Fourth Trimester Bodies

Fourth Trimester Bodies

Allison Prejna and her child photographed by Ashlee Wells Jackson

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you look at this photograph?  

Softness?  Nourish?  Mother?  Comfort?  Completion?  Beautiful?  Joy?  

Flab?  Fat?  Cellulite?  Dimples?  Ripples?  Sag?  

This picture makes me ache for the days when I nursed my babies, when they fit so exactly into the curves of my body and the curves of my body were made for sheltering and nourishing them.  For forty weeks, my body gave itself over to the making of another person.  Every cell, every breath, every bite was dedicated to their creation. My body transformed itself–twice–into a ship that carried my two favorite people to this world.  For the first six months after they arrived, my body and not a drop of anything else kept them alive and caused them to flourish.  Even after they began to eat other foods, my daughter and my son returned to me and my body for over a year for nourishment and comfort.  My soft body was and still is their safe harbor.  

This ship, this harbor is a holy place to my children.  Now it is my ship alone, the only vessel I have to navigate the rest of my life.  How can I find its holiness again?  How can I honor it for the work it has done and the adventure that is yet to be had?  

I can look at this picture of a mother and hear the words “softness,” “beautiful,” “completion.”  But were I to pose the same way and fit my toddler in my lap, I am afraid that I would look at the image of my miraculous body and hear the biting words “fat,” “sag,” and “flabby.”  When I walk by a mirror naked, I don’t stop and say, “Wow, this body has done some incredible things!  Thank you!”  Instead, I turn to the side and suck in, poke and prod and sigh.  Or I don’t even stop at the mirror to say hello.  

Today a friend who has recently had a baby confided that she is feeling these “fat” words and fighting with her image of herself.  I knew just what to say to her and meant every word, but if I try to say the same things to myself….well.  So I knew it was a serendipitous gift when another friend posted a link to this wonderful article on Huffington Post about Ashlee Wells Jackson and her Fourth Trimester Bodies Project, “a photo series that embraces the changes brought to women’s bodies by motherhood.  By showcasing moms, Jackson hopes to shine a light on cultural interpretations of female beauty and change women’s expectations for themselves and those around them.” Please click through that link to see a gallery of 27 images of mother bodies.  Jackson is raising funds for her project and hopes to publish a book of images next summer.  She also calls for models!  

There are people who survive to adulthood with intact healthy body images–hooray for them–but many of us have been brainwashed by the Photoshopped, hypersexualised glossy magazine ideal that we hardly know what to think about a lumpy body that bears the marks of life.  I am practicing accepting this body, honoring it for the favors it has done me, and strengthening it for the journey ahead.  

Today’s challenge:  stop by a mirror and say hello.  Look yourself right in the eye for 10 seconds.  Then smile.  Say “Hello, Gorgeous!”   

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13 thoughts on “Fourth Trimester Bodies

  1. Elizabeth Holmes (@bethgholmes)

    Yet another wonderful and spot on post. I had my first baby almost 14 years ago and was so surprised to find that my body didn’t just bounce right back to how it had been before. I only gained 35 pounds and my baby was 9 lbs 9 ounces but somehow after giving birth I hadn’t lost much if any weight. Was this just me? Did I do something wrong? None of the pregnancy books I’d read mentioned anything about this dirty little secret of what happens to your body after you give birth. They didn’t mention it because it’s considered a “dirty little secret” but WHY is it considered bad — why can’t we talk about it. Maybe the pregnancy books these days do prepare you for what happens after you give birth, I don’t know as I haven’t read one in 12 years. So let’s keep talking about this. It’s not shameful, its not dirty — it’s how your body is meant to be post partum — and as you said — it’s BEAUTIFUL!

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      Exactly. I think talking about all of these things widens our definition of what’s “to be expected.” I felt so guilty and stupid and confused because I was breastfeeding like crazy and that weight wasn’t just “melting away!”

      Reply
  2. Chris Antenen

    I, and friends in my ‘age group,’ still have those thoughts. I’d give all the ice cream in the world to be able to put my hand on my abdomen and find it flat – flat, I tell yoiu, flat! – no concave, I tell you, concave! I have pictures to prove it once was one of those . I tell myself that it is now made up of one-third scar tissue, one-third fat, and one-third aging muscles. My breasts are gone, but that I’ve learned to live with, it’s the belly I have trouble accepting. Whatever I find in my screwed up mind to call it, it’s the result of three pregnancies, most of them in the years of bottle-feeding, so even the closeness in those early months had a barrier, but it was there, and I didn’t look at Jackson’s picture with anything but awe and envy. One of the things I’ve learned, while I was establishing a permanent hill on my belly, was patience with myself. My favorite lline in the Desiderata . . . be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the Universe . . .

    When I was about your age I started writing poetry about myself. I pored over it trying to get it just right, and what I was trying to convey to somebody or other, or maybe just to myself, the beauty of it all, the inside of it all. I still try to get it right, but I have never been able to say it in the way you have in your post, beautifully and realistically. Thanks, Ashley, my favorite writer of all. I feel honored to have shared just a little of your writing growth with you.

    My blog is up and I have writers’ remorse. I’m still trying to get a slide show of my cat to work. I’m only doing once a week, but I have four posts up and I need to send out emails to friends and enemies.

    Reply
  3. mariner2mother

    I absolutely love that photo!! So beautiful. I wish I had a photo of me like that when my son was little. I checked out all the photos over on the project site- fabulous! Why do we let a bunch of advertisers dictate to us what is normal and what is ok? THAT is not ok.

    Reply
      1. Lisa Burke Allred

        He may not fit on your lap, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try to sit there. My son is 22 years old, 6’4″ tall, and 180 lbs, and he still trys to sit in my lap to this day. Mom’s lap is always a place of comfort, no matter how old you get.

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