What Women Really Look Like 24 Hours Postpartum

Written by Liz Kerins Pacheco
12:20 pm
10/27/15

Photos Courtesy of Jenny Lewis

The 24 hours after a mother gives birth are indescribable–the joy, the pain, the unexpected complications. British photographer Jenny Lewis set out to capture it all in her debut book, One Day Young, which came out earlier this year to rave reviews. The tome chronicles forty mothers from Lewis’ London neighborhood on their first day as moms. The result is breathtakingly beautiful as each woman looks more peaceful and alive than the next (and those sweet little babies have our ovaries a-buzz!). We had a chance to chat with Lewis about how she came up with the idea for this project and what she hopes women will see as they flip through the pages. Check it out below, as well as some our favorite pics from the book.

Where did the idea for this project come from?
“I had a really good birth. I was lucky. Of course, it was really hard, but it was manageable. I’m not saying everything was a complete breeze—there was mastitis and expressing milk in train toilets on my way to jobs, it’s all a nightmare juggle. But all I ever heard about was epidurals and cesareans and pain and fear. There may have been positive information out there, but it didn’t jump out at me. I don’t think one person said, ‘Believe in yourself.’ But then I had Ruby and I thought ‘I’m okay, I’m still me.’ And then I did it again, and again, it was fine. I suppose I felt angry—why didn’t I have that positive message? I wanted to get my story out to give others a voice I hadn’t heard. I don’t mean to suggest it’s a breeze and everything will be over in an hour. But childbirth is okay for some people and it might be okay for you. And even if it’s really hard, you’re still going to be okay with the proper support. It’s not that the people with troubled birth stories shouldn’t have a voice, but they shouldn’t be the only voice. My project is one side of the story, but that story isn’t talked about very much, and it could actually be pretty useful to hear.”

What did the first day with your own children look like?
“I have two children. Ruby is eight and Herb is now six. And do you know what? I cannot remember what the first day looked like. No one took a photo. Ruby was born in the hospital and I wanted to go home as soon as possible so her first day was at home with various visitors popping in throughout the day. Herb was born at home a couple of years later. I caught him myself in the water (before the midwives arrived!). We spent his first day in bed without visitors, just taking it all in.”

How did you meet the women you photographed for the project?
“After Herb was born, I began dropping leaflets all over London: ‘Would you be interested in being photographed with your baby, one day old?’ The replies came trickling in. Each was supposed to text me when their contractions started, but they usually forgot and I would get a call saying, ‘Oh, sorry, but I’ve had the baby. Can you come?'”

Were the women you photographed shy or hesitant about the process?
“Undoubtedly, the strength of women has blown me away time and time again. Single mothers, women that have lost previous babies, young women who feel emotionally isolated, first-time mothers full of fear, fourth-time mothers juggling the needs of their family, as well as women in stable, loving relationships. From somewhere they have all found the strength and courage to go through the challenge of birth and come out the other side triumphant. I’ve had the honor of capturing them at such an important transition in their lives, the best they will ever feel, full to bursting with love for the baby and with a raw pride in themselves.”

What surprised you most about the series—the babies or the mothers?
“It’s odd. We’re complete strangers, yet I’ve had the most in-depth, emotional conversations, which wasn’t something I was expecting. A real connection rather than just taking a portrait. It may be that they’ve spent ten years going through IVF to have this baby. One woman talked about how her mother had died giving birth to her. It’s not the normal small talk that goes on in a portrait session.They don’t say what they think I’d like to hear, or dilute it for politeness’ sake. It’s as if whatever is in their head just comes out without the usual filters.”

What do you think is so special about those first 24 hours after birth?
“I remember feeling like an Amazonian warrior in that first 24 hours after I had my kids and I see this same look in these women’s eyes: fierce raw pride softened with a measure of pure bliss. These women don’t know what’s around the corner, especially the first-time moms. The whirlwind hasn’t hit them yet, but they look ready for anything. I used to come away fascinated. What’s next for them?”

One Day Young, $12.67, Amazon.

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