After a year that felt like an eternity in hell I needed help and self-healing. A traumatic pregnancy, the death of one of my identical twin daughters to Twin to Twin Transfusion syndrome, an emergency cesarean at 24 weeks, a revision with open healing, a 100 day NICU stay for our survivor, feeding tubes, brain surgeries, special needs.
Within days of my daughters discharge from NICU I returned to work photographing women. In our safe, supportive and empowered environment, my clients shared insecurities and pointed out supposed flaws that I never could have seen. They compared themselves to the tabloids, bounce backs and should be’s. They were perfect but felt so broken and it suddenly hit me, I was too. I hadn’t looked at my midsection in months. My son’s belly squeezes caused me to cringe. My husband’s touch made me to recoil. I struggled to understand how could they still find me worthy when I was no longer who I used to be? When I had failed at keeping my daughter, our daughter, their sister alive. When things didn’t go how they were “supposed to”? When breastfeeding and birthing and being were a fight?
Realizing you’re not alone when you’ve hit bottom is an amazing gift. When the time came for me to climb out of my pit of shattered self-loathing my biggest goal was to bring other women up with me and taking photographs and sharing stories is the only means I knew how. A self-portrait lead to the photographs and stories of 10 other women, then 100, then 1,100 brave mothers sharing their stories, baring their souls, and showing their bodies within this movement. A movement that celebrates the beauty and transitions that are motherhood by any means. Our first book has just been published and with it we hope an entire lifetime of humans are touched by these photographs and stories. For us, a community has been born of women, around the world, with different backgrounds, stories, choices, and perspectives who likely never would have crossed paths otherwise. Suddenly friends and supporters of one another because we are committed to celebrating one another’s truths.
Beyond body positivity, we have uncovered how lacking postpartum and transitional support is in our communities. We have realized how stigmatized and isolating postpartum depression, anxiety and psychosis can be. We’ve seen women who have lost children, miscarried or faced infertility struggle with their grief in silence because the world is not fully ready to acknowledge these heartbreaking realities. We have seen disparities in access to prenatal and postpartum care based on location, lifestyle or socioeconomic status that simply shouldn’t be. We’ve learned that even when things go beautifully, when your story truly is sunshine and rainbows, when you “bounce back”, when you fit the mold, you aren’t immune.
Humans have a basic, biological need to share their stories. To find acceptance, identity and the support of community. Women and mothers have been told for so long to erase the effects of pregnancy, childbearing and motherhood the second the shift happens. When we’re told our worth is tied to our beauty it’s easy to understand why those statements make sense. Except that they don’t. These shifts are markers of a transition that is normal and therefor beautiful. As a society that’s been told we need to see it to believe it, normalization comes through visual images and so we press on. These images, these stories hope to continue to shake up the standards of beauty, of typical, of reality. Because our sons and daughters deserve more. Because we deserve more. Because we are beautiful – stretches, stripes, scars and all.
Nearly a year after my daughter, Aurora Eisley, passed we laid her to rest in Maui. Bringing my work, and her legacy, back to the island is an amazing gift.
4th Trimester Bodies Project is coming to Maui in December and we’d love to share your stories. You can find registration and application information here: http://4thtrimesterbodies.com/participate/
We look forward to working with you and welcoming you into this movement. Mahalo!
Image Credit: 4th Trimester Bodies Project