'Life after birth': Intimate photos show postpartum journeys of celebrities and mothers everywhere

14November 2021

Written by Megan C. Hills, CNN

Despite being outwardly successful, entrepreneur Joanna Griffiths found herself struggling behind closed doors when she became a mother for the first time. In 2019, on the same day her Toronto-based underwear brand Knix won a marketing award, she was seeking breastfeeding advice from a lactation consultant.

After trying to pump for three hours “only to fail,” she posted a selfie on Instagram, looking exhausted while gripping ice packs tight to her chest. “Just wanted to give a huge shout out to all the moms out there because this fourth trimester postpartum stuff is HARD,” she wrote.
Joanna Griffiths received a wave of support after sharing this image to Instagram.

Joanna Griffiths received a wave of support after sharing this image to Instagram. Credit: Joanna Griffiths/Courtesy of Rizzoli

“I was seriously struggling with breastfeeding,” she recalled over email, adding that she also suffered from postpartum depression. “All the while (I was) wear-testing nursing bras that my team had designed. The irony was not lost on me.”

But she was “overwhelmed” with messages of support — people empathizing and sharing their own challenges with motherhood, from “dreading” breastfeeding to describing their experiences after giving birth as “no joke.” Others encouraged her not to beat herself up or feel bad.

“It turns out I wasn’t alone. In a world of picture perfect selfies, adorable Instagram babies dressed as little animals and the cringeworthy (hashtag) #blessed, we had masked the real postpartum experience,” Griffiths said. “We so quickly forget that in those precious few moments of birth, you’re introduced to someone else entirely new.

“And it’s not your baby — it’s you.”

"Life After Birth" contributor Shanola Hampton shared this  picture of herself with her son, writing that she could not explain "the joy this little guy has given me."

“Life After Birth” contributor Shanola Hampton shared this picture of herself with her son, writing that she could not explain “the joy this little guy has given me.” Credit: Shanola Hampton/Courtesy of Rizzoli

Finding community

Realizing that other mothers were going through similar experiences, Griffiths and Domino Kirke-Badgley, a doula and childhood educator, launched “Life After Birth,” an online space where women could share their intimate photos and postpartum stories, of which a curated selection was exhibited in New York. Now the project has been turned into a book of the same name.

Organized in sections, such as the first 24 hours and the first weeks, months, year and beyond, the book aims to share stories that “normalize, celebrate and honor postpartum experiences.” Stories by celebrities, including comedian Amy Schumer and actors Kristen Bell and America Ferrera, are also featured.

A foreword by Ashley Graham sets the tone for “Life After Birth,” with a photo of the plus-size model intensely locking eyes with her doula during labor appearing later on in the book. She reflects on society’s “unrealistic expectations” of “perfect mothers,” adding that, in reality, the experiences of becoming a mom are as diverse as they are empowering.
Project co-founder Domino Kirke-Badgley, a professional doula, also shared her story in the book alongside this image of her breastfeeding.

Project co-founder Domino Kirke-Badgley, a professional doula, also shared her story in the book alongside this image of her breastfeeding. Credit: Domino Kirke-Badgley/Courtesy of Rizzoli

“After giving birth, I know there is nothing I can’t do,” she wrote.

Some photos capture mothers juggling their new babies and careers, like images of New York State legislator Michaelle C. Solages nursing in her workplace and Elizabeth Whaley, a mother in the military, wearing a pumping bra. “Breastfeeding in combat boots is far from easy but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” wrote Whaley, who said she is fighting for equal parental rights in the armed services.

Others tell sadder tales, such as Pascale Hunt, who recalled the loneliness of giving birth during the pandemic, and another mother who recounts having a second trimester miscarriage. In one moving vignette, birth photographer and doula Heather White, who has documented nearly 200 births after losing her own child, wrote, “This is how I honor my son.”

Jessica Zucker shared her experience of having a second trimester miscarriage, writing, "I know I am not alone, nor are you."

Jessica Zucker shared her experience of having a second trimester miscarriage, writing, “I know I am not alone, nor are you.” Credit: Elliana Allon/Courtesy of Rizzoli

Elsewhere, a woman who decided not to have a child is also featured. While it might seem like an unusual addition, Griffiths said that her inclusion fits into the wider narrative of tackling “societal taboos around birthing experiences,” and that choosing not to have children is also “part of the postpartum experience.”

“It is a decision and journey rooted in strength that often is overlooked,” she added.

Proceeds from the publication will help non-profit organization The Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) train 20 doulas to support 80 Black families with postpartum care.

Contributor Lori Yerry wrote she did "not particularly" like her postpasturm body but was "so proud of it" after having twins.

Contributor Lori Yerry wrote she did “not particularly” like her postpasturm body but was “so proud of it” after having twins. Credit: Lori Yerry Photography/Courtesy of Rizzoli

According to BWHI, Black women account for a “disproportionate number” of maternal deaths and are “three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related conditions” than their White counterparts.

Kirke-Badgley hopes “Life After Birth” will serve as an invitation for other mothers to start sharing.

"Life After Birth" brings together portraits and first-hand accounts of parenting.

“Life After Birth” brings together portraits and first-hand accounts of parenting. Credit: Courtesy of Rizzoli

“I think there’s so much healing in hearing each other’s stories, in vulnerability,” she said over email. “No one has mastered this. There’s no technique we’re trying to teach you. We’re just changing the narrative by finally talking to each other. No one births the same way or experiences the postpartum space the same way, but we all need support.

“None of this is meant to be done alone.”

Life After Birth: Portraits of Love and the Beauty of Parenthood,” published by Rizzoli and written by Knix and the Carriage House Birth Communities, is out now.

Top image: Jillian Harris, a former contestant on “The Bachelor,” sharing an intimate moment with her husband and child, Leo. She called this photograph “one of the best moments of my life.”

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