It wasn’t Melody Bachlow’s finest pregnancy moment. “Does anybody want to give up a seat to a pregnant lady?!” the 30-year-old Torontonian, then seven months along, brashly asked a full streetcar.
Luckily, someone did, but Bachlow wasn’t satisfied. “I wanted to be offered a seat,” she explains. She also craved those invasive belly rubs, knowing smiles and nosy questions from strangers that other expectant moms often loathe. But at a size 18, and mostly “showing” only to those close enough to notice her shape shift, Bachlow felt excluded from what she calls “the special pregnant-lady club.” For some plus-size moms-to-be, a largely invisible pregnancy can be a lonely and disappointing experience.
Mirroring the weight stats in the general population, almost one in four women won’t enjoy a fantasy pregnancy of a perfect round belly flanked by slim limbs. “Did you know only skinny women get pregnant? Because that’s all we ever see!” jokes Jen McLellan, a plus-size-pregnancy advocate and founder of the Denver-based plussizebirth.com.
A healthy and active size 24, McLellan is very familiar with the often-ignored plus-size pregnancy. “I was expecting at the same time as a close friend, so we’d go to the bathroom and compare bumps.” While her slimmer friend grew a smooth protruding bump, McLellan’s belly showed less and took longer to do so. “People would say to her, ‘Omigosh, look how cute your belly is!’ Then they’d look at me and ask if I’d lost weight,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘Excuse me, I’m pregnant too!’”
Plus-size moms often take longer to “pop”—a strange and arbitrary moment where the belly is said to suddenly protrude from maybe-burrito-baby to obvious baby-on-board—and, because of a little extra cushioning, it can take longer to feel the baby move. “It can be hard when your less-pregnant friends are feeling turns and kicks and all you feel is gas,” says McLellan. Partners and loved ones will have to be patient, but they should still be generous with affectionate rubs. “Make sure you ask to touch your plus-size friends’ bumps, because it probably doesn’t happen often.”
McLellan’s pregnant belly was shaped more like a B than a D, she says, “with a top area and then almost a little waistband where my pants sat, and then a bottom area.” McLellan calls this “B-Belly,” or “plus-size double belly,” and it’s common for larger women. If it bugs you, a belly band or back-support band can smooth out the B-shape.
In fact, maternity wear can make all the difference. Fitting into your regular wardrobe is a perk, but it can do a too-good job of hiding, not accentuating, your belly. “Wear plus-size maternity clothing, not the next size up in regular clothing. You’ll look frumpy and not necessarily pregnant,” explains Julie Berg, the New Dundee, Ont., designer behind the maternity line Dressed to Deliver. “If you want people to see your belly, you need to show it off.”
Dressed to Deliver makes a birthing gown in plus-sizes that’s fashionable enough to double as maternity wear, and Berg has plans to expand in a market in dire need of better options. Until then, she suggests empire waists, maxi-dresses and open cardigans. Don’t shy away from fitted forms, and don’t give up on fashion. “Pregnancy is a great time to try new looks and experiment,” she says.
Still, no matter your size, sometimes people won’t know what’s acceptable and dread the gaffe of offending a non-pregnant person, so they don’t say anything. So speak up. “Part of embracing your plus-size pregnancy is talking about it,” says McLellan. And she doesn’t just mean with words. “Touch your belly, smile wide, and say you’re so excited to share the good news.”
Did you know?
It’s not uncommon for plus-size women to actually lose weight during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. Doctors suggest it’s a combination of healthier eating, lifestyle changes and—yep, an issue at all sizes—morning sickness.
A version of this article appeared in our May 2015 issue with the headline, “Plus size mama,” p.59.