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I have found it.  No, not the perfect pair of maternity pants, not the perfect pair of maternity leggings, not a limitless supply of dresses, and not a society that doesn’t care if I walk around without pants.  I have found, however, the solution to many of my woes: The Bella Band.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Apron and I were lucky enough to accept a large donation of baby equipment (clothing, bottles, a play mat, a mobile, etc.), and a small box of maternity clothes from a coworker of his who is done making babies.  Unfortunately, she loved and lived in jean her entire pregnancy, and jeans about the least ideal piece of maternity wear there is, not to mention that they are the key violation of my work dress code.  So her entire denim stash was out, but buried among the flowy swaths of XL shirts and clingy tank tops was a small tube of spandex.

I made it through my early pregnancy without a Bella Band; I just unbuttoned the top button of my pants and wore shirt long and loose enough that nothing was obviously amiss.  Pregnancy books say Bella Bands (and their ilk) are best for early pregnancy, to hold up your old, regular clothes, or to hold up the maternity clothes you can’t quite fill out yet.  Personally, I’m quite at the stage where I fill out my maternity duds, but I still can’t hold my pants up unless they’re super stretchy and pulled all the way over my bump.  Which causes sensory ills, and seam lines on my swollen abdomen that draw sympathetic looks from my husband.  Enter: the Bella Band.

Last week I tucked it into my bag, figuring I’d try it out on a pair of pants that I wasn’t sure would stay up all day, if I dared pull myself to a standing position at any point.  As soon as I climbed the 5 flights of stairs, the drooping waistband let me know I was going to have problems, so I ducked into the bathroom and pulled on the magnificent tube.  It’s stretchy enough to fit over my whole belly, but thin enough that I can fold it or scrunch it down.  No seams anywhere.  And if I pull it over my waistband, I magically have pants that stay up all day!  Plus, my popping belly button is smoothed over once and for all.

Friday was a dress-down day, but my previous jeans experience had been so miserable I was reluctant to join the fray.  Again, I tucked the Bella Band into my purse, and again, I knew by the time I’d reached my office that my pants situation was unsustainable.  Though they did stay up on their own, due to magic stretch panels hidden somewhere in the waistband, the denim was chafing every inch of my delicate skin.  Again, I hit the bathroom, where this time, I pulled the Bella Band on before my pants.  I covered my sensitive waist with it, then pulled up my pants.  Voila!  Added friction for anti-gravity powers, as well as a barrier between jeans and my skin.

I may have worn pants that were hemmed with safety pins yesterday (I hate to commit to making real hems before I know if my $5 thrift store find is worth the effort) and covered with dog fur (this particular pair was a magnet for blond dog hairs), but my pants stayed up all day long.

If this post saves one woman from the belly pouch panels and drooping elastic waist maternity pants, I will consider my obligation to the pregnant community fulfilled.

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Oh, the humanity.  Thanks to our Amazon.coms baby registry, I received an unsolicited e-mail from David Lerner Maternity.  Cute kid clothes and sick curiosity led me to click (before unceremoniously unsubscribing ).  And I found this:

Zippered Maternity Leggings, with pregnancy panel.  Oh, the humanity. 

I love how they list the model’s waist size as 25″.  (without an asterisk telling you it was her pre-pregnancy size) I’m sorry, what was she before she was pregnant?  I don’t even have a waist anymore, and my band-size has grown an entire 4″, thank you very much.  I can’t imagine what pregnant woman thinks a) she’ll look like that if she puts these on, b) she’ll match those measurements any time in her post-partum life, or c) she’ll actually be able to pull on the leggings, let alone bend down to her ankles to close the calf zippers. 

I can barely get my legs in the openings in my underwear, and my shoes are slip-on only, thank you.  It would take a tow winch, some grease, and several immodest assistants for me to be able to get into an Olivia Newton John (with child)-style pair of leggings like those.

Maternity pants, why do you suck so bad?  I hate you, and long for the days of the muu-muu.  When I first was pregnant, I made do with plenty of my looser fitting clothing.  As the weeks progressed, I compensated for my barely enlarged belly by leaving the top button of my pants open, or by zipping my skirts most of the way up.  All my shirts still fit.  I had to be creative, and certain garments were off-limits, but I was pretty comfortable.  Sometimes I’d notice that a skirt that I could zip in the morning was feeling a might pinchy by bedtime, but gravity plays cruel tricks on all of us.

I was able to get away with a few pairs of larger sized thrift-store shorts for the entirety of July.  The slightly larger waistband fit pretty well as long as I didn’t do something stupid, like hang my keys off a belt-loop while walking the dogs.  I made some dresses this summer, too, which freed me up from the boredom of rotating the 3 pairs of shorts that fit.  I started digging in the bag of maternity clothing my mother had dumped on me, searching for dresses to stave off the heat wave. 

As we prepared for our trip toIreland, and I had to start evaluating the function of my wardrobe as well.  It was going to be in the 60s, not the 90s, and I had to start thinking about pant-type garments.  As we packed, I finally broke into the hoard of proper maternity clothing from my mother, as I wasn’t sure I had 10 days worth of Ireland-appropriate clothing from my pre-pregnancy days. 

I also hit the thrift stores again, and found some maternity pants that would work for the fall, once I got back to work and had to dress more appropriately.  I still wasn’t big enough to fill out all the elastic in the waistbands.  To humor myself, I tried on one of every type of maternity pants.  I’m not talking jeans vs. khakis.  I’m talking about one of every type of compensatory waist-band-like support system.  And though while trying them on, I tried to imagine a larger belly filling them in, I still had to wonder at their incredible awfulness.  Behold.

1) The drawstring.  This type works best when tied below the bulge, and they rest on the womanly hips.  I have a pair of non-maternity pants with a drawstring waist in my rotation.  I hemmed them before we went to Ireland, and have spent every day that I choose to wear them constantly pulling them back up on my hips, and retying the drawstring.  They scoop below my belly, which puts pressure (again, gravity) pulling them down off my hips, which are the last vestige of decency. 

2) The wide, stretchy waistband.  This type is vaguely reminiscent of the fold-top gaucho or yoga pants.  The extra-wide waistband is designed so you can allegedly unfold it and pull it up your belly, or fold it over a la hipster.  They work pretty well when they are actually exercise clothing, i.e., when the waistband fabric is the same as the pant fabric.  And when the waistband has stretch, but also resiliency.  One pair I put on this weekend did not have enough oomph in the waistband, so it kept rolling over below my belly, cutting of circulation to whatever’s going on down there, and trying to pull itself off of my hips.  I have a pair with a combo elastic waistband and drawstring.  While comfortable at least, they don’t stay up, and I am constantly retying the waistband all day long. 

3) The plain elastic waistband.  These are your grandma’s pants.  If you’re lucky, the rise is so high you can’t sling them below the belly, and are forced to pull the massive amounts of crotch fabric up to the belly button (wherever that went; mine is kind of closing up and looks very sad), thus creating the tell-tale elastic mark around the widest part of the belly, just like a red, itchy equator.  I picked up a pair at a garage sale for $1, and while they seemed tolerable in the morning, I was exasperated by the pinching equator mark by 6pm. 

4) The pouch.  The pouch pants look innocently enough like a pair of jeans or khakis from the back, but have a huge round cut-out from the regular fabric, filled in with stretchy fabric.  They are meant to envelop part or all of the bump.  I have not yet been able to bring myself to purchase a pair of these yet.  They look too awful.  I did try on a pair at the thrift store, to humor myself and make sure I wasn’t missing anything (along with other hideous trends that are strangely comfortable, like sports bras, Uggs, and Snuggies).  It may be a generational thing, spawned by the Britney Spears influence of hip-huggers, but I cannot cannot cannot tolerate a waistband – pregnant or not – on my waist.  I’m sure they actually stay up; if you pull the waistband of your pants up to your armpits or right below your breasts, they’d damn well better stay up.  They have the entire bump to hold onto. 

5) Hybrids.  These may take the form of elastic waist with a pouch, or yoga pants with a few extra pleats.  They may have an elastic front and regular back, or a drawstring with elastic.  Like many hybrid creations, they compromise on integrity, and come up short in function. I have not found ones that are both comfortable and stay up. 

I have special disdain for the pair of jeans I have on today.  Yet I wore them anyway, because it’s a dark, dreary morning and it’s a dress-down day at work.  They have a super-wide elastic waist (which may flip up over the belly, causing some mild sensory discomfort, but at least no Equator effect).  When I wore them inIreland, my worst issue was that my hips couldn’t hold onto the denim part, and I kept hiking them up all day.  Now that my belly bulge is, um, huge, my hips have an even bigger task fighting against gravity.  Worse than the constant drooping, though, is the combination of denim and spandex knit, an unnatural union no fashion authority should rightly ever condone (see: jeggings).  Many of us women are familiar with the weird bulge regular jeans make when we sit down; it looks like a penis has materialized within the inflexible fabric of the fly.  These pants have a teeny fly, cut-off by the swaths of spandex waistband.  This teeny fly, instead of popping out when I sit down, inverts.  The stretch fabric allows it to sink into my skin, and the weight of my belly holds it firmly in place as it digs into my soft flesh.  By the end of the day, I have a stunning red mark from the fabric of the fly imprinted below my belly.  Every time I stand up, I yank on the top of the waistband, futilely trying to pull it out of my skin. 

I had told myself I would live in lovely dresses during my entire pregnancy.  In fact, dresses are the most comfortable thing to wear.  I can’t wait for the weather to cool ever so slightly, so the sweater dresses I’ve made out of plus-size sweaters will be appropriate.  Unfortunately, I don’t have enough dresses in any season to leave the annoying pants behind.  I have a few cute sundresses, and a few warm sweater dresses, but not enough of either.  Then there’s the issue of tights/leggings.  If I thought maternity pants fought a daily struggle against gravity, it’s nothing compared to what tights and leggings go through with a belly bulge.  The high-waisted “support” hose style do stay up, if I can maneuver enough to yank them all the way up.  And then they have the Equator effect.  Other leggings are more modest in their coverage, and they tend to roll below the belly, resulting in constant tugging and immodest readjustment.  While I could get away with bare legs with my summer dresses, I can’t see my poor naked legs being exposed all winter long.

Maternity pants, why do you fail in every way conceivable?  Why are you so inadequate and ill-suited to your only task in life?  Why do I hate you yet keep pulling you on anyway?  You’re like an abuser, and I’m drawn to your attractive promises, yet you keep letting me down and beating me up. 

I hate you.  I need you.  Validate me.