Motherhood starts when that faint line appears on a pregnancy test, setting into motion a series of transformative changes, both physical and emotional, ugly and beautiful, raw and unrelenting. We’re so used to seeing Instagram versions of the postpartum experience through rose-coloured glasses, but a powerful new book wants to change that—with help from famous moms like Amy Schumer and Gabrielle Union.
“Men are cool and whatever but women are f*cking warriors and capable of anything,” says Amy in Life After Birth: Portraits of Love and the Beauty of Parenthood, alongside a photo of the actress cradling newborn baby Gene in the hospital. And for parents feeling the weight of this new chapter, Gabrielle Union has words of encouragement.“To everyone feeling alone, scared, unsafe, unsure, without hope . . . hang on,” she says. “You are loved and you are not alone.”
The book celebrates the early stages of motherhood through a series of raw, personal photographs and intimate stories from 250 moms like Christy Turlington, Ricki Lake and Jillian Harris. It gives a sense of the many ways we experience motherhood, from a woman in her 42nd week of pregnancy to a military mom navigating her family and career. What unites all these stories is the strength and resiliency of these mothers.
With a foreward by model and body positivity icon Ashley Graham, the book is the product of a collaboration between Joanna Griffiths, founder of the Canadian intimates label Knix, and Domino Kirke-Badgley, co-founder of the Brooklyn-based doula collective Carriage House Birth. On surveying her clients, Joanna realized just how pervasive and damaging diet and exercise culture can be for postpartum parents—half of the women she spoke to had experienced postpartum depression and 76% felt pressured to “bounce back” after baby. This inspired a travelling exhibit called The Life After Birth Project, which first captured these stunning, very real images. The overarching message of the exhibit was simple and powerful: “You are perfect as you, you are supported, and you are seen.”
Life After Birth: Portraits of Love and the Beauty of Parenthood, which is published by Rizzoli, is available on September 21. Scroll down to see some of the striking images from the book.
“The healing connectivity of motherhood after birth should be protected at all costs. When we honor the mother, we honor her children. She is just as much newly born as her child. Protect the mother.” -Kirstie Perez
“This is a moment a few hours after I gave birth when I had never felt so proud, powerful, and giddy with the dose of oxytocin and overwhelming love coursing through my veins. I said to my husband, “take a picture so I can remind myself later about this moment, this magical feeling of having met another love of my life and feeling strong having birthed according to my demands and not those around me.” I hated being pregnant but I thrive postpartum and think women are incredible beings who have more strength, resilience, and power than they often think. And yes, I stole this underwear and still have a pack unopened as a token of a time that goes so quickly and that I wish could be bottled.”
“The blessed gift that keeps on giving. To everyone feeling alone, scared, unsafe, unsure, without hope . . . hang on. Hang on. You are loved and you are not alone. Been there, hold on. Love and Light to all.”
“My husband took this photo because we had to go home in the middle of date night to pump because I was engorged. We were salsa dancing in 100°F weather (why I was naked). Every time I look at this photo it feels like a fusion of my two selves: the woman who feels sexy in a red lip out dancing in the city and the dedicated mother who needs to make a pit stop to pump.”
“Ok here’s my takeaway from pregnancy. Women are the shit. Men are cool and whatever but women are fucking warriors and capable of anything. I was lucky enough to get to have a doula. Her name is Domino Kirke-Badgley. What do doulas do? I don’t totally know. But what she did was make me and Chris feel totally secure and supported throughout my pregnancy and the birth process.”
“Living for these moments. The breastfeeding journey is real. I definitely don’t have it figured out but one thing that is saving me is laughter! Every time I get spit up on, or spill my Haakaa full of milk, or have to spend 20 minutes blowing on his face to wake this sleepy boy up, I take a deep breath and let it roll off my back and let out a chuckle, because these are the moments I’ve been waiting so long for.”
“Whether you decide to breastfeed your child or not, whether you choose to do it exclusively or mixed with other feeding methods, whether you go for a short time, something in between, or a long time, please know that it’s always only all about you and your kid. Nobody else should have a say or force their opinion on you. You are the mother; dive into yourself, follow your intuition. And I encourage you to have nobody take this away from you because it’s yours.”
“What was expected to be an easy delivery turned out to be traumatic for both me and Jones. Even with a natural birth with no tools, Jones suffered a subgeleal hematoma, multiple brain hemorrhages, and jaundice. I suffered third-degree tearing, quite a bit of time in a wheelchair and what is expected to be a two month recovery. Then add the emotional rollercoaster on top. Postpartum has been a mix of the happiest moments of my life, as well as some of the lowest. Hormones raging, I find myself crying tears of joy just looking at my son, and the next moment I’m filled with anxiety as to how I will ever be able to go back to work and be a mom. This new role as a mother is both amazing and overwhelming at the same time.”
“I took this photo during a hospital visit with a lactation consultant three days postpartum. She told me my breasts were the same size and just as hard as “soccer balls” and handed me two ice packs to help with the swelling. Elsewhere across town in those same few minutes, a team member stood in for me as we were honored with one of our biggest industry awards to-date. Mentally it was a battle. I could build a company, but I was struggling to feed my child. I felt like such a failure. The nurse provided me with nipple shields, something I knew nothing about but saved me during that first month. Every image of breastfeeding I had seen the women looked natural, at peace and happy. I shared this photo and my sentiments on Instagram and was overwhelmed when over 100 people responded with their own struggles. In that instant, the idea for the Life After Birth Project was born. In that moment, my eyes were opened.”