In my complete cluelessness when pregnant with baby #1, I, in good faith, packed my favourite skinny jeans and fancy matching lingerie in my hospital bag, thinking I wanted to look good for the leaving-the-hospital snaps.
Needless to point out to anyone who has in fact ever had a baby, these are not the garments I ended up going home in. Or, indeed, wearing for a good few weeks after delivery.
It is funny, all we ever hear is that the third trimester of pregnancy is the final one, ending when baby makes his (or her) way out into the world. But the thing is, many now argue that there is a fourth trimester, and that we need to get better at honoring and talking about this time.
This time is what photographer Ashlee Dean Wells wanted to capture with her photo project titled “4th Trimester Bodies.” And for Dean Well, the fourth trimester doesn’t end, but rather represents the rest of a woman’s life as a mother. The photographer wanted to help women feel good about their bodies and to love the skin they are in – despite the changes that pregnancy and childbirth might have brought.
(Read Corrie Metz’s story on fighting her anxiety here. Image Credit: Ashlee Dean Wells)
Dean Wells first noticed that women often felt bad about their bodies while she was running a pin-up photo business with friend Laura Weetzie Wilson in Chicago. “Women would come in on a daily basis with self-image issues and body hangups that we just didn’t see,” Wells told SELF magazine. “And they felt very flawed…feeling like they need to measure up to this photoshop standard that’s portrayed as reality.”
(Read Carla Pastorelli’s story of learning to put her mental health first here. Image Credit: Ashlee Dean Wells)
Beginning by photographing herself with her own baby Nova, who spent 100 days in the NICU before being released after an emergency C-section at 24 weeks. In the photo, Wells is bravely wearing just her underwear, proudly showing the scars of her experience. She shared the photo (below) on her Facebook page, and it started resonating with women.
“Thinking back to that, I never could imagine how needed it was,” she says. “I couldn’t understand the magnitude of women all around that we needed to reach.”
That photo turned into the 4th Trimester Bodies project, and Wells and her friend-turned-business-partner Wilson now travel the world, taking beautiful, black-and-white photos of mothers of all ages—and surrogate and adoptive moms, too—to help them regain their sense of beauty. The photos are always black and white, with women of all sizes, shapes, and colors wearing simple black underwear, posing alongside their children.
(Read Abby Theuring’s story of empowering the breastfeeding community here. Image Credit: Ashlee Dean Wells)
The women often share their stories and experiences, from being subjected to domestic violence to suffering from mental health issues to having an ectopic pregnancy.
(Read Amanda Katzer’s story on what made her decide to have children here. Image Credit: Ashlee Dean Wells)
“We hear about mommy wars and the struggles of people who make different choices so often,” Wells says. “This project really turns that on its head. We work with women all across the globe that only have this thing in common [motherhood], and we create this thriving community where women are friends.”
(Read Lauren Griffin’s story of overcoming postpartum depression here. Image Credit: Ashlee Dean Wells)
To date, Wells has photographed more than 1,500 women in five countries, and she published a book with the project’s images last fall. Through the 4th Trimester Bodies website, women interested in participating can book a session with Wells.
(Read Reba Wong’s story of overcoming an abusive marriage here. Image Credit: Ashlee Dean Wells)