Pregnancy-Specific Beauty Products Might Seem Ridiculous

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Photo: JGI/Blend Images/Getty Images

NEW MOM explores the brilliant, terrible, wonderful, confusing realities of first-time motherhood. It’s for anybody who wants to be a new mom, is a new mom, was a new mom, or wants really good reasons to never be a new mom.

Pregnancy, for me, involves vacillating between not wanting to invest one cent on this temporary bodily hindrance (especially knowing all the expenses that await), and then wanting to spend any amount of money necessary to feel halfway attractive — or even just comfortable — for at least one day. Anything, really, that will offer relief from being a body with another fragile body growing inside of it, both of you trapped for the better part of a year. New underwear, expensive lunches, cozy blankets, fancy socks. Perhaps even products specifically aimed at pregnancy, this finite state.

If you are not yet familiar, Hatch is a high-end maternity clothing line (“hatch,” get it? like an egg?) with a storefront in Soho, but that for all intents and purposes exists online, in the sponsored posts of pregnant lifestyle bloggers. And, of course, in the aspirational imaginations of the women who read them. Such as … me.

So when my editor sent me a press release announcing Hatch’s new beauty line, HATCH MAMA BEAUTY, I eagerly agreed to review it. While I immediately resented the black-and-white photos of skinny, naked pregnant women next to copy about stretch marks, I found myself mollified when I came home one night to an expensive-seeming, matte-black gift bag with pink silk ribbon.

All the products — free to me, dear readers! — came in sleek packaging the perfect beige-leaning shade of millennial pink. In a beautiful, minimal-type treatment, even the objectionable “MAMA” looked okay. It was one of those pregnant days when I wanted to surround myself with nice things, as a sort of buttress (especially free nice things). Stacking the little boxes on the coffee table and trying my best to explain what they were to my 3.5-year-old son made me feel rich and lucky. Pampered. Ugh.

Once my 3.5-year-old went off to bath time (“Let’s leave Mommy with her oils,” I heard from down the hallway), I lovingly returned my new riches to their boxes, inspecting them as I went. Each product is labeled “Non toxic” “Hand crafted” and “Mama safe” — two words, no hyphens. I presumed “mama safe” meant “will not kill mama or mama’s fetus,” which I do appreciate, but the language falls apart under scrutiny. Handcrafted by whom? I went to the website: “Chemists.” In the lab. With their hands? Fine!

Photo: Courtesy of Hatch

I decided I would revisit these special potions on a day my critical defenses were down, when feeling a little bit better meant more to me than analyzing marketing language.

Belly Mask

First things first, this exists. It is like a sheet mask, but for your pregnant stomach. I guess my primary reaction was disbelief? And then laughter. You sort of have to respect Hatch for this one.

It’s just like any mask, but giant. And instead of two holes for the eyes and a hole for your nose and mouth, there is a humorous, semi-sexual hole that you line up with your belly button. (Belly buttons need to breathe, too, okay!) Oh also, there is a wink — a print of eyelashes. I don’t know. It helps, somehow. Like maybe the wink is a wink from the chemists who made this mask by hand. “We know. This is absurd. And you paid $12 for it ;).”

Like face masks, belly masks are fun because they are an event. This was the item that most confused my son and he had been eagerly anticipating for me to do it since it came in the mail. I waited and waited for a day when my uterus felt like it was about to pop (hatch?) out of my skin, and finally, that day came.

“LET’S DO IT,” I said to my child, snatching the mask out of the fancy bag of free products and holding it out to him with a twinkle in my eye. He gasped and ran to the other room to share the news with my husband, like a Hatch Mama Paul Revere. “SHE’S DOING THE BELLY MASK!”

Grinning, and then perplexed, I unfolded the unwieldy, dripping-wet paper towel and pulled up my shirt, feeling like I was about to undergo a very slimy medical procedure.

“It doesn’t fit!” my kid shouted, indignant.

It was true: The bottom of the mask was hanging off of my body the way the lower part of my gut hung off of my body after my last C-section. Not knowing if this “mama safe” all-natural slime would stain my clothing (turns out, it won’t!), I tucked a towel in my underwear and my sweater up under my chin and yanked my maternity leggings down around my ankles so that as I shuffled into the master bedroom to present myself I moved like a woman in ankle cuffs — a prisoner to vanity and female reproduction.

My husband shook his head. “Now what?”

“I don’t know where to go!” I said. “I don’t want to get this crap on any furniture.”

“Maybe you should do bath time, then.”

“Oh, um, well, I can just put a towel on the bed. I think I am supposed to relax. You know, to get the full benefits.” I shuffled over to our bed and rolled sideways onto it, propping myself on a bunch of pillows so that I could lie there, exposed and ridiculous, letting various essential oils seep into my Mama body. I already have stretch marks, though, is the thing. I cried the first time I saw them. I cried a lot. But now that’s over. And this is just funny.

I would definitely recommend buying one of these for your pregnant friend.

Nipple/Lip Balm

The thing is that while I would never buy this product for myself, I have more than once reached for it in my nightstand and slathered it on my giant, itchy, alarmingly dark nipples. (Little known literary fact: When W.B. Yeats wrote the line “Turning and turning in the widening gyre” he was talking about pregnancy nipples.)

Do I need my nipple vaseline to also be a lip balm? Not really. But it’s pretty! My nip-slathering continues apace.

Hair Oil

This product comes in a dark blue, opaque vial, with one of those rubbery droppers that makes you feel like an apothecary or someone involved in a very high-end multilevel marketing scheme. It professes to give your hair “strength” and “shine.” Two appealing attributes, though I’d ultimately prefer “volume,” “looks clean,” and “believable shade of blonde.”

Another claim of this fortifying oil is that it contains, “Botanical extracts to help encourage natural hair growth.” Really? Lucky for me: Though major hair loss usually happens a few months postpartum, mine is happening right now. I wash my hair every few days and my hands are covered in it. I brush it, more hair. I blow dry, I basically have fur paws by the end. I can feel my ponytail growing thinner by the day. Eagerly, I took the dropper and massaged a little on my scalp, as directed. Then I sat down with my laptop and googled some of the ingredients.

The box claims that there is “Avocado oil for shine” which, sure. Also grapefruit and lemon peel oils “help clarify the scalp.” I am not sure what “clarify” means in this context, which is probably why the word was chosen. My scalp is good, but it could use some clarification. Moving on. Nettle seed extract “to strengthen the follicle and shaft,” which is a claim that is repeated on the sort of scientifically questionable content farm websites we all know and love, such as Dr. Mercola and LIVESTRONG, but has not supported by any actual studies. So, hey, maybe!

But then, I got to the final, most ambitious claim: “Pea sprout extract: Helps stimulate and strengthen follicle stem cells.” To my surprise and delight, I did find a scientific study cited in a few places regarding pea-sprout extract and hair growth (though on further inspection I noticed it was published by a cosmetics company). Still. “I will put this on my hair every day!” I said. But then I went to sleep and didn’t have time to take a shower that morning, or that night, and walked around town with oil-slick hair (sprouting, surely). Even after washing, even with just a small drop, my hair was just greasy a few days later. I ended up wearing a winter hat. I did not feel beautiful! Still, I keep it in my medicine cabinet, and try to think of a good time to use it. Maybe I just like the bottle.

Feet Lotion

If I were to recommend a single product, it would be this one. (Our friends at the Strategist heartily agree.)

I must say that I hate that it’s called DOWN, GIRL! It sounds so … horny? Dog-adjacent? Copywriting is tough! But the special appeal of this lotion, which makes it pregnant lotion vs. regular old body lotion, is that it reduces inflammation. And swelling of the extremities is a pregnancy symptom. Boom! We have a Mama product.

I have fond memories from my first pregnancy of lying in bed and putting lotion on my legs and feet. Often my husband did this. In civilian, non-pregnant life, I probably wouldn’t let him, but the servile gesture felt better under the circumstances. “You are carrying our baby in your body — I can at least do this thing.” Granted, this was with $8 Burt’s Bees lavender-scented drugstore lotion given to me by my mother-in-law (this product does go against my personal rule that lotion is something you are supposed to be given for Christmas by relatives who don’t know you that well).

Unlike Burt and his bees, however, and as the Strategist has noted, this stuff TINGLES. It is like a mild version of Icy Hot. The big ingredient seems to be caffeine, though it feels odd adding caffeine to my bloodstream at a time when I’m supposed to be monitoring my caffeine intake. Does two coffees plus one dose of foot lotion a day keep me under the limit?

Another ingredient is menthol, which I suspect is the real culprit. I will be the first to discredit myself (further) by saying there was a time in my life when I smoked menthol cigarettes. Much like what I was after back then, putting on this lotion was an immediate and pleasant bodily experience. Like if my chubby ankles could chew gum.

Conclusion

I have to admit that through the course of my Mama experience, I have gained an appreciation for surrounding myself with pregnancy-specific cosseting products. On my bedside table I have my Tums. My water bottle. My nipple balm. My godforsaken belly oil. My menthol foot lotion. I feel taken care of by these items. I want to gather them around me and steel myself for the harder months, or indulge myself while I still have the time and the energy.

Pregnancy makes me want to give up on feeling attractive entirely. To wear leggings and T-shirts, put my hair in a ponytail, try to embrace a year of slovenliness, which in a way is its own luxury. And then other days, in other moods, I take the opposite approach: eyeliner, lipstick, a curling iron. Extra effort. Pregnancy products remind me to do this; they are their own suggestion. Sometimes it’s just the routine that helps me feel like myself again, even as I get bigger and bigger, slathered in lotions and oils and nipple balm. Wearing, yes, an $80 dress from the Hatch Clearance section.

Pregnancy-Specific Beauty Products Might Seem Ridiculous