Monday, January 14, 2013

Supporting the Births of Plus-Size Mothers

A wonderful Web site titled Plus Size Birth aims to empower plus-size mothers in many ways.  The site offers articles on topics ranging from finding a size-friendly midwife or OB, to locating good-fitting baby carriers; links to many resources; an inspiring pregnancy photo gallery; and a directory of doulas in the U.S. and around the world who have experience working with mothers 200 pounds or more (doulas who would like to be listed, or mothers who would like to find a doula, can click here).  I encourage everyone to spend time exploring the Plus Size Birth site, and to be enlightened by its message of embracing a positive body image for all mothers regardless of size.  Founder of the site Jen McLellan shares her birth story, and her experience laboring as a plus-size mother, below.

My doula often compares giving birth to having sex.  Having people looking at my naked body while telling me to “try and relax“ and “I need you to change positions” was just about the furthest thing from romance I could imagine.  All I could think of was how scared I was to deliver my son.  The pain didn’t scare me but the idea of strangers staring at my naked plus-size body was terrifying.
I asked my midwife a lot of questions about my hospital’s policies: from being able to wear my own clothes to what women wore while laboring in the bathtub.  I wanted to focus on my body in a positive way rather than worrying about what I looked like.  This for me was a “safe space.”  I wanted to feel confident rather than vulnerable.  I planned to create this space by limiting who I would have watching me give birth, by wearing my own clothes, and setting the right tone.  Below are my best-laid plans and what actually happened:
I struggled with selecting the people I would invite to the labor and delivery room.  I didn’t want to disappoint anyone but also had to focus on my needs as well.  I adore my mother-in-law, but being naked in front of her was not within my comfort zone.  I even questioned having my own mother in the room but I decided I wanted her there.  Also, we were delivering our son at a teaching hospital. When they asked if I would be okay with having a medical student assist with my son’s delivery, I declined.  This definitely was not part of my safe-space blueprint. 
While I only had my doula, husband, and mom as my birth team (along with one nurse and my midwife), after almost sixteen hours of labor I no longer cared who was going to see me naked when it came time to deliver my son.  The entire cast of Grey’s Anatomy could’ve been in the room, let alone that one medical student or my mother-in-law, and I wouldn’t have cared.  With that said, I was glad I had limited the people present during labor because I didn’t stop to think about what I looked like in whatever position I was in.    
When it came to what to wear during labor and delivery I wanted a cute and yet comfortable short cotton dress.  Target had just what I was looking for!  Once we arrived at the hospital I was told I had to wear their gown.  Thankfully my doula immediately spoke up for me.  The admitting nurse made a snooty comment about how my clothes would get filthy.  She was right; the dress we had fought for didn’t make it more than a few hours into labor because I vomited all over it.  Thankfully I was wearing a tank top with a built-in bra underneath and that was perfect!  It gave me some modesty, didn’t feel restrictive, and was comfortable.  I wasn’t wearing anything besides that tank top for the duration of my son’s birth. My loving birth team always helped me to cover up with a towel or sheet and that was just what I needed to feel secure.        
The last part of my plan for creating a safe space to birth was setting the right tone. Our doula suggested we create music playlists.  Our son came early so I hadn’t finished editing my playlists.  At one point there were a bunch of nursery songs playing and I remember thinking “make this stop,” but couldn’t vocalize it.  Our doula read my mind and switched to a playlist she knew I’d enjoy.  Thanks to her, music ended up being a key element during the delivery of our son.  I was able to tune out everyone in the room and just enjoy the music between contractions.  Jeff Buckley’s version of "Hallelujah" and Nina Simone’s "Feeling Good" will forever flash me back to my son’s birth.
Another way we attempted to create the right tone was with aromatherapy.  I had selected “Ocean Breeze” and “Lavender” but they never even made it out of the hospital bag.  While I was laboring in the tub a nurse asked if it was okay to spray some cedar oil.  The natural scent was perfect and is now another way for me to relive my birth experience.   

I had done what I could to create a safe space so when it came time to deliver my son I gave birth in the position pictured below.

This position was perfect for me since I wanted some modesty and I’m plus-size.  Being on my knees didn’t leave me feeling exposed and I didn’t experience the discomfort I would have by laying on my back with my feet held up.  The only face I could see was my husband’s and that was romantic!  There was a sheet covering my body between contractions until right before my son was delivered. 
In the end my doula was right and giving birth is like having sex in many ways. It doesn’t matter if you’re plus-size or otherwise; if you’re not comfortable it won’t be enjoyable.  However, if everything falls into place just right, it can be the most freeing and exhilarating moment of your life!  I was so glad I did my best to create a safe place for me to be able to let go and embrace my body.  I can no longer be ashamed of a body that can do something so amazing!   


  1. excellent article; very informative while being lighthearted. The writer's personality comes
    accross as pleasant as well as intelligent. RL.

  2. Love this article! Thank you for sharing.

  3. I am also a plus sized mama. I has all the same concerns as you when I had my first bub. I wanted some degree of modesty, even though my logical brain kept telling me "Doctors and nurses look at naked people in vunerable positions every day! You are nothing special". However, my emotional size took over and insisted I be covered and modest. The theory, and what actually happened were worlds apart. My temperature hit the roof during labour and my skin felt like it would burst into flames. I stripped completely and had barely a light sheet or a gown over me the whole labour. I walked around the delivery suite with my husband nervously trying to do up the gown and pull the curtain shut, but I did not care! I was so "inside myself", mentally, that a marching band could have walked through the room and I would not have cared.
    With my second, I knew the score and didn't even bother trying to be dignified. I'm sure Timbuktu heard me bellowing! I also gave birth in the same position as you. Yay for gravity. This was a great read. Well written, thoughtful and articulate.

  4. Ananda thank you again for sharing my story and for your kind words. You do such incredible work for us mamas. Best wishes, Jen

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