New-mom underwear had been a well-known initiation rite for years. Soft, stretchy, made of disposable mesh, and mysteriously available only in maternity wards, it was an unlikely hot-ticket item—but sure enough, mothers quietly advised the soon-to-be mothers in their lives to steal as many pairs of it as possible from the hospital before bringing their new babies home.
And then, suddenly, it was no longer a trade secret, but a meme. In 2016, The Cut published an ode to the underwear. In “The Secret, Magical Underwear That Only Moms Know About,” Edan Lepucki wrote that not only was it supremely soft and comfy to wear over a still-swollen belly, but that “because postpartum bleeding required me to straddle huge, mortifying maxi pads like I was in seventh grade again, [it was] practical: The underwear held the pads secure, and if something did leak, the whole mess could be tossed into the trash, forgotten forever.”
In 2018, the comedian Ali Wong devoted 27 consecutive minutes of her Netflix stand-up special Hard Knock Wife to the surprising amount of gore and physical agony that awaited her after she gave birth to her first child. “Nobody told me,” she practically shouts, about how much “crazy shit” would come out of her in the days after the birth. When she describes how her friends advised her to steal diapers from the hospital, not for the baby but for herself, her eyes widen into a thousand-yard stare as she imitates them: You’ll see soon enough why you need them, she says in a traumatized voice. “Winter is coming.”