COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho  — Wet plaster strips lightly dripped as Rayne Andrews smoothed them over Stephanie Dunning's henna-covered, nearly 9-month pregnant belly.

Dunning stood with her arms in the air as Andrews worked, knowing the final product would forever be a memory of her second son's body growing within her own.

"I think it's fascinating," Dunning said, tipping her head to watch the casting process.

The 28-year-old mom said she wishes she'd had a belly cast made with her first pregnancy. Her first-born is now almost 5.

"You forget how big you are," she said with a giggle. "You kind of forget how amazing your body can be to stretch to this point. A lot of times, we miss being pregnant and what that looked like. This is a memory, but for me it's like, 'I did that. My body is awesome. My body was able to do that.' It makes it more real than a picture."

While humans have been creating casts of objects and bodies since time immemorial, belly casting has been increasing in popularity in recent years.

Andrews, the artist who creates the casts at Ancient Paths Birth and Wellness in Coeur d'Alene, has been plastering mamas' bellies since the center opened in 2015.

"It's a memory. They want to remember what they look like at this point in their life," she said. "It has sentimental value for them."

The casting process is a little messy, but fairly fast. Andrews takes her clients into a small studio room where they can sit or stand. Women can choose to have their entire torso or just their belly casted, and they can do it with or without something covering their breasts depending on how close to their natural form they want the cast to be.

"Everybody's body is different and everybody wants something different done," Andrews said. "I don't think any of my casts have turned out the same."

After the client wriggles out of the quick-drying plaster, Andrews holds the cast up to the light to inspect it for places that need reinforcement. She lets them dry for about two days before she does the finishing work.

The casts mainly serve as a physical reminder of how a woman's body changes as it provides life for her unborn child. Multiple casts can be made to show the progress of the gestation period, but many mamas have it done in their third trimester, when the baby bump is more pronounced.

Once the baby is born, many recipients have photo sessions with their little ones in the casts. Some women choose to keep the simple casts while others have them sanded and painted. The casts can be used as decorative bowls, artwork to hang on the wall, holders for blankets and stuffed animals or even nightlights.

Andrews has several on display at Ancient Paths, and each one is unique.

"In the last year I've been coming up with different concepts to where people can actually use it," Andrews said.

Sarah Dunn, owner and senior midwife at Ancient Paths, said she wanted to provide a belly casting service because it's something that isn't really done in smaller communities like Coeur d'Alene. She said it's popular with moms in bigger cities, and the closest locations to have it professionally done are probably as far away as Portland or Seattle.

"People see all these things on Pinterest but they don't know where to go for it or how to do it themselves. And there are a million things you can do with it," Dunn said. "Being able to introduce that to our community is just a fun way for people to memorialize their time being pregnant."

Ancient Paths is dedicated to promoting a positive, supportive experience for new moms and moms-to-be. The center provides several free groups, including a mama support group, breastfeeding education sessions, pregnancy loss support and a night for ladies to pamper themselves every other month.

"Pregnancy is a time that women should be honored and celebrated," Dunn said. "I think in our culture we've really lost the art of celebrating that."

She said information in most cultures is passed from generation to generation; entire communities look forward to the birth of a child because it means a new generation and a new community member have been created.

"As we've gotten a little more separate as families, as people live on their own, we're not as integrated as families in each other's lives anymore and we've also lost that sense of celebration and community," she said. "Being able to offer things like (belly casting) does bring people together, and the more we can do here to bring people together, the more we can regain that sense of celebration."

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