Decorating the bump

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For a twist on the traditional baby shower, consider hiring a gestational artist to add some color to the pre-baby celebration.

“A lot of times I’m part of the shower,” says local artist Nancy Kartoon. She remembers one shower where guests crowded around the mom-to-be, watching as a desert landscape evolved on her belly. Then each of the guests got their own glitter tattoos. “Other times, mom gets painted before the shower so she can greet her guests with her belly done. People take pictures of the pregnant mom and put them up on the wall right above the baby’s bed to welcome [the baby] home or use them in announcements or thank you cards.”

Kartoon believes that babies enjoy the in utero attention. “It’s a beautiful experience to paint a pregnant belly when there is someone in there,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll put my fingers on the belly and feel baby pushing… it’s so cool.”

Gestational art initially was done as a blessing celebration, Kartoon explains. For thousands of years, pregnant women in many cultures have had bellies, faces, hands and feet decorated with henna, an all-natural stain, to ward off evil spirits and protect the mother and child. In the Middle East, moms are hennaed in the last weeks of pregnancy to bless the childbirth process. Postpartum mothers have the soles of their feet hennaed to keep postpartum depression at bay by promoting rest while family and friends attend to household chores.

Jerusha Simon, a Scottsdale mother of two, had Kartoon apply henna to her belly before delivering her baby. She took pictures of the design before and after the birth. “When I went in to my doctor for my follow-up visit, she said that if I were to ever get a tattoo, I ought to have that design done permanently because it still looked so cool.”

Mothers-to-be need not worry about the safety of exposure to henna, a green powder derived from the henna plant. Do-it-yourselfers should take care to avoid black henna, which contains a potentially harmful chemical.

Modern mamas have many options beyond henna. Kartoon has used water-based, FDA-approved body paints to paint pumpkins on bellies for Halloween, fish in fishbowls and even the number of one mom’s favorite driver when Nascar was in town. Simon had her bump done on separate occasions with flowers and vines and, appropriately, a purple and gold dragon protecting her egg.

Sarah Nance, a Phoenix mother of two, wore a painting of a baby nestled into a grassy scene, watching butterflies. She posted pictures on her MySpace page to announce that she was expecting. Nance already had a son, but expecting a daughter drew her to belly art during her second pregnancy. “I wanted to teach her to have a positive self-image and love her body,” she says, and started setting the example before her baby was born. “Some women think that when they’re big, they’re not beautiful. I wanted her to see that I was big—I felt big—but I also felt beautiful.”

Simon looks forward to sharing her belly art photos with her child some day. “It’s a great, unique idea to do for a shower or just for pictures,” she says. “I think it will be so neat to show my baby, ‘This is what mommy looked like when she was pregnant with you.’ I think it will make her feel even more special.”

 

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