This Is What Women Really Look Like After Giving Birth

We are lucky to be living in an age where the body positive movement is a thing. But there is still a lot of work to be done and consciousness to be raised.

Enter The 4th Trimester Bodies Project (scroll down for photos!), a documentary photo project "dedicated to embracing the beauty inherent in the changes brought to our bodies by motherhood, childbirth and breast-feeding." The project is at the forefront of a relatively untapped area of the body positive movement. Co-founders Ashlee Wells Jackson and Laura Weetzie Wilson seek to subvert the notion that mothers need to "fix" their bodies post-pregnancy, especially given all of the new pressures of having to "do a mother's number one job — keeping your children alive."

Longtime photographer Jackson is a mother of three: 7-year-old Xavier and twin daughters Nova (15 months) and Aurora, who was stillborn as a result of complications from Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome. Through her own pregnancies, and having both given birth prematurely and carried a child who died, Jackson felt compelled to start the project to "fight back against the media standard and create an environment for mothers that was one of empowerment, body positivity, acceptance and self-love."

The project began one day when Jackson found herself crying in the shower, feeling broken and looking at her scarred stomach (which she described as "monstrous"). To reclaim her power, she decided to take a photo of herself with her daughter Nova, and proceeded to ask others to join her own "journey to create a conversation about women's bodies, our beauty, and accepting the changes we want to hide."

We cannot continue to ask new mothers how long it took them to fit back into their pre-pregnancy jeans. We need to change the conversation: "We need to address the fact that our bodies change when we carry a baby," explained Jackson, "Hips widen. Skin stretches. Things don't always go back to the way they were before."

Above all, we need to stop focusing on bodies so much to begin with, and on the stereotypes surrounding them. Little girls are taught to be pretty — "but they can also be taught to be strong and smart," remarked Jackson. Similarly, "Boys don't have to be brave and strong."

So let's start the process of educating ourselves by letting our bodies, all sorts of bodies, be seen.

With that, here is a series of photos from the 4th Trimester Bodies Project. We can start to open our minds by simply opening our eyes and seeing.

Photographer Ashlee Wells Jackson with her daughter Nova at 5 months old

This self-portrait of Jackson was the inaugural image of the 4th Trimester Bodies Project.

Photo Credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson, 4th Trimester Bodies Project, 4thtrimesterbodies.com

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Melissa Faith Talev with her son Ronald (almost 3 years old)

In this photo, Talev is also 36 weeks pregnant with baby number two.

Photo Credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson, 4th Trimester Bodies Project, 4thtrimesterbodies.com

Samantha Garcia Gagnon with her son Joseph (3) and daughter Estelle (7 months)

Gagnon told 4th Trimester Bodies Project that she was surprised to find she was most comfortable with her body during pregnancy! Right on.

Photo Credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson, 4th Trimester Bodies Project, 4thtrimesterbodies.com

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Lidiya Yablonskaya with her sons Zhenya (11) and Misha (7)

Yablonskaya is committed to continuing to cultivate a positive body image for herself, and to create a body positive environment for her sons.

Photo Credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson, 4th Trimester Bodies Project, 4thtrimesterbodies.com

Melissa Wirthlin with her son Boyd (almost 3)

Wirthlin told 4th Trimester Bodies that while she's always struggled with body image issues, she never felt more beautiful than during pregnancy.

Photo Credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson, 4th Trimester Bodies Project, 4thtrimesterbodies.com

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Alexis Sharabaika with her daughter Thalia (9 months)

Sharabaika experienced a healthy pregnancy but struggled with breast-feeding issues upon giving birth to her daughter. She was able to work through the issues, however, and had a wonderful breastfeeding relationship with her daughter.

Photo Credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson, 4th Trimester Bodies Project, 4thtrimesterbodies.com

Leslie Erb, mother to Jadyn (15), Taryn (13), Brennan (10), Karis (8), Ryanne (6) and Greyson (3)

Erb relishes every second of motherhood, even if there are moments when she "wants to pull out her hair." She wanted to participate in the 4th Trimester Bodies project to celebrate the confidence she's developed during recent years of being a mother.

Photo Credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson, 4th Trimester Bodies Project, 4thtrimesterbodies.com

Joan Ceremy-St.Fleur with her daughters Ayanna (3) and Ava (1 month

Ceremy-St.Fleur told 4th Trimester Bodies Project that the location of birth doesn't matter; birth is simply a power within you as a woman. She believes motherhood is largely about letting go of expectations and embracing each moment as it comes.

Photo Credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson, 4th Trimester Bodies Project, 4thtrimesterbodies.com

Sally Matthews with her daughters Sarah-Jane Hinton and Jessica Harbron and grandsons Beau (3), Harrison (2) and Miller (9 months)

Sally is a mother to eight; Sarah-Jane is mother to Harrison and Miller and Jessica is mother to Beau.

Photo Credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson, 4th Trimester Bodies Project, 4thtrimesterbodies.com

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