it was an offer I couldn't refuse, but I almost had to. My
mother-in-law, inspired by the forthcoming arrival of her first
grandchild (even before she knew he looked exactly like her son), offered
to buy me maternity clothes. I had completed my first trimester of
pregnancy, earning an A+ in Hdagen-Dazs consumption, and my belly, as they say, popped. My husband's oversized "Pork Barrel 5k" running T-shirts were looking unkempt. Furthermore, the waistbands on my leggings were winning the morning tug-of-war. I needed to give up the ghost of my former wardrobe and, alas, my former figure.
So on a crisp morning during my second trimester, she and I entered the sacred realm of the maternity store. Immediately we were set upon by a smiling saleswoman (not pregnant) who spoke to us in the voice of a kindergarten teacher during story hour. "And when are we due?" It wasn't simply an act of buying clothes, I quickly learned. No, we were all going to give birth in April. A private person by nature, I winced but sallied forth. What came next, however, was not to be endured. All the
maternity clothing displayed was unspeakably tacky. It seemed I had just
three options: I could become Battleship Mom, Bunny Mom or Playground
Battleship Mom, aka Career Mom, wears navy dresses with polka dots and shoulder pads you could serve sandwiches on. The wrinkle-proof rayon
material is designed to make Mama throw herself to the floor of the
dressing room in an effort to scratch her already itching belly. This
stiff, staticky material goes a step beyond flame retardant and can
withstand the blast of a blowtorch.
Bunny Mom clothes are pink, spearmint and chiffon yellow and have
a big bow under the bosom. (How ironic that at this most adultlike juncture in your life, you are offered the costume of a preemie.) Even my
mother-in-law knew not to say, "It looks darling."
Playground Mom wears sturdy, high-waisted denim
overalls or jeans, with normal looking legs but a bizarre stretch
panel top. "You can pair that with one of our Casual Cotton Tops," the
saleswoman said, pointing to a rack of shirts the color of crayons.
I smiled bleakly; I might as well don a fire-engine red, horizontally striped T-shirt if I had to wear those pants. Playground Mom looks like a toddler wannabe.
I left the store humbled and empty-handed. I had just learned The
Secret Commandment of Pregnancy: Thou Shalt Not Look Sexy, Funky, Hip or Cool. After all, some designer figured, you're pregnant. You're
big, bloated and bizarre. How can you be sexy?
I thought I would have to live by that commandment until I stumbled
upon the Pregnancy Survival Kit, created by a company called Belly Basics.
Right there in Ladies' Socks at Bloomingdale's, I found salvation in a simple
cardboard box. Inside were four wardrobe staples -- leggings, tunic, skirt and dress -- all elegant, all comfortable, all cotton and all black. I grabbed one.
There was nothing cutesy or cloying about this operation. I hadn't
even tried on the clothes, and already I knew they were perfect. I was not only going to survive pregnancy, I was going to do the remaining months and retain my style. "This is what you want?" my mother-in-law asked as I held up the Plain Jane box. I nodded eagerly.
When I got home, I ripped open my kit and tried on my new outfits.
The effect was immediate. I didn't feel fat anymore. I felt pregnant, but
chicly, classically, funkily pregnant. The designers (mothers
themselves, naturally) realized that arms and legs should fit snugly
so a pregnant woman has shape. The leggings hugged my legs but gave in
the belly. The tunic's scoop neck added a subtle femininity and elegance
missing from oversized T-shirts. The dress was equally lovely, a longer
version of the tunic, with an empire waist and flattering A-line. I
peeled off the leggings and tried on the skirt, thrilled to be wearing a little black skirt again. My husband saw me and whistled.
From that day forward I wore my Belly Basics everywhere: to
work, to dinner, to cafes. In December I bought the Holiday dress, similar to
their Basics dress, but in a sumptuous wine-colored velvet. I took my
Belly Basics off only when it was time for bed. If Belly Basics had produced a night shirt, I would have worn it every night! At the end of March, I bought their spring box,
the same uniform sans long sleeves and this time in indigo heather. For
six months of pregnancy, I did not think about fashion, but instead
turned my thoughts to other matters: baby, baby, baby.
Why does the world of fashion attempt to put us in the ridiculous
clothes I found before Belly Basics? I think it's the culture's desire
to transform us, to say, "You are not who you used to be." Like the
wedding dress, the maternity dress attempts to make the woman a package,
complete with ribbons and bows, as if to be handed to whoever owns her.
When my mother-in-law offered to buy me clothes, she was only acting on the third pregnancy commandment: Thou Art Community Property. I wasn't just me anymore. I was a ship carrying valuable cargo. True, pregnancy and motherhood change us utterly, but it doesn't necessarily take away our personal sense of style, our sense of what makes us beautiful or our desire to be desirable.
Nine months after my son Simon was born, when the leaves started
turning gold on the trees, I dug out my beloved black tunic. I put it on, feeling a little guilty. After all, I wasn't pregnant. When I met a friend for lunch, she squawked "You're not!"
"No, no," I shushed. "It's just ..."
"I know," she sighed, "you love 'em."
Belly Basics is available at
Bloomingdale's, selected Nordstroms or by calling 1-800-4-9-MONTHS.