The third trimester is naturally considered the last phase of pregnancy, but photographer Ashlee Dean Wells believes that pregnancy doesn’t stop with the third trimester. She thinks that there is a ‘fourth trimester’ to pregnancy which is just about rest of your life after you become a mother. She thinks that it’s important that mothers appreciate their bodies. This is why she embarked upon a photo project titled “4th Trimester Bodies”, three years ago to ensure the same.
She observed that women disliked their bodies when she was running a poster photo business with a friend in Chicago. She thought that a lot of women came on a regular basis with body hangups and image issues that were in no way visible to Wells and her friend. Most women thought that they needed to meet the standards of photoshopped images.
Wells was always confident about her skin until 2012 when a tragic pregnancy brought a transformation. When she had conceived her twin girls, in the second semester she learned that her babies had twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, a rare medical condition that involves blood of one twin moving to the other through the placenta. A surgery at 24 weeks was performed to save both twins but in vain. One of her daughters, Aurora was stillborn while Nova survived but was immediately confined to the NICU. And though the pregnancy left a big scar across her abdomen and a heartbreak, it also served as an inspiration.
The event left her feeling torn. But one day Wells just realized that she was not the only one who would have similar complaints. It suddenly hit her that she could motivate other women too.
This is why Wells made up her mind to have a photograph of herself with baby Nova after 100 days at NICU before she was released to heal at home. In the picture, Wells is wearing nothing but her underwear proudly displaying the scars of her experience. As she posted that image on her Facebook page, women began to identify themselves with her. She says that she could never imagine how such a move was needed and that she had no idea of the degree of women all around that she needed to reach.
That picture of Wells spearheaded off the “4th Trimester Bodies Project”. She and her friend-cum-business-partner now go around the world capturing stunning, black-and-white photos of moms of every age bracket, moms who are surrogate or adoptive moms as well, and help them identify the truth of beauty. The pictures show women of various shapes, sizes, and colors wearing simple black underwear posing with their children. And these women have many experiences and stories to share – right from suffering mental health issues to domestic violence to being through an ectopic pregnancy. The images are very moving and reflect an optimistic community for mothers, so they feel beautiful and empowered.
Wells says that the project brings together women from all over the world as they share one common factor called motherhood. The project brings together women who have had their struggles and mommy wars because they made different choices and created a strong community of these women who are friends.
So far Wells has photographed more than 1,500 women in five countries and has published a book with a collection of images from the project.