The 4th Trimester Bodies Project Embraces Postpartum Bodies Through Powerful Photo Series  - Blood + Milk
4th trimester bodies

The 4th Trimester Bodies Project Embraces Postpartum Bodies Through Powerful Photo Series 

When photographer Ash Luna gave birth At 24 weeks, to identical twins—one who was stillborn and another weighing one-pound—due to complications of twin-to-twin transfusion pregnancy, they couldn’t find a space where postpartum bodies were represented. So, five months after their baby was home from the NICU (newborn intensive care unit) they posted a photo to Instagram of themselves nursing their infant, wearing black underwear with a visible C-Section scar. In 2012, nobody was showing off their scars and stretch marks and baby weight. Born of this desire to represent the changes brought to women’s bodies by motherhood through photos, Luna started the 4th Trimester Bodies Project. Six weeks later, Huffington Post picked up their story and the next day they woke up to an inbox filled with 6,000 emails. People wanted to know how they, too, could photograph their postpartum bodies. 

As a mom of four, Luna has photographed over 3,000 families and even compiled a coffee table book by the same name, “4th Trimester Bodies Project.” Since they’ve been on the road for the last six years, their children have tagged along. The project has traveled to different cities across the U.S., as well as Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Canada, creating a connected community that heals, grieves, and celebrates together. 

“Sessions are open to all parents and it’s important for me to say it’s not just moms. It’s not just people who have given birth. Any person who is a parent by any means is welcome to join us,” they explain. “We’ve worked with foster parents, we’ve been working with a lot more queer and trans parents which is really important to me as we move along.” 

Here you’ll discover more about Luna’s work and how they’re making a difference in the way in which we view postpartum bodies. 

breastfeeding

Image by Ash Luna via 4th Trimester Bodies Project

Body Image After Pregnancy

I struggled with my physical form through my life as it relates to gender and identity but not necessarily in a body image way until I became a parent when all of that really changed. I am a person who’s been pregnant five times. I have four kiddos and three of them are living. I’ve given birth three times and they’ve all been very different experiences. My eldest, Xavier, is about to turn 14 and he was a planned home birth which turned into a hospital delivery at 28 weeks. My most recent babe was born at home in the water at almost full term—my first ever third trimester. Existing in the world again after my complicated twin pregnancy, I realized that my relationship with my body had totally shifted. 

I felt like I had failed my children as a human and as a mother. We see these memes as parents like, “If the only thing you did today was keep your kids alive, it’s been a good day.” It’s a joke and it’s funny and we can relate to that but there are these days where we didn’t keep our babies alive. It’s all very devastating and it’s very tricky that this is part of life. A part of life is death and trauma and it can be a difficult experience on the other side. 

Maybe people have started to embrace pregnancies; we see celebrities showing off their bumps and their bellies. But beyond that, there wasn’t a visual representation in 2012. I remember being with Nova in the NICU googling cesarean scars and postpartum bellies, trying to find just some beauty, some imagery somewhere of what my body might look like someday or make me feel empowered, but there was nothing. What turned up were plastic surgeon ads about tummy tucks and a surgical procedure to fix mom bellies. Or there’s this notion that our bodies have to “bounce back” as if there’s something we lost along the way. Somebody told me once that birth isn’t beautiful; It’s gross, it’s messy, it’s bloody.

4th trimester bodies project

Image by Ash Luna via 4th Trimester Bodies Project

How the Project Works 

For the past six years, we’ve put together a tour schedule based on cities or countries that we want to go to. There are also places where folks have just said, ‘Come here, we will support you, you need to be here.’ We offer scholarships and payment plans and do all that we can to make sessions open to everybody in the community. We never say no to anybody who wants to join us. We do all of our sessions in group settings, which is really fun and amazing. We’ll set up in a mobile studio and then we set up a sharing circle and meet with a group of about six to 12 families at a time. 

It’s beautiful chaos because there are brand new babies and sometimes teenage kiddos and toddlers and school-aged kids running around in between. We all share our stories about what brought us to the space and then after about an hour or so of getting to know one another we shift gears to taking photos. I photograph each family one at a time in this group setting so there’s a lot of support and love and empowerment that happens. We bring everybody up for a memento photo of the group together. Then in the weeks that follow I process their images and their stories go live and they become part of this beautiful community online and in person. 

fourth trimester body

Image by Ash Luna via 4th Trimester Bodies Project

Touring With Family

My 14-year-old has always been a quiet supporter. He never wanted to participate in photos up until our newest baby was born about a year ago. I was about 24 hours postpartum and Xavier asked me, “Are we going to take a new fourth tri photo with baby? And I was like, “Are you going to be in it?” When he said yes, I told him to get the camera now before he changes his mind. My kids very often are on the road with me so they also get to see all these people with beautiful bodies and their beautiful families that look so different and they get to hear their stories. My hope is that they’re experiencing normalization of this phase of life. Without this project, there’s no way that I would be able to gift that knowledge and experience to them. 

My six-year-old traveled with me for the first four years of the project and has been photographed with me for it countless times and often shows up on set and will say, ‘Is it my turn to have my photo taken yet?’ The baby’s been on the road with me this past year as well. They’re getting an immersive education and I hope that provides them with nothing but positive insight whether or not they choose to have families or partners. My partner wasn’t around when the project started but came into my life about four years ago and has been traveling with me as well the past couple of years and just left their job actually in April to stay home with the baby and to help me with the project full-time. 

fourth trimester body

Image by Ash Luna via 4th Trimester Bodies Project

Healing Through Sharing

Every parent needs space and connectivity. That’s one universal thread: nobody can ever be supported enough. In addition to that, I feel like in every city we go to, there are sometimes common threads and themes just based on the medical culture of the space. The people that come to me have very different world views and experiences and family structures and beliefs. But they have one thing in common that will pop up in a city. We were in one city and realized that about nine out of our 10 participants had had a non-consensual episiotomy when they were giving birth. My partner and I were like, ‘This has never happened before, what is going on in this city that this is the norm?’

I was in a very broken place when I started this work and it has helped me heal and grow and connect. My hope is that everybody I work with has some variant of that experience. It can be very empowering for some. Folks come to me at various points of their journey. Some people have never spoken their truth or shared their story out loud or in writing. Whereas some people come in and they’re ready to celebrate and they’re dropping their clothes the second they walk in the door like, ‘I have arrived, let’s do this.’ There’s so much catharsis and storytelling and sharing and finding these connections with other humans. 

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