Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Under the Big Top

By Bernadette Noll

OCTOBER 20, 1997:  Well into my fourth month of pregnancy, my midsection bulged in the manner not of a woman with child but of a woman with an overwhelming penchant for beer -- a belly round enough to make jeans a thing of the past but not quite at the point of needing a specialized wardrobe. Day after day I was seen in the same couple of loose cotton dresses or my ever faithful overalls, side buttons undone. Though not quite yet ready for the world of full-fledged maternity wear, I ventured out to search for clothing for the bigger, more rotund new me, looming just several weeks away. Wandering through one department store I scoured the aisles of women's wear in search of the maternity section. After 20 minutes of walking in circles, I asked the salesclerk for directions.

"It's right downstairs in the infant's department," she said in a slightly bothered tone. Perhaps presuming that pregnant women's clothing would be in the women's section was unthinkable.

"Infants?" I asked. Confused, I headed to the wee ward.

The department was enormous and filled with every imaginable contraption and clothing item to outfit one's offspring. Clothes, strollers, carriers, beds, and bags lined the aisles and walls of this small world. Pale pastels and cartoon characters overwhelmed my recoiling senses. I found maternity clothing tucked way back in the corner.

The first thing I saw -- a rack of passionless pink, green and yellow hospital nightgowns with some sort of bag attached -- made me want to cry. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the bag was not a bag at all but a matching gown for baby. The kid's not even born yet, and already they have us dressing alike. Across the chest of the gown was a "to-do" list for the new mother:

1. TAKE A NAP

2. FEED BABY

3. GET A HUG

If the words alone weren't enough to wrench the gut, underneath, a puff-paint drawing of a mother bear with her cub illustrated the list. For the first time in my entire pregnancy, I felt a hint of nausea rise up inside of me.

The next rack held dresses in similar yet slightly brighter shades. Huge, white, Peter-Pan collars and clown-sized buttons in contrasting colors adorned each one. The last time I wore a Peter-Pan collar was with my parochial school uniform -- because I had to. And the colors...! The big top is bad enough, but must I look like a clown as well?

At every turn I was assaulted by high, rounded collars and big, floppy bows bedecking blouses in rainbow colors ordinarily reserved for Halloween. A pregnant woman's shape draws enough attention to her -- but highlighted with horizontal three-inch stripes and giant polka dots? What are they thinking?! Through the racks I plunged, searching for any hint of acceptable couture, finding instead a fashion department completely devoid of any sense of fashion.



illustration by Jason Stout

Forgetting my original mission, I turned to the needs of our expected one. The big stuff, such as a stroller or a bed, could wait. Actually, all of it could wait, but hormones will be hormones: I really needed to purchase something baby related.

How about a baby bag? ...not a bag to tote the baby but a waterproof bag to hold the baby's things. What differentiates these from your average satchel is anybody's guess. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they are covered in those now familiar pastel shades, this time with color-coordinated bears and kittens preciously placed. If the baby were carrying it, I could understand, but it was going to be me toting the damn thing. I just wanted to scream: "I'm having a child! I don't want to look like a child!!"

Blazing out of there, I headed a few aisles over to see what they expected kids to dress like. Finding myself amidst clothing mostly of the variation-on-pink variety, it was no mystery that these rows were separated by gender. Midget mini-skirts were matched with microscopic crop-top teeny T-shirts. On the minuscule mannequins, baby-sized black lace tights peeked out from under dress styles that in high school were considered, at best, naughty.

The boys' section was no better. A variety of Lilliputian leather jackets and teeny slacker-style baggy pants hung in rows right next to baby blue blazers and tiny striped ties. It seemed that my infant girl, dressed like a little trollop, could be accompanied by a toddling thug or a junior executive. The infantile implications of the clothing for pregnant women might have made me nauseous, but the adult themes of these togs for toddlers made me distraught.

As quickly as possible, I exited the maze of the infant's department and headed towards the dark, earthy tones of menswear. There I picked up a brown oversized T-shirt and some overalls a few sizes larger than the ones I had on. Driving home, I stopped at an Army/Navy store and found a lovely, olive green, wax-lined duffel bag which would make a perfectly suitable carry-all for all our baby needs. Take that, sallow shades of pukey pastels! The olive, blue, and khaki (exquisitely rendered by haute military designers) provide a perfect combat contrast. I told the salesclerk they really ought to consider marketing more towards the expectant mom. He smiled politely.


Bernadette Noll writes for the online magazine Tripod at http://www.tripod.com and is due any day now.


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