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Picture This: 4th Trimester Bodies project celebrates motherhood

Fourth Trimester

Ashlee Wells Jackson

The beautiful Keyonda with her youngest, Nyla (9 months). Keyonda is the mother of 4, Nia (10), AJ (8) and Nadia (3). Keyonda has breastfed all of her children and had all hospital births, although her youngest two were beautifully born in the water. Keyonda’s stomach scar is the result of an operation she had between her first and second children to remove a very large ovarian cyst along with her ovary and fallopian tube. Nyla’s pregnancy was a total surprise. Keyonda had an IUD placed and didn’t even know she was pregnant until she was 26 weeks along!

4th Trimester Bodies

Ashlee Wells Jackson

The adorable Amanda Frazier with her boys, Oliver (4) and Benjamin (11 months). Amanda got pregnant with Oliver when she was 19 and wasn’t very well educated or empowered with her birth. After being induced and having her membranes ruptured her body was not ready for birth and she ended up having a cesarean. Her incision came unglued and had to heal open which caused Amanda lots of emotional distress. She was also told that her uterus had been damaged during her surgery and that she shouldn’t have any other children.

Fourth Trimester Bodies

Ashlee Wells Jackson

The beautiful, Danielle Szymanski, with 4 month old Eleanor Ophelia. Danielle had very comfortable pregnancy and had planned for a natural hospital birth. After laboring for a very long time and becoming preeclamptic, however, she had to have a cesarean. Thankfully, Eleanor was born healthy and Danielle was able to initiate breastfeeding. After a couple weeks at home, Danielle fainted, convulsed and had to be taken to hospital. Due to tests they were running she was unable to nurse for a short period of time. Her doula stepped in to wet nurse temporarily and she was able to get donor milk as well to carry her through. They never determined what had happened to Danielle but she hasn’t had any episodes since.

Fourth Trimester Bodies

Ashlee Wells Jackson

The amazing Amanda Sexton and her youngest babe, 4 month old, Brynn. Amanda is also mama to Blake (6) and Brody (3) both beautiful boys have autism and are non-verbal. Blake was born at 36 weeks due to preeclampsia. Amanda was on bed rest from 32 weeks with Blake but he was born at term and Brynn was a healthy, typical delivery. Amanda is enjoying her first successful breastfeeding relationship. We’ll be doing a follow up family shoot very soon!

Fourth Trimester Bodies

Ashlee Wells Jackson

The gorgeous Jessica Parks with 1 year old, Elspeth. Jessica had a wonderful pregnancy and childbirth experience but started having a very difficult time the night she brought Elspeth home from hospital. Baby had dropped a lot of weight and was crying inconsolably. Jessica discovered that she wasn’t producing enough milk and had to begin supplementing. She was, however, determined to breastfeed as much as possible and started pumping away. While supplementing is necessary, Jessica is days short of providing her daughter with a full year of breast milk. Amazing!

Fourth Trimester Bodies

Ashlee Wells Jackson

The amazing Amber Kane with 12 month old, Gwenyth. Amber had planned to have a natural vaginal birth with Gwenyth but after labor for almost 11 hours without progressing she consented to a cesarean. Amber struggled with her size during pregnancy and postpartum after having gone from 115 lbs to nearly 200 but has learned to focus on the fact that both she and her baby are healthy and happy

After photographer Ashlee Wells Jackson had her first child, she bounced back pretty quickly. But the second time she got pregnant — this time with twins — it was a very different story.

She faced a number of complications and lost one of her twin girls before giving birth. Ashlee's surviving baby was born premature and weighed less than two pounds. Between the loss of her baby, a cesarean birth and a few surgeries, Ashlee was left with both physical and emotional scars. 

"I felt like less of a woman, I think is the best way to put it," she said on Take Two. "I felt like I had done something wrong and logically I knew that it was out of my hands, but it didn't stop those feelings."

She decided to work through those feelings by taking pictures of new mothers with their new babies. A series she calls the 4th Trimester Bodies Project. Wells Jackson joins the show to talk about her her work. 


Interview Highlights:

On photographing herself for this project:
"I didn't think it was fair to ask other people to participate in this project without first doing it myself, so the photo that kicked off the project is myself and my surviving twin daughter, Nova. We set up the shot, my husband helped make sure that everything was OK and did a little bit of a self-portrait, so the image is myself standing there, in my underwear, topless, nursing my daughter, very stark. And it shows my scar, which was one of the biggest things I was having trouble with and we put that out there and the project has really just exploded from there."

About the mothers and the photographs:
"To date, we are just around 150 images and it's really hard to pull examples because everybody's story is so amazing. One mother that stands out to me is a biological adoptive mother of nine. Her photo is her breastfeeding her youngest, which are twin girls. We have pictures of mother with very traditional presentations. You know, a normal pregnancy, a normal hospital birth, a normal baby at home, no hiccups along the way. And I absolutely love those images and those stories just as much as the ones that are a little more tragic or heartfelt."

On documenting the difficulties of motherhood:
"We have been able to capture breastfeeding struggles. One of our first pictures that deviated slightly from the concept we started with was this very stark torso kind-of-shot of a woman, sometimes with her face cropped out, so you're really focused on the body. One of the first images we deviated from that was a mother who was having a lot of breastfeeding struggles and she ended up sitting down on the floor in the middle of the session and I just kept shooting."

On capturing the beauty of postpartum bodies:
"People ask all the time how we find our models and how we get to that effortless photograph at the end of the day and we don't do any prescreening. We accept women, especially here in Chicago, as they come to us. In fact, we try not to learn much about them before they come into our studio. Once they arrive, we sit down and we talk with them. We spend a little bit of time. They're treated to hair and makeup, which isn't really essential to the project, but let's them be pampered a little bit. Disarms them, so to speak, and let us to get to know each other a little bit more."

On the "Stop Censoring Motherhood" message:
"I really do feel like motherhood is censored. I feel like we embrace pregnancy to a degree. Maternity photos are such the rage right now and everybody loves them and I think since Demi Moore stepped in front of the camera and created such controversy years ago, it has become a normal thing. But throughout the pregnancy process, and when it comes to the postpartum period and motherhood starts, we brush so much under the rug. We're told to bounce back, we're told that we're not allowed to be different, we're told that our babies are suddenly more important than we are. I always put my children first, but we are important and we are in a period then where we should celebrate what we just did."

Response from women photographed:
"I feel like women are always nervous. I don't think we have had anybody walk into our studio and take their clothes off and say, "Yeah! I'm excited about this!" But it's very transformative. We often see our women at the end of their sessions tear up as they look at their photos. We had clients not identify with the woman in the picture as the woman they see in the mirror simply because they see their picture as beautiful, but they have had different feelings about the way that they see themselves. We've seen that change shift further as they go out into the world and their friends and family see their pictures on our website or on their Facebook page."

On the response from others:
"It's been amazing and some of our more difficult stories, putting them online, and having comments come in and emails come in from women who haven't had a chance to shoot with us, but are viewing the project and following the project, them reaching out to us and saying, "That's my story, that's my body, I look exactly like that woman. Thank you." At the end of the day it is why this exists and is something that I hope continues." 

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