Maternity Waders

A mother-to-be adapts and overcomes

An expectant mother and hunter is seen lining up a shot in front of majestic scenery.

Forty weeks—the length of time for a baby to reach full term. If you have a favorite hunting season, there is no way to lay that one on the calendar without it impacting your beloved outdoor pursuits. We found out I was pregnant in April, just at the start of spring gobbler season. Projecting outwards, the baby’s due date at the end of December meant that I would be able to hunt during the fall, but that my growing belly might be a little uncomfortable. It also meant that waterfowl season lined up perfectly with my third trimester. In terms of a hunting season in which to participate while feeling like a beached whale, I figured waterfowl was among the best options.

The materials one mother and hunter needed to turn a normal pair of waders into maternity waders are shown including a scissors, elastic, a lighter, string, and a sewing machine.

Creative engineering, seam ripping, and time at a sewing machine resulted in pregnancy-ready waders.

Still, I had questions about my pregnancy, many of them typical for any first doctor appointment: How long does morning sickness last? When will I start showing? When should we tell our friends I am pregnant? However, my first question was, “Is it safe to go hunting while pregnant from a noise and recoil perspective?” My doctor, having delivered thousands of babies, had never been asked this question. He and my husband (also a doctor, but not the baby kind) looked up the research. Conclusion: I probably shouldn’t take up the sport of “3-Gun” or spend all my days at the range, but hunting should be fine. Fantastic. I could start planning for fall seasons.

Neonatal Neoprene

Summer ran into fall and, before we knew it, the waterfowl opener was right around the corner. I couldn’t have been happier! Big game hunting was getting harder and harder, and even the smallest hill was like climbing Mount Everest with my diminished lung capacity. I had needed new waders, so when I found out I was pregnant, I was already planning how I could modify them for my ever-expanding belly. Two days before the opener, I began tackling the “maternity waders” project.

For good measure, I tried my waders on one last time: I was only seven months pregnant—not nine—and waders run big, so you can wear lots of clothes under them for late-season. Right? Well, I had to wait for my husband to finish laughing at my plight before he could help peel the waders off of me. Gravity helped get my belly in, but with the lack of flexibility while pregnant, I couldn’t get them off.

So I got to work. And after some seam ripping and 20 minutes at the sewing machine, I had elastic side panels that would hopefully last me until I either delivered or gave up on duck season. Regardless, at least for now, I was ready.

A Pregnant Opener

Other hunters will regale you with stories about their opener, including times they got their limit in the first 30 minutes. I’m sure many aren’t exaggerating, based on the shooting we often hear—especially on opening morning—but our openers usually don’t go that way. Even though we camp out the night before, we typically don’t roll up to the boat ramp until four days later than the other dudes. It’s easier to concede to a 40-year-old who’s been hunting “that spot” for 50 years than to politely explain that it’s first-come, first-served on public land. So we opt for a nice camping spot, which isn’t always synonymous with a good hunting spot. And that’s OK, as the experience is about more than just shooting birds.

A pregnant hunter perches on a pile of twisted wood and lines up a shot while her dog looks on.

The author felled a limit of ducks, including wigeon and teal. Adding to her satisfaction, the springer spaniel she’d trained with her husband completed the retrieves.

This year was no different. It had been pouring rain, so we procrastinated before leaving the house, finally getting to the launch just before sunset. We told ourselves it was the perfect time to scout birds. However, this year’s launch had also been the site of one of our bigger marital skirmishes. I’d gotten angry at my husband for awkwardly loading the canoe on the top of the truck, looking like he was going to blow out his back and without asking me for help. Leading up to that, I’d been grumpy about the way he’d paddled. There was probably another reason that I’ve now forgotten. Canoes, you see, can really bring out the best in a couple. But I didn’t bring that up as I now watched my husband unload the canoe, unable to offer help in my gravid condition.

We canoed across the slough and found a campsite without a whiff of any arguments. With decoys dumped in a pile on the beach, tent set up, dinner consumed, and the dog sort of toweled off, we were ready for bed. My recommendation for anyone else who has a compromised bladder is to bring easy-on/off shoes, like Crocs—not knee-high rubber boots or waders. Both of those options proved very inconvenient when getting up with frequency during a cold and rainy night.

I did manage to get several hours of sleep, which was more than could be said for my husband. He was too excited, barely slept, and jumped out of the tent when the first headlights hit the boat ramp. I, on the other hand, got up to pee again, dove back into my sleeping bag, shoved earplugs in, and snuggled closer to our spoiled bird dog. I’d like to claim the excuse of pregnancy, but that would be a small lie. At least I’m not as bad as the dog; she didn’t get out of the tent until the first gun shot.

The rest of opener went as expected. We shot enough birds to avoid getting skunked, came up with excuses and thoughts on what we would do next time, and passed judgement on the other groups hunting near us.

An opportunity for grander success came a few days later, when we went out with a friend and their boat. We were slightly nervous because this was the first outing with our self-trained dog in a motor-powered boat, and with a person we deemed a seasoned duck hunter. I hear dogs can make or break a hunting relationship, and I really wanted to continue having johnboat rides that season. Shooting light hit, and we were at the right place on the right day. We all dropped limits and the dog retrieved about 80% of them. She earned her crunchies that morning and secured my pregnant self more boat rides.

‘Glamorous’ Photo Shoot

Taking advantage of my third-trimester, half-hours work schedule, we headed out again the next day. My husband’s goal for the day: shoot ducks. My goal for the day: maternity shoot. Social media and the internet algorithms bombard you with pregnancy photos and pressure you to take portraits in diaphanous dresses to commemorate pregnancy as a joyous pinnacle of your womanliness. Does that description adequately convey the sarcasm I intended to express about the whole situation?

My stylish maternity shoot ultimately resulted in one duck shy of a limit and some funny photographs. Rather than a flowy gown blowing in the ocean breeze with perfectly coiffed hair, I was sporting my homemade maternity waders with such accessories as a duck stringer and earmuffs, and with a backdrop of swamp.

Unique Challenges

A mother and her son share a beautiful moment of love while on a waterfowl hunt.

The author welcomed a healthy son, Anders, who now tags along on family hunts.

The season progressed, and our dog got us invited several more times on the johnboat. By the end of November, I needed to do a porpoise-like move to get over the side of the boat, and my life jacket rode so high to fit over my belly that it gave me a double chin. If I fell in, my head was definitely going to stay above water. However, being eight months pregnant meant I did get to be a princess and get dragged to shore, so I didn’t have to struggle through boot-sucking mud. I also got the pick of spots to sit, as I only had about 90 degrees of rotation and I needed space to tilt my chair forward to stand up. A layout blind was definitely out of the question.

I don’t want you to think I just showed up to shoot birds, though. For instance, I put my extensive exterior decorating skills to use, making everyone hidey-holes while the guys set up the spread. A little brown here, a little green there. And I cleaned up the shooting area while others picked up the spread, but I hadn’t fully thought that task through: I couldn’t even bend down to tie my own shoes at that point, so picking up spent shells required crawling around on all fours.

I’m not musically inclined and have a hard time learning calls, so I make it my goal to learn one each year. That season I was finally getting the hang of my goose call. But while waterfowl hunting on Thanksgiving morning, a tradition I’ve observed every year since I started hunting, I was having a hard time getting enough air to make the reed “break.” The baby was taking up too much of my lungs’ real estate. I thought I was going to be relegated to wigeon and teal for the rest of the season, as my mallard calling is still rubbish. My husband was excited, as he not-so-secretly borrowed my goose call when he went out without me, and now assumed he’d be in possession of it for the rest of the season.

He counted his chickens too soon—the baby dropped later that week, and I got some lung capacity back. I did get him a new goose call for Christmas, though, so you don’t have to feel bad for him.

Once I hit the nine-month mark, we only went to spots I could waddle into while my husband kayaked the decoys in. Jump shooting with the dog is my favorite kind of waterfowl hunting, but my normal loops were too exhausting to undertake that late in the game. On the positive side, one bonus of being pregnant was that my body temperature was higher than normal, and I didn’t get cold, even in December. Which was good, because my luxury, heated shirt definitely didn’t fit any longer.

My last duck hunt was at 38 weeks, during which I was able to drop one last greenhead. I’ll give credit to that duck for helping me go into labor, aided by a spicy Chinese duck stir-fry that we made for Christmas dinner. Labor started three hours later, and our son was born the next day.

Waders in Waiting

I’m looking forward to a new pair of waders for next season, but the maternity waders are still hanging in the closet. As with lots of maternity clothes, they will get passed on. I just have to find another mama-to-be who loves duck hunting as much as I do.

Melissa Hendrickson of Sandpoint, Idaho, is a former public lands hydrologist and currently her family’s “outdoor coordinator.”