“I have a kind of crazy idea… for a photo shoot.”
I am beyond fortunate to have friends surrounding me who don’t judge me for my depression, coping, and irrational (but understandable) fears. I’m even more so fortunate to have these friends who take my crazy little ideas and bring them to life.
I had no idea that I would ever want to do this; if someone had asked me four years ago if I would be interested, I would have probably walked away. So when the idea was conceived, it came as much as a surprise to me as it probably will anyone else.
It was before we started our journey to our second baby – before we signed contracts, before any appointments, and so on. I was having a hard time with my depression in late 2015 through the entirety of 2016. I think the stage of grief I was experiencing during that time was anger, because I was more angry about my infertility than I had ever been. I was bitter and hurt that I had to start this surrogacy process all over again, just to -hopefully- add another child to our family. I was mad that we only had one embryo left for transferring, mad that the statistics of it surviving weren’t phenomenal, and most of all, mad that I was going to have to explain to our (then) three year old about what was happening. I knew since the day he was born that this time would come and we were always in agreement that we would tell him the truth from the beginning, but when it actually becomes a reality, you realize it’s a little more difficult. I just wanted to get pregnant, have a big belly, and go on like a normal mother of soon-to-be-two would. At that point, I already had four and a half years since “everything happened” to acclimate/accept the fact that neither of those would happen for me. Not that I doubt God’s ability to perform miracles, but I certainly did doubt my worthiness for such a miracle as to regrow a uterus. Grief is a sneaky, sneaky thing to experience; you appear to have everything you longed for, and so those around you assume you are “fixed”. Well, I was very much not fixed, but I thought of something that no medical procedure or congenital birth defect could take away from me.
So I messaged one of my dearest friends, our talented photographer extraordinaire, Megan (Gambol Photography). I told her “I know this might sound weird, but I really want to do a maternity photo shoot… (pause..) wearing a fake belly and everything.” She replied “of course!” as if I had just asked her to schedule normal everyday family photos. It wasn’t weird; she didn’t treat me like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, or that maybe I needed to up my medicine since I was clearly reverting emotionally and wanting to walk around with a fake belly on pretending to be pregnant. She was excited for the idea and for me to have something that she personally knew we would treasure forever. Most women nowadays have maternity shoots done, wearing beautiful gowns, usually among nature as to connect with what our bodies were made to do – I wanted that, at least the physical product from it. I won’t ever have the connection that those pregnant moms do but I can have the visual, and I realized that not only would it be a vision otherwise impossible for me to have and treasure, it would be something I could give Jake as well.
I bought a couple of dresses online to play around with what style I wanted to wear and how they would look with a “belly”. I decided to keep the whole idea to myself, and surprise Jake with the finished product. I decided on a dress, had my tie-on belly, and set the date with Megan for the shoot.
As I was there with Megan, getting zipped (poured) into the beautiful blue gown after tying on my preggo belly, I realized this wasn’t something I was crazy for wanting, because it’s something many women want but cannot have. Before that moment, I had honestly felt a little nuts, although I didn’t care much because these would be photos just for Jake and I to put up in our bedroom; these would be my dream-come-to-life that we could look at every day. So I realized this: other permanently infertile women, like me, probably also longed to see themselves with a big pregnant belly. This is something women probably don’t feel comfortable doing, or are at least apprehensive to do because of what friends and family might think (or judge them for); it certainly crossed my mind in the beginning and I had originally thought I wouldn’t share these photos with others. Once I imagined those other women, I knew that this could be something that helped them through their never ending grief just as it would for me. We have always been very open and honest about our journey and it certainly didn’t stop at the birth of Liam. This was part of our path to parenthood, part of me coping with my grievances (as backwards as that may sound), and it was now an identity that I could own for just a few minutes while we shot photos of me with this tied-on-cotton-stuffed belly. I asked Megan what she thought about sharing it with those intentions and she agreed, that women who wouldn’t otherwise experience pregnancy could at least see themselves that way in a few photos. We shouldn’t feel embarrassed or crazy for wanting (and having) a physical image of something we otherwise would never get to see for ourselves. Pregnancy is in every woman’s subconscious, somehow, and you never imagine when you’re younger that one day, as an adult, there could be such deviation from what we are raised thinking is inevitable for every couple.
I hope that if this is something you’ve also envisioned that you’ll act on it for yourself. You don’t have to share yours with the world, or anyone else for that matter, but don’t deprive yourself materialization of an image of yourself that you have longed for so badly. If we can’t carry our own children, at least we can have a photo representation of what might have been. I don’t have to wonder anymore because I have the picture I’ve always imagined in my mind to hang up on a wall. For me, for my husband.
Lots of love –