Neely Ker-Fox uses photography to tell the stories of postpartum bodies, introduced by Marian Kennedy.
Many women are underinformed about the changes they will experience during the first year after giving birth. The transition into motherhood is not always easy, and mothers face a vast amount of physical and emotional postpartum challenges. Add to that the pressures of body and parenting perfection as endorsed by the media and society and it is no surprise that so many new mums feel a sense of loss, disconnect and depression.
I experienced this first-hand after suffering severe tearing with the ‘fast and furious’ birth of my daughter. Finding few products to support my healing, I set out to provide women with the postpartum comfort and relief I so desperately needed in those first few months. By partnering with photographer Neely Ker-Fox and mums, from various backgrounds, on a postpartum body photography campaign, I hope to advocate for postpartum self-care and share the beauty of women’s changed bodies after birth.
Hopefully this will be the beginning of a much-needed conversation. These mums are beautiful, brave and selfless. Not only did they do this to support maternity charities of their choice but, by embracing their lines, they are helping others to do the same and to fight the isolation felt my many after giving birth.
Amanda Ponte, 20 weeks postpartum, photographed with son Tadhg Cook
As a new mum, I notice changes in myself, physically and mentally. Becoming a mum has inspired me to become the best version of myself. Every day I challenge myself to be a better person for my son’s sake. I’ve also become more fearful. My baby is so vulnerable and I need to take good care of myself, physically and mentally, so that I can be there for him and my husband. That is one of the reasons I wanted to be part of this campaign.
Kaitlin Eddy, 1 day postpartum, photographed with son Stephen Hinson
Until the end, my pregnancy was uncomplicated. Then, at my due date appointment, we realised my son was breech and we decided that delivery by caesarean section would be the safest route. I was shocked and disappointed, but also strangely calm and at peace. On 27 September 2019 our boy entered the world, and the sound of him wailing will forever be one of the sweetest noises I have heard. We had skin-to-skin while I was sutured and the three of us just stared at each other in complete awe.
Looking at my healing scar, I now feel like it’s a mark of honour that I am proud to wear.
I was worried I would feel ‘less than’ or somehow inadequate that I didn’t get the unmedicated, active birth I had hoped, but I still feel empowered and amazed by what my body can do. I am proud to wear this body and have my swollen, round tummy as a mark of where he grew safely for so long. I am proud of the stretch marks on my breasts that now fill with milk and allow me to feed my baby and give him everything he needs. I am glad that I will never return to my ‘pre-baby body’ and that I will always bear the marks of carrying our boy and getting him here safely, and for that I am forever grateful.
Rachel Byrne, 21 weeks postpartum, photographed with daughter Adelaide
At 19 I was pregnant and alone. By 20 I had my tiny Amelia (now 6) lying on my chest and my entire world was rocked. But if you were to tell me then that three short years later, as a single mum, I would be traveling across the world, studying abroad with my toddler in tow, that I would meet an Irishman and his two kiddos, get married and have two more sweet babes, I wouldn’t have believed you!
Adelaide was born in peaceful waters at home, in what can only be described as the most redemptive home birth.
Motherhood is the most humbling experience. It breaks you and puts you back together all at once. It cracks open your soul and lets an all-consuming love come spilling through.
Motherhood is not one-size-fits-all. It’s as unique and individual as we are — the perfect mamas for our babies. That is what I love about my postpartum body; it tells the whole story of my journey to each of my babies. It shows the loss of a miscarriage, scars of an ectopic pregnancy, stretch marks from three healthy babies, squishy boobs from breastfeeding, soft hands for nurturing, outstretched arms for my husband and his two kiddos and a heart overspilling with love for my beautiful family. This is what this campaign is all about: loving your lines, honouring your story, speaking your truth, and empowering mothers.
Talita Da Silva, 4 weeks postpartum, photographed with daughter Aria
Like many other women, I had always been afraid of the changes my body would go through during pregnancy and what that would mean postpartum. How would I look? How would I feel? Would my partner look at me in the same way? As my body continued to get bigger and rounder, one reassuring thought made me embrace all the physical and mental changes: with each passing day, my baby was growing too and preparing for life outside the womb. Whenever I questioned my appearance, I held on to this. For me, self-care and acceptance were important. I was eating more healthily, drinking more water, getting rid of stress and treating my body with more respect than ever before. No words could ever describe what it felt like giving birth to my precious baby girl on the 3 September 2019. Postpartum, my body has continued to surprise me, adapting to precisely what my baby needs. I look in the mirror and I no longer see imperfections – I see a super mum.
Marian Kennedy is married to Derek and mum to Emily, born in 2015, and the inspiration behind Marian’s company. It is Marian’s aim that anewmum provides a range of postpartum healing, cooling and soothing products for new mothers.
Neely Ker-Fox is a mum and a birth and family documentary photographer, based in Columbus, Georgia. Her photos in the birth community have impacted choices and options for mothers, not only in her own city, but internationally as well. After battling with body image issues after the birth of her second child, she launched a pro bono photography campaign called Perfect Imperfections in 2015.
This article was originally published in JUNO Spring 2020.