Belly Casting During Pregnancy
Many moms take their pregnancies for granted -- I know I did. This is especially easy to do with a first pregnancies, and we may not make enough effort to document the amazing physical changes. After all, during the final months, it seems unlikely one would ever forget how it looks and feels to be hugely pregnant. Christy Thompson* from Middletown, Ohio didn't even have one belly picture from late in her first two pregnancies and none from any stage which portrayed her bare, blooming belly. "I don't know what we were thinking," she says, "but when I got pregnant for the third time, I knew I wanted to not only get lots of pictures, but also do something to really memorialize this pregnancy, especially since it was my last."
Late in her second pregnancy, Christy met some women on the Internet who were making belly masks -- plaster sculptures of their pregnant torsos. "I was intrigued, but not motivated enough to do this myself," she admits. "As soon as my baby was born, though, I regretted that I didn't do a mask to preserve my pregnancy forever." In fact, one of the first things she did when she got pregnant again nearly three years later was order a kit to make a belly cast.
What is a belly cast?
Artist and professional maskmaker Francine Krause of Occidental, California explains that a belly mask is an heirloom sculpture created right on your pregnant torso in a simple one-hour process. Made of plaster gauze, it is an exact replica of your pregnant form. Lightweight and durable, a belly mask is intended to be displayed on a wall in your bedroom or your baby's nursery, though you may showcase it anywhere indoors. "Women are making belly masks as a celebration. It reveals the wonder of pregnancy and is a gift to your child, expressing the love you felt even before your baby was born."
You do not need any artistic experience to make a belly mask. The materials are inexpensive and easily assembled. To further simplify the process, kits are available with all of the materials and instructions included. A belly mask is usually done two to three weeks before your due date, but if you're ambitious you could also make several to capture the changes throughout your pregnancy. You can mask your entire torso, with or without your arms and hands. Thompson wanted her mask in context, encompassing her 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."
Valeri Webber of Benicia, California preferred to do a mask of her belly only, with no breasts. "After five babies, I was not the least bit interested in capturing my tired, old boobs!" Now she has a beautiful sculpture, proudly displayed. She explains, "The top is sort of open, where my belly left off and breasts started, so it is actually like a big hanging vase full of dried flowers. It's art!"
Celebration of love
Although making a belly mask is a straightforward project, some families incorporate it into a larger event, such as a baby shower or blessingway. Tandy Ratliff of South Portland, Maine did her belly mask at a surprise baby shower. "I was totally comfortable [with the nudity aspect] since it was my very close friends doing this for me." She urges all pregnant women to do a mask because "it is great looking at the belly mask now that my baby is getting bigger -- and realizing: She came from in there!"
Some women ask for help from the women they've hired as their birth attendants. Thompson turned one of her prenatal appointments into a belly masking session. "I developed a rapport with my midwives as my pregnancy progressed and I knew they would have a great appreciation for this." And Beth McGinnis of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania invited her doulas to join her family and help them make a belly mask. "My two boys weren't too interested in watching the belly masking, even though I tried to encourage their involvement. The doulas did a beautiful job with my mask and also took a lot of pictures." McGinnis sums up her experience: "My belly mask makes me feel so positive about being pregnant and will give me a lot of memories of my children."
An exercise in bonding
But it's not just women who appreciate the experience of belly masking. Krouse, who sells belly mask kits, shares that at least 50% of her customers are men. "Many expectant fathers feel disconnected or left out of their partner's pregnancy, but belly masking invites fathers in, to participate fully." She advises fathers to get ready to feel their babies under their hands, smoothing warm, wet and plastery gauze and conforming it to their partner's round and fertile forms. "The nurturing sensuality of the process, combined with creativity and fun, can offer a father a rich experience with his wife and baby. Highly recommended."
Nicole Sponholz of Calgary, Alberta, Canada shared the making of her belly mask with her husband only. She recalls, "He thought it was neat right from the start, but he was a bit nervous. When we were ready to do it, I put the Vaseline on and he did the rest! I could tell he was having a lot of fun, and the next day [he] was calling from work to give me his thoughts and a few of his ideas on how we should paint it."
At first, Thompson's husband, Jason, really didn't understand why she would even want to do such a thing, but she believes he ended up having a great time and gained a real appreciation for the project once it was done. "There was one moment," she laughingly recalls, "when I was completely nude, all greased up in Vaseline, with plastic wrap protecting my private parts. He got a little googly-eyed at that -- his fantasy come to life."
Michelle Cooley, a doula and student midwife in Lincoln, Nebraska, reports that her husband loved the experience. "He did the actual masking. He tells that to all his male friends and convinces them to mask their wives. He felt it helped him bond more with the baby."
Belly mask as art
Once the belly mask is completed it dries very quickly. Within a couple days you can trim and finish the mask and then decorate it. The only limits for decorating are those imposed by your imagination. Many couples prefer to sand the surface smooth and coat the mask with modge-podge, leaving it pure and white. Perhaps they will leave it that way, or decorate it more fancifully later. Once her baby was born, Thompson stamped her tiny footprints on the inside: "Right at the spot where I could feel her dancing during those precious months."
Webber, whose belly mask doubles as a hanging vase, had her mask painted by the same person who did a henna tattoo on her belly late in her pregnancy. "She painted the same design on it as I had on my belly, using a light and dark blue that are the same shades I used to sponge paint the nursery."
And while Sponholz and her husband haven't made a final decorating decision yet, one thing they know for sure: "We plan to display it in our living room! I've read suggestions about hanging it in the bedroom or nursery, but I want everyone who comes to our home to see it." She concludes, "I keep glancing at it and realizing, 'Wow, that's me!' I am so glad we decided to do this -- it will be a piece of art in our home, for us to look at, enjoy and remember for years to come."
* Some names have been changed to protect privacy.