As if it isn’t enough that a woman’s weight is intensely scrutinized for reasons ranging from medical to vanity to rank curiousity while she’s pregnant, now she has to worry about her weight if she so much as merely wants to have a baby. Last week super skinny E! correspondent Guilana Rancic (you may remember her as the red carpet crazy who grilled all the actresses about their diet and exercise regimes until Christina Hendricks put her in her place) made headlines by telling the View cabal that she refused to gain 5 pounds even though her doctor told her it might help with her struggle with infertility. Bloggers, pundits and playground mommies everywhere jumped in on both sides of the controversy, with the general cry echoing (childless (correction: I was informed by Karen in the comments that Whoopi actually does have a kid. And possibly a grandkid. Whoops!)) Whoopi Goldberg’s words for Rancic: “If she wants to have a baby, she needs to eat because the baby needs to eat! To hell with that girl!”
Rancic’s reply to the angry View host and irate fans was a rambling explanation saying that she was a victim of The View’s agenda, that she had gained “some” weight and also that it is her job to fit in sample sizes. She topped it off with a slightly irrational, “Well Nicole Richie, Jessica Alba – they both had babies!” Although she failed to account for the fact that the skinny-yet-fecund Richie and Alba are a good decade younger than her and age is perhaps the primary factor in fertility. All of this verbiage was spouted in – naturally – a restaurant in front of a ginormous plate of pasta that Guliana said she could eat all of and yet only took one bite, convincing me not that Guliana doesn’t have an eating disorder but rather this is just one more piece of the media machinations that run the reality star’s life.
However, I’m not going to take sides on Guliana’s weight gain. It’s not that I don’t have an opinion but rather it’s just not that simple. Rarely is someone’s fertility solely a function of their weight. It’s possible that gaining a bit of weight would kickstart Rancic’s ovaries. It’s also possible that it wouldn’t. Her doctor, I expect, wasn’t proposing weight gain as a cure but rather one more thing to try on a long list of supposed fertility boosters like acupuncture and laying on your back with your legs in the air after sex. How do I know this? Because it took my husband and I over 2 years to finally have our son. While our fertility issues weren’t with getting pregnant – something I seem to do if I so much as wash our underwear together – but rather with maintaining healthy pregnancies, I have a lot of sympathy for women who desperately want to have a baby and yet can’t seem to do the one thing which should come naturally. There is a lot of woman-blaming in the conception process and it is heartbreaking on so many levels.
This isn’t to say that weight doesn’t affect fertility. Estrogen is inextricably tied to body fat. More estrogen leads to more body fat and more body fat increases estrogen levels. From this vantage a little bit of gained fat would make sense to aid fertility – but only to a point. Being very overweight and therefore overly estrogenic can be just as hard on a woman’s cycle as being underweight. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a syndrome marked by obesity, is one of the leading causes of infertility in younger women and losing weight often remedies the infertility. I tell you, the more you learn about how fragile this whole conception and birthing process is, the more amazing it seems that the human species has managed to propagate as long as it has.
All of which brings me back to Guliana and her conflicting desires to have a Jelly Bean of her own and also maintain her career which happens to be dependent on her body size. Having had 5 kiddos of my own, I would tell her that it is totally worth it to do whatever you have to do to bring them here. Even on the days they drive me absolutely nuts (case in point: today my 3-year-old had to take a state mandated developmental assessment test and what did he do to start off his budding academic career? Took his shirt off, ran in circles, stole the pile of pennies and hid the rope down his pants. All of which would have been bad enough had his older brother not topped him two years ago by crawling under the table and screaming “Stop talking to me or I’ll throw up on you!” until they gave me pamphlets for the special preschool and showed us the door. We’re probably on some sort of Toddler Terrorist Watch List now. Good times!) when I tuck them into bed I still know they were worth the huge amount of personal sacrifice it took to get them here. And maybe that’s what I would most want Guliana to know: your body is just the beginning of what you will have to give up for your children. Whether that means sacrificing your hard-earned body (her) or your tenure-track professorship (me, sigh), in the end you will only wish it could have been more.
What’s your take? Should Guliana quit her whining and gain some more weight on the chance it will fix her infertility? Or is she just verbalizing the fears that so many of us think but never say? Any of you struggled with infertility and if so, was it related to your weight? And when did everyone’s ovaries get to be our business??