We quickly forgetWhen I was pregnant with my first child, I took it very much for granted. It took us five years to conceive, but once we did, I felt that I might be pregnant forever! Unfortunately, we made very little effort towards documenting the physical changes pregnancy wrought. After all, during the final two months, it seems unlikely that one would ever forget how it looks and feels to be hugely pregnant.
You would think I had learned my lesson by my second pregnancy, but I did not! Believe it or not, we don't even have one belly picture from my late pregnancies and none which portray a bare belly at any stage. I don't know what we were thinking, but for my third, and final, pregnancy, I was committed to making a concerted preservation effort.
Toward the very end of my second pregnancy, I had learned about belly masking and saw some pictures. I thought it sounded like a wonderful idea, but never got motivated enough to do it in those final weeks. At that point, I was thinking more about how great it would be to have baby on the outside rather than the inside. After my second baby girl was born, however, the regret set in. At that point, I was determined that I would definitely do a cast of my pregnant belly, if I was ever fortunate enough to conceive again.
And here we are...So now I am pregnant with my third and have honored this commitment to myself. Knowing that this is our last baby, we have been more diligent about taking photos than we were the first two times. Despite that, my heart was still set on doing a mask. It's not that I want to put it on display, but like so many moms, I am very memorabilia-oriented and I think it would be very special to have this treasured item to pull out -- along with the baby books and scrapbooks and photo albums -- and share with our children as they grow up.
Originally, I had planned for my husband, Tony, and I to share this special ritual, but I am so much a perfectionist and he is so much not one, that I just knew a joint effort between the two of us would be doomed. Plus, he really didn't get it... why I would even want to do such a thing? Now that he's seen it, he LOVES it, but he didn't have enough appreciation beforehand for me to trust him with something this important to me. The last thing I wanted was an argument tainting the experience.
In the meantime, I had developed a rapport with my midwives as the pregnancy progressed and felt this would be something they would enjoy helping me with. While they had never seen one of these before, they'd heard about it and thought it sounded like a fun and special project. So one day, during my 36th week of pregnancy, I had two midwives (Nina and Kelley), plus an apprentice (Tanya), plus Nina's daughter (Joannah) and Tony attending the birth of my belly mask! It really did take a lot of hands. I prepared the gauze by cutting it into easily-managed strips. Kelley and Joannah did the actual masking. Nina took photos with our digital camera and Tony took pictures with our regular camera. It was so fun! Tony ended up having a great time and gained a real appreciation for the project once it was done.
Being nudeIf I had any apprehension about this project, it was the realization that I would have to be completely nude while the cast was applied. I didn't just want a mask of my tummy. I wanted it in context... to encompass my entire torso, including my breasts, shoulders and arms. I planned for my hands to be resting on my belly in that classic stance of a pregnant mom feeling her baby move.
I'm pretty inhibited and modest as a rule, so the nudity aspect was a little awkward from my perspective. Certainly no one else was bothered about it, though. My daughters, who are preschoolers, were fascinated and watched avidly, but didn't see anything strange in my nudity. And I kept telling myself that it was worth it, worth it, worth it. Besides, most of the people in that room are going to see me in ALL my naked and birthing glory in just a few weeks anyway!
The first step in this project was to slather the entire front of my torso in vaseline, which felt wonderful, as dry and itchy as my skin is right now. Then, I needed to protect my pubic area with saran wrap so that no stray hairs could get caught in the masking materials. Otherwise, talk about the ultimate wax job... OUCH! Once I was all gooped up in vaseline, I turned to my darling Tony and asked him to hand me the saran wrap so I could protect myself. He quips: "Vaseline, naked wife, saran wrap! This is a fantasy come to life!"
Strike a poseOnce we were ready to start, I had to hold the pose for about an hour, but it was only difficult at first, because with my hands and arms so slippery, they were hard to hold tight to my tummy. Once the plaster started to harden, it supported my arms and then I was pretty comfortable. The plaster starts to harden very quickly!
Nina retrieved a hand mirror so I could watch as the casting took place. It is amazing the detail that is captured with these. By the time the second layer was applied, the first layer had fully hardened and was starting to separate from my body. I had great vaseline/saran wrap coverage except for one tiny spot on my shoulder where I had missed a spot. Getting the mask off of the part was like slowly removing a band-aid. Should you decide to do this yourself, please make sure you don't miss ANY spots!
Once the mask was removed, we couldn't take our eyes off of it. For me, it was very special to look into the mask from behind and see -- in such a three dimensional way -- how much room there is for the baby. It is quite deep from the spine to the furthest point where my belly juts out. My displaced stomach has been assuring me for months now that the baby is making all the space s/he needs, but I needed the visual to really get it.
In addition to that unique perspective, I was also fascinated by how the mask resembles the primitive birth art you see on display in books and museums. To see my pregnant shape as it has been represented through the ages was amazing. I've never felt so connected to our birthing ancestors until I saw my body in this context. Throughout millennia, the miracle and beauty of the pregnant form has not diminished.
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