Mummy tummy

Story and photos by Wayne Cuddington
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Michelle Optis, 30, of Pembroke, is seen here with her husband Johnny Optis, 30, and her daughter Chloe, three weeks old, and a cast of her then-pregnant belly. Optis wanted to preserve her pregnant shape. At 39 weeks, she went to Julie Keon, a doula who makes five such casts a week.

Getting plastered is probably not what a woman late in her pregnancy should be doing, but nothing could hold back Michelle Optis. At 39 weeks pregnant, she wanted to immortalize her shape through a belly cast.

“I love being pregnant, love the way my belly looks and I thought it would be nice to have a bit of a souvenir,” says the 30-year-old public servant from Pembroke.

Optis turned to Julie Keon, who makes pregnant belly casts, which are made from the same gauze and plaster that helps mend broken bones. Optis got the idea after seeing one hanging in the home of a work colleague. Keon, a mother, writer and doula or birthing coach by profession, has been making belly casts for about 15 years.

Keon, who lives in Cobden, made her first cast after a birthing client asked her to help with a do-it-yourself kit she had purchased. She now makes up to five casts a week, each one a unique representation of the expectant mother at about 37-39 weeks pregnancy. She also makes casts for women who are not pregnant.

The process begins with the client choosing one of the different styles Keon has in her portfolio. It can include just one or both shoulders and is almost always from above the breasts to the tops of the legs, which emphasizes the belly by giving it context.

The top of the cast is typically heart-shaped or, if preferred, it can be straight across and an arm can be included. Keon’s prices start at $300.

During a recent visit, Optis hit the 39 weeks pregnant mark and had no time to waste. (As it turned out, her daughter Chloe was born just 11 days later.) Optis started by covering her torso with petroleum jelly. This allows the cast to slip away from the body when its is dry. Old underwear was worn during plastering and was then cut away when the cast was removed.

To ensure a natural body shape, Optis stood with her back against a studio wall with a towel behind her for comfort. She remained still as Keon began dipping, 20-centimetre wide plaster strips, in varying lengths, into warm water and spreading them across her body.

It took 30 minutes to cover her front with layers of wet strips, with Keon gently smoothing out all the wrinkles and air bubbles.

“It feels like I’m coming out of my shell,” said Optis, as the cast began to harden and separate from her body. “It’s difficult to remain still and not laugh at the sensation.”

After the last strip was applied, Keon waited about 10 minutes and then gently coached Optis on wiggling out of the cast. Keon added a few more layers of plaster for strength and trimmed the edges with scissors while Optis showered.

“To be able to see (my belly) like somebody else would, sort of in 3-D, it’s incredible,” said Optis.

After a few days, Keon sanded the surface before applying a coat of gesso (plaster) to further stabilize and seal the cast. The cast was painted gold, a colour picked by Optis, varnished and delivered.

Bookings can be made by contacting Julie Keon at ottawabellycasts.com or through Facebook at Ottawa Belly.

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