Three years after the birth of her youngest son, Stephanie Bruce has accepted the fact that her stomach will never look the same as the other runners’.
As Health reports, the 36-year-old professional runner finished second at the California International Marathon in November and tenth at the 2017 New York City Marathon. But even pro athletes sometimes struggle with body image.
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#7weekspostpartum I can stick 3 fingers in between my 2 ab walls. But it's not about ascetics it's about functionality. Here you go for those who have been curious and asked about my Diastasis Recti: "My abs are separated contemplating divorce" blog up on my website. Link in profile. #journeywithsteph
Bruce gave birth to two boys, born 15 months apart. On her blog, she wrote about how hard the two pregnancies were on her body:
My stomach grew very large and very out. My babies were also on the bigger side, eight and 9 lbs. So what did I do? After I gave birth to my first son Riley, I was a mess. I had a very aggressive delivery and a grade four tear with an episiotomoy. My first run was seven weeks postpartum and my uterus just about fell out of me during that three minute jog. The next run, I shit my pants.
Even as Bruce worked to get back into running shape, she was trying to deal with her new postpartum body. She wrote:
I didn’t know how to face the problems that my new body were now presenting me with: Incontinence, pain in my pelvis and lower back, prolapse, and lack of muscle coordination.
By the time her second son was born, Bruce found herself with another issue that wouldn’t go away – Diastasis recti (DR).
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Yeah I thought I was a little nuts to race 2 marathons within 28 days. But a bit of faith, a bit of guts, a bit of grit and I’m hobbling away from today with a new marathon PB of 2:29:20 and 2nd place at the US Marathon Champs. It took 7 years, 2 babies. So if you want something, put in the time and go earn that shit. @hokaoneone @naz_elite @procompression @pickybars @bedgear ? @mitchellflippin
According to the National Institutes of Health, DR refers to a separation between the left and right sides of the rectus abdominus muscle, or the “abs” that cover your stomach. It can occur in pregnant women due to the strain on the abdominal wall. In extreme cases, the outline of the uterus and baby can be seen pressing against the abdominal wall during late pregnancy.
Bruce has been candid about her issues with DR. Seven weeks after her son’s birth, she posted a photo on Instagram demonstrating the split that left her able to, “stick three fingers in between my two ab walls.”
Able to work with high-level trainers and doctors, Bruce has spent three years trying to improve the condition of her abs. At the same time, she wants other women to know that this is something that should be shared and that they shouldn’t be ashamed of DR.
Last week, Bruce shared another photo of her stomach for every mom who is struggling with DR. She wrote:
This is as good as it will get for me. I still have a 1 finger gap, extra saggy skin, and stretch marks. But my core is also the strongest it’s ever been, and the proof has been no major injuries in my hips, glute, back, and core since giving birth.
At the same time, she added that “This is how I look, but not how I feel.” Bruce said that her core feels strong whenever she trains or races.
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For all you post partum moms who have reached out about my experience with DR, this one’s for you. This is my stomach 3 years post partum. This is as good as it will get for me. I still have a 1 finger gap, extra saggy skin, and stretch marks. But my core is also the strongest it’s ever been, and the proof has been no major injuries in my hips, glute, back, and core since giving birth. This is how I look, but not how I feel. When I’m training hard, lifting, sprinting at the end of races I feel the strongest core possible. It doesn’t look the same as the women I race against who haven’t given birth, but who gives a crap. It took me a while to be comfortable in my own skin, but every time I run in a sports bra, wear crop top shirts I grow a little more confident in my post partum body. I wrote about my experience with Diastasis Recti and the steps I took to get from peeing my pants constantly, pain in my pelvis to years later crushing it. Read on, hope it helps, link in my bio?? #diastasisrecti #journeywithsteph
She wrote, “It doesn’t look the same as the women I race against who haven’t given birth, but who gives a crap?”
Bruce’s openness about DR has been an inspiration to other women struggling with a separated, saggy stomach. In response to Bruce’s Instagram post, one commenter wrote:
This is an awesome post. I’m a year and five months post C-section and training for a marathon that’s in two weeks. I still have this no matter how many crunches, sit-ups or planks I do. This totally empowers me and made me feel awesome. Thanks so much for posting this.
Another commenter said thanked Bruce, saying, “I have had the toughest time coming to terms with my body in its post-childbearing state. These types of posts are so encouraging!”
Bruce admits that it took time to come to terms with her postpartum stomach, but she is finally there. She wrote:
“It took me a while to be comfortable in my own skin, but every time I run in a sports bra, wear crop top shirts I grow a little more confident in my postpartum body.”