Interview with author Michelle Mayefske on her new book
First of all, would you like to describe the book a little and what inspired you to write it?
Sure! Fat Birth is a combination of a pregnancy guide for plus size folks and a collection of more than thirty positive birth stories written by people of size from across the globe. It addresses the issue of weight stigma within maternity culture and gives parents practical ways to prepare for their best birth possible.
I’m a plus size mom myself and my journey to writing Fat Birth started back in 2017. I was navigating my fourth pregnancy feeling really rubbish about my body while looking for resources that would help me feel more empowered and positive. I did what so many expecting parents do- I went online to find some information, however, what I found was an incredible void. The few resources available focused so heavily on worst case scenarios, complications and assumptions that plus size birth would be anything but straight forward. I found the prevalence of these negative depictions of plus size pregnancy deeply problematic.
This realisation is what ultimately lead to my brainstorming, fat positive advocacy work and the creation of the Fat Birth book. I wanted to create a resource that shared a different story, one which illustrated the reality of pregnancy in a bigger body. The truth is people of size can and do have joyful pregnancies with healthy outcomes. Fat Birth is unlike other risk-focused resources because it shows the entire picture of what plus size pregnancy is like, both the potential challenges and those amazing moments too.
What was your favourite part of writing the book?
My favourite part was when I would get into a rhythm of writing. I had a ritual of sorts, really, to help me along the way. I would wake up, get everything organised at home and take my iced coffee to my writing space. I set small word count goals for myself for each day and the absolute satisfaction of writing something and knowing you wrote it well is incredible. I would get into a flow and just keep going!
Did you learn anything that surprised you when writing or researching it?
Absolutely! The biggest thing I learned is that writing is a fluid process. I went into writing Fat Birth with an incredible plan laid out in front of me. First I’ll write A, then I’ll write B, that kind of thing. I did not realise how much this project would be re-worked and themes changed rearranged. The plan I started with and the layout of the book now are definitely recognisable, but they are more like sisters versus twins.
Until we can read it cover to cover ourselves, we would love to hear your favourite paragraph from Fat Birth!
It is very challenging to select one quote, however, this excerpt really highlights the dangers of weight stigma when it exists within maternity care. This is from chapter one of Fat Birth:
“When fatness is portrayed as something we need to fear, it becomes easier for others to exert power and attempt to control fat bodies during pregnancy and birth. This is evidenced when the same grim story of plus size pregnancy is predominantly depicted and reinforced within the media, by those we love and in the very offices we access for prenatal care. When the focus of this narrative is solely on risks, potential challenges and the medicalization of fat bodies, the incredible experience of pregnancy is flattened and ignored. Instead of promoting confidence and strength during birth, the agency of people of size is lost as they fearfully await the negative outcomes they were warned against all along.”
What are you hoping will be the main message readers take away with them from your book?
I hope all readers, whether they are expecting parents or others working in the birth world, will walk away from the book knowing and fully understanding that all people, regardless of their shape or size are worthy of compassionate, respectful support as they become new parents. I’m sure everyone who reads the book will have a few “light bulb moments”.
Who would you love to see reading Fat Birth?
I would love to see expecting parents and birth workers alike reading the book. Expecting parents will learn so much regarding preparing for birth, finding a size-friendly provider, self advocacy and of course the birth stories are lovely too. This book is important for birth workers as well because it shines a light on the realities of being pregnant and birthing in a bigger body. It is my hope that Fat Birth will educate, inform and inspire birth workers to approach fat pregnancy in a completely new way so they can provide even more nuanced care.
What would you say is an important thing for doulas to be aware of when supporting plus size clients?
It is hard to pick just one thing, but I would start with this: they need to know what weight stigma is and the implications it has on those accessing maternity care. We all carry biases and recognising our own implicit and explicit biases, such as anti-fat bias, is so important. Once they know this, it can completely change and enhance the way they provide support for their plus size clients.
It’s not just writing that you do, what else takes up your time in day to day life?
Aside from writing, I’m a birth and postpartum doula, childbirth educator, hypnobirthing instructor and placenta specialist- so my work life can be busy! Thankfully, I have become more respectful of my own limits so I have gotten better at harmonising both my work and family life. I’m a mom to five kids, from my teenage son down to my nine-month-old daughter, so my home is definitely busy. When I’m not organising my household, I’m usually out in nature or catching up on my reading list.
With all that to juggle, how long did it take to write your book?
Believe it or not, the planning phase for me took the longest! Part of my planning included reading an incredible amount of research followed by organising themes and chapters. Once I felt solid in that area, the actual writing took two months. I scheduled in time to write every morning, much like an appointment that I told myself could not be rescheduled.
Self-publishing can be an expensive undertaking. Would you like to explain a little about how that works and how people can help?
What many authors do once they have written a book is begin submitting it to traditional publishers. Once accepted by a publisher, if it is ever accepted, that company does the remainder of the leg work required before the book is printed. This includes editing, formatting for paperback copies and Ebooks, proofreading and then the final step, printing. In exchange, that publishing company receives royalties for each book sold. Most people do not realise that when authors sign with these big publishing companies, they may only receive 15% of the book listing price!
When a book is self-published, however, the author is managing the entire process themselves. In my case, I am hiring amazing artists and other creative freelancers from the world of publishing to accomplish those tasks. It is more costly up front, but the reward is self-published authors have more control over their work and are compensated for it.
Many self-publishing authors engage in crowdfunding, as I am, to help cover the initial fees of editing, formatting proofreading, etc. When people give through crowdfunding, they are essentially backing someone’s dream. They are helping them reach their full potential and there are incredible projects of all types on Kickstarter, where my campaign to raise funds for Fat Birth is located.
Author of Fat Birth
Member of the Doula Association of Ireland
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