Like many moms-to-be, Andrea Grant booked a maternity photo shoot to celebrate her pregnancy. But Grant’s photos did more than show off her growing belly; they inspired people everywhere to love their bodies.
“Somewhere a child or a survivor has seen it and they have gotten strength from it. I am very, very happy about that,” Grant, 24, told TODAY. “I think it is so important that the female burn survivors have other burn survivors to look up to.”
Fifteen years ago, when she was 9, Grant was in a gas explosion that covered 85 percent of her body with third-degree burns. Since then, she has seen the stares of people wondering what is wrong with her. She's experienced days when she felt ugly, when she worried about how she might look in the future. And she longed to see more women with scars as role models.
“I didn’t have anybody to look up, to say, ‘This is how you look now, but this is how you can look in 10 or 15 years,’” she said.
On that day in 2001, Grant and her 11-year-old brother, Kendell Campbell, came home from school. Normally, they waited outside for their older sister, but on this day they had a key. With no idea that the gas line in the stove was leaking, and that gas had flooded the house, they opened the door and went inside. Campbell flicked on the light switch and the house exploded. A wall fell on Grant.
The two were flown from Jacksonville, Florida, to Gainesville as doctors rushed to treat the bone-deep burns covering their bodies. Grant flat-lined; after doctors resuscitated and stabilized her, they sent her to Galveston, Texas, to recover. For four months, she and her brother learned how to use their fingers and hands, and to walk again.
In the years that followed, Grant underwent numerous skin grafts and 10 surgeries. Her burns were so deep, doctors used thick layers of skin grafted onto her belly and back. But this made them unsure that Grant could carry a baby to term, since they feared her belly couldn’t stretch.
Four years ago, Grant had a daughter, Jada, and she carried her to term. But she felt so nervous about her pregnancy that she shared little about it. She'd founded a nonprofit, Beyond Scars, before she became pregnant, and she'd started working as a motivational speaker and advocate for burn survivors, but sharing details of her pregnancy felt too scary at the time.
As the years passed, some burn survivors asked Grant about her pregnancy; they knew only what their doctors said about the risks of pregnancy, and they yearned to hear her story. After she became pregnant with her second child, she began to open up, posting pictures of her growing belly on Instagram.
Her belly stretched, but carrying a baby with such deep scarring brought extra pain, especially during her fifth month. She moisturized and massaged her belly at least twice daily to ease some of the discomfort.
“It’s very painful,” she said. “You have to keep the scars soft.”
Grant wanted more than just selfies to remember her second pregnancy, so she decided to book a photo session with a professional photographer at 36 weeks, when she felt confident she could deliver her baby safely.
“When I did that pregnancy shoot it wasn’t for social media and it wasn’t to go viral," she said. "It was to celebrate the achievement of my second pregnancy.”
She felt beautiful in the pictures, and she posted them on social media. One picture on Instagram has been liked more than 20,000 times. She feels stunned.
“To have people encourage me and congratulate me and say the picture had an influence, I think that is a blessing and an overwhelming feeling that can’t be described,” she said. “I always wanted to be that face or advocate for burn survivors. I just didn’t think it would happen overnight.”
On Oct. 12, in her 40th week, Grant delivered a healthy, 6-pound, 8-ounce boy, Marcus. While she exceeded expectations by carrying a second baby to full term, parenthood feels the same to her as anyone else. She's exhausted, but happy.