By Nora Hakramaj
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Videographer / director: Susan Tan
Producer: Nora Hakramaj, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal
As a health and fitness coach, Kylee Austin, 30, from Gilbert, Arizona, was used to being in control of her body. Before she had her first son, Tristan, two years ago, she would compete in bikini competitions. But after giving birth to twins Kayden and Keegan by C-section, Kylee struggled to regain her former toned tummy and found the scars and excess skin on her stomach difficult to accept.
Now Kylee is reclaiming her body – and encouraging other mums to do the same, sharing her story online to show the real side of pregnancy and having kids.
She told Barcroft TV: “I had to look at my sons and really think, wow my body carried these babies and it is amazing.
“There is nothing I can do to take away from the fact that I was able to carry these babies full-term and even though my body looks the way it does, I should be proud of it and I should be proud of myself.”
When Kylee was induced on the 38th week of her pregnancy, the twins flipped over and were in breech. After almost 24 hours of labour, doctors decided to give her an emergency C-section - it was the first major procedure Kylee had ever had.
Kylee said: “I was so scared. I was honestly the most scared I have ever been in my entire life.”
“The labour, the carrying the babies this long, all of that came down to this moment at 5am in the morning without sleep, with pain and all this anxiety. And finally I had to accept that I was going to have a C-section. So, for me it was very difficult to accept that my body wasn’t able to do what it was supposed to do.”
Even though Kylee was recovering from a major procedure, she says that as a fitness professional, she still felt pressure to “bounce back”.
She told Barcroft TV: “I think like any mom I struggled with body image issues right after giving birth.
“I think the lowest point for me confidence-wise was a few months down the road when the scars are still there, the stretch marks are still there and knowing and having to accept that - that is just going to be my new reality, looking down at my belly and still seeing every single day the skin flaps, the stretch marks, the lack of a belly button, all the things that would bother me.”
And alongside the physical challenges of recovering from the major surgery Kylee also struggled with postpartum depression.
She said: “I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety and I feel like the hardest part of those things is doing it by myself and I suffered from postpartum depression with my first son, and I didn’t realise it until I had started to become vulnerable with my social media and all of these women reaching out to me saying ‘I felt the exact same way.’”
Hoping to provide an alternative to the unrealistic images of new mums that dominate celebrity magazines, Kylee regularly posts photos of herself in workout gear on her Instagram page.
She also offers health and fitness tips for women who have gone through pregnancy and may have lost strength in their core.
Kylee says that she mostly receives positive feedback from other mums with similar experiences, but still receives some negative comments.
She said: “Some of my twin-bump photos got the worst comments. I have gotten comments like, ‘Oh hell no, I cannot believe you put that on social media’, I’ve had people say ‘that is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen.’”
However Kylee’s husband Joshua, a 30-year-old reserved air force officer, supports her journey and is the first one to comfort Kylee when she is the target of harsh comments.
Joshua said: “I think she has always been very motivational and that is why I think she has got such a big following on like the social media, but what specifically I think she has done to allow other moms to embrace their C-section scars.”
“I am super proud of Kylee because she is so open and I think that is so challenging, scary to be that open to all these people.”
Kylee plans to carry on being a stay-at-home mum, and to keep using her social platforms to help women see the beauty in their postpartum bodies.
She said: “Beauty is just confidence. Beauty is literally whatever’s inside of you, how do you feel about yourself, how you recognise yourself and live out loud.
“My opinion has changed so much in the fact that beauty is love. Beauty is that gorgeous connection between a mother and a child, that sacrificial attitude that you would do anything for this little tiny baby. That is what’s beautiful in the world.”