Here's What It Really Looks Like to Be Plus-Size & Pregnant

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CafeMom/Leah Cooper

This article is part of a series dedicated to providing support and visibility to plus-size pregnant mothers. To read more stories, visit Plus-Size, Pregnant & Proud. To apply to join our private community on Facebook, click here

If you Google "plus-size pregnancy," you're going to be hit with a ton of information -- and most of the search results revolve around a word no pregnant woman wants to hear: risks. Soon, you'll read every horrifying statistic that's out there, from infant mortality rates to all of the complications you're prone to have. The guilt will set in. Then the isolation.

In an attempt to feel less like a failure, you start searching for images and stories of hope from other plus-size women. And then it hits you: Have you ever actually seen a plus-size pregnant woman? You can barely recall a plus-size protagonist on TV, let alone a pregnant one. And every maternity-wear ad always features thin women with beautifully round bellies. What will yours look like? Will anyone even be able to tell you're pregnant?

This is just a small peek inside a plus-size pregnant woman's mind. As plus-size bodies are routinely left out of the conversation, a lot of plus-size women feel a particular anxiety about how pregnancy will change them, and are given almost no reprieve. Because the medical world and mass media have done a great job of turning an almost blind eye to them, they feel underserved and underrepresented. 

With a reported 67 percent of the female US population being a size 14 or larger, it's safe to assume a good portion of them are also plus-size and pregnant. And every day, those same women are giving birth to perfectly happy and healthy babies. But from a quick search on Google, you'd never know it. 

To lift the veil on plus-size pregnancy, CafeMom invited pregnant women of various plus-sizes to show the world what it really looks like. Though many of them had never allowed themselves to be so vulnerable, they showed their bodies to the world so that no other plus-size pregnant woman would ever feel as alone again. Some are round; some are riddled with stretch marks; others are shaped like a "B." 

 You'll quickly see no two bellies are alike, and every pregnant belly is a beautiful one. 

  • Kate Mangano, 34, who is 26 weeks along, has had a long and hard pregnancy journey.

    Kate.
    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    As a horse trainer who played several sports, Kate never considered her size to be an issue, and was never led to believe it was a "problem" by any doctors. When issues with fertility arose, however, the conversation seemed to shift to her weight almost immediately. 

    "[Doctors] would focus on my weight, and it was very discouraging. They would make excuses that that's why I needed fertility [drugs], and that's why I couldn't get pregnant, and that's why I had miscarriages -- it always boiled down to my weight ... and I do believe that if I had been a size 4, those conversations wouldn't have happened and I would have gotten pregnant a lot sooner." 

    It was a cyclical problem. Years of fertility drugs and back-to-back miscarriages caused inevitable weight gain, but doctors kept insisting that her issues were entirely based on weight she couldn't avoid putting on. 

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  • As it would turn out, Kate was eventually diagnosed and treated for a medical condition that was likely at the root of her fertility issues.

    kate
    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    The years of doctors blaming her weight took its toll on Kate emotionally. Her confidence quickly diminished, causing her and her family stress that had never crossed her mind before. 

  • Thankfully, Kate gave birth to a son two years ago, and has made it to a "safer point" in this pregnancy. She's beginning to make peace with her body.

    Kate
    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    And it proved to be why she felt it was so important for other women to see what her plus-size pregnancy looks like.

    "This time around I am embracing it because it is going to happen. It's a growing baby, it's going to be a growing belly. In previous pregnancies, I wasn't happy to see the gain and the growth. I was nervous about it and thought 'Oh my God, what if I gain a hundred pounds?' But a baby is a blessing -- it's never anything but. And no matter if you're a size 2 or 12 or 24, it doesn't matter -- you're carrying a miracle."
  • Sara Jane Applegate, 40, a mom of two who is at 34 weeks in her third pregnancy, has always lived life as a plus-size woman.

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    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    However, she always felt pregnancy was the only time she could really embrace her body and all it could do.

  • "I've always been a take or leave it person when it comes to me," she laughed. "My personality is big and bold and kind of in your face. In terms of being big and taking up space in the world, that's how I live my life."

    sara jane applegate
    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    And while she does consider herself a body-positive person and believes her body has the most purpose during pregnancy, her initial relationship with her bump was a rocky one. As someone with a "B" belly, which is when a pregnant belly curves into the shape of a "B" rather than a round tight bump, she was at first unhappy with what she saw. 

    "That bothered me in the beginning. But after the second kid ... I thought 'this is fine, this is the way I am pregnant' and I'm just lucky to have a family." 

  • Though Sara is in a fairly zen place about her body and pregnancy, the lack of information, representation, and support for pregnant women is something she hopes to see change in the future.

    sara jane applegate
    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    "There is an invisibility of plus-size women in general. It's just not something that is commonly seen. Or when it is, there's some type of sadness associated with it. That somehow we are damaged if we are overweight and that we are always unhappy and we're always trying to lose weight, which isn't actually true. It would be nice if we could see happy images of women of a variety of sizes."

  • After eight years of trying, Jenefer Rosado, 36, is finally 24 weeks pregnant with twins. She was originally advised to lose weight to help conceive naturally (and lost 115 lbs), and still spent years of doing fertility treatments. Eventually her first round of IVF would prove to be successful.

    plus size pregnant
    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    Jenefer wasn't remotely sure what to expect of her body during pregnancy.

    "I had so much sagging skin because of the weight loss, I didn't really expect to show. And all these pictures you see a round belly, and some days I look and I'm like, 'Eh, I don't see it,' and then other days I do see it. I've really been trying to embrace all the good. My body is creating two humans, so yes, I am gaining weight, but that's okay because it's for a purpose. I look in the mirror and for the most part I'm like 'Wow.' It's pretty amazing."

  • But truthfully it didn't help that she didn't see a belly like hers anywhere before.

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    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    "You don't see it out in the world, you don't see it on billboards, you don't see it in places that matter," she says.

    However, that hasn't stopped her from really appreciating her pregnancy and body journey.

    More from CafeMom: I Had So Much Body Confidence -- Until I Got Pregnant

  • "It's okay to be whatever size you are. Your body is doing something really miraculous. Whether it is your first time or third time venturing into motherhood, it is a beautiful thing."

    plus size pregnancy
    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    "Personally, I didn't know if I'd ever get to go through it, and if there's another plus-size woman who gets here, just embrace it, because you worked so hard to get here. You can't take a moment for granted."

  • Jennifer Cervero, 31, who is 36 weeks along, spent all three of her pregnancies as a plus-size woman and says she's no stranger to scrutiny.

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    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    "I have had a few providers give me the third degree. I've been very blessed to have had doctors that don't fuss at me too much. I think the biggest piece of it is just knowing your own body and understanding what you're going through. Knowing that you're normal and a baby is a baby, and sometimes it doesn't matter what your weight is as long as you're healthy."

  • During her last pregnancy, she felt more that she was "round" than showing, and it took a toll on her.

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    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    "I think as a pregnant woman you want to feel like you're being fawned over ... having that special experience you see on TV or read about. If you don't feel like you look pregnant, you feel like you just look like another overweight woman, then you don't feel that special treatment."

    More from CafeMom: No, My Already Fat Body Has Not Been 'Even More Ruined' by Pregnancy

  • Now that she is expecting her third, she knows that it's not all doom and gloom and doesn't even give anyone's unwanted scrutiny a second thought.

    plus size women pregnancy
    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    "There's a lot of information out there that is like, you're plus-size and no matter what you do you're a danger to you and your child. There are these fears that are irrational because there's not an adequate amount of information or support system."

  • Plus-size style blogger Darlene LeBron, 37, who is at 39 weeks, had always considered herself a body-positive person and someone who is comfortable in her own skin.

    darlene
    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    Like many others, Darlene struggled with the shape of her bump in the beginning, noting how it was "lumpy" and not the round belly she has now at the end of her pregnancy.

    "The changes that you go through when you're pregnant happen so fast that it sometimes takes a little while to get readjusted. Unfortunately I didn't see other women who look like me in the media, social media, websites, or images -- even the pregnancy magazines, they don't look like me. So it was kind of a shock at first to see how my body was changing and transforming, and learning to love and re-love my body throughout the journey."

  • Truthfully, the body struggle began before she officially conceived. She was unable to conceive for a long time and doctors often told her if she'd lose 20 to 50 lbs, she'd conceive more easily.

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    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    "I actually had an autoimmune condition, which was part of what I believe now was preventing me from getting pregnant, but since then I've had a fairly normal pregnancy."

    Being that Darlene is a notable fashion blogger, putting herself out there throughout her pregnancy resulted in a mix of commentary. While she says she received an overwhelming amount of support, there were many people (even some in her inner circle) who were more negative. She was often critiqued for what she ate and flooded with "concerns" about her growing "even bigger" after the baby came. 

    "The way I bring them back is to clarify the misconceptions about who has what and how you develop certain things and what actually happens to women who become pregnant. I share with them my story ... like yes, you may have seen me eat that cookie, but you didn't see me eat the big salad that's going to give [the baby] all the nutrients she needs. You don't know how active I am."

  • Though standing up to family members and doctors is undoubtedly scary, Darlene hopes that other women will find the confidence to advocate for themselves no matter what their size is.

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    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    "I want other women to see that your size doesn't define who you are. Your size doesn't define whether you'll have a child or a healthy pregnancy or not. Your body is amazing and does some incredible things. Instead of tearing each other down, we have to be building each other up." 

    More from CafeMom: Why Women Shouldn't Believe Every Scary Thing They Read About Being Fat & Pregnant

  • And for me? I am 24 weeks pregnant with my first baby at 29 years old. My journey is still happening.

    cafemom plus size and pregnant
    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    I have good days and I have bad days when it comes to my body. In the beginning, my experience was one riddled with guilt, self-doubt, and a ton of self-loathing. I obsessed over the changes in my body, and I felt guilty I was worrying about that and not my baby boy in that moment; it became a viciously demoralizing cycle that never seemed to stop. 

  • Nothing anyone attempted to comfort me with worked -- because no one around me had a similar experience.

    plus size pregnant woman
    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    My friends who have given birth are all thin. Their bumps were perfect, their children are wonderful. And though they never judged me, my panic wouldn't subside. Not seeing other women who looked like me and portrayed in a positive light meant to me that the happiness and success stories must be few and far between. 

  • But now that I am halfway there with thankfully few complications thus far, I know that going to the right provider and doing what's best for me and my little one is all that matters.

    plus size pregnant
    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    And by taking these photos and really looking at myself, I can finally see that my body isn't just a burden. It's a vessel, one that doesn't just house a baby, but contains a person who deeply loves, laughs often, and tries to do her best.

    My body is part of me, and it informs a lot of my identity, but it isn't me. It doesn't mean I'm doomed to be a neglectful mother. It doesn't mean I am destined for only heartache. Right now in this moment it is what it is, and in accepting that, I can finally live in the precious moments of my pregnancy. 

  • If you're plus-size and pregnant, scared and unsupported, I think I can speak for the incredible women in this photo when I say we collectively want you to know you are worthy.

    plus size pregnant
    CafeMom/Leah Cooper

    No one can guarantee anything when it comes to pregnancy at any size. No one can predict what will happen. 

    But no matter what, you are deserving of decent care. You are worthy of love. And most importantly, you are entitled to enjoy your time as a mother-to-be.