Here Comes the … Baby Bump

When Kelly Sullivan and Tommy Barkovic found out last July that she would be about 15 weeks pregnant for their September wedding, they knew they wanted to announce it in a big way.

“Kelly was always interested in having a gender reveal as part of our baby process, and when we realized we had the wedding smack-dab in the middle with all the people that we care about there, we really tried to make that a two-for-one opportunity,” said Mr. Barkovic, 31, a financial director at a biotech company.

At their wedding-day cocktail hour in front of about 110 guests in their hometown, Bedford, Mass., Mr. Barkovic wore a caddy outfit over his tan three-piece suit and Ms. Sullivan, who runs a geriatric nursing service and is an avid golfer, swung at a ball. It exploded into a pink puff to indicate a girl.

“People were really touched and happy for us,” said Ms. Kelly, 32, who, a few years after recovering from thyroid cancer and learning that she had a genetic mutation that increased her chances of breast and ovarian cancer, was told that she had a low ovarian reserve and probably wouldn’t be able to have children of her own. “It was such a special moment.”

Christina Gibson-Davis, a sociologist and professor of public policy at Duke University, has seen a steady change in attitudes toward pregnant brides nationwide. “Once, marriage and fertility were basically synonymous,” she said. “There was intense societal pressure to make sure the birth happened within the context of the marriage. There’s no longer that social pressure or stigma.”

The pandemic helped play a role in this shift, Professor Gibson-Davis said, disrupting fertility timing.

Gabriella Carusone, 37, an interior designer, and Simone Astuni, 38, an executive at a tech start-up, decided to try to conceive after pandemic-related wedding delays. After getting engaged in October 2019, the couple, who live in Queens, initially planned to wed in the Tuscany region of Italy in September 2020. They ultimately had to push their date to August 2022.

By then, Ms. Carusone was three and a half months pregnant. Ten days before their wedding, they learned they were having a girl. At a Friday dinner before their Sunday ceremony, once the immediate families arrived in Siena, the couple cut into a white cake with pink filling, surprising all with a joint pregnancy announcement and gender reveal. “Everyone was going nuts,” said Ms. Carusone, who has five nephews.

At their wedding, Mr. Astuni announced to about 90 guests at dinner that they had special company in attendance. Friends and family craned their necks to spot a celebrity visitor or perhaps a musical act before the groom revealed they were expecting a daughter.

Ms. Carusone called being pregnant on her wedding day “a blessing” and said she didn’t feel she was being judged critically.

“My extended family are actually very conservative Italians and one would think that they would say something along the lines of, ‘You get married first, and then you have a kid,’” she said. “But I didn’t receive any of that. Would I have felt it more if I was getting married in a Catholic church with a priest? Maybe.” (The mayor of Chiusdino, in Siena, officiated the couple’s civil ceremony in a deconsecrated abbey.)

The term “shotgun wedding” pretty much summarized how society as a whole once viewed having a baby out of wedlock: An armed father forces the groom to marry his pregnant daughter — or else.

“Mid-pregnancy marriage” is a more appropriate term nowadays, Professor Gibson-Davis said. And a 2016 study for which she was the lead author found that getting married while pregnant was not necessarily associated with a higher incidence of divorce. “You may worry that people are marrying not necessarily because they want to make a lifelong commitment to each other but because they feel like they have to,” she said.

Jeffrey Alexander, a director of the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale, described mid-pregnancy marriages as “liberated,” “affirmative” and “cool.” He said he believed such weddings were “an expression of feminism and the way that motherhood, sex, love and marriage have become gradually separated from one another.”

“This has been a shift that’s been going on for 10 years,” he said.

Karen Nguyen, 39, and Paul Pisacane, 53, of Mill Valley, Calif., made their pregnancy the focal point of their wedding celebration in August 2021, about 11 months after their legal marriage, a virtual ceremony via San Francisco City Hall.

At their in-person wedding welcome party for about 80 guests, with fire pits and s’mores in Pescadero, Calif., a friend read a poem about superpowers. Theirs, the couple announced, was the ability to plan a wedding celebration while pregnant. Though Ms. Nguyen, a director of engineering at a communications software company, was six and a half months along, she wasn’t showing much and not all the couple’s guests knew she was expecting.

At their wedding reception, she and Mr. Pisacane, a director of regulatory affairs at a biotech company, displayed a Japanese maple tree with cards for guests to hang on the branches with parenting advice or suggestions for baby names. “We wanted a child so much, so for us it was just pure joy,” Ms. Nguyen said.

Still, planning a wedding while pregnant was not without its struggles. “‘What am I going to wear?’ became very tricky,” Ms. Nguyen recalled. The dress she had originally planned on wearing no longer fit by her wedding day, so she ultimately wore a pink dress purchased from the luxury resale site the RealReal. “White didn’t feel like quite the right color since I was pregnant,” Ms. Nguyen said.

Many pregnant brides, though, do opt for traditional white on their wedding day, supporting a growing industry of maternity bridal gowns. According to Tiffany London, founder of the British maternity brand Tiffany Rose, the company sold nearly 18,000 bridal dresses last year (more than 1,500 of them in the United States), and its U.S. wedding dress sales rose 35 percent from two years earlier. In January, the company introduced 10 new styles and its first maternity wedding skirt.

Sara-Lena Klaudrat, 31, a surgical nurse, wore Tiffany Rose to her August 2021 wedding to Lukas Klaudrat, 28, a police helicopter pilot. The couple wed before immediate family when the bride was seven months pregnant in Lech am Arlberg, Austria, near their home in Schruns.

Before buying her maternity wedding gown, Ms. Klaudrat described the dress-shopping process as “horrible.” She had purchased a cocktail dress when she was three months pregnant and was dismayed when she tried it on again before the wedding and no longer liked how she looked in it. “I was crying a lot,” she said.

The couple proudly showcased Ms. Klaudrat’s growing baby bump in a form-fitting Verona maternity wedding gown (the same dress that the actor Julia Stiles wore at her 2017 nuptials). “It was the perfect timing for us,” Mr. Klaudrat said of the pregnancy and wedding. “I would do it absolutely the same as we did.”

In 2019, Chloe Marx, the founder of Sexy Mama Maternity in Boise, Idaho, started a line of bridal dresses in response to a steady flow of customer emails requesting them. Though she initially wasn’t interested, she saw an opportunity after digging around online.

“I realized there are just not a lot of options,” said Ms. Marx, noting that wedding fabrics have historically been unforgiving and not made of stretchy material.

The fashion sector isn’t the only industry seeing an uptick in mid-pregnancy marriages. According to the wedding registry Joy, there was a 180 percent increase in baby-related items appearing on wedding registries from 2021 to 2022. Travel systems (strollers, infant car seats and wearable carriers) have been the most popular baby-related items lately, along with baby tech and furniture and baby-related cash funds.

According to Corina Beczner of Vibrant Events, who planned Ms. Nguyen and Mr. Pisacane’s wedding, all of these changes reflect a more mainstream acceptance of pregnant brides.

“I think everything is much more culturally relaxed,” she said. “With Gen X and millennials, I think we’ve completely shifted the wedding industry. There’s so much more creativity and uniqueness, and availability to be authentic in all aspects of our lives, and that includes weddings.”

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