Push . . . and smile!

Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, giving birth has become a much more public event. Some new moms are primping on the big day.

By Beth Teitell
Globe Staff / November 11, 2010

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With three months until her due date, Ashley Steele, 27, of East Boston, already knows what’s going in her hospital bag: baby clothes, shower supplies, iPod, and — perhaps most important — eye shadow, mascara, foundation, concealer, and bronzer.

Steele is focused on the miracle of birth, of course, but also on her close-up.

“Now your photos go up immediately on Facebook,’’ said Steele, a JetBlue flight attendant. Her sister, a hairstylist, will attend the birth as a loving support — and then get to work primping and styling the new mom soon afterward. “It’s not about me,’’ Steele continued. “It’s 100 percent about the baby. But I have to be in some of those pictures and I want to look as good as I can.’’

Live, from the maternity ward, it’s a photo shoot. With smartphones uploading pictures and video straight to Facebook and YouTube — expectant mothers say they need to be prepared. In 2010, that means lining up a pediatrician, readying the bassinette — and, for some moms, making a hair appointment, getting a mani-pedi, and buying flattering hospital johnnies.

Bleary delivery-room photos used to be seen only by immediate family and then stashed in a photo album, but now they circulate widely online to friends, acquaintances, and co-workers. And who wants a picture of herself — sweaty, exhausted, in desperate need of a shower — floating around the Web . . . forever?

While it may seem like a frivolous concern, the extra attention to grooming fits in with the larger trend of scheduled births, including planned caesareans and elective inductions, said Dr. William Camann, director of the obstetric anesthesia service at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“It’s not just planning the birth,’’ said Camann, coauthor of “Easy Labor,’’ “but planning everything that goes along with the birth, which includes looking good for the pictures.’’

Abigail Tuller, editor in chief of Pregnancy and Mom magazines, says the uptick in grooming is part of a societal shift. “The boundaries of the birthing room are being expanded,’’ she said. “People are Facebooking from the delivery room, they’re doing live feeds of their birth, they’re texting during labor. We live in the information age, and everyone wants their information out there. You need to look good.’’

How good is good? “It’s not about looking like you came from the runway,’’ said style blogger Roxanna Sarmiento, a mother of three. “But those pictures last forever. Anyone can see them five or 10 years from now. Even future employers.’’

Although some women do get dolled up for the delivery, Sarmiento, 34, says that doesn’t make sense. “I’ve seen pictures of people with mascara running down their faces. You cry or you get all sweaty. It’s a very emotional time.’’

The time to put on your face — assuming that there were no complications with the delivery and the baby is healthy — is, apparently, about 20 minutes after the big event. That’s when Sarmiento pulled out her kit with the little mirror and the Chanel and Laura Mercier cosmetics.

“I didn’t attempt eyeliner,’’ she said, “but I do a little shadow and mascara and blush and a little powder. People are worried it’s too vain, but there is a lot of down time.’’

She and her husband live far from family, she said, making photos even more important. “What’s your choice? Taking care of yourself at the hospital and making sure you look decent in the photos, or shying away from the camera and being invisible when the baby’s born?’’

The latter just won’t do, according to Geoffrey Batchen, an expert on historical and contemporary photography and a professor of art history at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

“The photographic image is no longer simply a document shared within an immediate family group,’’ he wrote in an e-mail, “now it is also a means of communication, a message to an extended social circle that says ‘I am present,’ ‘I am here,’ ‘I just did this.’ ’’

Christine Koh, founder of the Boston Mamas website, put it more simply: “People are tired of looking crappy in the photos.’’ She includes herself in that group.

Koh was very unhappy with how she looked in photos snapped after her daughter was born, when she’d sped over to the hospital, throwing on a bandana she happened to have with her. She’s vowed not to repeat the mistake. Now 22 weeks pregnant with her second child, Koh is already planning to get a blow-out before hitting the hospital (if possible), and she’s also shopping for cute headbands.

Silly? No, says Koh. “You’re doing this miraculous thing, but you also want to take care of yourself. It’s a good life lesson for parents. You put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.’’ Or, in this case, style your own hair first. “This is a more superficial level of it, but I think it’s related.’’

Of course, the more people who dress and groom for the pictures, the higher the expectations go. “When I look at my friends’ pictures, I’m jealous,’’ said Meg Leahy, 33, of Boston, who is about to give birth to her second child, and wasn’t thrilled with the way she looked in pictures the first time around.

The increasing pressure to be camera-ready postpartum is the natural escalation of the dreaded trend that demands pregnant women looks stylish and even sexy.

“There’s no break,’’ said Rachel Zinny, founder of Wellesley-based dearjohnnies, which sells pretty hospital gowns and robes. “Everyone is dressed to pick up their kids from school, they’ve got the worked-out bodies. It’s the same when you’re having a baby. You’re on, you’re on, you’re on.’’

Still, some women bristle at the idea of worrying about their appearance at such a big moment.

“That would be the last thing on my mind,’’ said Susan Kane, of Jamaica Plain, as she pushed her daughter in a stroller. “But some women don’t feel like themselves if they don’t have makeup on.’’

Indeed, few criticized those who are eager to be camera ready. Isabel Kallman, founder of, said she expected backlash after writing a blog post equating maternity ward photos to wedding pictures — and advising new moms to get their hair done before the big day.

“If you’re pregnant for the first time, you’re probably wondering exactly when you will have the time,’’ she wrote on “A first-time mom will labor for approximately 24 hours. Distraction is your best technique for easing contractions in the early phase. Also, I hate to break it to you, it may be the last time you’ll get [a haircut] for a while.’’

Commentators had their own stories. “My water broke at 2:00 a.m.,’’ one reader wrote. “I knew there would be pictures so while my husband was making arrangements, I tried to straighten my hair. I put on makeup and started sectioning my hair when the contractions started going two minutes apart. My husband then yelled at me to ‘STOP STRAIGHTENING YOUR HAIR AND GET IN THE CAR.’ ’’

Steele’s hairdresser sister, Kellie Walters, 26, recalled the difficulty of stopping her husband from snapping shots before she had put on makeup or done her hair. “Do not take my photo or I will get out of this bed and kill you,’’ she told him.

Meanwhile, new moms aren’t the only people under pressure to look good for the Facebook audience. Zinny has added cute swaddling blankets to her line after the stylishly johnnied moms were outshining the newborns in photos.

“Everyone was tired of seeing the babies in those blue- and red- striped hospital blankets.’’

Beth Teitell can be reached at

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