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Lower Mainland mother claims she was ‘fat-shamed’ during pregnancy

Sara Lindberg has filed a human rights complaint
David and Sara Lindberg with their daughter Ellee, 2. (Special to The News)

A Maple Ridge mother has filed a human rights complaint against a hospital and doctor whom she said “fat-shamed” her during her pregnancy.

When Sara Lindberg discovered she was expecting a child in 2019, she was excited and wanted to find a hospital with family-centered birthing policies.

However, the first-time mom said she faced adversity throughout her pregnancy because of her size.

Lindberg found out she was pregnant in August of 2019, and was told early on that she would need a C-section due to her weight.

The Maple Ridge resident, who moved from Port Moody when she was two months pregnant, started looking for a hospital with family-centered policies around C-sections – what is called the Golden Hour, where the baby is given to the mother immediately after birth, instead of being taken away.

This was very important to Lindberg because, she said, it helps with bonding and breast feeding.

She knew BC Women’s Hospital had that policy, but when she asked if they would take her, she was told that they couldn’t because she was not considered high risk for problems when giving birth, even after she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. BC Women’s, she was told, only takes patients who live in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and special cases from other regional health authorities if those women are considered high risk.

So, Lindberg looked at Abbotsford Hospital, but she was nervous because they did not have the family-centered policies she was looking for.

Then her doulas recommended Ridge Meadows Hospital because the hospital had a good reputation of keeping the baby with the mother after birth, and is a family-centered facility.

Lindberg transferred to midwives in Maple Ridge and was told she would have to consult with an obstetrician. Because of her gestational diabetes diagnosis, she would have to have a “shared-care delivery,” meaning that the obstetrician would be overseeing the midwives, who would be delivering the baby.

Lindberg made an appointment with Dr. Rick Mentz. She thought it was going to be a consultation on how shared-care would work and what the doctor’s role would be.

Instead, Lindberg explained, the doctor immediately told her she was there because she is obese.

“Which ended in him calculating my BMI in front of me and my husband. And telling me that I would not be able to deliver at Ridge Meadows,” elaborated Lindberg. BMI or Body Mass Index, is a measure of body fat based on the height and weight of a person.

“I obviously got very upset and I said, well, where, where am I going to deliver,” she continued.

Especially since BC Women’s had already said no to her.

“They didn’t consider gestational diabetes, my BMI or my weight, high risk,” she said of BC Women’s Hospital.

“It was a very bad meeting,” she remembered.

“I left the meeting with Dr. Mentz with a handout of why I was basically bad for being pregnant while fat,” she said, noting that she was told about the risk of having a stillborn, postpartum depression, and the risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS.

Lindberg noted she has had fat-shaming comments over the years from doctors since she has lived in a larger body since she was a teenager. But she was generally healthy and did not require access to the medical system like she did when she was pregnant.

“So, while frustrating (and sometimes ignorant/assuming), comments didn’t impact me the same way or limit access to care,” said Lindberg.

Fraser Health will not comment on this specific case because it is currently in front of the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

However, Fraser Health replied to The News explaining that all expecting individuals preparing to give birth have individualized care plans in place that are tailored to their unique needs. At times, these plans can change at a moment’s notice to protect the well-being of an individual and their unborn baby.

“Fraser Health works to provide all patients in our region, including maternity patients, with access to the best and safest care at all times using our extensive network of hospitals and health services. As our hospitals vary in the services and level of care they provide to our patients, it is part of our regular operations to routinely transfer patients to other sites within Fraser Health if they require a different level of care during their stay,” read the statement, adding that the health authority follows the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada Guidelines and the BC College of Nurses and Midwives standards to ensure safe and healthy medical care before, during and after birth.

Lindberg ended up going to Royal Columbian Hospital, where she was already attending a gestational diabetes clinic, where she had to find a whole new care team at 31 weeks pregnant.

Her daughter Ellee was born in May 2020, three hours after Lindberg arrived at the hospital – during a quick and routine birth. She was born healthy. Lindberg didn’t need a C-section.

“That was really kind of affirming my body is not different from every other woman’s,” said Lindberg.

Lindberg noted how upset she was about the way she was treated for a very long time after Ellee’s birth.

READ ALSO: Fat joke on B.C. school’s sign not appropriate, woman says

She eventually reached out to Fraser Health Authority to see why they have a BMI limit at Ridge Meadows Hospital.

“Because nobody explained to me, nobody said we can’t accommodate you because we don’t have equipment. No one said anything, they just said your BMI is too high, you can’t deliver here,” noted Lindberg.

Her back-and-forth with Fraser Health went nowhere, she said. She did receive a letter from Dr. Mentz that, she said, cited studies comparing her situation to a woman who is pregnant and using illicit drugs.

However, Lindberg said, the studies were from the United States and didn’t take into account sociological factors.

So, in January, 2021, Lindberg reached out to the BC Human Rights Tribunal and filed a complaint. She wants Fraser Health to change its BMI policy and have doctors discuss health issues on a case-by-case basis with pregnant patients.

Her complaint went to mediation May 18 of this year, but no police changes were made.

Now the case is to advance to a hearing, the date of which has not been set yet. Lindberg has been told that the hearing won’t take place for about another year or more.

ALSO: Pitt Meadows woman gives birth on in-laws’ driveway

Lindberg is hoping either the tribunal will conclude that policy changes are needed or that Fraser Health will look at the evidence that Lindberg has produced to support her case, and make changes so she won’t have to go through the tribunal hearing process.

She said Fraser Health has claimed that the policy is in place at Ridge Meadows Hospital for the safety of the mother because it is a smaller hospital.

But Lindberg questions their claim because she lost her care providers, she lost her midwives because they did not have privileges at Royal Columbian or other hospitals. She transferred to a new obstetrician at 35 week pregnant.

Lindberg’s water broke in the car on the way to the hospital, about a 40 minute drive, the day she gave birth – increasing the risk of giving birth in the car.

There was also an ongoing pandemic, limiting transportation choices for the couple.

“It created barriers for care to me. It caused potentially more risk. I didn’t have an in-person appointment for four more weeks after that consult (with Dr. Mentz),” explained Lindberg.

“It was really heartbreaking to sort of be told, you’re too different, you can’t access care, and then have to figure out where to get care from while you are emotional and pregnant,” she said.

The News has reached out to Dr. Rick Mentz but an outgoing phone message said he will be out of office until Wednesday, Aug. 17.

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Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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