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I ran screaming from a suburban Boston strip mall after spending approximately 12 minutes in a David’s Bridal. Those 12 minutes of dress shopping did not include the hour prior, during which my mother and I were made to wait as we poked awkwardly at racks of gowns stuffed chockablock where a seating area should have been.
At just two months pregnant, I was not yet top-heavy enough to require a chair at the ready, but I was indignant enough to feel slighted by the oversight. Had these mass-market pushers of matrimonial wear never before encountered a pregnant bride? Hmmph.
When people talk about a pregnant bride, it’s usually accompanied by a hushed, sidelong mention of “shotgun wedding.” This was not, technically speaking, what happened in my case. My then-boyfriend proposed in September 2011. Two weeks later, in early October, I took a pregnancy test because my 28-day, like-clockwork cycle hadn’t arrived.
It was kind of a joke –- I was on the Pill, so no way, right? Two pink lines = way.
My fiancé and I were shocked, but elated. We were in our early 30s, we were gainfully employed, we were already planning to get married, and –- hey, come to think of it –- the time was right. There was no delaying the spring wedding we had already decided on, since we’d be moving cross-country the following summer and wanted to celebrate with our friends and family before then.
And as hard as it would be to plan everything when I was pregnant, I knew it would be a million times harder with an infant riding shotgun in our lives.
By November, talk of “the dress” became a thing. In less pregnant circumstances, this would have been the time I’d start foregoing breakfasts at Dunkin’ Donuts and signing up for spin classes. And though it was initially a relief that the baby gods had issued me an automatic pardon from brideorexia, any pregnant or formerly pregnant woman will tell you that the first two to four months of growing a baby are hugely awkward, both physically and psychologically.
You might be gung-ho to show off a cute little protruding bump, but all you feel, and look like, is… bloated. As in, just-ate-a-family-size-bag-of-salt-and-vinegar-Lay’s-and-guzzled a-Big-Gulp bloated. I was in no mood to twirl in front of a wall of mirrors in front of anyone -– friends, family, and least of all myself.
Which brings me back to David’s Bridal, which had drawn me in, albeit grudgingly, with soft-focus ads featuring montages of brides in strapless gowns gamboling on beaches amidst windswept palms. (Are they not wearing uncomfortable wedding pumps, or fretting about sandy hemlines?)
The idea of spending less than $500 on a dress put me in a similarly carefree mood, though I would soon understand that places like David’s temper their bargains with truly shitty customer service. Perhaps it was the communal dressing rooms, the flourescent lighting, or my unanswered cries for a larger size while I struggled to shimmy out of one particularly ill-fitting dress that caused me to run shrieking from the strip mall that cold November day –- but whatever it was, I was done with dress shopping.
Once we got back to the car, my mother patted my knee and smiled knowingly. “It’s time to get serious about this dress,” she said. “It’s time to go to Kleinfeld.”
Most Americans –- or at least, most starry-eyed brides with a princess complex –- know Kleinfeld because it serves as the Manhattan backdrop for that estrogen-drenched bastion of Friday night reality television, "Say Yes to the Dress." Let me just say that I was probably the least excited marriage-minded woman in history to walk through its immense glass doors.
As the Daria of brides, I didn’t care about sighting Randy, SYTTD’s cuddly star and the store’s fashion director, I didn’t care about gawking at the television cameras on parade on the main floor, and I really didn’t care about finding THE ONE, which is how the show’s brides breathlessly refer to their “dream dress,” aka that which necessitates their accompanying entourage to endure odious mirror twirls and pros-and-con lists of blinged-out corsets versus sweetheart necklines versus mermaid silhouettes.
All I wanted was a goddamn functional garment that would cover up my pregnant boobs and allow my developing fetus plenty of amniotic breathing room.
I am happy to report that I did, in fact, find that dress, which ended up costing thousands over budget but was apparently the only one any designer had bothered to create that year that featured both a modest neckline and an empire waist. By the time I returned to Kleinfeld for my first fitting in January (brides typically go back for two rounds before the big day), I was all business, prepared for a similarly brisk, efficient visit. Until a decidedly non-bride-looking, headset-wearing woman sidled up to me in the plush waiting area.
“You’re pregnant? And a bride? How cool!” she said, tapping her clipboard with the intensity of someone with a serious agenda. “Are you waiting to try on your dress?”
Yes, yes, I was, I answered, eyeing her suspiciously.
“Well, it just happens that I work for this show? Say Yes to the Dress? Have you heard of it?” Her face was practically two inches from mine, her hand already cocked with a pen for me to sign the release.
My mother and two aunts entourage, who had been eavesdropping nearby, knew what was coming. DO IT, DO IT, DO IT, their bugged-out eyes broadcasted, their mouths practically salivating with the excitement that afflicts normally level-headed people confronted with the prospect of appearing on national television. We’ve all seen that look on "Price Is Right" contestants jet-propelled out of their seat to come on down!
I was less than enthusiastic. Me? On that show? As I said, I was the bridal antithesis of the perky princess who dreams about her fairytale wedding in utero. My wedding dress shopping experience had been by turns traumatic and pragmatic –- never anything approaching romantic or euphoric.
But in that sense, I reasoned (cue faintly fame-hungry wheels turning in head), maybe it would be interesting to do it -– as in, maybe it was high time the show featured a Bloated, Knocked-Up Bride Who Does Not Give a Damn.
So I said yes to the eager PA, signed my privacy away, and was promptly mic-ed and sent off for my fitting.
There were two camera people, one male and one female. I was informed that only the female would actually be in the room with me when I stripped down to my undies to try on my dress -– a relief that was short-lived when I realized that a far more co-ed audience would surely be ogling the final product when it aired.
Ah, screw it, I thought, dropping trou as I rationalized that the whole bridal dress-shopping experience had basically been a succession of embarrassing, demoralizing intrusions up to that point anyway. And in my state, it wasn’t like I had to suck in my gut or worry about the camera adding 10 pounds.
In fact, the crew and producers of the show turned out to be so accommodating, the only weirdness about the whole reality television experience came from me. I remember giggling awkwardly when I predictably “Wow!”-ed at myself after the seamstress twirled me around to get a good look at the finished dress in the mirror.
After the fitting, I cringed a bit at my performance, lamenting that the anti-bride persona I’d envisioned portraying on television, by contrast, would have just sighed and shrugged, perhaps muttering a reluctant “Yeah, it’s OK.” Had I just preened ironically, or because I knew the audience expected it?
But in the moment, I did what I guess I would have normally done, without cameras. Maybe a “Wow” really was in order. I had to admit, I looked like a pretty bride -– and not just with the “pregnant” qualifier. I was a pretty bride, period.
My experience filming the show turned out to be so benign and decidedly un-awkward that I even consented to let the producers document my wedding in April. Though I had moments of near-panic at having consented to such a potential intrusion, when the day came I was so caught up in the joy and exuberance of the celebration, I barely noticed any cameras at all.
It’s been a year-and-a-half since my episode aired, but when it’s on reruns, I still get people coming up to me (my nurse at the gynecologist, one of my social work professors, random neighbors) breathlessly reporting that OH MY GOD I JUST SAW YOU ON THAT WEDDING DRESS SHOW. It’s pretty funny, since I could only bear to watch about five minutes of the episode myself.
I’m told it’s perfectly good -– even “touching” -– it’s just that I tend to cringe at the sight of myself on camera, bloat or no bloat.
It’s also funny that the first question these people tend to ask me is, “is that show really… you know… real?” That’s when I remember the small moment I allowed myself to preen, feeling like a truly pretty bride, and I smile.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I say, only slightly reluctantly.