Brana Ninkov (34), Liam (7), and Chloe (2)
Serbia | Los Angeles
Brana shares -
“Liam's pregnancy was unplanned, but very much welcomed. So the first time, becoming aware of the pregnancy only at 9 weeks, I didn't experience the anticipation that comes with "trying for a baby'. Four years later, Chloe was conceived with intention, and that experience carried two early miscarriages, the mourning that follows them, the courage it takes to try again, many disappointing months of seeing blood in my underwear when I so wanted to be pregnant, and of course, extreme anxiety during the first trimester once Chloe was conceived. I coped with my miscarriages with deep sadness, which was followed by intellectualizing them and trying to convince myself that they happened due to my wise body's ability to recognize that something was wrong, and finally as time went on, by trusting that they are a part of my story and that they have positively influenced my parenting (gratitude), my doula work(empathy) and really, my whole being. “
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
For as long as I am aware of myself, I have struggled trying to fit into that narrow image that our society portrays as healthy and beautiful. After both of my births, that insecurity followed me, along with now also having to accept more permanent changes that I knew were here to stay (wider hips, softer belly, saggier breasts). However, I also became incredibly grateful and proud for my body's ability to carry, birth, and feed my babies.
Currently, I limbo between the confidence in my beauty and strength, and the conditioned feeling that I must struggle to look a certain way. I wish I could simply say " F-U" to the latter, but I also recognize that it has been within me for a long time. So I try, for myself and my children, to love my body for all the beauty it radiates, and for all that it has given, and is giving me. It is a struggle, but the older I get, the more confident I feel.
What was your postpartum experience?
I struggled during both of my postpartum periods. After Liam was born, I was just unprepared. I had to recover from what I now know to have been a traumatic birth, I struggled with breastfeeding. I felt like no-one was there to hear me, and hold space for my feelings. I really was shocked at how life changed. And I was very concerned about satisfying everyone else's needs and concerns, but my own.
My libido was nonexistent, and even a hug from my husband was overwhelming. I felt trapped. It took a while for my motherly instincts to kick in, and to start setting boundaries. I struggled with depression until my cycle returned at about 13 months, whereafter things slowly started getting into place.
The second time around, lots of therapy and my doula background provided tools to feel a little more prepared. I honored my early postpartum period by allowing only those around me who would nourish, nurture and respect my needs/desires. It was an incredible early postpartum experience which I often describe as "having walked around a fluffy pink cloud".
But after about 6 weeks, postpartum anxiety crept up on me, and I became completely overwhelmed with mothering two children. I felt like I couldn't give enough to either of them, let alone to anyone else in my life. I had resources and knew how to find support, but I was even too overwhelmed to ask for help. This time around, I also stared to feel better once my cycle returned. Basically, I concluded that big part of my struggle both times was the shame that I carried around needing so much time to recover and the expectation that I should have felt like myself earlier.
What is your truth?
Birth and Parenthood. On the surface they seem like events and roles we organically assume, and things we do not need to put much effort and thought into. But the truth is: They change us forever. They affect every cell in our body, every future thought we have and every breath we inhale. They make us work through some painful and deeply buried things that we may have hoped would stay underground forever. They bring us to our knees, and tear us open. They open our hearts and expand our love into dimensions we were not even aware existed. They are our biggest lesson, and need to be honored. They makes us better human beings. In the moments of struggle, I ground myself by allowing self judgment to dissolve, and love and acceptance to flow in, and by tuning in to the bigger picture and trust in the fact that my children are wise souls, that parenting is wise and ancient, and that everything that happens, in turn makes me wiser, and allows me to love deeper.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
I have been following the 4th Trimester Project for a long time. I love everything about the gorgeous images that capture people for who they truly are. I love reading the stories, and learning about the vast diversity of human beings, family structures and the love we all share for our children. I never thought of being an active part of the movement. I woke up to finding out that a few hours from now, you will be shooting a few blocks away from where I live. Something bigger than I could comprehend or explain made me reach out, and sign up. I want my children to grow up without any shame around their bodies. I want them to know how strong they mama is and how beautiful and strong she feels. I wanted our love that we have for each other, captured. I want to be a part of normalizing body diversity, acceptance and love. I want to play a role in normalizing diversity in our human existence, and loving everyone for exactly who they are, which starts with loving one self. All those reasons, and more, brought me to you and your project today.