Pregnancy can be tough. Tough on our bodies. Tough on our emotions. Tough on our relationships. Giving birth to our children is the biggest physical and emotional rollercoaster we will ever go on in our lifetime.
Now imagine going through all of that being a plus sized woman.
We all know that bullying and teasing doesn’t magically disappear once we’ve graduated from the playground. Those same bullies grow up and just become bigger bullies; people who have no qualms in putting down others in order to make themselves feel better.
In the last year or so, I’ve lost a ton of weight – almost 30 kilos. It’s the first time in my adult life that I have achieved an almost “normal” weight. Yes, I am beyond proud of myself. It’s been bloody difficult and I know that I still have a bit to go and that I will have to continue to work my butt off to keep the weight off.
When I was pregnant with my son, I hit around the 100kg mark at the end of my pregnancy. By that point, I was sick and tired of the “tut tuts” from all the bloody nurses at the pregnancy clinic every time I went to an antenatal appointment and I would dread standing on the scales. I died a little every time I would see the look of disdain from the arrogant obstetrician (who also couldn’t tolerate women who wanted to empower and educate themselves) and when it came to birthing my son, I felt like I only had one midwife who actually believed that I was capable of giving birth to my child vaginally. Everyone else was convinced that I’d run out of puff and would require an emergency Caesarean. Thankfully I had a pretty awesome support team behind me – a great husband and a fabulous doula – both of whom had complete faith in me.
Yes, being fat AND pregnant sucks. Big time.
For the last year or so, I’ve been following the amazing transformation of a beautiful young woman from Sydney called Shantell Bennett. She’s been keeping a blog on Facebook to track her amazing weight loss journey since having a lapband plication surgery just over a year ago.
When she started her journey, she weighed 164kg. In just 12 months, she has literally HALVED her body weight and is now a healthy 84kg. She has worked so incredibly hard and has, deservedly, attracted a huge legion of fans. She is a student nurse and a mum to a beautiful little boy called Charlie. She also has a loving and devoted partner called John.
Her weight has not been the only battle she has overcome in her young life. As a ward of the state, her childhood was torn apart by abuse and neglect. She was placed in foster care on her seventh birthday, but her placements often broke down. At times she was homeless, forced to live out of bags on friend’s couches and eventually ended up living in refuges.
As a young woman, she suffered severe depression and anxiety, with food forming a wall of protection and taking on the role of comforter.
Recently, Shantell posted her birth story on her Facebook page. Her traumatic experience saddened and angered me. Shantell has kindly given me permission to share her post;
“This isn’t something I have spoken about in detail often, even to my close friends.
It may trigger some people, so if a birth story scares you please stop here…
It took me three years to fall pregnant with my son. I always wanted to be a mum and we tried for a few years but eventually I gave up hope and concentrated on getting my career on track first. I never had a regular period, maybe four times a year and they would last maybe two days. One day I had a very strong vivid dream that I was pregnant. As I was into my second year of uni, I became worried and we went to the doctor the next day so I could get on the pill. He had to do a pregnancy test before he gave me the pill and to all of our shock the test came back positive. It was such a scary but exciting moment. I was so not ready to hear that news!!
I had the most amazing plus size pregnancy, never developing typical conditions that obese people usually experience during pregnancy like gestational diabetes (even though I was tested multiple times as they were so convinced I would develop it) or preeclampsia.
The midwives were worried because I put around 40kg on. I was around 125kg when I fell pregnant and around 160kg at birth. They told me I would have HUGE baby but actually he was very, very small which meant that around 30 weeks I had to go to the hospital every second day to have his heart rate monitored which was very inconvenient as I was still at uni and working five days a week as a nurse in a nursing home where we were ALWAYS short staffed so even at 36 weeks pregnant I was lifting and showering residents (I believe his small size was due to stress and workload).
At 36 weeks, I had a routine ultrasound. The lady was so happy because Charlie had grown up into the 8th percentile but her face was as white as a ghost. She said, “You need to leave here and go to the hospital immediately. I will call your OB now. She told me I had no amniotic fluid left and my baby needed to be delivered today! (The reason I had no fluid left was because two days before I had fallen over but I thought I had peed myself; turns out it was my waters).
I was absolutely freaking out as I was still working and didn’t even have the car seat in the car!
Fast forward a few hours and I was being induced to have Charlie. After hours and hours in labour I was struggling with the pain and was told I’d have at least 12 hours to go so I begged to have an epidural. When it was time for the anaesthetist to administer the needle he was horrible. I was in EXTREME pain, the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life. I was crying as you can imagine and this man is behind me bitching to the nurse about how he “shouldn’t have to do this on someone so huge” and how ridiculous this is… I was in so much physical pain but his comment hurt way more… and that was only the beginning.
After a few more hours the doctor made the decision I could not continue. He literally told me I was “too fat to deliver my baby naturally as he wouldn’t fit out of my body”. ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE but I was so scared, ashamed and intimidated that I just agreed to have a C-section.
At first everything was going well and everyone was kind. All of a sudden I felt the most excruciating pain I have ever felt in my life. I could feel every cut the doctor was making. He didn’t believe me and continued. I was in absolute hysterics at this point and my partner was getting very worried and kept asking the doctor to stop. They tried to give more pain relief but nothing was helping. It got to the point where I begged them to knock me out. The anaesthetist said to me, “we won’t be able to; you are too big to go under like this.” I said I didn’t care, I can’t handle this pain. The next thing I know they push my partner out of the room and I woke up two hours later in recovery and my baby is not there…
After the most traumatic experience of my life I was in shock, but being the resilient person that I am, I just focused on my baby. I ignored what happened and decided I would deal with it later. I desperately wanted to breastfeed my son but had trouble as my boobs were so big. Again I was very embarrassed but I persevered (and did eventually breastfeed, so there!).
One afternoon I was really struggling and sent my partner to get the midwife to help me. Once we returned home my partner revealed to me that he overheard her bitching to another nurse about me saying “no wonder he can’t feed, he would be suffocating.” He didn’t tell me at the time, because he knew it would have sent me over the edge.
I am not sharing my experience to scare anyone because this is NOT normal and I pray that others don’t have similar stories to share. I am simply sharing because it is so wrong the way that I was treated because of my size. I was so ashamed that I took everyone’s cruelty and thought that I deserved it which is so wrong. No one deserves that and I promise as a health professional myself now, I will ensure NONE of my patients ever feel discriminated against whilst in my care.
I hope that next time I have a baby that I will have a great experience.
No regrets anyway though because I’d do it all again for my little bear xxx”
Shantell’s horrendous experience angers me on so many levels.
As a woman who has also struggled with weight issues most of my adult life, I am angry.
As a woman who also experienced fat shaming when I was pregnant and giving birth to my son, I am angry.
As a professional childbirth educator who is passionate about supporting and empowering women to have beautiful and positive birth experiences, I am angry.
The so-called health professionals who cared for Shantell and her baby during this frightening and emotional time should be utterly ashamed of themselves. I wish that she had made a formal complaint to the hospital and that they had been disciplined severely as a result, but I also understand why they weren’t. Because fat people often have extremely low self-esteem and are shamed, intimidated and silenced.
ALL women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, especially during a time in our lives as vulnerable as pregnancy and birth.
Shantell, I take my hat off to you. You are one hell of an amazing woman and a role model to us all.
Tanya Strusberg is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator (LCCE) and founder of birthwell birthright, an independent childbirth education practice based in Melbourne. In 2015, Tanya was inducted as an FACCE (Fellow of the Academy of Certified Childbirth Educators) in recognition of her significant contribution to childbirth education. Through her internationally-accredited Lamaze Educator Training program, she is very excited to be training a new generation of Australian Lamaze educators.
Last, but absolutely not least, she is also the mum of two beautiful children, her son Liev and daughter Amalia.