INTERVIEW WITH JEN MCLELLAN CHILDBIRTH EDUCATOR AND PLUS SIZE ADVOCATE
Jen McLellan is a published author and certified childbirth educator who advocates for plus size women. She promotes positive information to empower healthy decision making during pregnancy. Within her blog, Plus Size Mommy Memoirs, she helps women navigate the world of plus size pregnancy, shares tips for embracing your body, and laughs along with the adventures of motherhood. Her work has been featured in major publications such as Yahoo Shine, Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, and International Doula. In addition she co-authored the Amazon bestseller, The Peachie Moms Guide to Body Love for Moms. Jen is also a skilled patient advocate, professional speaker, wife, and mother to a charismatic 6 year old.
When and why did you decide to start ‘Plus Size Birth’?
When I became pregnant, after the shock and joy wore off, I went online. I searched the internet like most newly pregnant women do, I suppose. The thing is, the internet isn’t a very kind place for fat women. When I Googled, “Plus Size and Pregnant” I read that I would develop all kinds of complications, have a cesarean birth, and that I was a terrible person for wanting to become a mother as a fat woman. I went from being so excited to rather devastated about my circumstances. Yet, I have been a bigger girl for most of my life and had never allowed my size to define me. So I went to water aerobics three times a week, hired a doula, and five months into my pregnancy switched care from an OB-GYN to a midwife. I was determined to NOT let Google search results define me as a pregnant woman or mother.
As my belly began to grow, so did my love for my body! On August 24, 2010, after a completely healthy pregnancy, I had a natural childbirth and it was the most transformative experience of my life. I not only became a mother on that day, but I developed a love for my body that will never be diminished.
After settling into motherhood for a few months, I felt compelled to share my story. I wanted there to be another narrative out there about what it’s like to be plus size and pregnant. I knew I wasn’t the first plus size woman to have such a healthy and positive experience. Yet stories like mine were difficult to find. So I started my blog, Plus Size Mommy Memoirs, and that soon became the Plus Size Birth website you know today.
What was your experience like as a plus size pregnant woman?
As I shared above, I really worked hard to take good care of my body and connect with a care team who had more belief in my body than I did. I glowed and had never felt more beautiful!
What resource would you recommend to plus size pregnant women? What do you love most about this resource?
It feels weird to promote myself but I’ve dedicated over five years of my life to developing resources for plus size women during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. I’ve also become certified as a childbirth educator and have traveled the country speaking to birth professionals about supporting plus size women. I never imagined starting my little blog would develop into my life’s work but I’m incredibly passionate about what I do.
The Plus Size Birth website has images of plus size women who are pregnant, giving birth, breastfeeding and babywearing. Birth stories that range from uplifting and empowering to really shocking in regard to how some people are mistreated. I’ve developed a directory list of size friendly doulas and providers as well a lot of supportive and positive resources for plus size women in all stages of motherhood from trying to conceive to well into parenthood.
If you had one piece of advice to offer a plus size pregnant woman, what would you tell her?
The one thing I’ve found can make the biggest impact in a plus size woman’s pregnancy is connecting with a size friendly care provider. That is, a care provider who practices evidence-based, compassionate care. A woman can do everything within her power to have a healthy pregnancy. However, if she connects with a care provider who doesn’t believe in her body’s ability to have a healthy outcome, then she’s often fighting an uphill battle.
This can come into play with a woman being told she will develop complications during her pregnancy. Yes, there are increased risks associated with being plus size and pregnant; however, a woman won’t automatically test positive for something like gestational diabetes just because she weighs more than 200 lbs.
It’s worth the time to really interview your care provider and to ask questions like, “What’s your experience working with women of size?” to make sure you’ve connected with a care provider who doesn’t have a personal bias against people of size. This is so important to me that I have a free resource guide on my website to help women connect with size friendly care providers.
In your opinion, how can care providers be more inclusive when taking on plus size pregnant women as their patients?
It starts with providing individualized care and meeting women where they are! If a woman comes into pregnancy with diabetes, for example, then she has unique needs that need to be met. Yet, most women don’t come into pregnancy with preexisting conditions, therefore, it’s important to follow the trajectory of her pregnancy while treating her with dignity.
This is common practice under the midwifery model of care, however it’s important to note that not all midwives are size friendly. Therefore, it’s important that care providers examine their own personal biases when it comes to caring for larger patients.
When providers are size friendly they make sure their patients needs are met; from simply having a comfortable place to sit (chairs without arms) to making sure they have the proper equipment (like a large/thigh size blood pressure cuff). With 60% of women in their childbearing years being classified as overweight or obese, it’s time we start supporting women of size with compassion rather than making them feel ashamed.
From personal experience I can share that connecting with a size friendly care provider didn’t just impact my pregnancy and birth but helped me to be more body positive overall! It also made me realize that I deserve to be treated with this kind of care now and forever.
Why do you think plus size pregnant women receive so much backlash?
Unfortunately, in our culture, it’s still socially acceptable to mistreat and shame people of size. When it comes to pregnancy, if you open up a pregnancy magazine or watch a pregnancy commercial, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who is plus size. It’s not normalized for us anywhere and, as I shared within my story, most of the information you find online is negative.
I believe change comes from sharing more images and stories of plus size pregnancy and birth! That’s how we can help to normalize plus size pregnancy from something that’s stigmatized and criticized to something that simply part of life.
What are some of the challenges you faced being plus sized and pregnant? How did you overcome these challenges?
I have to say that I was lucky. Aside from the messages I read on my Google search, I connected with an incredible care team and had the support I wish for everyone!
Still, I hear countless stories from women who have been mistreated by their care providers. Some women are told they must have a c-section at their first prenatal visit. I’ve even heard from women who have been told their vagina is too fat to birth their baby! It’s outrageous and makes me so upset.
What do you most enjoy about advocating for plus size pregnant women? Why?
Everything! I love the online community I’ve built and the way the women support one another. I adore the e-mails I receive weekly from women who thank me for the resources I’ve developed. I even enjoy the hard stuff – like supporting women who feel really upset about how their birth turned out or those who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy.
I do this work because I know what it can be like to receive outstanding and dignified care. And I sure don’t plan on slowing down until plus size women are treated with more compassion than shame!
Where can our readers find you on social media?
Facebook is where I spend most of my time with a community of over 178,700 plus size women! You can find us at https://www.facebook.com/plussizemommymemoirs/ as well as our private Facebook forum - https://www.facebook.com/groups/plussizemommymemoirsforum/. I’m also a big fan of Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/plusmommy/.
Are there any projects that you have been involved in that you would like to promote to our readers?
I’d love to share that I recently compiled a guide on plus size pregnancy that answers all of the questions I receive daily. From where to find cute maternity clothes to how to love a belly that often looks more like a “B” than a “D”. This guide also answers the questions I wish people would ask more often like; what really are the increased risks, how to reduce risks and what’s a doula. I’m incredibly proud of this resource and would like to offer $5 off to anyone reading this now (use the code volup2)! http://plussizebirth.com/my-plus-size-pregnancy-guide/
MAY TOUMA is a Youth Worker who has a Bachelor of Social Work from Ryerson University in Toronto. She is a bit of a rebel who likes to challenge the status quo. She is passionate, boisterous and wears her heart on her sleeve. May has a personal style blog at www.boldlycurvy.blogspot.ca. She loves experimenting and having fun with fashion.