I’m not sure if there’s any item of clothing uglier than a hospital gown.
It’d be one thing if they were plain. Maybe white, black- I don’t know. It seems like the little geometric designs just make it even worse. Or maybe it’s the boxiness. Perhaps it’s the over-modesty on the front side making you look far bigger than you really are- or the total lack thereof on the backside. Or maybe beyond the sheer unattractiveness of them, we are turned off most by their association. By the fact that when we are in one we are treated, not only as an invalid, but as an invalid who is just a number amongst invalids. We are a product in a factory, clothed in ugly because, in factories, beauty isn’t worth anybody’s time or consideration. It’s all about efficiency, ease, and numbers.
I understand this. It’s how factories run smoothly. And despite how much compassion may certainly lie in the hearts of its workers, a hospital almost inevitably becomes a factory. Who could blame it? Such a style allows for better outcomes, for less risk, and for quicker results. From the perspective of a doctor or nurse, I’m easier to deal with in a hospital gown. I’m easier to access, I’m easier to clean, and most of all, it is psychologically easier to think of me as a number. I don’t throw anybody off. And therefore, I’m more likely to produce favorable results when sent through systematic routines.
Favorable results for them, that is. But for me? Giving birth to my baby is one of the most important moments of my life. And there’s no way I’m wearing something ugly. I will cooperate and make sure my arm is exposed for blood pressure-taking and I will consent that the dress be destroyed if need be in an emergency. I will work around their needs to be comfortable with me- after all, I’ve consented to have my baby there and to be under their care. But there’s no way I’m wearing something ugly.
Now a lot of people will tell me that it’s foolish to wear my own clothes at the birth of my child. They say that whatever it is I choose will get ruined anyway. That I won’t care in the insanity of the moment. That I can change later. That nobody’s going to see me. That it would be a waste of a perfectly good outfit. And I completely understand all of these reasons why so many women choose to don the geometric uniform. It’s easier for us too, not just the hospital. It’s easier to be a number in the factory. It’s easier to relinquish full control when you’re already under their control anyway. And in many ways, it could seem wasteful to wear something beautiful knowing full well that it may be destroyed and knowing full well that it may not be appreciated for what it is by you or anyone else. It certainly won’t be appreciated by your baby who can barely even see properly when he first comes out. It seems then, that you are letting something pretty go to waste. And for whose sake but yours—you who will be far too distracted to be concerned about what you are wearing?
But here’s the thing. Pretty things don’t ever go to waste. If they did, then there would never be a point to them at all. After all, all clothing eventually gets destroyed. All flowers get trampled on. All pretty things fade and turn to dust and ashes. If we judged their worthiness based off of how long they lasted, then nothing would ever be worthy, because nothing material lasts. And yet, we don’t think like this. We treasure and preserve the beautiful things—even if we know that they will not last—because they are beautiful. And the fact that they are beautiful means that they have something of the everlasting within them. They participate in the eternal. They hearken us to that which keeps the universe turning and remind us of the things which keep us going. We thrive off of beautiful things because they, unlike ugly things, show us that it is okay to turn to dust and ashes. It is okay because beauty is above dust and ashes. Beauty transcends it. Beauty lives on even when the material has dissipated.
And so it is that the dress I wear in the hospital will eventually be torn—whether on that day, or twenty years or forty years later. It will be torn just as my wedding dress will be torn. It will be torn as the great buildings and churches of our universe will crumble. It will be torn as the masterpieces of art will fade. And it will be torn as our faces wrinkle and our bones decay and as every flower in the field withers. And yet, the beauty which it encases will never die.
Practicality would tell me to wear the hospital gown. And practicality is a useful thing. But practicality is not what makes life worth living. After all, life itself is a pretty impractical thing. Who can explain its reason? Who can explain why a new one has begun inside me? Practicality certainly cannot justify another mouth to feed and another footprint on a polluted planet. And yet, it is the human state. The impractical, the unexplainable, the decaying—but the beautiful, and therefore, the blissfully eternal. I’m going to wear something beautiful at the hospital, not because it is a practical thing to do, but because it is a beautiful thing to do. No my baby won’t notice and it may get ruined. I still completely understand why women choose the hospital gown and if for some reason I had to wear it, I am completely positive that my baby’s first moments would retain all of their beauty and meaning despite my ugly outfit– as they would in any birth situation. But if I can recognize that beauty and meaning a little more, then I’m going to do it in whatever way I can. Because when we recognize it, then we believe in it. We hope in it. We hope and participate in the transcendence and it raises us above the pain and the suffering and the mundane. When my mom tells people that she put on makeup and a ribbon in her hair before I was born, they often laugh and say she’s crazy. But that small act taught me about trascendence. It taught me that pain could be conquered and risen above even with the smallest details. It showed me that I was transcendent. It taught me to hope. I want to teach my baby to hope too. I want him to cling to the eternal. And if I can do it in my little way, whatever that may be, then I will. And, for me, it starts with refusing the hospital gown.