When I was 25 weeks pregnant with my first child, my baby bump seemed to suddenly appear overnight. Until that moment, I hadn't had any signs, symptoms or physical manifestations of pregnancy whatsoever. Suddenly—in what truly felt like a blink of an eye—I was faced with the challenge of finding plus-size maternity clothes for my rapidly-changing body. It was a challenge that, unfortunately, I never really won due to the marked lack of options.
At a size U.S. 20/22, I've long been used to feeling overlooked by the fashion industry. When I go to shopping malls with my usually thinner friends and family members, for example, I'm armed with the knowledge that I'm unlikely to find anything to stylishly drape around my 55-inch hips. Instead, I've grown accustomed to perusing accessory and beauty sections of all the trendiest shops — in other words, sections that genuinely sell one-size-fits-all products. I know that if I want to rock the styles that feel most "me," I'll have much more luck frequenting independent plus-size brands on the web than any standard brick and mortar store.
Still, when I think back to that first baby bump — the first physical hint that I was going to become a mother — I can't help but feel sad. Despite having spent so much of my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood being fed the narrative that fat people are unworthy of cute clothes, I wasn't ready for this new narrative: that fat, pregnant people are unworthy of any clothes at all.
In the United States, it's estimated that 67% of women wear plus-sizes, but we certainly do not make up 67% of the retail industry. Our cherubim visages and plump figures do not adorn 67% of photos in glossy women's magazines. We do not make up 67% of e-commerce imagery or of clothing on the racks — and this includes plus-size maternity and postpartum clothing.
Yet, women of all sizes get pregnant. Women of all sizes become mothers. Women of all sizes choose to nurse their children, too. It should follow that people of all sizes deserve access to maternity and nursing styles that might allow us to comfortably dress our bodies while embarking on one of the greatest, scariest, most tumultuous, beautiful, difficult times of our lives.
To me, the erasure of plus-size women from so much of the nursing and postpartum clothing industries feels almost like a metaphor. After all, it's no secret that most of us grow up in cultural climates that, quite simply, dislike fat people. We are not only told that fatness is ugly, but that it is a sign of all manner of deplorable characteristics: selfishness, a lack of discipline, laziness, and a generally poor moral compass. We learn this through fat jokes, diet talk, parents, friends, teachers and TV. Fat people are believed to be wholly unlovable and undesirable, so it's no surprise that the retail giants that be would think it unnecessary to dress us when we are pregnant. Perhaps they don't think it possible for us to get pregnant at all.
When I began sharing news of my first pregnancy on my social media feeds, it didn't take long before I came face to face with a new kind of trolling: anti-fat-mom trolling. My body, people told me, was evidence that I did not deserve to be a parent. I shouldn't be "allowed" to have children. I shouldn't subject my daughters to the humiliation of having a plus-size mother.
Amidst the internet shaming that began to inundate my life, I couldn't even find solace in dressing my plus-size, pregnant body. So I began (as I imagine most fat, pregnant women do) to experiment. I found that if I sized-up in skater-style dresses, they'd usually accommodate my growing tummy. Once I had my daughter, I learned that if I wore spaghetti strap dresses, I could slip out of one side of them to breastfeed. If I wore bralettes instead of anything wired, I could nurse a little more easily, too.
It would've been nice if I hadn't had to come up with ingenious ways of turning standard clothes into pregnancy and nursing-friendly ones, though. It would've been nice to feel just as celebrated as an expectant size 8 at my local maternity stores. It would've been nice—maybe even affirming—to have felt just a little visible and represented as a plus-size mother-to-be.
Thankfully, some progress has been made when it comes to plus-size maternity styles in the four years since I was first pregnant. Lovely brands full of stylish and practical apparel, like Storq and Leche Libre, offer pieces up to a 3XL and 26, respectively. Long-time plus-size retailer Yours Clothing is making more and more stylish pieces in its Bump it Up range, up to a size 28. Occasionally, beloved mega-retailer Target even sells a cute nursing piece or two up to a 3XL.
Still, these collections are but drops in the ocean. For mothers and mothers-to-be who are on the upper end of the plus-size spectrum (sizes 30 and above), options remain nearly impossible to track down. Even for those of us under a size 30, the aforementioned retailers are among the select few striving to dress us.
The reality is that we are here, though. Fat pregnant women and fat pregnant moms exist.
We deserve access to those cute pieces designed to impeccably wrap around our growing bumps while fitting comfortably everywhere else.
We deserve to feel adorable in the merchandise available on ASOS, Hatch or any of the other top-voted maternity brands out there.
We deserve to be seen, to be dressed and to be treated as equally worthy of motherhood as anyone else—after all, we are.