Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Three-Dimensional Self Expression During Pregnancy: Henna

The theme of the summer issue of the FoMM newsletter is "birth art" and in the print edition we feature an article about henna belly art during pregnancy. This blog post contains the full text of the print article with the addition of several lovely photos documenting the henna experience. Enjoy!

FoMM Newsletter editor

Three-Dimensional Self Expression During Pregnancy
By Angie Meara

In effort to preserve the special finite time of my growing body during pregnancy, I desired a way to capture it through self-expression. With my first pregnancy, I had a belly/breast cast done. I purchased a belly cast kit for a friend as a gift and she used it and re-gifted to me because there was enough for another application. My mom and sister came over and helped me apply this messy, cool, gauze at approximately 32 weeks gestation. This was also a good exercise for us, so I could get over any of my hang-ups with having my body exposed to them. My mom and sister were going to be participating as part of my homebirth team. My sister did most of gauze application and the results were fabulous. I proudly displayed this beautiful expression of our FIRST on the mantel through the remainder of the pregnancy and the birth of our dear Olive. After the fourth trimester, we moved the cast upstairs to a shelf in our bedroom amongst some wedding photos and there it sat until we were halfway through our next pregnancy.

So, here I was pregnant again and desiring to keep this one unique and fair. I stared at the cast and wondered what I should do. Then, I was attending the Healthy Planet Expo and observed a Henna artist and it all clicked. I picked up her business card and stashed it in my purse. Meanwhile, my longtime friend, Chris Liddle, was living in California and interested in treating me or the baby to a gift. So, I told her that I wanted henna applied to my belly. My friend Chris didn’t waste any time and contacted Priti Jain right away. The next thing I knew I was trading emails with Priti and scheduled an appointment at her home. My mom joined me (and a film maker friend to capture the experience on video) for the occasion. My mom took much joy in taking pictures and having this unique opportunity to share this part of pregnancy with me.
Priti’s home was warm and inviting in suburbs west of St. Louis with a gorgeous second story view from her living room. After introductions, I located a comfortable seat and pulled my camisole up to expose my Buddha belly (at the time I thought I was 7.5 months along, but I ended up carrying this baby for ten months).

Priti had printed out of a simple labyrinth that I had sent her as a foundation for her design on my belly. I desired a labyrinth because that’s how I perceived birth… a journey, a process that only I could do while others supported me from the outside. Apparently, Priti hadn’t applied henna to a pregnant belly until a few weeks before mine at St. Louis Earth Day. She combined eucalyptus oil and henna (a plant from India that is dried and crushed for topical use) creating a paste and then wrapped it in a clear, firm, thin plastic creating a 3” pencil with a fine tip. Priti’s henna artistry was smooth, relaxed and incredible. She didn’t shake and it didn’t tickle while the paste was drying. The eucalyptus added a cooling effect to the experience. I was sure that the baby was enjoying this in-utero. Henna is a common practice in India and is applied by many for joyous occasions, such as marriage and pregnancy.

The application took about 60-80 minutes with no breaks and that simple labyrinth was dressed with flowers, stars, vines and the “OM” symbolizing renewal. I spent another 20-30 minutes allowing the paste to dry before I sat in the car and pulled a seat belt across my waist.

The following morning I had a prenatal photo shoot scheduled, so I didn’t want to disturb the henna. Once removed, the henna left a light orange/brown stain that lasted 7-14 days. It’s usually safe to scrap the paste away after 24 hours, but a part of me was doubtful and I didn’t want to reschedule my photo shoot. A majority of the stain stayed intact for 10 days and then slowly faded. Once it was no longer on my belly, I felt naked or that I was missing something. Wearing henna gave me a sense of warrior power and confidence. I mostly walked around with my belly exposed to showcase this temporary artistry called henna. And, when the labyrinth was undercover it was fun to imagine I had this secret under my shirt – henna and a growing baby!
If you wish to contact Priti for you or someone you know, you will find her contact information on her website:

Angie Meara is an aspiring urban homemaker and mother of Olive (4) and Van (1). She is also the Advertising Manager for the FoMM newsletter.

Photos credits: belly cast photo Alicia Hottle. Arty henna shots: Abbie Rudolph