"When I look down I see stretch marks that are here to stay, ab muscles that need continued strengthening, legs that are powerful, and feet that are ready to fly!"
Stephanie Rothstein Bruce, an elite runner and Olympic hopeful, has been very open, in a super inspiring way, about the realities of her postpartum body after having two babies just 15 months apart.
The 32-year-old from Arizona suffered from "a very bad case of" diastasis recti, which is a separation between the left and right side of the rectus abdomens muscles that can happen during pregnancy. After her baby was born, she had a gap in her abs wide enough across to fit three of her fingers, and loose skin around her navel.
#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
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Rebuilding abdominal strength after diastasis recti is challenging. It can take time and targeted exercises to reduce the size of the cavity. Even as an elite athlete, Bruce was having trouble getting back on track.
"I'm trying to retrain my core muscles to work again," Bruce wrote in a blog post from December (when she was about seven weeks postpartum). "It's tiresome, frustrating at times, and requires mundane and focused energy." Her caption on this side plank selfie: "The not so glamorous part of getting strong post baby."
By chronicling her recovery, and unapologetically sharing photos of her belly on Instagram, Bruce is inspiring other moms (runners and not) who are grappling with their own postpartum realities. "At 5', 100lbs and after 3 babies my belly looks the same," one woman wrote in the comments of the picture above. "It's something I try not to focus on but is something I wish was different. I appreciate your honesty and keeping it real!"
Bruce is currently training for the Olympic Trials in the 10,000-meter event, and doing core exercises twice a day. Below, a snapshot of her feet "ready to fly!"
In an interview with People Bruce acknowledged that she has a long road ahead.
Last weekend was tough to be a spectator and not competing at the marathon trials. But it's never been more clear that it was the smartest decision to not rush back. The patience and work is beginning to show itself. 4 mile tempo: 5:42, 5:36, 5:35, 5:33. 4 x 400 with 1 min rest @ 74, 75, 73, 75. #timetofly #flystyle #journeywithsteph #7000ft. PC: @jenrosario13
Regaining her strength, she said, is "probably something that I will have to work on for years to come, but it's all part of the territory of trying to be a pro athlete and trying to have babies."