Fashion-Forward Maternity Photos Helped Ease My Anxieties Around Motherhood

For years, when I fantasized about motherhood, I thought about Brooke Shields’s 2003 Vogue cover. Shot by Annie Leibovitz, Shields is soaking wet in the photo, as though she’s just emerged from water. Her long hair drips down her back and over her shoulder, and a nude slip clings to her bump. She doesn’t cradle her stomach but presses a hand against her back, turning to stare defiantly at the camera. It’s a photo that encompasses a kaleidoscope of feelings: strength, vulnerability, and a kind of ethereality. I thought that when my turn came I too would feel like a sea nymph, glowy and glistening with a perfectly proportioned belly. It turned out I was very wrong.

When my husband and I got the call confirming our positive pregnancy test, he burst into tears of joy while I was flooded with a feeling far more unexpected—one of pure dread. For as long as I can remember, I felt that motherhood was my calling, even when my girlfriends would admit to ambivalence. I was utterly confident in my maternal fate because I believed that by the time the day finally came, everything else in my life would have surely already fallen into place. I was going to be wildly successful, tastefully wealthy, and in possession of a perfect body, one that would magically bounce back into shape right after delivery. But when we got the positive result, I was so far away from any of those goals they felt nearly impossible to achieve on their own. Then when I thought about how I would do it as a mother, the obstacles seemed insurmountable.

Two weeks later, I started a new job and developed hyperemesis—essentially morning sickness on steroids, which left me vomiting with such regularity that one of my back teeth fell out. I was desperately trying to make a good impression at work, putting in extra hours to show that I was invaluable. I suddenly had a lot to lose and didn’t want my employer to feel that I was expendable when they found out I would be taking maternity leave less than a year into my tenure. Though these anxieties were largely unfounded, the stress and nausea started to eat away at me. I began to loathe being pregnant.

As the first trimester wore on and my symptoms persistently worsened, I stopped caring about my appearance. I wore my husband’s sloppiest shirts and turned off the Zoom camera for meetings. I couldn’t risk any of my colleagues seeing me vomit, but more than that I simply couldn’t stand to be looked at. My complexion was a mess, my eyes were covered in broken capillaries, and after a month of barely getting out of bed, I’d lost all muscle tone. The hyperemesis was wreaking havoc on me inside and out. I seemed to lose more of my life force each time I was forced to run to the toilet in anticipation of another bout. The more I threw up, the more I worried—if being pregnant took this much out of me, would anything be left after actually having the baby? My initial wave of dread started to seem prescient.

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