By Andrea Firth
Lying in bed I hear the rain tapping against the windows and wind whipping around the edges of the building. Seven months pregnant with twins, our first children, I’ve been in the hospital for a month to forestall an early delivery. Daily contractions—premature labor.
My husband arrives after work and sits with me while I eat dinner. The rubbery omelet is disappointing. We chat about names but remain undecided. We giggle about what it will be like to have sex without this great mountain between us. We talk about what we’ll need, like cribs and onesies and diapers. We figure we have time.
I can still taste the saltiness of the eggs and my mouth feels dry. He fidgets.
“Here we go again.” I push back the sheet and pull up the cotton gown. The contraction rolls in like a wave. We watch my abdomen start to harden at the edges the way hot fudge sauce seizes as it hits cold vanilla ice cream. Then like a wave retreating from the shore, the contraction subsides.
As I waddle toward the bathroom, my husband says, “Let’s take a photo.”
He stands there holding the black Cannon camera with the two-inch lens, the one we last used on a vacation to Florida. He probably totes the camera along to the hospital with him every night, but I hadn’t noticed.
“Really let’s get a picture.” He smiles.
I pause. “What the hell.” I drop the cotton hospital gown on the floor. The only thing left on me is a pair of stretched out undies. “Quick, take it before the nurse comes in.” Standing in profile, I turn my head.
In 1991, the actress Demi Moore, then at the height of her movie-making career and seven months pregnant, did a photo shoot with the famed celebrity portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz for the cover of Vanity Fair.
The pose: Moore naked in profile. Her skin smooth and spray-tanned. Her right arm wraps across her body, her hand elegantly covers her exposed breast. Her left arm and hand cradle her huge belly. Ruby lips. Fan-blown hair. Her eyes, lined with dark eyeliner, grab the camera’s lens.
The photo ran on the magazine’s cover and created quite a stir. Some described the cover as brave, powerful, stunning art, but critics called it grotesque and obscene. Newsstands covered it in brown paper like a porno magazine. Moore’s motherly figure immediately became iconic.
Attitudes quickly changed. The pregnant, nude photo now a go-to image for magazines, social media and celebrities—like singers Britney and Mariah; the sisters Kardashian; and superstars Serena and Beyonce. The list goes on.
But it’s not just a celebrity thing. I know lots of mothers who have struck this pose. I’m one of thousands of pregnant women who have taken a nude photo with their third trimester bumps. What is it about this image? What’s the attraction? How does pregnancy and a huge belly open the door for women to pose commando while many of us would not consider a naked or semi-nude selfie otherwise?
After he takes the photo, I scoot into the restroom. As I sit down, I feel a small gush and hear a splash in the toilet. I stand up. A warm steady stream of liquid dribbles down the inside of my right thigh. The room smells fresh, faintly like sugar water.
I read somewhere that twenty years later, Annie Leibovitz said her cover photo of Moore wasn’t a good portrait. Popular, groundbreaking, yes, she admitted, but the photo—it didn’t rate for the legendary photographer. That’s the difference between a magazine cover and a portrait, the difference between the image as an object and the subject. A woman’s naked body has always had appeal. But the heavily pregnant mother figure, that’s something different.
I remember how pregnancy overtook my body. The massive mound protruding from my middle. Boobs like bowling balls. Hair growing everywhere. Nausea. Heartburn. Hiccups. With time the babies settled in like new roommates in our shared space. And as we got to know each other, I realized that I was no longer in control.
Now, twenty-six years later, I look at the photo of me standing outside the bathroom on that stormy night at the hospital. My face hasn’t seen make up in months. My eyes have dark circles. The fluorescent lighting casts a green hue and lights up my huge torso leaving the rest of me in shadow. I do not look sexy or glamorous. Not like Demi. I look directly at the camera. My smile stretched but hopeful. I keep this photo, the first in the album labelled November, 1994, to remember that time, that last moment of pregnancy, before the next step into motherhood, and letting go.
Andrea Firth is a writer, journalist, and educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the cofounder of Diablo Writers’ Workshop where she teaches creative writing. With age she’s become more camera shy, but you can find her on Instagram @diablowritersworkshop.
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