But I do! I’m terrified of giving birth. I’ve watched the videos on YouTube and now I have nightmares on a regular basis. But more than the pain or the potential for pooping right in front of my husband and a room full of strangers, I’m terrified of the unknown. As a control-freak who attempts to micro-manage the majority of life’s details I have an incredibly hard time adapting to the mysteries of pregnancy (I never know if I’ll pee when I sneeze), and birth and this makes my anxiety levels spike on a daily basis.
A cozy delivery caftan that looked something Rue McClanahan might wear on the Golden Girls after a particularly saucy evening with a gentleman caller couldn’t tell me what my contractions would feel like, if my baby was going to come out sunny-side up, whether I might need a C-section, or if the doctors would have to slice open my vagina in order to remove my child. But I still took comfort in the concept of wearing something that made me feel like me.
Bringing a sense of control to this unpredictable process was what inspired Julie Berg, the founder of Dressed to Deliver, to launch her own “3 in 1 Birthing Gown” (marketed as being wearable for pregnancy, birth, and post-partum). Berg had a difficult time getting pregnant, and her first pregnancy also came with a lot of complications.
“I vividly remember scurrying from the changing room to the examination table, attempting to hold my gown closed so that my backside wasn’t exposed and failing miserably,” Berg says. If the hospital gown was so dysfunctional while Berg was being examined prior to the birth, how bad would it be when she delivered? That’s when the idea for her delivery gown was born.
“There are many things during pregnancy that you have no control over but, by wearing a birthing gown, you get to feel more like yourself,” Berg says. At the time, Berg was a full-time professional at a large pharmaceutical company. But the market for Dressed to Deliver has grown so much since she had her first baby five years ago that Berg has now left her corporate job to run Dressed to Deliver full-time.
Just as no two birth stories are alike, no two designer delivery gowns are alike, I’ve discovered. The Dressed to Deliver gown is the polar opposite to the James Fox boho chic caftan. It’s form-fitting design makes look like something I’d wear to a cocktail party. A quick search for “delivery gown” on Etsy reveals even greater variety: a whole world of brightly colored nightgowns covered in snaps and bows and ties in places you wouldn’t expect. Some designs even have their own names— the Khloe, the Tatum, the Kiki and the Brittany.
Many of the brands focus on comfort and empowerment, but they also emphasize the growing pressure to look a certain way, when photographed in the hours after giving birth. “Why wear those worn out, used, oversized gowns that are provided to you at the hospital? You will have pictures and videos taken on that special day that will last a lifetime. Look your best! Our gowns will make you feel beautiful and comfortable for the occasion.” Reads the ad for Stork Apparel.
Stork Apparel’s sales have doubled in the past year according to their founder Elizabeth Martinez. She started her company, after her own uncomfortable experience with maternity hospital gowns, with just a single a part-time seamstress in her garage. She now employs 15 seamstresses.
The Etsy shop for the Posh Pushers features a photo of six well-coiffed, very pregnant women looking like they’re ready to go to a fundraiser or Beyoncé concert. “Grab a Posh Pusher and pack it in your hospital bag! Those timeless first photos of your new family will be everything you dreamed of and more in your posh pusher gown,” reads a similar ad for Posh Pushers gowns. They also come with custom monogramming.
My husband was a little taken aback when I told him I was browsing designer delivery gowns.
“What’s wrong with a hospital gown?” he asked. “It’s not right that women should feel like they need to look perfect after giving birth. Who cares what you look like on Facebook?”
I quickly cut him off, ran to the bathroom to pee for the 17th time that day, and then resumed my argument.
“This has nothing to do with Facebook,” I retorted. “It has to do with me wanting to feel like a human being instead of a human-making machine while I’m giving birth.”
He rolled his eyes. “Do you really think you’ll notice what you’re wearing?”
The answer, like so many other answers to questions these days, is that I truly I don’t know.
Jo Piazza is the author of the forthcoming How to Be Married: What I Learned from Real Women on Five Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage.