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A Conversation with Holly Perella

Holly Perella, 32, recently launched thebellycompany.com, a Web site where she sells a kit for women to make casts of their pregnant stomachs as mementos. She lives in Mount Lebanon with her husband and their two boys, who are ages 3 and 1.

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What was the impetus for this?

A few years ago I had trouble getting pregnant and I took fertility drugs and got pregnant with twins. I watched those great baby shows on The Learning Channel and saw a woman who went to an artist and had a belly cast done. But one of the twins passed away in utero, and her death forced me into early labor. I ended up delivering Jake 27-and-a-half weeks along. He was 13 weeks premature. He was two pounds when I delivered him. And now he's great. He has very mild cerebral palsy -- nothing you would even detect. He's very smart.

 

So you never made it into the third trimester, when these belly casts are the most impressive? Right. Then a couple years later Nathan was a complete surprise, and this time I said I have to find one of those casts. There was a woman out in Colorado doing the belly casts and she had a Web site, so that's how I got the materials to do my cast.

 

What compelled you to do it at first?

I never felt more comfortable in my own skin than when I was pregnant. You have all those hormones coursing through your body. There are some women who want to have children but they don't like being pregnant; they feel horrible. I never felt more alive than when I had a baby growing inside me -- a human being, you know what I mean? And some of that was from having lost one, knowing what that felt like. There's things to remember the baby by -- the baby casts of the hands and the baby footprints and everything like that. Why not have something to remember the pregnancy, which for me was a spiritual thing?

 

How were you positioned when you did your own casts?

I did mine right on this couch, actually. You don't want to stand, because as you layer the plaster casting material, it starts to get heavy, and it will obviously fall to the ground. But you also don't want to lie flat, because then your belly flattens out and you don't get a true representation of your form. Sitting, your belly is really in its truest state. It's full. To prepare your belly, you cover the whole area with Vaseline. You end up using this entire jar of Vaseline -- which I provide in the kit -- and covering it with medical plaster.

 

Was this Colorado woman's kit much different than what you're selling now?

Hers was pretty similar to mine. There are other people who do this, and I'm not claiming to be a pioneer by any means.

 

Could someone do this by herself?

You could try to do it for yourself, but I don't know that it would work very well.

 

So I take it that it was your husband who assisted you.

Right.

 

And was that weird, fun, or what? What was his attitude?

He loved it. Because he spread the petroleum jelly on!

 

And one of the casts you've shown me is of your belly and your chest.

Yeah, exactly. Anyway, no, he thought it was great. For us it was neat, because he always touched my belly anyway when we were pregnant, so he had a really good time doing it.

 

This makes me think of that Vanity Fair cover a few years ago with Demi Moore naked and pregnant. Maybe that was reflecting a shift in attitude?

It showed how beautiful and natural it was. There's an interesting trend in the whole maternity business. Years ago women wore the big, frumpy clothes to sort of hide their bellies, and now the trend really is the tighter-fitting clothes to show the bellies. They have maternity bathing suits that are bikinis. My target really is those women who don't mind showing off their bellies and think the pregnancy thing is actually a cool thing.

 

On your Web site, along with suggesting you can hang these on your wall or paint them, don't you mention getting it bronzed as an option?

You can send it away to get it bronzed.

 

And then it could be -- what? -- a salad bowl or something?

Exactly! I think it would be a great conversation piece to have this giant fruit bowl on your table and then you tell people what it is.

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