24/03/2014 12:52 GMT | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

'Women's Bodies After Pregnancy Are Beautiful And Strong'

Photographer Ashlee Wells Jackson is on a mission to change the way we think about our bodies after pregnancy - the fourth trimester, as she calls it - and embrace 'the changes brought to our bodies by motherhood, childbirth and breastfeeding'.

As part of her 4th Trimester Bodies Project, Chicago-based Ashlee is coming to the UK to photograph mothers who are willing to bare their bodies.

Ashlee describes her photography project as,


A photo documentary about women like me, who are strong, capable, beautiful mothers, but who have battle wounds from experiences that changed our visions of who we are.


Ashlee''s motivation for starting the project is personal.

Through her career, Ashlee has shot hundreds of photos of beautiful women. But she was shocked by the attitudes of most of the ordinary women she photographed.

"I started to notice that most of them had real body issues and were very uncomfortable in their skin," says Ashlee. "They wanted us to nip and tuck them in post processing and turn them into somebody that they weren't.

"That never sat right with me and it's not something I was comfortable doing as an artist. At my studio we take beautiful photos by working with women to find wardrobe and poses that showcase who they are in the best light, but we don't alter photos."

As someone who had always felt positively about her body, Ashlee found it hard to identify with the women she photographed. But last year her attitude changed.

Already mum to eight-year-old Xavier, she discovered she was expecting identical twin girls. She named her unborn babies Nova Emery and Aurora Eisley.

At her second trimester scan she discovered she had Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome - a condition caused by abnormal blood vessels in the twins' shared placenta, which if undetected carries a higher risk of foetal death.

Ashlee went into premature at 24 weeks and her babies had to be born emergency caesarean section. Aurora was stillborn.

It was discovered that the girls came so suddenly due to an E-coli infection which then spread to Ashlee's Caesarean incision, leaving her with a large scar. The 'traumatising' experience, completely changed the way Ashlee felt about her body.

She says: "Your job as a mother is to keep your children safe. I hadn't been able to keep one of my daughters alive, let alone bring her respite in the way that I wanted to.

"I felt like a failure physically, and that was the first time that I understood all those women I had been photographing. Unfortunately it took that experience for me to identify and realise it was part of a much larger problem in our society."

Ashlee decided to tackle the problem through photography as, she said, "That's all I really knew."

"I was literally standing in the shower one morning, crying and thinking, I'm tired of feeling this way. That's when I decided that I needed to do something about it."

The first shot Ashlee took was a self portrait of herself cradling her daughter Nova to her bare chest.

"I felt that if I'm going to ask other women to be brave enough to take part, I had to be the first one in front of the camera," she says. "I don't enjoy being on that side of the camera so it was very hard for me. But the shift that happened to my perspective was amazing.

"I still have hard days, when clothes don't fit right, but it's amazing to be able to look at my photo and see that woman as beautiful, brave and strong. I know that if I can see those things in that image, then I can change my thoughts about myself too."

Ashlee has already amassed a large photo collection for The 4th Trimester Bodies Project.

Click through the photo gallery below for some examples of her work and the inspiring stories of the women she has photographed.