Sometimes an idea, a thought, a life changing moment is so complex it seems impossible to put into words... well this is exactly that. I sit here as if in front of a blank canvas, unsure how to truly explain everything.
For the last 9 months I have struggled with my postpartum body. Unlike with my first pregnancy, in which I bounced right back and in fact liked my body more, with my second pregnancy I barely recognize this new body I'm living with. My abs are separated from my pelvic bone to my sternum, I have an umbilical hernia in need of repair, and I'm currently in physical therapy due to back problems stemming from my abs being weak. I have stretch marks. I have sciatic nerve pain in my bottom. All this came out of left field after my perfect first pregnancy.
The days would ebb back and forth between grieving my previous physique, to truly understanding and battling to find strength in the fact that I've grown two babies in that body. One baby growing so quickly I can barely wrap my arms around her, the other baby wobbling as he learns to stand... each day taking them further from my womb, further from this place they used to call home. I'm still not there, not fully 100% in acceptance of this new body, but the days pass and I forget the details of that elusive pre-pregnancy body, and I cling to these moments with my babies that need me. One day I won't be needed anymore, little by little it's happening each day. My oldest's newest phrase, " Let me do that, I can do it by myself." My youngest nurses less with each passing month, and gains new motor skills that take him one more step away from me. One day they will stop reaching for my hand, they won't need me to kiss their boo-boos, before I know it I won't be needed anymore. But these lines, these battle scars of life... I will carry them with me until the day I die. I see myself 20-30 years from now, resting my hands on this soft tummy of mine, sitting in an empty house remembering this season of my life, and with age and wisdom, the bigger picture will have played out and these insecurities I feel now will be but a laugh under my breath.
This project is not intended to just focus on Motherhood, I see it having many chapters, with several characters all with differing stories to tell. I would even love to see some men participate in the future. Obviously women are more apt to be the victim of body shaming, or the seemingly rampant epidemic of mommy wars. But we as humans all have insecurities and we are all scarred, imperfect and flawed in some way physically and emotionally. Standing on the other side of this first endeavor into this project, I'm convinced people of all ages, genders, and races, people with differing reasons for struggling to find acceptance of their body image, could benefit from this. I want to see more diversity next time: postpartum, weight gain/weight loss, cancer, amputees, paraplegics... I could go on and on.
As the weeks, months, years continue on from this inaugural post, I pray this project grows into something even better than anything I can dream up at the moment.
Before going any further I want to thank the Midwives of the Women's Hospital of St. Francis and BirthSource for helping me get this first leg of the project off the ground. Many of the ladies came to an informal meet and greet the Friday before their sessions were scheduled. The Midwives sponsored it, and Melissa even came out to enjoy getting to hear the women's stories and reasons for signing up. The underlying theme that most of the women had in common was wanting to show their children that their bodies are beautiful, that these lines that mark their curves are normal, and the unique signature left on their skin by their pregnancies. Some women had fertility struggles, others were currently pregnant and living in that temporary space between the past and the future, there were stories of adoption, insecurities with weight: too skinny, too heavy, while others processed scars left from c-sections. A couple of women had stories of breastfeeding issues, from babies with tongue ties, and exclusively pumping, to medically having to wean with no warning, battling to feed her child on donor milk for over a year. Lastly we had our youngest participant at 4 years old. Her mother signed her up to capture her daughter now, in her spunk and innocence, an angel among us with spina bifida. She wants her daughter to know that she can do anything she puts her mind to, that she is strong and never to be defined by her disability.
Below is just scratching the surface. They've included a very brief comment on what this experience was like, from fears on the front end, to strength on the other. Over the course of the next few weeks I plan on giving each of them their own blog posts to really delve into why they did this, in hopes that it will lift and inspire someone else who may be fighting a similar battle.
The support for Perfect Imperfections FAR exceeded anything I could've ever imagined when I started planning this back in January. I set out to get 12 people, I've photographed 16 this weekend. I pulled two 12 hour shifts, one on Saturday the other on Sunday, and still have another 10+ women wanting to participate. I am simply blown away, humbled, grateful, and truly blessed by each of you. I sat out to take my own photo and start my healing process, but meeting you all, hearing your stories, seeing your courage, have nourished my heart and placed bandaids on parts of me I thought would take much longer to heal.
I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for trusting me. I felt immense anxiety and pressure going into this... there is no greater weight of responsibility than to have a woman in her underwear, stripped down to her soul, standing in front of you, hoping to feel beautiful on the other side of my lens. Knowing that you blindly trusted me with your most precious stories, your intimate and sensitive histories, I will never be able to convey how much that means to me. I pray I have done you justice. I pray you see yourself through the eye of children, they know no insecurities, no judgement. They know love, and they think you are beautiful. If only the rest of the world could see that way too.
Lastly, and equally as amazing... thanks to all for participating we raised $3000 for the two local charities: Sound Choices and Clement Arts. I imagine that number to only increase once I get these other 10+ in the studio.
Without being redundant you can read more about how this project came about by clicking HERE. I also want to thank 4th Trimester Bodies and Jade Beall, and January Harsh of Birth Without Fear for being the trailblazers, the innovators, the women who are singlehandedly changing the dialog of what is normal, what is beautiful, what real women look like. The ladies just mentioned are my inspiration, in no way do I want to take credit for this concept, I simply want to be one more voice in the chorus.
KRISTI E. For myself, the whole experience was symbolic in seeing how far I have come not only as a mother but also as a woman. Coming to love myself the way that God intended has taken some time and lots of self reflection. I have had a tremendous four years of learning lessons and I could not be more grateful for having experienced it all. I want to be the best for myself so that I can be the best for my daughter.
JENNY H. I was so nervous to do it, Especially after the meet and greet and I saw all the other beauties participating. (I don't know why women compare ourselves to each other that way). I felt pretty comfortable during the shoot, probably because I could not see myself. I so enjoyed loving on my sweet babies and I am so happy that there will be pictures of that. After all, it is the way women are capable of loving that make us beautiful. You never see a better example of that then a mom with her babies.
AMANDA R. I wasn’t actually nervous before hand, excited actually because it was so different. However there was a moment or two during the shoot where I thought “oh wow this is for real, I am having photos taken in my underwear”. Neely was wonderful at making the environment relaxed and making me feel amazingly beautiful any nervous moments were very short lived. I am 33 (almost 34), I have wanted children for a decade and I never thought that I would be pregnant. I also don’t assume that I will have any more babies so this will be the only time I will ever be pregnant. I wanted to do something to remember this time in my life and to be able to embrace how beautiful I am while carrying our son, when I found out about this project it seemed perfect. I did this for myself initially but I do hope that it helps others see pregnancy as beautiful especially for other pregnant women to see themselves as beautiful.
RACHAEL S. I was nervous walking into a shoot with someone I didn't know but Neely immediately made me feel like a sister, we talked and laughed and I instantly felt at home, she treated my daughter like her own all of this put me at ease to be "uncovered". I walked out of the shoot with my head held high with a new confidence I didn't know I had in me. From glancing at a few of the shots on the camera, I saw more beauty than I expected, confidence in being a mother (the kind my mom told me she see's in my mothering but I couldn't picture and was really unsure of) and most importantly that my daughter loves me because I'm her "ma-ma" and that love is indescribable- she doesn't care about anything else and her smile and mine in the photo say it all!
TAYLOR W. It's so hard to put into words how this experience has made me feel. If I had to sum everything up in 1 word it would be influential, this is something that I hope will have an impact on my daughter and her own body image for years to come!
ASHLEY O. Once I got pregnant, I was sure I would have no problem getting back to pre-pregnancy weight...which hasn't been the case. But my life is full. I have the sweetest little chunk who fills my heart. I have a partner who is supportive and loving. I work. I play. And I am loving life without obsessing about being a size 6 one month postpartum. I want other women to be healthy, and well, and love life too without pressures of fitting an idea of beauty.
ROSLYN B. I have struggled with body image basically since puberty. After leaving the shoot I had a sense of confidence I've never experienced before. I called my husband on my way home, and was telling how awesome the shoot was, and how great I felt. I absolutely loved being a part of this very important project, and I'm so happy my girls were able to experience it too.
KENDALL B. Kendall has an awe inspiring personality that is shown through her bright smile and determination to keep beating the odds. This project has given us the opportunity to share with others that she is beautiful and her disability doesn't define her. I pray that when Kendall is older and struggling with being different she will look back at these photos and gain strength to continue to be who God created her to be. The pictures are absolutely breath taking! Thank you for following through with the passion God gave you!
RACHEL M. This experience is a step forward for me, in hopes that one day I will accept my changed body, Exposure Therapy if you will. I begged and pleaded to God to allow me to carry my babies, and I am reminded daily of what I went through to have them. One day, my babies will be grown and the rest of my body gone, but I will always have these photos to remind me of the miracle of the two lives that I was able to carry. I will have these images to share with other women that imperfections can be beautiful, no matter what society says.
ERICA B. I was so nervous to be a part of this project. I have always been a bigger woman and have never seen myself as beautiful. Since having my son, I wanted to do this to show him beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. I wanted to do this for myself too. I felt so comfortable and beautiful during the shoot. I will never forget this experience.
KACIE C. I did this shoot for me and my children. I’ve always struggled to accept my flaws, but after giving birth to my daughters, those flaws seem more like beautiful marks of our journey together. I hope that my daughters look back on this and know to judge themselves based on who they are, and not what anyone says or thinks about them.
DANA B. I am honored to have taken part in such an amazing event. Doing so helped me to accept and embrace my "new" body after having Peyton. After all, he is our Rainbow after the storm...and for that I am eternally grateful!