Why I still keep my maternity clothes

I'm not having any more babies, but I want to remember the moment I finally knew I would successfully deliver one

By Toby Jarman

Published April 1, 2011 9:01PM (EDT)

Why do I still have maternity clothes in my closet? My oldest is almost 7, I'm in my 40s, and the baby factory is most decidedly closed. Plus, it's not like there's a lot of room for those old clothes around here. Do I really need a "formal" black velveteen-and-satin smock? Or those colossal striped tank tops? Or those jeans with the big stretchy panel around the waist? 

Of course I don't. But for some reason, these clothes are as precious to me as my baby's first six pairs of shoes. (Which I also still have.)

I know we're supposed to hastily shed our maternity clothes in shame because -- the horror -- we used to be fat. But I'll confess: I loved my pregnant body. I probably loved it more than I loved my 20-something single girl body, or even my teenage body. Shopping at Motherhood Maternity was more exciting than shopping at Nordstrom in those days. Seriously.

For one thing, pregnancy is the only time in a woman's life when a big belly is considered an asset. I'd spent my entire clothes-shopping career trying to minimize that belly. But in pregnancy it was tight, round, ripe and gorgeous -- bare in prenatal yoga class, peeking from tank tops on the beach. Even under a plain old maternity T from Target, it was a good look for me.

But that's not the only reason why I hang onto these clothes.  

My path to motherhood was one big obstacle course. It took nearly two years of trying. Early miscarriages, one after the other, dragged our marriage and my sanity through the trenches. Month after month of inconsolable sadness, feeling saturated with pain and disappointment that never seemed to get familiar or easier no matter how many times we'd been through it before.

And then, just like that, I got pregnant and stayed pregnant. Months passed before I truly believed a real baby would actually show up. Not knowing how long the pregnancy would last, I savored every wave of nausea, every spiral of exhaustion. I spent my sleepless nights trying to visualize the cloudy little being inside me that might or might not grow into my child. This was no pink-cloud pregnancy. It was some dark, primordial fog, always uncertain.

But during this time, I was also checking out pregnancy magazines and taking my first tentative steps into the baby-gear stores. That juxtaposition of miscarriage fears and pastel-colored baby bibs was incredible. It was as if, right in the middle of "Black Swan," the Muppets pop out for a musical number. It was "We Three Kings" played back-to-back with "Feliz Navidad."

But as the months went by and my pregnancy stayed healthy, it became clear that the baby really would be born. I really would be a mother. I was shopping for my baby just like any other expectant mom, and it felt like a small miracle.

That first time I dared to set foot in a maternity store and actually carried those clothes to the front, paid for them and took them home, it felt downright revolutionary to me. Yes. I get to have a baby too. I get to participate in this crazy retail ritual too.

For me, pregnancy was more than just a fat, nauseous means to an end. And even though the clothes may be silly, they're also a symbol of my crossing over from the dark, sad, uncertain world of miscarriages toward actual parenthood. It was a time of incredible optimism and gratitude. Maternity jeans are so much less dowdy when you never thought you'd have the opportunity to need them. Even that big ridiculous drawstring has a special place in my heart. I guess that's worth the few feet of closet space they take up. 

Toby Jarman

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