The beautiful Cara Berlin with her daughters Adelaide (5) and Willa (almost 5 weeks). Cara has had healthy pregnancies with both of her girls. Her pregnancy with Adelaide was a surprise but her sister had just had a baby using the Bradley method and had a natural childbirth so she decided to follow suit. Breastfeeding was difficult for the first few weeks and it wasn't until she saw a latch video on Dr. Jack Newman's site that she realized things that wasn't quite what Adelaide was doing. They were able to work and get the hang of it soon after. Cara struggle with postpartum depression after her first book and though she felt isolated also felt that she needed to do things herself. Her second daughter was born at home and Cara is doing great. She encapsulated her placenta this time and says she doesn't know if it's effective or placebo but so far so good. Cara has realized that particularly as the mother of daughters she needed to deal with some of her own issues so that she doesn't pass them along. She's been a seeing a therapist for the past year and a half to address image concerns and disordered eating and things are going very well. Cara feels that heavier women are often stereotyped as having more difficult births, and often they do but she very much feels this has to do with the way they are treated and the care they are provided rather than true representations of their health or ability. She is healthy and has had wonderful birth experiences and wants people to see that as attainable.
The stunning Michelle Storey with her children, Jasmine (17), Zachary (15), Summagh (14), Lara (11) and Ariya (13 weeks). Michelle is also mum to another son, Minty, who was born sleeping on June 14, 2013. Michelle chose to participate because particularly since the loss of her son, she has been amazed at what our bodies can do, physically, mentally and emotionally - how they can process and heal such devastation and go on. She wants her daughters to be proud of their bodies no matter what they are or what stage of life they're in. And she wants her son to respect women and their bodies as well. Additionally, Michelle feels that our culture doesn't respect or revere mothers as they should, and we've moved so far away from caring what wisdom our mothers and grandmother's hold, she hopes we can find our way back to that. Michelle's first pregnancy was a surprise but a beautiful one. All of her pregnancies have been fairly easy, and she's had all natural deliveries. She had homebirths with her first three. Then, Lara was born in a birthing center as there weren't any homebirth midwives available in her area. She and her current partner tried for about 18 months before conceiving Minty. She was thrilled but also more sick than usual with this pregnancy. Her 13 weeks scan was good but at 19 weeks, they went for another scan, and that showed Minty had a severe form of Spina Bifida. They decided to induce him early knowing he wouldn't survive his condition. The process was understandably heartbreaking. Michelle had a lovely week to start to process things with him still inside but could tell things weren't going well as he'd begun to have seizures in utero. When she did go into labor with Minty it was beautiful and pain free. Minty was born in the caul and just gorgeous. The older kids were there as well as friends and family ready to meet him. Michelle planned to try again but thought it would take awhile this time. Ariya was conceived at the first try and Michelle struggled with her pregnancy early on because she'd fallen pregnant again before Minty's original due date. Michelle didn't labor with Ariya's very much at all. She'd had a couple off and on contractions, mild back pain and by the time she realized it was really labor, Ariya was already on her way out. Her midwives arrived just after the placenta had arrived. It was a beautiful experience supported by her partner and children.
The amazing Aja Whelan-Schrapel and daughter Autumn Claire (5 months). Aja is a former preemie, visually impaired and spent a lot of their school life playing catch-up and trying to respect themself and their body regardless of their confusion and "short-comings". Aja identifies as agender and has spent the past two years coming to terms with the label they've been searching for, for so long and coming out to family and friends. Aja, and Aja's husband approached pregnancy as something that could happen, and they'd figure things out and decide what to do if and when it happened. The pregnancy went medically well, but Aja had moments of loving it and feeling poorly about their body taking on such a feminine form. Labor started slowly with some tiredness and back ache, and it wasn't until things got moving along that Aja felt it was time to head to the birth center. Upon arrival, things were moving along quickly, and Aja felt both waves of support and lack of control. The midwives and staff did a good job of utilizing the pronouns that Aja feels comfortable with, which was nice, but also felt moments of needing to have permission to do what their body needed to do. Aja was told that they'd be allowed one more push before an episiotomy and it was then that Autumn was born. Aja tore three ways and needed to be stitched up, a process that stirred up some past childhood trauma. After birth it was important for Aja to get outdoors with Autumn on her first day of life, they were able to spend a few minutes in the birth center courtyard to regroup. Breastfeeding has gone well for Aja other than some initial pain. At 5 months in, Autumn is starting to become interested in food and play rather than just Aja's breast, which is allowing them to come into a different space as a parent. Being a Zaza (Aja's preferred parental moniker) has been terrifying and raw and humbling and inspiring and confirming.
Aja's reasons for participating are best said themself, "I imagine, years away, showing my children a copy of your book and teaching them that there is no defining normal, teaching my daughter that however she looks, she is beautiful, powerful and free. And there, on the next impatient page turn from her, we see us. I see myself as everything I hoped for because it's true."
The stunning Amy Studden with her daughter Arielle (24), Bradey (21) and twins Amara and Raya (10). Amy had a high-risk pregnancy with her first daughter due to hyperthyroidism and Graves' disease. She ended up having her thyroid removed while 3 months pregnant. Her health improved, and she still needed to be closely monitored, but she was able to have a vaginal birth. Her pregnancy with Bradey was complication-free, and she was able to have another vaginal delivery. Amy became pregnant with her twins several years later and enjoyed another healthy pregnancy even though she was higher risk. There was some concern toward the end of her pregnancy, so she delivered via cesarean at 37 weeks. Amy hadn't been able to breastfeed Arielle or Bradey successfully but was committed with her twins and nursed and pumped for them until they were 18 months old.
Amy's greatest motivations for shooting us had a lot to do with celebrating the accomplishment of creating 4 amazing children, but she also wanted to speak out about a life long struggle with disordered eating. At age 9, Amy started to experiment with anorexia by purging and it continued with increasing severity throughout her life. She also learned to excessively exercise as a way of keeping her weight down. While she sought treatment on and off, it wasn't until 2011 that she entered inpatient treatment for the first time. She completed that program, as well as, a follow up partial hospitalization program and has been working on recovery ever since. While she has continued to struggle with her eating disorder, Amy said that the weeks leading up to her shoot are the longest she's gone without relapse since she was in treatment. While she thought her impending session may have been a trigger, she found it to be motivation to do better.
The gorgeous Karla Griesbaum with her son Gavyn (3) and daughter Allisyn (21 months). Karla has polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and because of its side effects, she struggled with her self-image growing up. She didn't go through puberty until she was 17-18 and was very thin at times and very heavy at others. She struggled with an eating disorder for many years, and while she has been able to refocus herself towards health and fitness, she feels it's still a daily struggle. Due to her PCOS, she struggled with infertility as well and tried for about 2 years with hormone treatments before successfully conceiving Gavyn. Once pregnant, things went very well. She was able to have a natural delivery and a beautiful breastfeeding experience with her son. She was able to conceive Allisyn with much less time and intervention and had another very healthy pregnancy and delivery. She and Allisyn are continuing to enjoy a wonderful breastfeeding relationship today.
The stunning Corinne Oestreich with her son Hunter (3.5 years) and daughter Emma (20 months). Corinne is just a week postpartum from delivering a baby she grew and birthed as a surrogate. Her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage while her husband, a former Marine, was deployed in the Middle East. She feels that high levels of stress knowing her husband was on the front lines every day may have contributed to her loss and is thankful her husband was able to come home to be with her on emergency medical leave. About one year later, she conceived Hunter and had a relatively uneventful pregnancy. She was able to have a vaginal birth without complication and breastfeed Hunter via exclusive pumping for about 9 months. She got pregnant with Emma soon after and had another great experience. Emma nursed until Corinne needed to start taking hormones to carry her surrogate baby. Corinne felt that the shock of seeing her body after her first child was very real, and for a long time after, even into her second pregnancy, she was mourning the body she had before children. Acceptance of her new body took time, and effort, but it was her husband who helped her to love her body the way it is now. Corinne told us, "He said to me in one of my weak moments 'You are even more beautiful, even more sexy to me now when I look at your stretch scars and loose skin, it's a constant reminder to me of the pain and agony you put yourself through to bring us children, and THAT is sexy. I look at your body and now I see a Woman.' From that moment on, I looked at myself differently in the mirror. Instead of seeing a failed body, I saw a warrior, and because my body became my strength, I decided to carry children for other women who longed to become mothers as I was." The mother Corinne became a surrogate for had miscarried 20 children before exploring other options. Corinne had another healthy and happy pregnancy with this baby and says that knowing she was carrying her for someone else was a very different experience. The intended mother held her hand during her birth, and they cried together as she was born. Corinne is currently pumping and shipping milk to her surrogate baby and if/when they don't need anymore she plans to donate to preemies in need.
The lovely Shannon Connor with her daughter Onyx (5 months). Shannon's pregnancy was a surprise, and while it was very healthy physically, she struggled emotionally with feeling stable enough to accept her daughter into her life. She knew immediately that she was here for good but spent a lot of time and energy worrying about being able to provide for her. Her birth was beautiful, empowering and without complication. Her breastfeeding relationship has been wonderful as well. Shannon wants to encourage other young mothers that even if you have worries, it will all be okay, you'll make it work, and the fact that you get to be a mother to your beautiful child is a beautiful thing.