Ashlee Dean Luna (36). Mother to Xavier (13), Identical twins Nova (6) and Aurora (Stillborn in 2012 due to complications from Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, and Sólis de Flores (3 days old).
Ashlee is the founder and photographer of 4th Trimester Bodies Project. You can see her original photo and story that started this movement here. This photograph was captured by Ashlee’s partner, Flowers Luna.
Ashlee shares -
“My life as a person, human, parent will forever be marked by the before and after of my child's death. Who I was the day before the veil of naïveté was lifted and the reality of such a devastating loss settled in to my being, is a person I don't even recognize anymore. In the six years since she died the shame and stigma I immediately felt has shifted to a strength I didn't know I had, a determination to heal myself, share our story, to connect with and hold others, to create a legacy and community in the space she should occupy. There is no silver lining in loss and there are intricacies of twin loss that I am still learning to navigate but I am different person because of Aurora existed and I am grateful for that.
I have also terminated two pregnancies. The first when I was just 17 was an easy, supported decision that felt very empowering to make. Myself and the other person involved were able to go on to live our lives and create our families in ways we never would have, had that pregnancy continued. The second was just a year before Sól was conceived. My partner and I knew that we wanted to have another child at some point but were not yet ready in so many ways. The freedom of choose to wait allowed us to very intentionally plan our next pregnancy but also brought with it some grief and sadness that I had not anticipated.
Each pregnancy has impacted my body image differently. My first birth at 23, was an uncomplicated (but preterm - 28 week) vaginal delivery that left me feeling like a bad ass. Nothing had gone as planned and I'd later work through some traumas but my body had grown and very quickly birthed this amazing person. He sailed through NICU, nursed like a champ until he was three and I was proud of what I'd physically accomplished. Having the energy and metabolism of a 23 year old, likely didn't hurt either.
Following my twins- my body image was at all time low. I entered my pregnancy on high but then one of my babies died. My pregnancy ended at 24 weeks. I had to have fetal surgery, a surgical birth, two surgical revisions and heal open for weeks. I felt broken, destroyed, like a failure and honestly went through a period of disassociating with my body. It took lots of therapy and self love to find healing, leaving an abusive relationship turned over a whole new leaf and getting back into daily yoga and cycling physically brought me to a place I felt better than I ever had before.
My most recent pregnancy was my first opportunity to experience a third trimester. My pregnancy was uncomplicated. I had a beautiful, healing, homebirth. My first fat, healthy baby. My first experience co-parenting from the start with the love and support of partner and so, I was quite surprised to find that it's been hard to settle into this new evolution of my physical self. I absolutely loved my body while pregnant but this time, the weight has just sort of fallen down to my lower belly and thighs creating a new shape and squishiness that my children are enjoying but it's taking me some time to appreciate.
Pregnancy after loss is a trip! My partner and I were lucky to conceive quickly my first cycle after removing my IUD. I chose to take progesterone injections weekly and have transvaginal ultrasounds to monitor my cervical length from 16-36 weeks but there were no issues. I was healthy, baby was healthy (and big) the entire time. Still the worries and doubt seeped in. Every week I worried that we'd receive bad news, that the baby would be dead, that they'd tell me we were looking at another preterm delivery and NICU stay.
Every week that passed, I tried to breathe a little easier but each week new fears found their way in. Eventually we made it to the third trimester, new territory, new experience and things finally felt a little freer. When we reached 36 weeks with nothing but good news, we switched to a home birth midwife and at 39 weeks, 3 days our 9 lb rainbow baby was born at home, en caul, in the water, after 8 hours of labor surrounded by their big siblings and our closest friends. My partner caught them and passed them to me as I collapsed back into his arms and fought the reality that this babe was whole, alive, ours, and not going anywhere.
The first few days postpartum were surreal. I hemorrhaged while birthing the placenta and had a peri-urethral tears which left me bed ridden for the first few days and it took much longer than I anticipated for my energy to return. Yet being able to have our family home, whole, all in one place from the very start was a beautiful experience. The baby and I snuggled, snoozed, and nursed (they've been a pro from the first moment they latched) and our family, friends, midwives, otherwise passed in and out as the days and nights blended into one post baby bliss. I'm still stunned that those first days and weeks felt so beautiful, happy, easy.
Much to my surprise the transition back to life and work beyond our leave has been quite tricky. My partner was able to stay home for 11 weeks and took on most of the responsibilities while I continued to focus on the baby and emotional needs of our big kids. We'd work here and there at coffee shops or at home while the kids were at school but nothing had urgency or necessity beyond making sure all of our humans were happy and fed.
Even though we have had the time and space to be very intentional about the transition back I've been overwhelmed with anxieties and emotion. I thought that my fourth baby would be my easiest but everything feels so new again and trying to run a business, work full time, while caring for a baby, a child with special needs, and a teenager has been hard. Making time to be a partner and figure out who I am as a person beyond this evolution has been even harder.
I don't yet have any answers or anecdotes beyond just being honest and transparent that this is really fucking hard and that's okay. We'll get through it I'm sure but for now, sanity is celebrating simply getting through one task, one moment at a time.
When 4th Trimester Bodies Project began with my self portrait in 2012 I never dreamed that I would still be pouring myself into it six years later. I never dreamed that I would find love, happiness, healing, family, community in the ways that I have. I never thought that I would have any more children and never dreamed that the experience of having another child could be happy and healing and bring with it a human that has so deliciously made our family feel whole. This is my full circle moment and sharing this part of my journey with this community that has become an extension of all that love, support, and goodness feels so necessary.”