Bathrobes are transitional. You put them on temporarily, between waking and eating breakfast, showering and dressing, undressing and sleeping.
I’ve worn this bathrobe for the past ten years, during countless daily transitions, and through major turning points in my adult life.
I started wearing it as a guest at my boyfriend’s apartment. He wanted me to feel comfortable, so he offered me a choice between two robes: this cotton, Kimono-style robe with a blue and white pattern and billowing sleeves or a tan one that’s monogrammed with his four initials. I wasn’t particularly drawn to either one, so I chose un-monogrammed because it seemed more neutral.
When we moved in together, the robe was unpacked and moved to my side of the closet. That’s when I started thinking of it as mine, and not a borrowed item.
I wore my robe less often after we got married. I guess my sense of modesty waned.
When I got pregnant, I wore it a lot. It was the only garment that comfortably and comfortingly fit during my entire forty-two week pregnancy.
On summer nights I would put it on and turn sideways in front of our full-length mirror, feeling around for a bump. By late winter, after rejecting other clothes for being small, impractical, or uncomfortable, I would put on the bathrobe and go lie down, bypassing the mirror altogether.
I brought the bathrobe to the hospital when I gave birth. I packed enough clothes to live there for a month, but the robe is the only thing I remember wearing. I can’t look at it now without flashing back to one particular hour of my twenty-six hour labor, when I put on the bathrobe and announced to my nurse Bianca, “We have to get out of here!” We left my husband, mother, and Doula in birthing room #2 and crossed the hall to room #5, which was empty and had a better view. There I began walking in circles around the room, which birthing books call “a spontaneous ritual,” an activity women come up with in the moment to deal with labor pain. I carefully timed each step so that my circle would last the length of a contraction. I remember starting each new circle by the window thinking, I just have to make it back to the window again…
I wore the robe so much during the first few months of my son’s life that I’m sure he thought it was my skin. He was at risk of jaundice when he was born, so I was advised to breastfeed him hourly. I didn’t have time to do anything but breastfeed and sleep, so instead of changing my clothes I just wore the robe around the clock, mostly unaware of whether it was day or night. I would pull open the bathrobe and nurse while my husband spoon-fed me chicken salad and fruit, trying not to spill any of it on our kid’s head.
Gradually my days and nights separated again, and now the bathrobe is my morning uniform. I pull it on at 5 am when my son wakes up, and during the early morning hours before his first nap, he uses it as a communication system. He tugs on the hemline and looks at me pleadingly when he wants to be lifted up. He reaches for the robe at my knees when he wants me to help him walk. And he grabs it and rolls over onto his back when he’s feeling tired. I’d like to say that after I put him down to nap in his crib I disrobe, shower, and get dressed for the day, but usually I fall back into bed and wake up an hour later with the robe twisted around me.
Sabrina Gschwandtner is a Brooklyn-based artist and writer.