Too Fat To Have An Abortion

I am 36 years old, married with children. I am also fat. I am 5'6″ and I weigh about 250lb. In April I found out I was pregnant. This was not planned and was totally unexpected. For a myriad of reasons we decided not to continue with the pregnancy. At that point, I thought the hardest part was over. How wrong I was.

I live in a rural area with a relatively small population. I wasn't sure if my pregnancy was 5 weeks along or 9 weeks along as I had only had very light bleeding for what I thought had been my last period. However once I found out I was pregnant, I thought perhaps that had been implantation spotting and not an actual period. Hence I had no idea how far along I was. I didn't want to go to the doctor because a) my doctor is Muslim and I didn't want to run the risk of s/he refusing to refer me for a termination and b) my doctor works at a community clinic that we are quite involved with personally and professionally and I have reservations about the extent of confidentiality. Usually I see that doctor only for mundane illness and I see another doctor in another town about anything personal. However I was unable to get into see that other doctor for two weeks and I couldn't wait that long.

I went to the local women's health referral service and got the contact details for abortion providers. I found out that I would not be able to get a termination done in my own town (which was ok by me) and that I would have to travel to the city, over 3 hours away. I would have to have someone with me, the ability to pay for the procedure etc etc. I am lucky enough that I had all that but I wondered how other women who don't have transport, money and support people would cope?

I chose a clinic and rang to make an appointment. I was booked in for 2 days later and the receptionist started asking me her battery of questions. After about ten questions about things like how far along I was etc, she asked me my height. Alarm bells immediately started ringing and I felt sick to the stomach. Surely this wasn't heading where I thought it was? Unfortunately, it was headed exactly there. Her next question was about my weight. I was honest, I told her my weight was 250lb. She went quiet and I started to shake. She then told me that my BMI was 41 and that the anaethetist at the clinic would only administer anaesthetic to women with BMIs of 40 and under. I wasn't willing to go without the anaesthetic and I know my voice was shaking when I told her that. I coulnd't believe they were telling me I was too fat to have an abortion. I felt sick with anger. How dare they? I have had two surgeries under general anaesthetic in the last 18 months and neither time has either anaethetist said anything about my weight. I wondered how much of a difference one point on the BMI scale could really make to the skill needed to administer an anasethstic? I asked the receptionist what exactly I was meant to do now? She consulted with someone else in the office and then asked if she could call me back in ten minutes. I agreed and hung up the phone.

I then burst into hot angry tears. I was furious. So not only are fat women not meant to be attractive to men and not meant to have sex, and not be able to get pregnant, when we do get pregnant we are apparently putting our baby at risk because we are fat and if we don't want to continue with the pregnancy, we can't get abortions either because we are fat. I ranted and raved to my husband, who was as apalled as I was, until the phone rang ten minutes later. The clinic receptionist informed me that the other anaethetist who worked at the clinic was willing to perform terminations on women with BMI up to 43 and so I would be able to have my abortion after all. But I would have to change the day I was booked in as he only worked particular days. This meant my husband had to renegotiate time off work and we also had to rearrange childcare for our other children. But I was booked in.

I was still fuming about it 3 days later when I went to the clinic. After having to leave home at the crack of dawn, travel 3 1/2 hours and walk through a group of anti-choice protestors, I was seen by a junior clinican (female) who took my history and did what I assume was meant to be the ‘counselling' part of the pre-termination consultation. She never once mentioned my weight. Then I had to see the doctor who would do the termination. In the 5 minutes I was with him, he must have mentioned I am ‘quite overweight' at least 5 times. He mentioned it in relation to the ultrasound he did to try and see how far along I was ( I didnt have to see the screen and the sound was turned down) and he mentioned it in regard to prescribing me the contraceptive Pill. He refused to give me the combination pill that I had been on prior to my last pregnancy because of my weight and would only give me the mini pill. After that, I was taken into a room to put a robe on and wait to see the anaethetist. He came in, took my blood pressure (which was fine), commented on my facial piercing and assured me all would be fine. No mention of my weight at all – which is probably just as well because by that point I probably would have lost it.

The actual termination went smoothly and I recovered physically quite quickly. Emotionally I still find it difficult from time to time but I feel we did the right thing for us at the time.

It was a week later that my husband discovered online that if a woman weighs over 70kg that one mini pill a day may not be enough to prevent pregnancy. I was horrified. Here I was, just having had a termination and taking birth control to prevent another pregnancy and it was highly possible that the abortion clinic doctor had prescribed me a pill that was going to be ineffective because of my weight on the grounds that I was too fat for the combination pill? It was beyond belief. I was able to get into see my alternate doctor two days later (by some stroke of luck) and he was happy to prescribe the combination pill for me. He knows my history and he knows my blood pressure is fine. He has never made an issue of my weight, which is why I continue to be his patient.

I am still incredibly angry that such a difficult decision (for me/us) was made even harder because of one point on the BMI scale. I am still incredibly angry that women who have a BMI over 43 who seek a termination at that well regarded clinic, are going to be turned away. It makes me so angry I don't even know where to begin to address the issue because not only am I so angry I could spit, I also don't want to broadcast to the world at large that we chose to terminate the pregnancy. I think that is our business and has nothing to do with other people. But how to raise awareness about the issues fat women face in this area without compromising my own privacy? I have yet to work that out.

This post originally appeared at First, Do No Harm. Republished with permission.

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