4th Trimester Bodies Project

Photography: Ashlee D Wells

By Hannah Schenker

Photographer Ashlee Dean Wells and her project partner Laura Weetzie Wilson have created a movement: 4th Trimester Bodies. This movement, which began in 2013, is all about YOU, mamas. You and your beautiful, natural body. In a time when everywhere you look, media is shouting at you to “get your body back”, “slim down”, “tone up”, magic away all the incredible changes your body has gone through in creating a new life, projects like this try to help you see another way.

“The project exists because humans, particularly women, are judged too crudely on the way we look and are often told we don’t measure up,” Ashlee says. “Because no real person can compete with the tools in Photoshop and glossy magazine covers. And because parenthood is sacred and should be celebrated.”

You might also like: “Celebrating a Mother’s Beauty

Learning to love our bodies is one of the most revolutionary acts we can undertake, and projects like this really help to show us the beauty inherent in each individual – telling the stories of where she has been, what she has been through. Some of these mothers have lost babies, struggled to create babies, or are totally new to the whole mothering thing. Some of these mothers had fantastic births, some traumatic. But regardless of how their babies came earth-side, our bodies are to be celebrated, because as Ashlee says, “we humans, in all of presentations, identities, and abilities, are beautiful – stretches, stripes, scars and all.”

Ashlee and Laura have just wrapped up a 3.5 year tour, travelling through 55 cities in 8 different countries.

Here are a few of the mamas, and their stories.

The amazing Abby Theuring with her boys Jack (4) and Exley (1). Abby has what she describes as a very typically American experience with her first pregnancy and birth. She chose to deliver in hospital and was induced at 41 weeks, simply because she was 41 weeks. The induction didn’t take which led to a second induction and while Jack was born without complication it just wasn’t a wonderful experience. Breastfeeding also proved to have some hiccups for Abby which ultimately led to the creation of her blog and now thriving social network, The Badass Breastfeeder. Abby knew that she wanted to have a different experience with her second pregnancy and birth and was grateful to find a home birth midwifery practice in her community. She enjoyed the close and connected concept of care and was able to give birth to Exley, following an uncomplicated pregnancy, in the comfort of her own home. Her second birth experience allowed her to feel the empowerment that she felt had been striped away from her first. The initial transition to motherhood was shocking, as it often is, but Abby found that her transition to two was in some facets easier for her, perhaps because she’s been there before and in part because she now has different expectations and an amazing community of support. Breastfeeding has continued to remain a very important part of Abby’s life both personally and through her Badass Breastfeeding community. She has worked through nursing aversions and criticisms now that she is nursing both a 4 year old and her new babe. Education and empowerment have become consistent themes in Abby’s life and she says that has leaked into every facet of her life and who she is person. She hopes though continuing to share her story and experiences she can join and support a momentous wave of women and mothers working to empower one another.


The amazing Amanda Katzer with her daughter Rhyatt (2 years 2 months). She is also 14 weeks pregnant with baby number 2. Amanda wasn’t certain she ever wanted to have children. She says that she’s not a touchy feely person and was worried that she wouldn’t love a child as much as other people seemed to love their own. She was in a rough patch in her life and found herself pregnant. She waited a full week to tell her husband as it took that long to get used to the idea and then started to get into what she’d hoped her pregnancy and would be. She found out pretty early on that Rhyatt was Frank Breech and she would have to deliver via cesarean. She had really hoped she would be able to delivery vaginally and she wanted the empowerment that she thought would come with that accomplishment. Her pregnancy was generally healthy other than intense heart burn that got so bad that near the end of her pregnancy she could only stomach water and white bread. Her birth went well and she was grateful that she had researched Frank Breech babies before her daughter was born because she came out with her legs out of the socket and up towards her head. She had to be fitted for a Pavlik Harness and then a hip brace. Amanda was worried that she wouldn’t be able to breastfeed because she just couldn’t image how she’d be able to get Rhyatt comfortable but they were able to manage and had a great relationship. Amanda experienced some significant depression postpartum but went through several doctors suspecting it may be related to her thyroid. She had half of her thyroid removed and after hearing what was left was just fine, she should start to take antidepressants. They worked amazingly well and she was able to feel so much better. She stopped taking them cold turkey when she found out she expecting again, unaware that she could continue and slipped into some really horrible days. She is still feeling very uncomfortable with her body but she wants loving herself to be her daughter’s first life lesson. She’s hoping that participating in this project is a step in that direction.


The stunning Ariel Johnson, Giselle (4) and Ava (3). Ariel had a little bit of morning sickness but everything else during her pregnancies was smooth sailing. She was induced at 37 and 38 weeks because her body and her babies were ready. Her daughters came into the world and that’s when everything changed. Her universe had been about her and her husband and now everything’s shifted. They have high points and low points, one minute you think you have everything together, she says, you think you’re super mom and the next moment they’re melting down and screaming and you realize you can’t always make it right it. Some nights, Ariel goes to bed and cries herself to sleep because she wonders if she did things right, was she too hard or too soft, could she have done something better. It’s a constant uphill battle but it’s fun and she wakes up everyday welcoming whatever comes. Not only as a mother but as an African American, as a black woman, Ariel feels it’s important to show our daughters that these are our bodies. Bodies don’t look the way we see them on tv or in magazines, what you see there is not realistic. Womanhood, pregnancy and childbirth changes you. She just wants her girls to know that they can love their bodies no matter what they look like or how they change.


The beautiful Carla Pastorelli, Gianna (15) and Olivia (12). Carla is also mother to Augustin (17). All three of Carla’s pregnancies were medically uncomplicated physically but made increasingly more challenging by the extremely emotionally abusive relationship she was in at the time. She believes strongly in the need to note that a mothers mental health is very important throughout her pregnancy and beyond and there can be repercussions within our children if we are not. With Carla’s first birth, she learned her doctor had stripped several women’s membranes so they would all deliver with his partner when he wasn’t on call. She went from a walking epidural and pain meds with her first, to just pain meds with her second and no medication at all with her third. It was very important for her to be present and able to feel what was happening through her labor and birthing process. She feels lucky that her pregnancies and births were without complication and she has such beautiful kids. Carla was asked by a friend why she wanted to do this and she says that it’s not that she herself is very confident but she tries to see herself as others see her and wanted to share her story to show other women exactly the same thing. That if they can look at her and see beauty they can also see it in themselves. She is a single mother now after finding her way out of the unhealthy relationship she had with her children’s father and has made it her mission to raise amazing children. She’s started and established her own successful business to give her kids the best foundation possible and tried to find the time to take care of herself and grow as a person along the way. Carla believes strongly that you grow through living and making mistakes. The older you are and the more life experience you have, the wiser you are able to become, it is those things – the screw ups and mistakes. the learning and growth that make all of us beautiful and all of us unique. The world isn’t the same place it used to be she says, with everyone glued to their phones and social media the image of what a woman is “supposed to” look like versus what a woman does look like has become disconnected. Our bodies change so much thorughout our lives and our stories, they are still beautiful, they’re just different. Being able to share that with her girls and with other women is so important because we all are beautiful.


The marvelous Corrie Metz with her boys Nolan (7), Ephraim (5) and Arden (2). Corrie has always dealt with a lot of anxiety and depression and used to cut and self harm quite a bit. Her first pregnancy changed the way the way she viewed the world so negatively. She had a healthy pregnancy and vaginal birth but Nolan had to spend a few days in the special care nursery due to jaundice and at the time she thought that was the worst thing ever and just cried and cried that her baby was broken. Her second pregnancy was healthy as well but Ephraim was born with a hernia that had to be surgically repaired at two months which again, felt to her like the worst thing that could ever happen. Her anxiety got even worse with her second son and she was so worried that she would drive into a body of water with them she carried life jackets in the car. Her third pregnancy was healthy and though she there was never a concern. When Corrie had her last ultrasound she felt like something was off. She noticed that Arden’s eyes looked differently from her other boys but she didn’t want to be the first one to suggest that something was wrong with her baby. She had another vaginal birth and when they handed him to her she just knew but was still afraid to say anything. About an hour later her midwife came to speak with her to say her son had a lot of markers for Down Syndrome. Because of Arden’s low tone he was having difficulty keeping his airway open and needed some time in NICU but he’s in perfect healthy today and hasn’t shown any signs of heart of thyroid problems. Corrie says that she wasn’t prepared to be the parent of a child with different abilities. Her husband always knew it was something he could do but she was too selfish and thought it would be too much. She lived in a fog for several months and then one day it just got easier. She was told in the hospital that babies with Down Syndrome couldn’t breastfeed but she was determined and Arden is still nursing today, the longest of all of her boys. She says that Arden’s existence has allowed her to let go of a lot of her anxiety and worries. She’s more able to take things as they come now and just wants to put him out there as much as possible.


The amazing Florence Aferi-Gordon with her son Solomon (11 months). Florence is also mother to Isaiah (who would be almost 2, still born at 17 weeks gestation in 2013) and step mother to Tony Jr (14), Xavier (12) and Jason (11). Florence spent most of her childhood in Ghana, the child of a Ghanaian father and African American mother. She says that most of her life she was “chubby or overweight” and that although she was very outgoing and had lots of friends, she was frequently teased for being the fat kid in school. By the time she reached college she was over 300 lbs. At about 25 years old, she was admitted to the hospital for chest pains and her blood sugar tested near 1000. She was told a week or so later that she had type II diabetes and the chest pains she felt were a mild heart attack. By this point Florence was around 350 lbs and had exhausted every avenue to lose weight. She was eventually diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and was told that she wouldn’t be able to conceive naturally or even carry a pregnancy full term if she did conceive. After years of yo-yo dieting and back and forth weight loss/gain, Florence finally started the process for weight loss surgery. She had gastric bypass in 2008 and over the next 2 years lost 147 lbs from the surgery and exercise/healthy eating. Soon after, Florence met her now husband and after dating for about 6 months they learned she was pregnant. Devastatingly they lost their son Isaiah at 17 weeks. Florence says that she had conquered the weight issues, her diabetes was in remission, she was no longer a candidate for polycystic ovarian syndrome and still her baby had cystic hygroma, omphalocele, and Trisomy 13. Days after Isaiah was born Florence and her husband married and she says it was a silver lining she very much needed. Following her loss, Florence started emotionally eating again and slipped into a depression that lasted a year. As she began to come out of it, she started working out, eating better and lost some weight. She learned they were expecting their rainbow baby, Solomon. Florence’s second pregnancy was healthy other than some sciatica but she was very nervous. Thankfully, Solomon was born healthy, without complication and he and Florence have a wonderful breastfeeding relationship. Florence chose to participate because as a breastfeeding mother and advocate, a model, and a woman she wants to show other women who may battle some of the same issues, that they can conquer them!


The stunning Kendall Larson and four day old, Rylee Ann. Kendall is also mom to Anthony (4.5yrs). Kendall gave birth to her son when she was just 16. She had a very healthy pregnancy but tore during delivery and had a painful recovery. Her pregnancy with Rylee was wonderful as well. She had stopped feeling her move as much so they decided to induce at 38 weeks, 2 days. She had a fast and flawless delivery but Rylee was born with her cord wrapped around her neck 2 times, but thankfully she was okay. Kendall is wonderfully in love with her new daughter and beautifully at ease as a mother.


The amazing Nicki Taylor with her son Ben (5) and daughter Amelie (3). Ben was conceived very quickly and Nicki had an easy pregnancy with no issues along the way. Towards the end of her pregnancy, she took a lot of natural birthing classes, read hypnobirthing books and took the hospital’s birthing classes. She decided that hypnobirthing was the best method for her and dove into it. Her birth was pain-free and wonderful. Her pregnancy with Amelie was a bit different in that she was pressing on a vein making it difficult for Nicki to walk. She’s quite active, so it was difficult to get around. Her birth was easy again with no drugs, lots of time in the bath and a beautiful delivery. Both of her children crawled to the breast and latched right away without issue. Surprising to Nicki, they both self-weaned at around 9 months, she says in part to how much they loved food. Nicki was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of this year. She had just moved, her husband was diagnosed with a heart condition, his father died and then she was diagnosed with breast cancer, making it a horrible year. The journey has been up and down emotionally as she went through chemotherapy. After chemo, she had a choice with what she wanted to do with her breasts. She could have done radiotherapy and kept both of her breasts, but Nicki decided that she was so young she would rather just have them removed and avoid the constant check-ups and fear of her cancer returning. She was then asked if she wanted reconstruction which would be another year long process, more surgery, more time in the hospital, she decided she just wanted to get back to life with her children and her normal activity. Nicky says that she woke up the morning after her surgery, just 6 weeks ago, showered, looked in the mirror and smiled. Even without breasts or hair, she is herself; she is feminine, healthy, active and beautiful.


The stunning Santina Maiolatesi Jachero. Santina is mother to Geovany (9), Anna (6) and Lorenzo (4). Santina has had healthy pregnancies with all of her children and a variety of birth experiences. Her first son was born in hospital with an epidural and she didn’t have the experience that she desired but felt that she did the things she was supposed to. With her daughter, she had hoped to have a medication free birth but ended up with another epidural and an unnecessary Pitocin line. This paved the way for her second son to be born at home. She hired a doula and a midwife and planned to deliver at home. She had contacted her midwife several times to let her know that she was in active labor, but she never made it so she had a surprise, unassisted homebirth with just her husband, doula and dear friend doula present. Santina has breastfed all three of her children and just weaned Lorenzo about a year ago. She wanted to participate in this movement to celebrate her strength and the strength she sees in other mothers.


The magnificent Vanessa Martin, Elliana Grace and Lillian Faith (3) Vanessa and her husband hadn’t been able to conceive for three years and were considering adoption as they knew they could never afford fertility treatments. Her period was 15 days late which wasn’t uncommon but she took two pregnancy tests on Mother’s Day, 2012 that were both positive. She was over the moon and ran around the house telling her parents who they live with and woke her husband with the news. She went to the doctor and had an early ultrasound at 8 weeks. She learned she was having twins but they thought initially that they saw two sacs and two placentas and so her twins were fraternal. Vanessa was followed by a perinatologist who specialized in multiple births and at 16 weeks learned she was having girls. At 18 weeks, she learned she only had one placenta and two sacs (making her twins identical, MODI) and they were able to visually see a size difference between her babies. She was referred to a doctor who specializes in Twin-to-Twin Transfusion syndrome (TTTS) in Kansas and a few days later they were able to see her. Lillian was diagnosed with severe intrauterine growth restriction (SIUGR) and had less of the placental share than her sister. They were told that if they didn’t terminate Lilli’s heart would fail and she would kill her sister. and that there were no signs whatsoever of TTTS. They went back a week later and told them they were not interested in terminating. To read Vanessa’s full story, click on the photo.


The stunning Xochil Springer, Amelia (6), and Owen (3) Xochil was raised by a strong man and knew that her she was capable but never really knew that her body was capable. She just assumed she would be this fat girl and her pregnancies would be riddled with disgusting things. She imagined people would cover her so they didn’t see her lumps and that she wouldn’t be able to breastfeed because she was just too fat. Xochil once read an article that said 28 was the best time to have a baby, so when she got to 28 she felt like she needed to make it happen right away. Thankfully, her husband was on board. It took some time to conceive Amelia because she was just getting off birth control but it was great. And the same thing with Owen. The day her IUD came out she was pregnant. She raised humans inside of her and they’re both amazing today. Her goal was to keep them healthy and get them out and she did just that. Breastfeeding was really difficult with Amelia and she needed to spend a week in NICU but with the help of an IBCLC, Miss Dixie, she was able to overcome feeling like a failure. Miss Dixie was the first person to tell her “Congratulations! Now, let’s do this!”. Xochil used an SNS for a year and Amelia did beautifully. She jokes that she sometimes feels bad that she was her started kid but she learned so much. She started with an SNS with Owen, as well, but one day her husband encouraged her to try without and Owen was still satisfied. They continued nursing until Owen was 14 months and she realized she was ready to be done. They talked about it and that was that. She’s grateful for Miss Dixie, her husband, her body and these two humans she’s had a hand in creating. When asked why she chose to participate in this movement, Xochil responded, “Because every single woman I’ve seen that’s a part of it is absolutely perfect. They’re all perfect and I’m pretty sure they don’t all perceive themselves that way. But, what if I am as beautiful as you see me? What if that’s the truth?” She also doesn’t often get these moments with her children and wants so much to celebrate that. This morning as she talked to Amelia about what they were doing she sensed her moms nervousness. When Xochil told her it was because she wondered if she wasn’t as pretty as other people think she is her daughter responded, “Mom, you’re like raindrops with a cherry on top. You can do this!” Xochil hopes in time to believe just that.

To see the full collection, visit their website – 4th Trimester Bodies Project

You can soon also follow their good work on their blog and podcast, coming soon! 

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