Back in the 1800s, pregnant women were depicted in portraits, if at all, with potted plants and animals, as icons of domesticity, says Yale professor Laura Wexler, co-author of Pregnant Pictures. Even in 1991, when Demi Moore posed nude and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair, the issue hit many newsstands wrapped in brown paper. But today, with expectant actresses dominating celebrity news, advances in fertility technologies and more women in the workplace, says Wexler, "reproduction is squarely in the public sphere."
Contemporary moms-to-be are embracing, and memorializing, being in the family way: commissioning artistic photographs of themselves, having their bellies cast in plaster and paying for 3-D sonograms that they frame or bind in prebaby albums. Says Jennifer Loomis, who has photographed nearly 2,000 pregnant women from all over the country: "People are looking to capture this moment in their lives because it's so fleeting."
That's how Karen DeSemple, 40, felt when she was carrying her third, and last, child. "I spent many days in front of the mirror looking at my belly," she says. Her company, Eternal Maternal, is now one of several that sell belly-casting kits for making plaster memories, which many women decorate, hang in nurseries and consider heirlooms.
Others seek images inside their tummies. Jennifer Harakal, 30, who went to Visual Miracles in Wayne, N.J., for an enhanced ultrasound that gave her a 3-D look into her womb, says the close-up portraits and videos helped her bond with her daughter. The process also gave her time to reflect on what it meant to be pregnant--something moms who commission pregnancy art say they treasure. "When the baby's born, everyone dotes on how cute he is," says Sandra Leong, 37, whom Loomis photographed pregnant with each of her sons, now 2 months and 3 years. "But no one pays attention to his beautiful home before he comes out." Moms like her are changing that, one belly at a time.