My first pregnancy came as a bit of a surprise. My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for 18 months, but we’d just been given the depressing news that my husband’s sperm count was very low and our only hope would be IVF. So when I got a positive pregnancy test later that same month (yes, really!), we were woefully unprepared for what came next.
I had been too superstitious about the pregnancy to pick a healthcare provider for my prenatal care and birth. But when I got that pregnancy test, I didn’t want to delay care for one second. So without giving it too much thought, I made the next available appointment with whichever OB-GYN would see me on short notice. I wanted confirmation beyond my positive pregnancy test that the pregnancy was viable and all was well.
I remember the first appointment with this OB-GYN in her posh upper west side Manhattan office. As I lay on the exam table chatting with her, I began to feel something cold and wet slip inside my vagina. I would figure out in a few minutes that it was one of those wands they use to do a transvaginal ultrasound, but the doctor hadn’t told me what was happening. It’s not like I’d ever experienced this before, and I was used to providers at least giving me a heads up when they were about to stick something in my vag.
Honestly, that should have been the first sign that this OB was not the one for me. But I somehow forgot how weird and violating all of that was when my little peanut showed up on the ultrasound machine looking healthy and perfect. What a momentous relief.
I showed up to my next appointment two weeks later, when I was eight weeks pregnant. Again, I wasn’t in love this doctor, but I just needed confirmation that all was well with my baby and with me. This time I was ready for the cold, wet wand to be pushed into my vagina and was ecstatic again to see my little love’s heart strongly beating.
But what I wasn’t prepared for was the discussion the doctor had with me as I sat up on the examining table afterwards and began to get dressed.
“OK, so you gained four pounds in the last two weeks,” she said.
“Uh-huh,” I responded, honestly happy that it was only four pounds. I had been nauseous and wasn’t eating much besides toast and rice, and I was bloated beyond belief.
“Well, you don’t really need to gain that much weight at this point,” she said, leaving the room and telling me to meet her in her office.
After she left, I said to my husband: “Did you freaking hear that?” I was confused, embarrassed. And fuming.
My husband was definitely sympathetic, but he also thought that maybe I was overreacting. “She wasn’t saying you had gained too much weight or anything—just that you didn’t need to gain weight.”
“Mmmmhmmm,” I said, ready to punch my husband in the nose.
Back in her office, my OB went over stats, vitals, and talked a bit about what to expect in the next few weeks. It was all normal, until she brought the weight gain thing up again — she clearly could not let it go.
Without asking me a damn thing about my diet or how I was feeling, she told me that pregnancy isn’t an invitation to eat junk food, and that if I continued to gain weight at this rate, it could become a problem later on.
Thankfully, this was when my husband began to see the light. Realizing that I had no words left for this doctor, he said, “But she’s hardly had an appetite. She’s not overeating or eating junk. She’s barely eating at all. I think this is just what her body is doing.”
By then, the OB was shushing us out the door, clearly not wanting to engage in further discussion with anyone who thought for one second to question her authority on pregnancy weight gain.
After we left, we immediately agreed we were never going to see that woman again. We talked about how ridiculous it was for her to even mention the weight gain. My husband noted that four pounds is nothing—your weight can go up and down by four pounds and it isn’t even considered a gain. I pointed out that I was retaining so much water right now that I felt like I was going to burst.
And we both agreed that the way the OB spoke to me, in such a dismissive and belittling manner, was almost as much of a problem as the message she was delivering.
It felt good to feel supported and empowered to fire this lady and move on. My husband and I were reasonably confident that the pregnancy was healthy enough that we could take a few weeks to interview healthcare providers and find one that we liked. It was helpful that we knew we needed to find someone who treated me with respect, who took the time to listen, and who didn’t spout all kinds of shameful nonsense about my changing body (unless, of course, there was a medical reason to be concerned).
Thankfully, we were able to find a provider who was the exact opposite of this doctor. We had a team of two wonderful midwives attend both of our births and they were nothing but kind and respectful about body issues and weight gain.
I still get upset when I think about what happened with this fancy upper west side doctor who somehow got a million positive online reviews. Even though I knew what she said was hurtful and not really based on anything medically sound or specific to my situation, in the moments she was delivering them, her words stung.
They brought back feelings of other times that I felt out of control about my changing body, like my fifth grade year, when I got my period and began sporting breasts and hips before most of the other girls. Or my high school senior year when I began binge-eating in response to some familial traumas that had taken place that summer. Or the years following when I starved myself for half the day in order to lose weight and control my eating.
Pregnancy—or really any time during a woman’s life—is a particularly vulnerable time, and one that can be deeply triggering for body dysmorphia issues, relapses in eating disorders, and mental health issues like anxiety or depression.
That is just awful, isn’t it? But the thing is, it’s totally avoidable.
Listen up: No one has a right to shame your body during pregnancy (other otherwise), to call out your weight when they don’t have a very good damn reason, or to make assumptions about your eating choices with zero information. It doesn’t matter if they are your significant other, your best friend, your mother, or your freaking doctor.
People need to wake up to the fact that words matter. Compassion matters. And the way women feel about their bodies goes deep. Really, the best thing you can do when it comes to women, pregnancy, and weight gain is to not say anything all. Zip, zero, nada. Keep those lips sealed.