4th Trimester Bodies Project: Meet Ashlee Wells Jackson
Daily Mom is thrilled to introduce our readers to Ashlee Wells Jackson, creator and photographer of the 4th Trimester Bodies Project. Ashlee has been kind enough to share some of her favorite images of women breastfeeding their babies in honor of our Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign. Read on to find out about what inspired the 4th Trimester Bodies Project and Ashlee’s personal journey with breastfeeding.
Daily Mom: What message do you have for women who feel discouraged from nursing due to the misconceptions about how it changes the female body?
- Ashlee Wells Jackson: I think that many women still choose not to breastfeed out of fear for how it will change their body or judgement from other people. I think there are sadly still so many misconceptions about breastfeeding, one of them being that it can ruin your breasts. Our bodies absolutely change during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding but those are changes that should be embraced and celebrated rather than feared. Our body’s ability to nourish and sustain our children through their first months of life is remarkable.
Daily Mom: What message do you have in general for women who struggle with their body image after pregnancy and/or breastfeeding?
- Ashlee Wells Jackson: I think it’s important to first realize and acknowledge that physical changes in our bodies through pregnancy and breastfeeding are normal and should be expected. Beyond that I think we need to look at the fact that our bodies have created and grown a brand new human, an incredible feat. Then we need to learn to love ourselves today, for who we are right now. That doesn’t mean that you have to think you’re perfect or that there isn’t anything you could improve upon just that you deserve your own love and respect.
Daily Mom: What can you share with us about your own breastfeeding journey?
- Ashlee Wells Jackson: When my son Xavier was born 8.5 years ago I knew I wanted to breastfeed and that I would no matter what. He arrived at 28 weeks weighing 3lbs 4oz and spent his first 46 days of life in NICU. I pumped like crazy and thankfully had a wonderful supply. We did skin to skin kangaroo care as often and long as we could, I snuggled his blankets while I pumped and we fought to keep pacifiers and bottles out of the equation so that he could hopefully transition from tube feeds to breast without issue. A couple of weeks before he came home I knew that he was ready to nurse and thankfully had the support of our amazing NICU nurses. Still, we had to ask the neonatologist for permission and they fought me saying that he wasn’t strong enough and needed to take a bottle first. I told him that it wasn’t an option and that I knew he was ready. The doctor rolled his eyes at me, told me to try but to have him paged when my “experiment” failed and left the room. Moments later I put my tiny baby to breast and he latched and nursed like an absolute champ. The following weeks were filled with a lot of long nursing sessions as we transitioned off of tube feeds fully. He was so small he would nurse for about 45 minutes on the hour every hour and then be ready to go again. I nursed exclusively and delayed solids and while I had hoped to let him self wean I had to wean him just after his third birthday due to a large shift in our family dynamic.
When Xavier was 6 I got pregnant again, this time with identical twin girls. I was so excited to be able to breastfeed again and even more so at the opportunity to nurse two babies at once! I read all I could and sought out other breastfeeding moms of multiples and could not wait for this experience with my girls. Tragically at 19 weeks we learned our girls were dying of Twin to Twin Transfusion syndrome (TTTS) and despite doing all we could to keep them healthy, including surgery, my daughter Aurora Eisley passed away just past 20 weeks. She and our surviving twin Nova were born via emergency cesarean at 24 weeks. I immediately started pumping again and was able to provide milk exclusively for our tiny fighter as well as donate milk to other babies. However, after pumping for several weeks and dealing with the grief of our loss and the stress of a very sick baby in the NICU, my production dropped drastically. I started taking Reglan to increase supply and it allowed us to continue on. Nova developed Hydrocephalus in NICU and had to have two brain surgeries prior to discharge. We attempted to transition from tube feeds to breastfeeding in hospital but things weren’t going well so we pushed to bring her home with her Ng tube so we could work on breastfeeding at home and we did.
Every two hours I would attempt to nurse Nova, then start her pump feed over 45 minutes, then pump myself for 20 minutes then repeat the cycle around the clock. With only about 15 minute breaks in between I was terribly sleep deprived and weary yet determined to make it work.
After Nova was home for 10 days we pulled her tube and she was nursing strongly on her own. Unfortunately, it was just after this time that my Reglan prescription ran out and my doctor refused to refill it stating I’d been on it long enough. Because I hadn’t been able to taper off the medicine my milk production tanked and the abrupt stoppage caused me to slip into an anxiety ridden state of psychosis, a known side effect of the drug. The next few days were hell, my baby wasn’t getting the milk she needed to live and I was almost incapable of getting out of bed. We had learned previously that she had a dairy intolerance so while my diet elimination allowed her to continue to nurse from the tap, all of my saved pumped milk was dangerous for her. We had to resort to hypoallergenic, prescription formula and the next few days I tried to wrap my head around the reality that our breastfeeding relationship was over. My body had failed me once again and that this was the best thing for my daughter. Just as I tried to convince myself this was right I just couldn’t shake that there was another way. I researched and researched and researched some more until I stumbled upon success stories in relactating through the use of Domperidone. I convinced Nova’s pediatrician to write me a prescription and within 3 days of taking the medicine my breasts were full and leaking. I hid the bottles, and tried to get Nova to latch and she nursed like we’d never missed a beat. She is currently 21 months, still nursing and I plan to continue until she decides to self wean.
The 4th Trimester Bodies Project now travels around North America, collecting images of mothers for this project. Ashlee has been kind enough to share a few of her favorite images from the project that we are delighted to also be able to share with our readers.
The 4th Trimester Bodies Project grew out of a need to showcase and celebrate mothers as exactly how they are–beautiful.
This project exists because women and men and society need it. Because our sons and daughters deserve more. Because we deserve more. Because we are beautiful – stretches, stripes, scars and all. -Ashlee
This project is open to anyone brave enough to bare all on camera. If you live in Chicago, Ann Arbor, Milwaukee, New York City, or Saint Louis, shootings are ongoing and you just need to visit the site to sign up. You can also visit them at one of their numerous stops on their ongoing tour around the world! This September they will be in New Zealand and Australia! Not to worry, they will be back stateside again soon after making stops in several cities, including Miami, Phoenix, Seattle, Las Vegas, and many more.
Are you as in love with this project now as much as we are? What do you think about the 4th Trimester Bodies Project? Let us know what you think and whether you would even consider participating!
Collectively we are healing, we are empowering, we are transforming, we are normalizing. We are not alone. -Ashlee Wells Jackson
Photo Credits: 4th Trimester Bodies Project, courtesy of Ashlee Wells Jackson.
Tags: 4th Trimester Bodies Project, Ashlee Jackson Wells, august breastfeeding month, body confidence, breastfeeding, breastfeeding awareness campaign, breastfeeding journey, NICU, premature infant, premie, tube feeding
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Katherine lives in Kansas City with her husband, toddler, and 3 furry children. When she is not at home with her daughter, she is finishing up her Ph.D. in psychology or working on one of her multiple half-finished art projects. She loves ceramics, crafts, fitness, paper mache, and pretending to learn French and Spanish.