Many women who hope to become pregnant expect to experience some stress around the timing, the conception and the major life changes. But few are truly prepared for those awkward early weeks at work, when you're not quite ready to share the news, so you're attempting to dress in a way that keeps things under wraps, trying to manage doctor's appointments discreetly and (oh yeah) doing your best to keep from letting on that you're exhausted or nauseous.
For Sarah LaFleur, founder of M.M.LaFleur, she was even less prepared to experience those things while undergoing IVF — an experience that had her juggling her packed travel schedule with frequent doctor's appointments, going through weight fluctuations because of the hormones, and, eventually, figuring out how to dress her pregnant body during a pandemic. In the end, though, it was all worth it: She welcomed her son in August, and in September, her surrogate delivered twins, a girl and a boy.
LaFleur, who launched her company in 2013, decided in 2017 to try for a family with her husband Chris. On the recommendation of a friend, she visited a specialist to have her health evaluated before attempting to conceive.
"The doctors basically laughed at us," she remembers. "They were like, 'Why are you even here? You haven't even started trying.' "
As it turned out, however, LaFleur was born with a congenital condition, called unicornuate uterus, that would make getting pregnant complicated.
"There's very, very little that's actually known about this, just academically, scientifically," she explains. "There was a whole gamut of doctors saying, 'You might want to consider surrogacy just off the bat.' "
LaFleur was open to it, but decided to pursue a few other avenues, including IVF, first — which meant she was experiencing all the challenges of IVF at the same time as her company was growing rapidly and demanding all of her attention.
"My company at the time was, like, 250 people. Every day you walk in and people are kind of like, 'What's the deal? What are we doing? Where are we going?' It's such an intense, intense period," she said. "And simultaneously, I'm also going through IVF, which was really one of the most time-consuming activities I've ever done."
Courtesy Sarah LaFleur "The irony of IVF is that you look four months pregnant when you finish egg retrieval," LaFleur said about this photo
That's when the clothing challenges came in. "There really isn't a lot of literature out there on, What do you wear when you're doing IVF? Or what do you wear when you've having to inject yourself every day and every night?" she says. "The irony of all of it is, after egg retrieval, you look like you're four months pregnant. I mean, you're so bloated and quite uncomfortable. And so I was just wearing a lot of pretty boxy styles ... That was like my power outfit. I didn't want to draw attention [to my stomach]."
There was also the day that a colleague noticed the bandages on her arm from her blood draws and commented, " 'Usually when I see women in their thirties with Band-Aids in that area, I know what that means,' " she recalls. "And I was like, 'I know you think you know what it means, but it doesn't mean that at all.' "
She took to wearing long sleeves, shawls and cardigans to cover her arms. "I just didn't want people asking questions. Sometimes, I just didn't have the energy to explain what I was going through," she said. "Ultimately, I went through three rounds of [IVF]. So I think there was a lot of using clothing as armor throughout the process."
As she pursued IVF without success, LaFleur decided to simultaneously look into surrogacy — only to find out she was pregnant, shortly before successfully transferring two embryos to her surrogate.
"Honestly, there was this moment when we found out that she was carrying twins where I was like, 'Holy s---, we might end up with three,' " she continued. "It miraculously ended up working out."
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Complicating all of it was COVID, although it did take out some of the clothing complications she was experiencing. "Come March, I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm going to walk around naked for all I care,' " she jokes. "But I made my own pants. You know those Bellabands? I bought a bunch and took our best selling pants, the Hockleys, to my dry cleaners, and had them sew them on. I made three of those and that's all I wore throughout my pregnancy."
Courtesy Sarah LaFleur
All three babies arrived within a few weeks of each other late last summer. And in addition to all the other learning curves that come with having three newborns in your home, LaFleur says she's still learning how to dress for this new phase in her life too.
"Even now, eight months post giving birth, my body is still very much in transition and not at all the way it was pre-pregnancy," she says. "While I didn't know it at the time, it turns out that 'IVF-wear' is not so different from 'postpartum wear,' and the same pieces have ended up being my go-to pieces of clothing years later."
She credits clothes for being a pick-me-up, both now in this hazy time of life, as well as through her most difficult moments with her fertility journey — so much so that she even put together a presentation for her company on all the ways clothes were a part of her story.
"[Infertility] is such an emotionally trying time, but really thinking of the small comforts that can, I think, really help you through this journey," she says. "For me, obviously, it was my husband and my friends, but clothing was a huge part of what got me through this. And I want to share those stories more because, again, pregnancy fashion is such a thing, but I want IVF fashion to be something that we can all talk about too."