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The Inspiring 4th Trimester Bodies Project Puts Other Real Beauty Campaigns to Shame

posted: 04/22/15
by: TLC

If you believed everything you saw in gossip mags, you'd think every woman who has a child immediately returns to her pre-baby body approximately 36 hours after giving birth. If you don't juice cleanse and kick-box away the remnants of their pregnancy as quickly as possible, then what are you doing with your time? That's why Chicago photographers Ashlee Wells Jackson and Laura Weetzie Wilson created the Fourth Trimester Bodies Project, a photography project aimed at exploring the beauty and grace of real post-pregnancy bodies.

Wilson and Jackson define "fourth trimester" rather liberally. "As long as you are a mother, you are welcome to participate," explains their site. "We've photographed mothers of loss, foster/adoptive/step mothers, as well as grand/great-grandmothers." Women pose in black bras and underwear or tops, with or without their children,

The pair's project blew up, and now they're on tour across the U.S. booking photo shoots with post-pregnancy women from Columbus, Ohio, to Maui, Hawaii.

In a 2013 interview with Huffington Post, Jackson explained why she started the project. "I see beautiful, inspiring, real women on a daily basis who struggle with their body image because they don't feel they measure up with who the media tells them to be. I feel like this is even more poignant in mothers who often feel like their bodies have been ruined when they should instead be respected for creating, sustaining and nourishing life. So much more needs to be done in our society to embrace body positivity and normalize breastfeeding. ... So, I started with my story and it has exploded into a beautiful thing from there."

The images capture how beautiful and powerful motherhood really is. Take a look at a smattering of their photos below.

The phenomenal Elizabeth Larson. Elizabeth found herself pregnant at just 13 years old, barely into 8th grade. She didn't even know that 13 year old girls could get pregnant when she discovered that she was. She wasn't sure what to think or do but knew immeadiately that she was going to give this baby everything it wanted and deserved in life. She told her parents and though they were devastated, they asked her what she wanted to do. She told them, ""I've been considering adoption as an option because I know I can't raise a baby, and neither can you guys..." Her parents agreed that was likely the best option. Elizabeth found her baby's parents just a few days after she found out she was pregnant. She says, "Immediately, I knew they were her parents. No question about it. I contacted them through their blog and met them 2-3 weeks later. We spent so much time together, hanging out, eating, laughing, bonding. I spent my 14th birthday with them and I knew they were the most perfect people for my baby." Elizabeth says that until her ultrasound at 18 weeks, when she saw her daughter for the first time, everything was so surreal. She enjoyed every second of her pregnancy however as she knew that was the time she had to spend with her daughter. At 40 weeks + 2 days, labor started and she says it was the worst yet most beautiful pain she'd ever been in. She labored for 18 hours but hadn't progressed beyond 4 cms for 12 hours when both she and her daughter's heart rates began to drop. She was taken in for an emergency cesarean under general anesthesia and didn't get to see her baby for 4-5 hours. She lost so much blood she went into shock and needed a transfusion. Elizabeth spent the next 4 days in the hospital with her beautiful girl before signing over her parental rights. She says, "I can't tell you how much it killed me, and how hard it was. But I can tell you, I've never been in so much pain. My baby wasn't mine anymore. But she's mine in a way that she's no one else's." {continued} #4thtrimesterbodiesproject #4thtrisaltlake

A photo posted by 4th Trimester Bodies Project (@4thtribodies) on

The beautiful Brandyne White with her daughter Burke (22 months). Brandyne says that when she was younger she was quite self destructive and self abusive. She didn't want to have children because she was worried about subjecting them to herself. She met her current partner and within her relationship with him felt loved and validated for the first time. She saw a little boy playing one day and realized that she wanted to become a mother. Brandyne and her partner tried to conceive for about 6 months before she conceived and she says the second she found out she was pregnant she became a mother. She stopped drinking and smoking immediately and went on to have a very healthy pregnancy. She was induced at 41 weeks with Pitocin and after several hours they decided to go ahead and break her water. Burke arrived about 15 minutes later. She was quite jaundiced and Brandyne was worried that she wouldn't be able to come home with her but her levels dropped just enough that she was able to be released with her. Because of her jaundice, Burke had supplemental formula with breastmilk from birth and Brandyne continued to nurse and supplement until she was about 4 months old when she chose to wean her entirely and switch to full formula. Brandyne feels that all to often "mother" is used as if it is a bad word or something to be ashamed of instead of celebrated and wants to be an active part of changing that. #4thtrimesterbodiesproject #fourthtrimesterbodiesproject #4thtrimester #fourthtrimester #postpartum #breastfeeding #childbirth #bodypositivity #stopcensoringmotherhood #motherhood #bodypositive #4thtrimester #4thtribodies #pregnancy #everybodyisbeautiful #feminism #feminist #selflove #bodylove #fourthtribodies #4thtrisaltlake

A photo posted by 4th Trimester Bodies Project (@4thtribodies) on

The wonderful Elizabeth Nicolson with her daughter Ripley (28 months). Elizabeth is a physician and says that because she focused on her schooling and career she met her husband and chose to start a family later in life than many women. She had friends who were struggling with infertility and worried that she may too because of her age. They were able to conceive quickly and she had a healthy pregnancy throughout. Elizabeth and her husband are very active, they used to base jump prior to children and still enjoy to climb and cross fit. While pregnant, she even helped to develop a pregnancy specific climbing harness, the first of it's kind, which she says she received some flack for. Elizabeth was happy to remain active and healthy and went on to have an unmedicated, vaginal delivery in hospital with her OB. She and Ripley continue to enjoy a breastfeeding relationship, as well. Elizabeth and her husband thought that they only wanted one child but at some point she started to thinking about the relationship she had with her own siblings and realized she was envisioning family moments with more than one child. They began to try and conceived rather quickly again. She had heart tones at 6 weeks but at her first appointment the fetus was no longer alive. She had to be back at work the following week so went in for a D&C. Elizabeth says that it didn't affect her much at first but two months later she broke down with grief. Her body was stronger than it had possibly ever been and she felt that it was failing her. She and her husband have been trying to conceive again since with no success. She says that whatever happens she will be okay but the current unknowns are difficult for her. Either way Elizabeth is trying to raise a socially conscious and kind child. Elizabeth wants people to understand that mother's are amazing and strong whatever shape or presentation they are we are all worth of love and respect both from ourselves and others. #4thtrimesterbodiesproject #fourthtrimesterbodiesproject #4thtrimester #fourthtrimester #postpartum #breastfeeding #childbirth #bodypositivity #stopcensoringmotherhood #motherhood #bodypositive #4thtrisaltlake

A photo posted by 4th Trimester Bodies Project (@4thtribodies) on

The beautiful Napua Brown with her boys Wyatt (2.5) and Grayson (9 months). Napua a healthy pregnancy with each of her boys. She was induced at 40 weeks + 1 day per her request. She was already dilated and effaced and her doctor felt it safe to go ahead. She says she hadn't prepared much for labor or delivery and once she got her epidural felt very disconnected from her body and the experience. Wyatt was born without complication and Napua began breastfeeding but switched to formula after a couple months. Just before Grayson was conceived Napua lost a pregnancy in her first trimester. She has felt a lot of grief and pain with the loss of that baby but also struggled with feeling justified in her grief. Grayson's pregnancy was healthy as well and she and her husband prepared with hypnobirthing this time. She says that her husband was her rock and she was able to have an unmedicated labor and delivery. Napua says she felt like a goddess after Grayson's birth. She's still breastfeeding him at 9 months but also supplements with formula and hopes that other women know there is no shame regardless of how they choose to feed their babies. Napua knows that she is beautiful and wants her boys to feel comfortable with their bodies. She also wants them to know that women come in all shapes and sizes and all are wonderful. #4thtrimesterbodiesproject #fourthtrimesterbodiesproject #4thtrimester #fourthtrimester #postpartum #breastfeeding #childbirth #bodypositivity #stopcensoringmotherhood #motherhood #bodypositive #4thtrimester #4thtribodies #pregnancy #everybodyisbeautiful #feminism #feminist #selflove #bodylove #fourthtribodies #4thtrisaltlake

A photo posted by 4th Trimester Bodies Project (@4thtribodies) on

The beautiful Brianna Eveland with her daughter Ellie (8 months). Brianna was able to conceive rather quickly after she and her husband got married. Her pregnancy progressed really well, however, she started having some numbness in her leg and learned that her uterus had been pushing on her femoral nerve. She was told that it should alleviate eventually but she's still having issues with both numbness and hypersensitivity to pain. At 38 weeks Brianna noticed that she was having more reflux and discomfort than usually and learned at her regular appointment the next day that Ellie had turned breech. Due to her size and gestation Brianna's doctor suggested she deliver via cesarean but left the decision up to her. They decided to deliver via cesarean the following week. Things went well with Ellie's birth and she latched right away which was one of Brianna's biggest concerns. She and Ellie have a wonderful breastfeeding relationship today and she hopes to continue until Ellie is at least 18 months. Brianna says that she has occasionally struggled with her body image but is more comfortable in her skin than she's ever been. She wants to promote positive body image for both herself and her daughter. She doesn't want her daughter to ever feel less worthy or valuable based on whatever standard of beauty she grows up. She wants her to know that she is always strong, beautiful and should be proud of who she is. #4thtrimesterbodiesproject #fourthtrimesterbodiesproject #4thtrimester #fourthtrimester #postpartum #breastfeeding #childbirth #bodypositivity #stopcensoringmotherhood #motherhood #bodypositive #4thtrimester #4thtribodies #pregnancy #everybodyisbeautiful #feminism #feminist #selflove #bodylove #fourthtribodies #cesarean #4thtrisaltlake #cesareanbirth

A photo posted by 4th Trimester Bodies Project (@4thtribodies) on

The amazing Jillian Christofferson with her son Grey (4 months). Jillian had an easy time of getting pregnant but lost her first pregnancy to an early miscarriage. They hadn't told anyone they were expecting prior to their loss so she says that in addition to the difficulty of the miscarriage itself was the fact that no one else had experienced the happy part with them, just the sadness. She conceived Grey soon after and while she had a very healthy pregnancy found that she was a little bit more reserved and guarded than she had been with her first pregnancy. She and her husband had considered a home birth but they live in an apartment complex and out of respect for their neighbors decided to deliver in a birthing center with a midwife instead. Labor and delivery went relatively quickly for a first time mom. Jillian was able to labor at home for some time before heading to the birth center and relied upon the hypnobabies techniques she and her husband had studied. Once at the center she labored in the water and things continued to go very well. Grey started to crown and though she was exhausted felt that he was close. She continued to push, though not having contractions, and she noticed something in her midwife's voice change when she asked her to get out of the water. They got her into bed and put her on oxygen and she continued to labor and push for another hour. Grey's hand was up with his head and his cord was tied around his neck and shoulder. Jillian had to have two episiotomies to help him out but was able to deliver without medication or other intervention which felt wonderful. She had imagined the moment she met her son to be magically but says she was just so exhausted that once they gave him to her she wanted nothing more than to rest and look at him later. Breastfeeding has been wonderful for the pair. Jillian says she's always been pretty mediocre at everything, good enough but never great at anything. Breastfeeding though has been a feat. Not only has been able to fully nourish her son she's fed about 5 other babies as well and is very proud of all there her body has done for them both. {continued} #4thtrimesterbodiesproject

A photo posted by 4th Trimester Bodies Project (@4thtribodies) on