I’m sorry. There’s no point beating around the bush. This happened yesterday, and now fat vaginas are on the agenda:
The author of Give Birth Like A Feminist was on BBC Radio for a discussion about induction rates. With her was Dr Marco Gaudoin, brought in for the ‘expert’ perspective. However, it turns out that Dr Gaudoin’s expertise is in fertility, not obstetrics or gynaecology… which may explain why he said this:
‘With obesity you’ve got increased fat tissue in the birth canal, which makes the birth canal that much narrower, which makes it harder for the baby to squeeze through the birth canal. So you are more likely to end up with what is called an “obstructed labour”‘Dr Marco Gaudoin, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland 12th November 2019
What’s worse was that this happened at the end of the interview! There was no opportunity to challenge the doctor on his statement, or ask for evidence.
Fat Vaginas – Fact or Myth?
It’s no surprise that Milli had never heard this before, because there is NO EVIDENCE for Dr Gaudolin’s words whatsoever. They echo a theory suggested in a research paper back in 1997, and no-one has provided any evidence for it since.
It’s just more fat shaming.
Ugh. Makes me want to beat some people over the head repeatedly with a copy of Give Birth Like A Feminist. Shame it didn’t come out in hardback.
You’d really hope that a qualified doctor would stick to established, evidence-based information. Sadly (too often, in my experience) when some doctors feel under pressure, they dredge some half-truth they heard somewhere from the back of their mind and present it as fact, rather than admit they don’t know.
It’s why I recommend anyone embarking on a high BMI pregnancy journey to do their own research and ensure they’re informed.
I have spoken to countless midwives. Midwives who, as you may imagine, have extensive experience of actual vaginas giving birth. Most agree that with the right support, there is no reason why a high BMI pregnancy shouldn’t proceed as with any other. Indeed, most of them do.
What Happened Next?
On Twitter, plenty came forward to challenge the “expert’s” ill-informed and misogynistic statements.
Then to my surprise, for once, the print media responded positively to the story! What a completely refreshing change! The resulting article in Grazia magazine was comprehensive and well written.
Then other media outlets picked up on the story, including the Sun, who got an actual expert in obstetrics and gynaecology to comment!
Dr Virginia Beckett, a consultant obstetrician and spokesperson for the RCOG clarified that having an “obstructed labour” has nothing to do with “fat vaginas”. Which we knew, but it is nice to hear it from someone well qualified to address the issue!
Next Up to fight our corner was the Daily Mail!?
Yes, really! Asking lots of people with much more experience and expertise… and me!?!?!
So, yeah. That happened. I was tempted to suggest how lucky our husbands and partners must be, if we’re so ‘restricted’? But I behaved myself. And contrary to my expectations, the journalist didn’t twist or change what I wrote at all, bar removing a paragraph that had already been covered by a previous interviewee. You can read what I wrote here:
Jaw on floor.
My part of the article came with the usual stock headless belly image, naturally! But then I contacted the writer with an offer of a photo to replace it, and it was quickly swapped. Of course, the article goes on to report the bloody relative risk stats rather than the true percentages, as always. So there’s still a way to go, but feeling strangely positive at how this story has turned out, for once!
As I have said before and seem to need to keep saying; having a higher BMI while pregnant is associated with a slightly increased risk of some less desirable outcomes. But there is also evidence that the precautionary way high BMI labours are managed may contribute to this.
There is no evidence that fatter people have fatter vaginas. There is no evidence that having a fat vagina (if such a thing exists) is a cause of birth obstruction.
I think Jennivee sums it up in the comments better than i can…
Want to read more about how micromanaging our births can cause a spiral of negativity and interventions? I wrote an article here on The Impact of Negativity on Labour and Birth.