It was a party in praise of procreation, a veritable fertility fest.
The occasion was the publication of the book "Jane Fonda's New Pregnancy Workout and Total Birth Program." The event was a celebration Monday at Arte Primitivo, a Santa Monica art gallery that marked the occasion with an exhibit of pre-Columbian figures with swollen bellies, Native American cradle boards and other tribal variations on the theme of parent and child. Inexplicably, none of the artifacts had stretch marks.
Actress Jane Fonda was there, although she didn't write the book, and Femmy DeLyser, the Dutch-born birth coach to the stars, who did, and several celebrity babies, most notably Michael J. Fox's very young son, Sam. Among the guests were most of the 15 women who had allowed themselves to be photographed for the book in distended leotards at various stages of their pregnancies. Like new mothers everywhere, they displayed their infants like hosts in a church procession. New fathers were also very much in evidence, notably writer-director Michael Crichton, whose baby daughter, Taylor, had a prime view of the party from the shoulder of her father, who is 6-foot-9.
By and large, these were boutique babies: There wasn't a pair of Oshkosh B'Goshes in the crowd. One tiny child wore a leopard-print beret. Another resembled a teeny-weeny Annie Hall in a red-straw hat.
Like many of the older women in the group, Fonda, 51, had a slightly elegiac air. "My only sadness," she said, "is that I'm not going to have any more children, and I can't benefit from this book."
Fonda re-directed reporters' queries about the book to DeLyser, who trained as a nurse in the Netherlands and coached Fonda during the birth of her now-teen-age son, Troy.
DeLyser, who heads the pregnancy, birth and recovery program at Fonda's fitness center, said American obstetrical care has come a long way from the days when mothers were routinely anesthetized into oblivion and fathers were banned from the delivery room.
"Doctors used to say if your husband is in the delivery room, he'll never want to make love again," she recalled. "It was terrible."
In addition to exercises, DeLyser said, her book incorporates recent findings on the physiology of pregnancy and birth, information on making the home and workplace safe for parents and child, and instruction in infant CPR.
The new mothers present sang the praises of exercise. "It's the only thing that kept me going," said Tracy Pollan, actress wife of Fox. She recalled looking at herself the day after her son was born and thinking: "OK, this is it. My body is never going to be the same." With exercise, she said, she was back in shape in three months.
Actress Wendy Sperber said she too was glad she had done her squats and stretches. The mother of 6-month-old Daphne Pearl, Sperber looks not like an "aerobics queen" but like new mothers used to look before there were exercise books for new mothers. As she put it, people keep coming up to her and asking, "When are you due?"
Sperber, who was a regular on TV's "Bosom Buddies" and recently completed the film "The Image," with Albert Finney, gestured in the direction of her steel-stomache peers and observed: "Middle America does not look like this. That's why I'm glad I'm in the book."
But, Sperber added, leafing through a copy of the newly published volume: "You know what they did to me? They put me on the same page as Jillie Mack!"
Mack, who came to the party without husband Tom Selleck or daughter Hannah, insisted that her middle was out "like a torpedo" by the end of her pregnancy. But, in fact, if the tiny dancer-actress were a vegetable, she'd be celery. She continued to do yoga throughout her pregnancy, giving up only "the postures where you have to lie on your stomach."
Food was not a major motif of the evening. Waiter Robert Reid wandered through the crowd with a tray of Mexican appetizers. When a guest asked how she should approach the mound of food, he advised her to dig in. "Pretend you're home," he said. "It's you; it's me; it's nachos."
Fonda said her next project is a video of easy aerobics and stress-reduction techniques, due out in January. She said she has also been developing an exercise program for men. So far, she noted, the market for home exercise videos has been overwhelmingly female.
"But it may change," said the empress of exercise. "And when it does, I'm ready."