It had taken over two years of trying to conceive, and here I was, pregnant with my second baby. I was in a new country, a new culture and I wasn't quite sure how the maternity system worked in this new place. Although my husband is an Irish-native, he also had no clue what was in store for us or how we could navigate maternity care with ease. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to speak with another American expat who pointed me in the right direction. She was several steps ahead of me, having lived in Ireland for over five years. Her first baby was born in hospital, however, she was planning her first home birth. She discussed the positives of having a birth at home and explained the ease of finding a self employed community midwife that would help her and provide antenatal care in her own home. It sounded amazing!
I spent weeks looking into my options and even attended a home birth conference where I learned so much. And then I hit a wall. Of all things, I learned my weight could be a "barrier" to me being eligible for a home birth on Ireland's HSE Home Birth Scheme. This was my first time coming face to face with fatphobia within maternity culture and this was eight years ago!
I went on to learn that being overweight, specifically with a BMI over 35, was considered a "grey area" for home birth- meaning it was up to healthcare professionals to determine your fate.
This also meant that if I had ticked boxes for other "grey area" criteria, like a previous baby being born at 4.5 kg+, I would certainly be banned from having the home birth I really wanted.
The real kick in the teeth came when I rang a self-employed community midwife. She seemed nice initially when we spoke on the phone when I told her where I was located and my baby's estimated birth date. Then I said... "but I'm a little concerned that I may not be eligible because of my weight." She then asked for my height and weight, to obviously calculate my BMI, and she responsed "wow, yes... you ARE OVERWEIGHT." It wasn't exactly what she said, it's how she said it. It was a sentence filled with judgement and I will never forget it. I quickly exited the phone call and knew instantly that I would not be comfortable pushing a baby out of my vagina in front of that woman.
This is why size-friendly healthcare providers and birth workers matter! No pregnant person should leave a phone call or antenatal visit feeling disrepected, judged or like their provider sees them as nothing more than a BMI or number on a scale.
What I didn't realise at the time was that this would be only my first brushing of fatphobia within maternity care.
Sadly, I would experience more and worse during my second and future pregnancies.
Please join me and others at the Fat and Pregnant Community over on Facebook! This group is a BODY POSITIVE, FAT FRIENDLY SPACE for folks trying to conceive, those who are pregnant and/or navigating early parenting as a plus size person <3
** Please understand that not all community midwives have this insensitive attitude. I have met many more, both personally and professionally who are absolutely wonderful and I would recommend. I also know size-friendly birth and postpartum doulas (myself included!) who provide amazing support to people of all sizes.