The New York Times manages a two-fer in its piece, “Growing Obesity Increases Perils of Childbearing” (yet, interestingly, tagged “Obese Mothers a Burden on Hospital Resources”). There, we read all kinds of speculation that America’s obesity problem is the (possibly! some say!) the cause of America’s rampant c-sections problem, which is connected to the nation’s alarming rise in maternal mortality rates.
The concern is that fat women are going ahead and getting pregnant, without bothering to lose weight. Doctors are scared to council overweight and obese women because of fat issues in our society. And also (article takes a sudden left turn), hospitals are having to stock sturdier beds, bigger gowns, longer needles and step-stools (for surgery) to accommodate the big ladies.
But then to illustrate the point — the point being, obese women sometimes have tiny babies — they follow a 5-foot, 261-pound new mom (she was 195 pounds when she got pregnant), whose child was born very premature (and weighing less than two pounds). Patricia Garcia was put on hospital bed rest when she was 7 months along and couldn’t feel her baby kick.
The thing is, she was on bed rest and couldn’t feel the baby not because she was fat, because she had a stroke. And also? She was retaining water. And her kidneys were failing.
Now, granted, Garcia’s poor condition and risky pregnancy related to her health, which wasn’t good. She was a mess. But the problem with stories like this is that the stories — and some doctors themselves — condemn every woman to a higher-risk category, regardless of health and solely based on BMI.
In fact, a doctor quoted in the article thinks we’ve become acclimated to fat women and wants doctors and nurses to no longer eyeball whether their patients are obese. She wants BMI’s calculated for everyone — and nutrition counseling for those who don’t make the cut. Some hospitals in New York are even talking about creating a special ward for all the obese pregnant women. (If they’re going by BMIs, they’d better make more than one. That place is going to be crowded!)
Here’s the problem with all of this: there’s a real chicken and egg thing going on when talking about obese women and c-section rates (therefore, a problem with connecting obesity to maternal death rate increase.) Also? Garcia was very unhealthy even by her own accounts. Obesity doesn’t always indicate poor health. That BMI is pretty unforgiving. There’s obesity and there’s obesity. You can be obese yet active, healthy, and in possession of a ticker of a marathon runner. And you can be obese, diabetic and having strokes while you’re pregnant.
The one should be watched closely and treated with great amounts of care and advice. The other? Back off with the scalpel and let her give birth.