Photographing My Postpartum Body | 4th Trimester Bodies Project

Back in September, I participated in the 4th Trimester Bodies Project.

If you haven't heard of 4th Trimester Bodies Project, it "is a movement dedicated to educating, embracing and empowering humans through photographs and storytelling." Ashlee - the awesome photographer - captures postpartum bodies in such an amazing way and I am so honored to have gotten the chance to be photographed by them!

Now initially I was debating whether or not I should do it. It was two weeks after I had Onyx and I was honestly a mess (still am, let's be honest, but back then it was even worse). It was a struggle for me to get out of bed every day. Showering, brushing my teeth, combing my hair, all those daily tasks were so overwhelming for me. I was in such a depressed state of survival and the last thing I wanted to do was strip down to my bra and underwear to be photographed by a stranger for the world to see.

Credit: 4th Trimester Bodies Project | Ashlee Dean Wells

But you know what? I did it! And I want to share my experience with you all.

Initially, Will was supposed to go with me but last minute we talked about it and he was overwhelmed with the idea of being around so many babies and people talking about pregnancy. After all, we just lost our baby. Even though I understood where he was coming from, I was scared to go alone. I didn't want to ask someone else to go with me last minute though, so I ended up deciding to go alone.

This was the first time I actually got ready for the day after having Onyx. As I was in the shower I again contemplated what the hell I was doing. I knew the photo shoot was a group setting and that there would likely be tons of babies and pregnant bellies. I was so scared of how I might react but I tried to think positive.

When I got out of the shower I looked at my belly for the first time since I left the hospital. It was covered in dozens of little zap like stretch marks and lots of wrinkles. The stretch marks that I got during puberty were even more prominent. The belly hair that I started to grow during pregnancy was still there.

As I looked in the mirror I saw other parts of my body that had changed. I was in a weird transition phase of my breast milk drying up so my boobs didn't look anything like they had pre-pregnancy. I had cellulite on my inner thighs. My butt had basically deflated. I was still bleeding from giving birth. I didn't recognize any part of me. But somehow I decided that I was going to go. So I put on the nursing bra I had so looked forward to using when Onyx was still alive and headed out.

Before the photo shoot, there was some storytelling time where everyone went around and shared their reason for showing up and a little about their story. I was still processing everyone's story when it was my turn to share. I was the last to go and the only one who didn't have a child with them. My anxiety started to build. I wondered what they were thinking. I wondered if they assumed that I had just left my baby at home or if I was pregnant. I was nervous to announce that actually, my baby died. I honestly don't remember what I said but I know I cried.

Two weeks postpartum. 

After that storytelling session, it was time for the photos. Everyone stripped down to their bras and underwear, some went braless, some babies were completely nude (and surprisingly not one peed!). Seeing others take off their shirts so naturally made it much easier for me to do so. It didn't feel weird or forced. I didn't feel any judgment or like I needed to cover up for my safety - it was a kind of freedom that I hope every human gets to experience.

But even though I felt more comfortable stripping down to my bra and underwear, I did not want to go first or even second or third or fourth. I think Ashlee's partner Flowers sensed that, which was great because they asked me if I was okay to go last and that made me a lot more comfortable.

I chose to wear my necklace with Onyx's footprints and the nursing bra
I had purchased just a few weeks earlier. 

While I was waiting for my turn, one of the moms needed to go to the bathroom and asked me if I could hold her baby. I don't know why but I didn't struggle to say yes. I love babies and saying yes to holding an adorable little human just came so naturally. Playing with someone else's baby actually calmed my nerves quite a bit. I kind of felt like the "old me". The still-pregnant-with-Onyx me. It made me feel a sense of "it's okay", which is odd to think about because babies tend to be really triggering for folks after loss, yet there I was happy to hold one.

Anyway, eventually, it was my turn. I've never done a photo shoot before and I was nervous because Ashlee likes to do candid shots. That made sense for everyone else because they had a child to hold and play with. I just had Onyx's hat and diaper.

Ashlee was amazing though and didn't make me feel awkward or out of place. I don't remember a lot of the picture-taking part except that at one point they asked me if I was okay and I realized I was shaking. Looking back, I think it was because I was holding Onyx's hat and diaper for the first time since he passed away. I had prepared myself to be triggered by other babies but I had not even thought about what I'd feel when I took out Onyx's items.

These aren't the actual hat and diaper that Onyx wore, but they're the same
size (the nurses gave us two sets). 

After my photos were done it was time for some group photos. First, everyone held their babies and I initially felt a little odd standing there with empty arms. But then it was time for the photo of all the parents and I suddenly felt like I was part of the parent club too. I don't have a living baby in my belly or in my arms but I'm still a mom and I think that moment is instrumental in my healing journey.

Seeing Ashlee do their photographer thing all while having a big baby bump was also surprisingly healing for me. Going into the photo shoot I knew that Ashlee had also lost a baby. Their daughter Aurora was stillborn in 2012 due to complications from twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. And while our stories are different, Ashlee's baby bump represented hope for me (their little human arrived earthside a month later!).

Overall I really enjoyed the experience and would love to participate again someday. I got a lot of comments from other parents telling me how "strong" I was and how they couldn't believe that I was doing the shoot just two weeks after Onyx died. Looking back, I honestly can't believe it either. I don't know how I did it, but I did and it was amazing.

You can check out more of my experience with body image after loss on the 4th Trimester Bodies Project website HERE.