Do fat women deserve as much respect as women who are not fat? How much respect do fat women deserve?
“It's the story of my life as a fat person…. that my body is bad. That I'm not as worthy as those who aren't overweight.” –Jen
Stew in that for a minute and think about your answer, and how these questions make you feel.
If you’re offended that someone would even ask, that’s a healthy response.
Now apply it to yourself. As a plus size woman, do you believe you deserve respect? How much respect do you deserve?
Think about whether you are as confident in this answer as you were about your last answer. Are you as offended for yourself as you are for everyone else?
I ask these questions because I believe that one of the fundamental problems in maternity care today is a lack of respect. Many women are undermined at every turn—told we aren’t strong enough, smart enough, or worthy enough. We are told what we are allowed and not allowed to do.
Better birth practices are skipped over for faster birth practices, and barrier after barrier is thrown up to safer, less complicated births. Then, when the inevitable occurs, we’re often led to believe our own bodies are broken. “You have an incompetent cervix.” “Your contractions are inadequate.” “Your body just doesn’t know how to go into labor.”
For plus-size women, there may be even more barriers: what Jen McLellan calls “plus-size bias,” and it leads to more interventions and higher Cesarean section rates. She relayed to me recently that an L&D nurse confessed to her that she used to jokingly refer to plus-size women entering the maternity ward as “C-section walking!” with the other nurses.
These are all issues of respect.
Related: The Importance of Creating an Advance Directive During Pregnancy
Sacrificing best practices for expediency—and then blaming the person who must bear the increased risks—is not how we treat people we respect. Being one iota less than 100% encouraging and supportive of a pregnant or laboring woman is a lack of respect. Making judgments on a woman’s ability to give birth or potential as a mother because of her BMI is disrespectful and unacceptable.
“Being shamed during pregnancy and/or birth plants these ideas within a woman's head that she's not good enough. The heartbreaking fact is that this is a woman's introduction to motherhood.” –Jen
Just like childbirth, respect is something you actively participate in, not something you passively receive. And probably the most important decision you can make on either of those fronts is your choice of care provider.
If you’re not being heard, if you’re being shamed, if you’re on the receiving end of snide or negative comments, if you’re not receiving individualized care, but are treated as high-risk solely because of your weight, act. Whether the signs are subtle or they’re giant red flags, act. Leaving a provider who doesn’t fully respect you is one way you show that you respect yourself.
Related: I Support Human Rights in Childbirth because…
Remember, too, that disrespectful care isn’t just about feelings and attitudes. A lack of support in childbirth can quite literally put you and your baby at risk. You both deserve better.
This idea of respect in childbirth is one of the primary reasons I wrote Take Back Your Birth—a collection of six essays about taking back your power in the American maternity care system (including “Dear Friend, Birth Doesn’t Have to Suck,” “A Healthy Baby Isn’t All That Matters,” and “You’re Not Allowed to Not Allow Me.”).
I believe that when women begin to recognize their own value and demand that others recognize that value, we will start to see real shifts in this system.
So I have one last question: Who determines how much respect you deserve?
I think you do.
If you enjoyed this article, follow Birth Monopoly on Facebook! Author Cristen Pascucci is the founder of Birth Monopoly and vice president of Improving Birth, the largest consumer advocacy organization for maternity care in the country. She writes and speaks regularly about the need for respect of women and their rights in childbirth.
I'm continually blown away by the work Cristen is doing for women of all shapes and sizes during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. When we first talked about her writing a guest post for my blog she was shocked and saddened by the stories I shared with her. Then she got mad and that's what inspired her to write, “How much respect do fat women deserve?” I'm so glad she got upset and share this message and her outstanding e-book with our community. Thank you Cristen!