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This mom felt 'broken' after childbirth. Now she's teaching women to 'heal' their postpartum bodies.

The mother behind
The mother behind the exercise platform called Get Mom Strong talks about healing her postpartum body. (Illustration by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo / Photo: Getty Images)

It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.

Nothing is predictable when it comes to parenting — including when it comes to one's postpartum body. That's what Ashley Nowe, pregnancy and postpartum exercise specialist and founder of Get Mom Strong, has learned as the mother of four.

"After I had [twins], I went from having been an athlete and kind of that stereotypical bounce-back body after my first to just being completely… I mean, there's no other word except for 'broken,' really," she tells Yahoo Life. "I felt like my body wasn't working properly."

It was a very different reality for the athletic Nowe, who was used to taking up CrossFit competitions as a hobby, from having her first son at 25 and seeing that her body "bounced back instantly."

Despite carrying two children — one at 7 pounds and the other at 6, she admits, "I still fully thought I would bounce back. I really did. I was like, 'I did it once, I'll do it again, like, no problem.' And I had this notion that all it takes is hard work."

In hindsight, she recognizes such thinking was a result of prominent "bounce-back" culture. "That's the lie we're told: 'If you work hard enough, you can look like you did not have a baby, too," she says, adding that being "cleared" to return to normal activity at the six-week postpartum checkup with the twins contributed to the notion that she should get back into the gym.

She continued to not look or feel like herself and realized something was different that time around.

"I self-diagnosed with diastasis recti [abdominal separation]. I was like, 'Why is there a football popping out of my stomach?' That's how I would describe it when I was doing a sit up," she recalls. "I got asked all the time if I was pregnant. It was just like a really humbling experience to kind of go from one body into another."

Nowe's OBGYN confirmed the diagnosis at a later follow-up. "She said surgery is the only fix. So I literally sat out in my car and cried," Nowe says. "I was like, I don't want to have surgery. I have four-month-old twin boys like, what? I don't have time to go get surgery, nor do I want it."

Additional research led her to discover that diastasis recti is related to the pelvic floor and that physical therapy could possibly address the issue. That, explains, " Advanced Pelvic & Spine Physical Therapy on its website, is because "diastasis recti is a condition in which an abdominal muscle fascial line has weakened." It continues, "Pelvic floor physical therapists help build core strength while offloading the linea alba [a band of fibrous tissue running down the middle of the abdominal wall from the base of the sternum to the top of the pelvis] through core control and breathing strategies."

Nowe found a physical therapist, she says, and "I went to her and she literally changed my life. She taught me how to breathe, connect with my core, use my pelvic floor and I thought: Why didn't I know this?"

While working to heal the body that she had seen as "broken" by childbirth, Nowe learned more about it than ever before. Most importantly, she was able to acknowledge the unnecessary pressure that women put on their own bodies.

"We're just not taught how to use our core. As women, we suck in a lot, so we really lose touch with it. And it goes back to body image, right? We suck in because we feel like we should look skinny, we're not allowed to have stomachs. Because of that we mess up our whole core breathing system," she explains.

It's made worse when people don't give their bodies time to heal after childbirth.

"It's that bounce-back culture that gets us in so much trouble," she says. "Your pelvic floor, whether you've had a vaginal delivery or a C section, has just been through a lot and your body and core system have been through a lot. So to skip the rehab portion is honestly absurd."

"It's not about willpower, but it’s actually a legitimate function of our bodies that we need to rehab and heal," she continues. "I think we take a problem that we may have already had and we exacerbate it because we have this urgency to get our bodies back."

Nowe's own experience encouraged her to want to help other women. "I went and got certified as a pre- and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. I took a bunch of coursework and really immersed myself in it so that I could help other women heal," she says. "So I switched careers, started sharing tips on Instagram and the response was large, because you know what? Nobody was helping us."

Today, Nowe coaches a community of women through her Get Mom Strong platform and Strong Like a Mother (SLAM) fitness app, with programs that focus on the functionality of postpartum bodies, rather than appearance.

"I prioritize functionality over aesthetics, having lived through this journey, because I had that functionality taken away from me. So even though my body looks very, very different than it did before I had the twins, I’m just so grateful to be in this body that is strong and healthy and functional," she explains. "I have a ton of skin still. But I have a really strong core and I could do all the things. I could jump on the trampoline, I can run with my kid. And so I celebrate those victories now instead of what I look like in a bikini."

She celebrates this perspective with her community, while encouraging others to do the same.

"A lot of us have experienced body changes postpartum that the magazines might tell you aren't the most beautiful thing, but look at us. I would argue that together, we can change the narrative," she says, noting that she's started with her four boys— the youngest, adopted, now 5 months old — at home. "They are going to be more open, I think, to seeing what a postpartum body looks like. They saw that their mom was softer, and my hope for them is that they'll recognize that that's like a rite of passage."

Nowe even shares that there's a lesson about the overall experience of motherhood to be learned through this journey.

"We have to realize that we're human and some stuff is out of our control. So in the instance of my physical healing, there were a lot of elements that were out of control. I wasn't going to be able to just bounce back instantly, I was going to have to do the rehab work for it," she says. "And I think the same holds true for motherhood. We can't do it all."

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