This is the part of pregnancy where women start to get stressed (if they weren't already) about stretch marks.
They buy lotions and creams and rub them on their bellies religiously, in the hope that somehow their postpartum belly will look just the same as their pre-pregnancy tummy did. However the simple truth is that stretch marks are genetic and there's not much of anything you can do to affect whether you get them. Some women will not get any, and some women will get a million. Keeping yourself well-hydrated is your best bet, because it will help your skin be more elastic, BUT if you have stretch marks anywhere else (hips, breasts, etc) then you are almost certain to get them on your belly when pregnant. Period. And that's ok!
I didn't get any stretch marks until I was about 32 weeks along with Bear (I had nearly concluded that I might not get any at all!) then I got a little row right along the very bottom of my belly... Two weeks later I noticed another little row developing just above the original ones. In the final few weeks of my pregnancy my belly filled in with stripes all the way up to (and a few past) my belly button. I didn't get particularly large in my pregnancy--I was at a healthy weight before it and gained a very healthy 27lbs. But I got well-striped.
This picture is from about a year after Bear was born (a year before I became pregnant with this kiddo), and you can see both my not-so-flat belly and my beautiful stripes.
Yep, I just said beautiful stripes. It's not the belly I was born with, and it's not a belly that's going to make the cover of any magazines I suppose, but it's beautiful, because those marks are the indication of a belly that has fulfilled its calling in life: it has grown a baby (or several), and just as the weather-worn farmer shows the beauty of a productive life, so a baby-striped belly is beautiful too.
They were a little hard to accept at first--I had never been one to show my midriff so it wasn't that it affected my wardrobe at all--but I felt that I'd lost something of my youthfulness, and was sure that my husband would find me less attractive because of it. Over time I adjusted to the new me, and I've had a few thoughts about stripey tummies. First of all, most mothers have them. Seriously, some have more stripes than others, but most women are going to get at least a few stretch marks. Of course the magazine-cover models (even the ones who've had children) are airbrushed, so even if they have marks (and I bet at least some of them do) their marks don't make the final print...but we all know that those kinds of photos aren't realistic anyway, right? Yeah, I know, they are in our faces all the time, but they're inaccurate and it's much healthier to focus on what real women look like. That's why I would like to recommend the website The Shape of a Mother. The goal of SOAM is to share photos of what real women look like, and I know many mothers who have found it comforting to realize that they are not alone in their new shapes and stripes. I will warn that most of the photos are unclothed to some degree (most show bellies, many show breasts, some are fully bare, and some angles are more discreet than others), so use your own judgment and comfort level in determining whether to visit the site or how much to peruse.