In Search Of: Plus-Sized Maternity Clothes
I’ve started this email several times and have decided that it’s a topic worth bringing up after reading through your Advice Smackdown archives. I love your column and advice (and have been devouring your pregnancy calendar each week – thank you so MUCH for doing it in WEEKS and not months). You seem to be a fashionable and practical person who knows what it’s like to be pregnant.
Last week I found a maternity store that, when I called, said “Yes, we have a plus section” but when I went there the “section” was one rack, a few bras and nothing REMOTELY practical for regular folks. (Lacy tank tops with ruffles? Really? Do I WANT to look like a wedding cake? I left the store and cried around the corner for about a half hour before I trudged home with nothing to show for it but a two hour bus ride and puffy eyes.
See, I’m a big girl. I struggle with anxiety and depression and due to that my weight fluctuates wildly. I was working on “slimming down” when my husband and I were pleasantly surprised to find that I was pregnant again (after losing one boy at 19 weeks this past May) so I stopped the dieting and upped my calorie intake because gosh darnit I need to eat for this baby right? I was about an XL before pregnant and now am around a 1xl – 2xl. My breast size is also a huge issue - I was a DD before the first pregnancy (I’ve never been smaller than a D, even at my skinniest), my breasts didn’t go down, and now I’m painfully aware of my growing H cup breasts. Enter back problems and sciatica and ouch. I’m 25 weeks right now with a baby boy I want to meet soon.
I know I’m fat. I know it’s an issue normally – let alone pregnant. I also know that I am developing a hatred for skinny moms to be who walk around maternity stores with armfuls of clothing lamenting how FAT they are while looking fabulous and put together whilst I quietly sob in a corner and debate getting either the black tank or the white tank. I hate that when I walk into stores people judge me on my size and don’t even realize I’m pregnant. I had a lady comment to me as I tried to find a bra that if I was that upset maybe I should go on a diet. I just started crying and my hubby pointed to my belly and asked if I should go on one then or AFTER I gave birth. She mumbled an apology and wandered away. (not that he thinks I should diet anyways – he was just really mad cause he knows how hard it is for me)
I’ve tried every store I can think of. The store I mentioned above says it has a “great” plus size section but in store it’s really not that great. I’m panicking about the bra thing especially – the bras I have are too small and hurting me every day I wear them. What do I do about nursing? Do I forget ever leaving the house again until I’m done breastfeeding or do I give birth and go on a crazy diet to fit into normal clothes?
I hate my body. I can’t stand to look into a mirror or take pictures. Pics of my belly? Forget it! This isn’t helping the depression or anxiety either – please, can you help point me in the right direction? You know a lot about fashion and are so stylish in all your pics!
I’m hoping for comfortable clothes I can wear to work that don’t make me either a) look like I should be out clubbing with friends or b) work on wallstreet. Is there any hope for me and other bigger mamas out there? I hope this isn’t coming off as too selfish a request.
(I live in Canada, BTW)
Chubby and Pregnant
Oh, my goodness, we are HERE TO HELP YOU. Even if it’s just to give you giant Internetty hugs. In all my many years writing this column, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a letter that started out about one thing and so quickly…turned out to be another.
On the one hand, we have a pregnant lady who needs her some nice clothing options and some bras. Okay, I think between myself and the comments section, we’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
On the other hand, we have some serious pregnancy-and-body-related anxiety and depression going on. Which is…normal, but still not something you should have to live with, to this extent. Many pregnant women of all sizes develop a degree of body discomfort/hatred, even up to dysmorphic levels, becoming overly preoccupied with it and believing that a big phantom “everyone” is staring and judging at them. Many pregnant women struggle with guilt over fears that the feelings they have toward their bodies will somehow carry over to feelings toward their babies, and beat themselves up for not being able to “celebrate” their pregnant body the way the whole bump-watch-obsession-belly-pics-plaster-casts-nekkid-photos crowd tells them they should.
I really, really want you to talk to your OB or midwife about this. You are crying an awful lot and describing some really, really acute feelings of anxiety and depression and worthlessness. And I don’t think finding well-fitting pants and bras is necessarily going to magically change all that. Not to mention the DEVASTATING 19-week loss you just casually dropped in there. That was a bit of a *record scratch* moment for me, because this is all an awful lot for one person to handle, emotionally.
Talk to someone besides me, please. And don’t let them wave you off as “ahhh, hormones, whatever” like some uppity salesperson in a store.
(And while I know you left the store names and the worst of your snotty treatment in a PS just for me, I’m feeling residual Internet-rage this week. So: Motherhood Maternity and Thyme? Shame on you for treating a pregnant customer like that. Those salesladies have no business working in maternity stores if they can’t better accommodate someone bigger. Hello, direct her to the website? Check for larger sizes or more selection there yourselves? ARGH. DON’T MAKE ME COME DO YOUR JOB FOR YOU.)
Now. Back to the practical, shoppy stuff. First, I want you to promise me to embrace the wide, wonderful world of online shopping from now on. I know you probably think that no! Maternity clothing is something you must try on! And yes, it is. But you can absolutely try stuff on in the safety and comfort of your own home. If it doesn’t fit, you send it back. Usually with free shipping! It’s a slightly bigger price tag up front, ordering multiple things in multiple sizes, knowing you won’t keep all of it, but it will completely remove your anxieties about long bus rides and bad selection (stores with limited floor space will ALWAYS mostly stock the best-selling sizes, then put everything else online) and horrid salespeople and crying in public. Please don’t feel like you have to put yourself through that again.
I’m going to be counting on the comment section to offer first-hand recommendations for plus-size maternity wear (available for reasonable shipping to Canada) — you are NOT EVEN CLOSE to being the first or only or biggest big girl out there who has gotten pregnant and struggled to find nice stuff that fits. I was going to suggest Old Navy — I know they go up to at least an XXL in most items, and the sizes are already a bit bigger than the non-maternity equivalent — but I’m not seeing that as an option on their Canadian site. Bah!
While I know you were unhappy with your in-store experience at Motherhood, they really do have a nice selection of XL – XXXL stuff…it’s just all online. (Though I question all the horizontal stripes. I personally adore them and don’t think they aren’t really “widening” the way some people claim, but I can understand why a bigger girl would balk at them.) But! I love this and this and this and this! They also have all the basics: black pants, jeans, capris/cargos. Seriously, aside from a small handful of questionable tops, that stuff is really, really cute and pretty darn stylish, as maternity goes.
As for bras, ditch shopping in non-maternity/nursing sections now, and you’ll be FINE. We covered maternity/nursing bras here before, complete with a ton of great links and commenter testimonials about where to find those difficult, bigger sizes. You can ABSOLUTELY find bras in an H cup…but again, online. Stores sadly just don’t devote a lot of floor real estate to those sizes, no matter how NOT REALLY THAT UNCOMMON they are — especially for pregnancy and nursing women!
There’s also the option of…well, skipping maternity clothes. If you’re just getting generally “bigger” (i.e. not the basketball-under-the-shirt shape that the maternity clothing makers all favor), by all means keep shopping at your favorite go-to places! Where they have stuff you like in up to 3X and the salespeople won’t treat you like a leper. Look for slightly longer shirts and order this, which lets you keep regular pants unbuttoned to accommodate the belly. Belly bands/sleeves/whatever you want to call them are the BEST THINGS EVER, no matter what your size, I swear. If shopping for maternity clothing is upsetting or stressful, see what you can find elsewhere. You may be pleasantly surprised. There’s absolutely no law saying that pregnant women HAVE to buy specially under-designed caftans and crap with polka dots and bows just because they’re with child.
Lastly, just because I sense you feel a bit “trapped” by the pregnancy and breastfeeding obstacles to DOING anything about your weight: Check out some prenatal fitness DVDs or classes. Swimming, yoga, whatever. Even if your goal isn’t weight loss, working out regularly can really, REALLY improve your mood and mental state. You’ll feel stronger and better, even though it has nothing to do with the number on the scale. Screw the scale! You’re growing a human. You can also call around to gyms and find out if they have any trainers who specialize in prenatal fitness, who can help you find low-impact exercises to help with your back pain and sciatica…and who can be there for you postpartum when you’re really ready to get serious about weight loss. I’d also recommend shopping around for a good book on pregnancy/nursing nutrition and eating — something that goes beyond simply upping your caloric intake. (Commenters? More recommendations? God, I’m just SUPER demanding of you today, aren’t I? Sorry.)
Good luck, with everything. I hope you find some clothes that make you happy, and find someone to talk to about all the other stuff making you unhappy.
(And if you decide to start a prenatal exercise regimen, my personal favorite songs to work out to is “Big Girl, You Are Beautiful” by MIKA. It’s awesome because it’s true!)
Photo credit: Thinkstock