time we were there, reassuring me that I COULD do this, a c-section was not necessarily imminent, and I would have all the support I wanted to birth how I wanted, provided my baby boy was safe. Even though I ended up with a ton of Pitocin, which led me to eventually request a light epidural, I was able to feel my contractions and feel when it was time to push. At 1:52pm on Monday, November 18, 2013, I birthed a 6lb 13oz beautiful baby boy with 3 pushes into the arms of a slightly unprepared nurse because the midwife hadn’t even had time to come back in the room. That little boy is still in a hurry all the time at 2 ½ years old, and is happy, healthy, and thriving.
Plus Size Birth inspired me and enabled me to realize my body is NOT broken. My body KNOWS how to birth a child. Plus size does NOT equal incapable! Most importantly, it taught me to love myself; to love my body. Liam loves his mommy’s soft, comforting body, why shouldn’t I?
Thank you so much, Jennifer, for creating and nurturing this amazing community that is so supportive of one another. I am so incredibly blessed to be able to call you a friend (even though I do still kind of ‘fan girl’ when we talk!) and so honored to be a part of the Plus Size Birth family.
Keep up the amazing work!
If you’re wanting to go down your own journey from PCOS to motherhood, we have resources to support you! Please share any personal stories within the comments below and here are our PCOS resources.
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