by Desirre O’Clair
Belly masking is a crafty and creative way to honor a mother’s changing body during pregnancy. The time spent sitting for a belly mask can be a valuable introspective time during which a mother can center herself, communicate with her baby, or prepare for the transition that will come when her baby is born. Soft music, lavender oil and candles can set the mood. Plaster bandages, a lubricant, plastic wrap, and warm water are the only items needed. Popular lubricants include Vaseline, un-petroleum jelly, and vegetable shortening. Plaster bandages can be ordered online or found at most craft stores and some pharmacies.
Before having the mother sit for her casting, cut the plaster bandages into strips, some long and some short. Prepare a dishpan or bowl of warm water, and turn up the heat so that the mother does not get cold. Slather the mother’s body well with a thick coat of lubricant to prevent the cast from adhering to her skin. Have the mother place a strip of plastic wrap over her pubic area so that the bandages do not stick. Working quickly, wet the bandages one at a time and lay them across the mother’s body, rubbing each bandage well when you place it. This will help the plaster permeate any open weave in the bandages, and will make for a smother and stronger cast. Usually, I run the first layer of bandages across the mother’s body, the second layer vertically, and the third layer across the body again. I often find it necessary to run some shorter bandages diagonally around the sides to reinforce the edges. As the first layer of bandages starts to dry, the mask will pop away from the mother’s body, and you can remove it. Gently place it somewhere safe to dry. Once dry, if you find that the mask seem flimsy, reinforce any thin areas by applying bandages to the inside of the mask.
Once dry, a belly mask can be decorated in a variety of ways. To create a smooth surface, coat the mask in spackle compound, which is available at any hardware store. Allow the mask to dry, and sand it smooth. Coat the mask inside and out with gesso to seal. Once dry, the mask can be painted, decoupaged, or embellished with anything the mother finds meaningful. Some mothers decorate the inside of their masks, too. A nice blessingway activity is to have everyone write her wishes or prayers for the mother on the inside of the belly mask. Many women decorate their masks immediately and hang them in their nursery. My belly mask sat in a box in the basement until my youngest went to kindergarten and I finally had time to decorate it. Years after my c-section, I found the process of decorating my mask very healing, and a wonderful way to honor motherhood.