4th Trimester Bodies Project Is Normalizing What Is Normal
"For too long our bodies in general as humans and particularly the bodies of women and femmes -and even more so post-partum people- have been hidden away. We've been told that the changes that happen throughout pregnancy and birth are things that we should try to erase rather than celebrate" ash luna told Mindful Feminism.
With 4th Trimester Bodies Project, a "documentary and movement dedicated to educating, embracing, and empowering humans through photographs and storytelling," ash is seeking to make a difference. "I like to say that we're normalizing what is normal," they explained.
The story that led to the creation of this remarkable initiative is an impressive manifestation of believing the personal is political. "My pregnancy and birth experience with my twins really informed the creation of this project," ash mentioned.
When their eldest, who is thirteen now, was six, they found themselves with an unplanned pregnancy. "I decided to go ahead with the pregnancy…and at about 15 weeks I learned I was carrying not one but two babies." Shortly after, ash was diagnosed with stage four twin transfusion syndrome, "my twins were dying and needed immediate intervention if there was any hope of saving their lives. I had an intrauterine fetal surgery, to attempt to sever the connections between them and while the surgery was deemed successful, Aurora, who was our donor twin, passed away the next morning."
After this harrowing situation, ash thought the rest of the pregnancy would continue peacefully. However, due to an E-Coli infection picked up in the fetal surgery, ash ended up having to deliver at 24 weeks via an emergency C-section.
Their baby Nova spent one hundred days in the NICU, "we came home after many surgeries, and it really wasn't until I walked out of the NICU with them for the very first time, that I think I was pushed back into reality at hyper-speed. We weren't in survival mode anymore, and as much as we still had a lot of appointments and medical care things going on, being back in the 'real world' my life shifted once again. I really had to face the ways in which I was struggling personally. A lot of that suddenly had to do with my relationship with my body in the physical sense; feeling broken, like my body had failed me, not only in my pregnancy but in giving birth. My cesarean had not healed properly; it had to heal open, which was a really difficult experience," ash recalled.
While healing their physical body, ash had to deal with tough conversations, like "the shame and the stigma of being a parent to a dead baby. You hear so often 'all we're hoping for during this pregnancy is a healthy baby,' and some of us don't have healthy babies, and that doesn't make that baby any less worthy," they explained.
"In the struggle and isolation I was going through, I realized that clearly, I wasn't alone in this. Even though I felt very alone, there had to be hundreds, thousands of people out there going through the same thing, so I wanted to create a space where we could talk about these difficult things and be honest about the realities of these portions of our lives. Also, as a visual person, an artist, and a storyteller, I wanted to create representation."
Delving deeper into this topic ash remembered a time when they realized the absence of authentic representation of parent's bodies in our society. "When Nova was in the NICU I googled 'stretch marks,' 'cesarean scars,' all the things that I could think of, the keywords, so to speak, of my experience, trying to find some beautiful picture to give me hope of who I could be or that where I was, was ok and beautiful, and it just didn't exist. Instead, I got ads for plastic surgeons and magazine covers of celebrities on the beach in bikinis, six weeks after having a baby, and not that there isn't a space for folks who resonate with that, but it only layered the shame that I was feeling and I wanted to change that."
With the incredible photographs ash has taken over the past years, the conversation and search results have slowly changed. The same keywords in Google, bring up many of their pictures reflecting radical body positivity and acceptance for parents around the world.
Transcending boundaries is an essential element of the project, which is why ash has worked hard to welcome anybody who is a parent. "When we first got started, it was very much a 'mom project' because that was who was drawn to it, so I had to vocally say 'this is for everybody.' Even though it's called 'Fourth Trimester' which is the 12 weeks after you've given birth, it's not that for us, our eldest participant to date was a 96-year-old great-great-grandmother. We've had foster parents, step-parents, people who have tried to conceive and carry pregnancies and have never been able to…we have an increasing number of trans and non-binary parents participating, which is really awesome, dads joining their female partners as well, so it's really open to anybody."
We finished our conversation speaking about the most gratifying parts of the journey up until now, and although it was hard to come up with just one thing, the extraordinary impact on people's personal lives is high on ash's list. "When I created this movement, I intended it to be that, a movement, beyond just pretty pictures to look at. I thought about the ways that I hoped it would change the world and by that, I mean the societal dialogue. I kind of, naively -and this might sound silly- hadn't thought about the ways that it would change the people who I worked with one on one, how it would impact their experiences and lives."
Although there have been moments when ash has thought "it's time to tie up the project in a bow," they've realized the work is not quite over yet. "There's this tug cosmically and emotionally at my heart, and I'll get e-mails and messages from past participants whose lives have changed with the project." With these people in mind, ash is still growing the movement by currently working on a second book, continuously touring in different cities to photograph more people, and as if that wasn't enough, they're also putting together a pregnancy and post-partum app, "which will be the first of its kind 'that's gender and size inclusive."
To learn more about 4th Trimester Bodies Project and its remarkable impact visit www.4thtrimesterbodiesproject.com
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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