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When I got pregnant last year, my uniform of dress + cardigan + statement necklace was already bump-friendly. My full-skirted and high-waisted dresses accommodated my growing stomach. (Always dresses with pockets. Pockets are a feminist act.) I stalked the sale racks at Anthropologie for years to build my collection. I discovered “the good Marshall’s” when I went home to Florida, called that because it always had the best BCBG Max Azria and Calvin Klein outlet-line dresses, all in my size. I’d recently added these fantastically versatile ponté shift dresses (with pockets!) from Lands’ End that hugged my belly in a cute way, until it ceased to be cute.
But when August arrived, I was nine months pregnant and entering the no-fucks-given stage. The maxi dresses I’d stocked up on from H&M and Target were cool and comfortable, but they required shorts underneath to prevent chafing. Since everything was stretchy cotton, I had to wear a slip between the dress and the shorts so nothing would ride up. And what was the point of wearing three layers in the third trimester? Then I switched to leggings and long tunics and gave up entirely. My fingers were too swollen to wear any of my rings. I had carpal tunnel (yep, another pregnancy symptom), so no cute watches or bracelets. I bought my first pair of Birkenstocks to accommodate my swollen feet, and it didn't matter what they looked like because I couldn’t see them anyway.
I missed my real dresses with waists and non-stretch fabric. I missed putting an outfit together according to what I felt looked good on me, instead of what was clean and fit and comfortable. My dresses hung in the closet — the light-as-air seersucker with pockets and a full skirt, a sherbet-striped halter with pockets and a full skirt, the kelly green cotton one embroidered all over with tennis rackets (with pockets and a full skirt) — waiting for after the baby arrived and the return to my “pre-baby body.” I prayed for the magic of breastfeeding to melt away the 40 pounds I put on. As my due date approached and I got down to two pairs of leggings and three shirts that fit, I moved my dress collection to the closet in the baby's room for someday, soon, so I didn’t have to look at them anymore.
It’s still not soon. Quinn was born in September and I weigh within five pounds of what I did in October. Breastfeeding is not a magic weight loss program for all women. Some don't lose weight until they wean their nursling (so I’m holding out hope), up to a year after birth. It was almost two months after she was born that I felt able to walk around the block, no less go to the gym. I got rid of every pair of pants from my pre-baby life. The ship of my former hips has sailed. My dresses, except the maternity ones, are still in the baby's closet.
And, really, I don't care. Everything is different with a baby in my life, and that includes my relationship with clothes. Right now, form and function mean more than style. I'm not wearing dirty yoga pants and my husband's T-shirts and a ponytail (okay, I am wearing a ponytail), but I need my clothing to do different things now so that I can keep up with all the other parts of my life: childcare, work, relationships, and time for myself. I need pants to be comfortable on my still-round stomach and hips. Pockets are even more vital than before. I need shirts and dresses that will accommodate the insane breastmilk-pumping equipment I stuff in my bra (don’t even talk to me about nursing bras) three times a day at my desk and that make it easy to access my boobs for nursing when I'm home with the baby. She nurses or I pump every two or so hours, by the way. If you have to take your boobs out of your shirt every two hours, you find shirts that work, regardless of what they look like.
I haven’t given up on clothes altogether; I’ve just created another uniform. I bought several mix-and-match pieces on Black Friday sales: three loose, scoop-hemmed striped shirts and two (naturally spit-up-repelling) merino wool cardigans from Gap, and four pairs of high-waist jeggings from Old Navy. I dropped money on a new pair of Cole Haan loafers like my beloved pre-pregnancy ones in a half-size bigger, and they’re already perfectly broken in. I can wear my rings again. Everything fits and everything is comfortable, and I like the way it looks and it’s still professional enough to wear to a business lunch in my industry. I wore my uniform to a meeting with a client in the Hearst building, and none of the Cosmo or Harper’s Bazaar editors batted an eye. Or if they did, I didn’t notice. I was too busy getting back to work to worry about it.
I still love clothes. I still wish I had collarbones to show off in boat neck shirts. I still long for that pink striped Isaac Mizrahi shirt dress that is many, many dress sizes ago, even before I had a baby. But there will be shirt dresses again. (I hear J. Peterman has a good one.) There will be clothes that don’t require easy access to my boobs. Even if I never lose a pound of my “baby weight,” I will have clothes I feel good in and look good in and that make me happy. Right now, my uniform does that. Right now, it’s exactly what I need.