4th Trimester Bodies Project Experience

Last week, I had the honor of participating in the 4th Trimester Bodies Project which is a movement dedicated to educating, embracing and empowering women through photographs and story telling. Ashlee Wells and Laura Weetzie Wilson “bring women together to celebrate the uncensored beauty in motherhood and are dedicated to embracing the beauty inherent in the changes brought to our bodies by motherhood, childbirth and breastfeeding through photographs and storytelling.” They have toured all over the world capturing images and stories.

4th Trimester Bodies Project Hair and Makeup

Participating in the 4th Trimester Bodies Project was truly an experience and so much more than just a beautiful photo shoot. When I got there I sat down and had my hair and makeup done by Laura while we chatted and got to know each other a bit. Sitting there, I realized I’d never had my makeup done professionally since we eloped when we got married and I did my own makeup. It was fun to be pampered a bit and I ended up with very natural makeup that brightened up my face and some very sexy waves in my hair!

4th trimester bodies project shoot

4th Trimester Bodies Project Interview

After hair and makeup, I went into the interview portion with Ashlee. She asked very open ended questions about my experience with motherhood. I talked and talked about everything from finding out I was pregnant with my first to my birth experiences to my recent experience supporting my best friend through her entrance to motherhood when her son was stillborn at 34 weeks.

Ashlee is one of those people that you immediately know you can trust with your heart and speaking to her came easy. What I really loved was that I knew that I was speaking to the entire 4th Trimester Bodies Project Community when I spoke to her. I’d read enough of all of the other women’s stories and the comments from the @4thtribodies community to know that my story would be honored, celebrated and supported no matter what.

Ashlee has a gift for listening and summarizing the words that women share. I feel like I just babbled and spilled my guts and Ashlee put all of it into a beautiful narrative. Here’s my story she shared:

The beautiful Bryn Huntpalmer, Adelaide (4) and Darwin (2). Bryn and her husband conceived just after they started talking about having babies while in Grad School. Getting pregnant that month worked well for them and if it didn’t happen then they’d wait another year. Much to their surprise she got pregnant right away and her pregnancy went well. They decided to have a home birth and while they were very excited, many of their friends and family were not. They had a lot of negative things to say and almost seemed to wish that something would go poorly so she’d have to go to hospital. They eventually just stopped telling people their plans and moved forward with them anyway. Her experience with her midwife was great and she ended up carrying 16 days post dates. Bryn was scheduled to go into the doctor for induction the day she went into labor after taking lots of castor oil. Things progressed very slowly and after a full day of labor was only 5cms dilated. She tried to rest through the night but was up every 15 minutes for contractions with her husband putting pressure on her back. She says it was such a blur but also a very formative point in their relationship. They got through it but in the morning things hadn’t really progressed. The baby was posterior and her midwife decided to break her water. That got things going and soon her contractions were right on top of one another. She started to push early that afternoon and her daughter was born about an hour later. She had a cervical lip her midwife had to help move and needed to be coached through pushing as she found it to be very difficult – not knowing how or when to do it. Adelaide was born without complication but when she went to push out her placenta a huge gush of blood came out instead. Her midwife had to to tug the cord to get her placenta out and while it looked complete she kept bleeding. Her midwife had to then reach in and manually scrape the walls of her uterus to make sure all of her placenta had been removed. The process was incredibly painful for Bryn but after a shot of Pitocin the bleeding subsided. She was very weak afterwards, unable to go to the bathroom, stand up or take a shower for some time. Recovery was much more difficult than she had expected and breastfeeding didn’t come easily either. When her midwife was helping they did well but on her own she couldn’t get it right. Bryn had a moment where she reached out to a local La Leche Leader for help, but when she couldn’t come right away, burst into tears. Because of this, she always recommends that women who plan to breastfeed line up help in advance rather than waiting until they’re in the throes of it. Bryn discovered she was unexpectedly pregnant with Darwin when Adelaide was only 9 months old. She hadn’t gotten a period yet and they had been being careful but perhaps not careful enough. They had sold all of their things and were living in an RV at the time hoping to travel the country but quickly realized she didn’t to give birth in an RV or travel with two small babies. She began to have issues breastfeeding Adelaide during her pregnancy and she weaned completely at 13 months. Darwin was also born at home, this time in Oregon. Bryn didn’t feel the same emotional connection with this midwife as her first but she also felt much more prepared and experienced herself. Her husband was scheduled to take the Bar Exam just after her estimated due date and she ended up going into labor the evening he returned home from his testing about a week post dates. Darwin arrived very quickly, without complication and she was able to labor mostly on her own. Bryn found that she had a much harder time bonding with her son after he was born. She thought he looked like a stranger and didn’t quite understand the place he fit into the life she’d built with her husband and daughter. She was able to be vocal about it with her husband who helped her talk through it. Breastfeeding went well initially with Darwin but she’d interviewed for a new job 3 weeks postpartum and started work when he was just 6 weeks old. It was part time but pumping was difficult and he had fully weaned at 10 months. Bryn had planned to nurse both of her children much longer and knowing she wasn’t going to have any more babies, struggled emotionally with the fact she’d never nurse again. Still, she found that her experience led her to feeling obsessed with birth, breastfeeding and motherhood. She worked as a birth photographer for a bit before she realized the on-call lifestyle didn’t work so well with small children. She instead started a wonderful birth story podcast, The Birth Hour, but after walking beside her best friend, Jenna Edwards, as she found out her baby passed at 34 weeks, she found herself turned off from birth and babies entirely. She struggled with survivor’s guilt and had to take a step back from her passions. She also started taking immediate steps to move closer to her friend and their support network should something tragic happen to her own family. Bryn began looking for a new job in October and was offered a great position in November. Her husband still had client business to wrap up and things to get in order so she moved in January and lived with Jenna for 6 weeks before her husband and children could join her. She was helping her friend through her grief but also missing her children and feeling guilty for doing so. They were able to support one another through this transitional time for them both and their friendship is so much stronger because of it. They got through it, Bryn’s family joined her and they now live just a couple of blocks from Jenna and her husband. The power and the sisterhood of this movement is initially what drew Bryn towards it. On the body image side of things, she’s always struggled with feeling just a little bit too fat. Once she had kids she realized how silly that was and looked back on all the times she was unhappy with her appearance to discover there was nothing wrong with her. She struggled with her stretch marks after her daughter and fell into the trap of wanting to get her body back, however, after her son was born she began to realize all of the amazing things her body has done and now hopes to continue to celebrate it.

Phew, that was quite the narrative, wasn’t it? And Ashlee shares just as much detail about each and every participant. It’s so amazing to read all of these stories from women who have all experienced motherhood in such different ways.

4th Trimester Bodies Project Photo Shoot

After my interview, my kids came in and we began photographing. Ashlee told me to just be with my children and interact with them. We were able to interact with each other as normally as possible with a camera in the room for my little performers to be intrigued by! Both kids were total hams and my favorite pictures were all very silly but definitely accurately portrayed me and my children.

After the shoot, I was able to immediately see my photos and narrow them down to choose my favorite image that would be used as my official photo for the project. Ashlee doesn’t make any changes to the images other than converting them to black and white. I ended up being torn between two photos, I loved the first one because we were all huddled together and Adelaide was being her usual silly self and it really spoke to our relationship with one another. And this is the one I ultimately chose as my official photo of the movement.

fourth trimester bodies project

But, I almost felt that my body looked too good. I know that sounds weird, but I had gone into this experience expecting to come out with a photograph that accurately portrayed my postpartum body which has stretch marks and pooches and “imperfections” that I have come to love despite all of the misconceptions I grew up believing about what a woman’s body should look like.

The second image shows my full body with Adelaide smooshed up against me and Darwin smacking me in the face which is why I’m throwing my head back! I love this photo because even with my belly pooch and extra folds I am proud of my body in this picture. I’m not proud because I’ve been working out or watching what I eat. I’m proud because that body grew those two beautiful children and fed them for a total of two years. And I may not grow or feed any more babies but this body will continue to nourish them in other ways and I want to show my kids that I’m proud of it.4th tri bodies project

Adelaide has been fascinated lately with pregnancy since my best friend’s belly has been growing and she recently pushed on my squishy belly when we were laying together and asked why my belly was getting bigger. A few years ago I probably would’ve been pretty upset by this comment but I just hugged her tight and said, “that’s just the size my belly is; it grew two big babies so it had to get a little bigger.”

I don’t want to paint a picture over here that it’s always sunshine and rainbows and perfect body image but it’s SO much better than it used to be. I honestly feel better about my body now than I did in high school or college or one year postpartum. The first months (years even) after having a baby, it’s so hard to come to terms with your new mom bod. There are changes to your stomach and breasts plus add in the hormonal changes – it’s an intense combination that I’m willing to bet almost every woman struggles with. But, it does get better. As the hormones balance out and your children require less of you physically, you start to find yourself in your new skin. Participating in the 4th Trimester Bodies Project just added to my sense of self worth and satisfaction with my body. 

The work of the 4th Trimester Bodies Project is a powerful thing to behold and I was so humbled to be welcomed into their family of strong and empowered women. I highly recommend everyone check out their website and Instagram feed.

jenna edwards 4th trimester bodies

I love that my best friend Jenna and I had back-to-back appointments and ended up with our photos next to one another on the website. It was such a special thing to experience together.

Photo Credits: Ashlee Wells, 4th Trimester Bodies Project, 4thtrimesterbodies.com