In a small bedroom in the Ahwatukee Foothills home of Gloria Newman, a very pregnant Brooke Osheel stands in her underwear. She holds completely still as Newman dips long strands of gauze into warm water and places them over her belly and breasts. Her skin is protected by a layer of petroleum jelly and a sheet of thin, transparent plastic.
After she’s placed a few strips of gauze over Osheel’s torso, Newman asks 4-year-old Revé Osheel if she’d like to try.
“Smooth it like this, real hard,” says Newman, guiding the tiny hand over her mother’s bump.
“Does that feel different from mama’s belly?”
Revé shakes her head yes, giggling. “It’s weird.”
0sheel’s husband, Jeremy, stands in the doorway, taking pictures.
“Those will be perfect for the baby’s album,” says Newman.
He’s supportive of his wife even though, when asked what he thinks of the belly casting, he’s temporarily speechless. “This is her thing,” he finally says, shrugging. The family drove from Queen Creek to do the casting together.
After waiting about 30 minutes while the gauze dries, Newman carefully pulls the finished mold from Osheel’s body, and the two admire the piece.
“Wow, I can’t believe how much bigger I am this time,” says Osheel, looking at the shape of her pregnant stomach now captured in plaster.
After the family leaves, Newman’s work really begins. She shapes the plaster and then covers the entire piece in a protective coating that makes it thick and sturdy. Once it is set, she decorates the casted torso with paint, jewels, beads and whatever else Osheel has requested, finishing it with a picturehanging wire so that Osheel can put the finished cast on the wall in her new baby’s nursery. The whole process takes about two weeks.
Osheel wants the cast to remember the time she was pregnant with her second child, a little boy. She and Jeremy are not planning any more children. She’s asked Newman to paint the cast to match the nursery she is decorating — in reds and blues with, perhaps, an airplane on it.
She wants to do whatever she can to celebrate her pregnancy. “Some of my friends think it’s weird or gross — mostly the guys,” says Osheel. “I think it’s beautiful. It’s priceless.”
She did a similar cast when she was carrying Revé and had professional photographs taken of her in all her pregnant glory.
“A friend of mine told me about doing pregnant pictures and at first I said, ‘No, I don’t want to see my naked body.’ But then, I thought about it and I did it. It’s art. Then I thought I should do this,” she says. “It’s not gross. Maybe, if you’ve let yourself go, you might be more hesitant.”
Newman’s business is thriving since she moved to the East Valley from California a few years ago, bringing with her a business model for belly castings. Her services are so much in demand that she dreams now of making it her full-time job and opening an artist’s studio. She’s even picked a name — The Belly Lounge.
She’s been in the casting business for 11 years, and says she thinks more woman are celebrating pregnancy now, casting off tent-like dresses for tiny tops that accentuate their bumps, opting to remember their time with child through castings and photography and even portraiture.
“Hollywood is helping,” says Osheel, who arrived at the casting session in a trendy tank top and coordinating sweat pants. “It’s in style to be pregnant now.”
“Some women don’t want to remember their pregnant bodies, but more and more I’m seeing women who are gungho about it,” she says. And with belly casting, they can suspend their pregnancies in time. “The casts are not so revealing. You can put it in a nursery and not be uncomfortable that you are revealing too much. They’re not offensive.”
Some craft stores sell kits where you can mold your own stomach at home for about $20. The finished product is a bit flimsier than what Newman does, but she can preserve those molds, too, if they are brought to her.
Newman says she’s experimented with many media throughout her life to indulge her inclination for arts and crafts, but there is something about belly casts that is very satisfying.
“It’s a sculpture. You can tell your child, this is you and mom when you were inside of her belly,” she says. “Sometimes the baby will move while I’m working and it produces a cast that’s a little lopsided or uneven, and that’s unique. You can use it as a learning tool and show them, ‘Look, this is where you were in my belly.’ It’s special to be part of that.”