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Belly cast: A new way to recall the experience

By KATHERINE SNOW SMITH

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001


Jeff Neustadt, chairman of the division of orthopedic surgery at All Children's Hospital, has handled almost every kind of medical procedure in his field. But he got a call a few weeks ago that sailed quickly into some very uncharted territory: belly casting.

Bob and Sally Willis, friends from up the street, were wondering if the good doctor would make a house call to make a cast of Sally's pregnant belly. Bob Willis had just read about this new way of commemorating the womb, and time was of the essence. His wife was due in about a week.

"I had never heard of it before. But I thought it sounded kind of fun," Neustadt recounted. "I thought it was a neat idea, and I was happy to help them out."

Sally Willis opted for the belly-only cast, though the mothers in California and New York who are the most frequent participants in this new pregnancy fad, often go for the torso cast showing the breasts and belly.

"I don't think Jeff Neustadt, my husband nor I were prepared for the full strip in my kitchen at 10 o'clock at night," she laughed. The whole procedure took about 45 minutes, starting with her lying down on the kitchen floor and baring her belly. It took about 20 minutes to apply the plaster, and 20 minutes for it to dry.

"I don't know when I've ever laughed so hard. The three of us were just in hysterics," Sally Willis said.

"It was a lot more fun than Lamaze class," Bob Willis added.

You can still do this at home even if you don't have a surgeon down the street. A number of people, from moms to executives to doulas, sell kits over the Internet with everything you need to make your own belly cast. They cost anywhere from $30 to $65.

Naples-based Bellycast.com sells about 30 kits a day from its web site and 800 number listed in Pregnancy magazine. In its first year, the company has shipped kits to Europe, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean and South America, but most customers are in California. (Of course.)

Adriana Fujimoto Jackson and her husband, Dave, started off just making a cast for her after seeing something about them on The Learning Channel. But they could buy the plaster only in large quantities so they gave the leftover materials to other pregnant friends, then got the idea of selling the kits.

"We were selling a lot right from the start," Adriana Fujimoto Jackson said. They hope to launch a kit designed for party stores and baby gift stores by late summer. While some mothers make the cast with their husband, others have it done with a group at a baby shower.

"When I did mine we thought it was the best idea," Jackson said. "After you have the baby it's hard to even remember anymore that you had that big belly. I look at it and say: "I can't believe I was this big.' "

The cast hangs in the room of 10-month-old Rachel, who gives it curious looks but doesn't really get the meaning yet.

"I think it will be neat one day to show her: "You were inside here,' " she said. Jackson has draped a favorite scarf across the chest of the cast so it's not so revealing. Other mothers have their casts painted to match a room or with something more natural like a beach scene or sunset. A cast I saw at www.yourbirthconnection.com included the mother's arms wrapped around her pregnant stomach, which was painted green and blue like a globe.

Sally Willis has visitors who stop by to see their newborn son, Walker, write him a greeting or piece of advice on the cast. His 4-year-old brother, Jackson, got the honor of being the first to scrawl his name across it.

"Every single person who has signed the cast had never heard of it before, but they all recognized what it was right away," Willis said. She has gotten several suggestions for putting the belly cast to use such as a bowl for Halloween candy, a container on the changing table for the Balmex and wipes or just stick it in the kitchen with some fake fruit in it.

Neustadt suggested other at-home belly casters might want to order two kits. You don't want to run out of materials before you get the hang of working with the gooey plaster. As for how to make sure the cast is smooth, he passed on the mantra he learned when he was in training: "You got to rub it like you love it."

Belly casts aren't the only new pregnancy fad. With the WombSong Prenatal Sound System you can talk to and listen to your baby while he or she is still in the womb. The system includes a stethoscope, speaker and microphone. There is also a compatible collection of "brain building" Mozart compact disks.

It's all part of em-bry-on-ics.com's "learning system from womb to classroom." So if you don't want your son struggling through algebra in eighth grade, apparently you need to invest in this revolutionary WombSong and give him a fighting chance. Click on www.em-bry-on-ics.com for more information.

At the www.Bellyshop.com you'll find all you need in pregnancy jewelry. There's the "pregnant goddess pendants" that picture a carved pregnant woman -- baring breasts and belly -- on the front and a heart surrounded by sperm on the back. This goes for $12. Or you might prefer the necklace carved from buffalo bone picturing a woman with some swirls beneath her stomach. It is suggested that this fertility symbol be worn as a protector during labor and birth.

And for those mothers who might struggle with breast feeding, try the $40 "comfort nursing necklace" made of glass beads. "The calming shades of green in this attractive nursing necklace will lull and soothe your child," the web site promises.

As for Sally Willis, she thinks the belly cast, at least, is a fad with promise.

"It's the only way to get plastered when you're pregnant," she said.

-- You can reach Katherine Snow Smith by e-mail at Oliviachar@aol.com; or write Rookie Mom, St. Petersburg Times, PO Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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