The sacred and the sexual

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Wendy Besel Hahn reflects on the complex history of the pregnant form @ Front Porch

I reclined on the obstetrician’s examination table and stared at my exposed stomach. My white skin was taut, but soft. Weeks earlier I had announced my pregnancy to my colleagues and my students, seventeen-year-olds in my junior-level English classes. Since that time my department chair had taken to cheerfully greeting me each morning, making eye contact, and quickly lowering her gaze to assess my “progress.” A male student in my eighth period class had blurted out, “Mrs. Hahn, you didn’t look pregnant before break—what happened?” Weeks later, a female student had whispered, “I can see your belly today.” She smiled so hard that she squinted. I tried not to feel insulted by the attention—it wasn’t my glowing personality or wit that garnered these outpourings.

As the doctor looked at my chart, I thought of the maternity clothing catalog. Its bikini-clad swimsuit models reminded me of Vanity Fair’s August 1991 cover picturing Demi Moore in a scandalous combination—pregnant and nude. In the photograph, she stood nearly in profile, partially covering the breast closest to the camera with her left hand to show off an enormous diamond ring on her middle finger. Her right hand cupped the underside of her belly as her eyes looked away, revealing three-quarters of her face. The lighting emphasized her pregnant abdomen, perfectly smooth and free of stretch marks. She looked incredibly sensual, a modern-day twist on Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. On first viewing the magazine cover over ten years earlier, I had judged it critically; it hadn’t seemed appropriate to depict the pregnant form as sexy. Yet it had become an image to emulate in American culture. I hadn’t ordered a bikini for the upcoming summer months, but I diligently applied cocoa butter to my growing appendage daily to keep my options open. After asking about the baby’s movements, my doctor produced a tape measure. She must have seen the face I made, the same involuntarily wrinkling of my nose that happened as the nurse adjusted the scale at each visit, because she smiled.

“Just remember that you are a walking miracle,” she instructed as she stretched the tape measure from my pubic bone to my navel.

I smiled blankly at her, unsure of how to take that remark. Several million “walking miracles” inhabited the planet with me, contributing to overpopulation. My major life accomplishment seemed to be getting knocked up.

Image: Hal Hishorn @ Sensitive Skin

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