More women commemorating motherhood with body art

Without the stigma it once carried, getting a tattoo can be a social event

“It’s a modern-day brag book,” said Michelle Wells, who manages husband Chad Wells’ private tattoo studio in Vandalia. “I think women who get these tattoos are very proud to be mommies. It provides a great excuse to talk about their family.”

Tattoos don’t carry the social stigma they once did.

“Everybody is getting tattoos these days. Everyone you can think of,” Wells said. “It really doesn’t matter what age someone is or what they do for a living.”

Steve Simpson, a tattoo artist at the Miamisburg branch of Blue Byrd Tattoo, agreed. “We get people from all walks of life here in the shop,” he said. “We get doctors, judges, quite a few preachers, and yes, mothers and grandmothers.”

Names, dates of birth and baby foot and hand prints are among the most common tattoos requested by mothers. One recent client of Wells’ got a tattoo of flowers running up her calf, with her daughter’s name intertwined in the stems.

But, Simpson said more unusual requests do come in. “Sometimes, they want to use something that just reminds them of their child, like a picture of a favorite toy. Not too long ago I had a guy come in with his son’s baby rattle and I drew it up for him,” he said.

Some moms are eager to get a child-related tattoo soon after giving birth. “Just last week we had a mother whose baby is 5-weeks-old come in to have the baby’s name done,” Wells said.

Others, take their time. Another Wells’ client, a woman in her 70s getting tattooed for the first time, is planning to get pictures of her children done. That is, after she finishes getting portraits of her dogs done.

One year during the Troy Strawberry Festival, Simpson had a 78-year-old mother and her daughter come in for matching strawberry tattoos. He was impressed. “I told her that the way I look at, we don’t quit playing because we get old, we get old because we quit playing,” he said.

Tattoos run in Wells’ family. Husband Chris has their eldest daughter’s name tattooed on his wrist with plans to do the same on his other wrist for their 1-year-old. Her sister has tattoos for her children on both her upper arms: one shows a sun and her daughter’s name and the other is a moon with her son’s name.

Wells’ mother-in-law also has gotten tattoos, for her grandchildren, including Wells’ daughter. She waits until the children are old enough to write their own name, then has the signature made into a tattoo for her foot.

A grandma in a tattoo shop is not an unusual sight these days. “There are a lot of grandmothers coming in to get grandchildren tattoos,” Wells said.

For many women, getting a tattoo is a social event. They come in with friends — sometimes even with their children — and make an afternoon or evening of it. “Women do usually come into the shop in groups,” Simpson said. “It’s very rare that a woman will come in alone.”

Some receive tattoos from husbands or friends as gifts and so come in together to a studio to get the piece done. It’s not uncommon for a tattoo commemorating a child’s birth to be a Mother’s Day gift from a spouse.

Of course, not all tattooed mothers feel the need to get a tattoo related to their children. Leanna Harrison, a biology student at Wright-State University, has four tattoos, including a large cityscape based on one of her own paintings that stretches across her chest and a tree on her left leg that represents her conversion to Christianity. Although she has twin 3-year-old daughters, she doesn’t plan to get a mom-related tattoo anytime soon. “Maybe when I’m older, but I’m not done having children yet,” she said.

Tattoos on local moms that aren’t child related are about as diverse as you can imagine, ranging from little hearts on ankles to peacocks which spread across their backs. Our tattoo artists did say they’ve been seeing a lot of women coming in for cancer-related tattoos, frequently pink ribbons. Lettering that follows the bra line is also popular, especially the saying “Live, Laugh, Love.”

Wells has several tattoos herself — flowers and a butterfly that her husband is turning into a jungle scene — but like Harrison, hasn’t decided yet to take the plunge and get one in honor of her two daughters.

“I think about it all the time, but I want to get it right. I know that it’s forever,” she said.

Contact contributing writer Susan Dalzell at dalzell.susan@yahoo.com or @susandalzell on Twitter.

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