She ran a half marathon five months after giving birth to her second baby, but super fit mum Stephanie Bruce is honest about the realities of her post-partum body.
The 32-year-old US woman last year welcomed her second son just 15 months after having her first baby. She has trained hard to get back into the sport she loves, but pregnancy has left the professional runner with abdominal separation and it is a reality which she does not try to hide from the world.
"I can stick 3 fingers in my belly in the space between the left and right sides of my abdominal muscles. It's the most unnatural natural part of pregnancy and the postpartum side effects. They call this diastasis recti and it is the bane of my existence. The latin word 'diastasis' means separation," Stephanie wrote in her blog.
"Hence separation of the rectus abdominis. Why does this happen? During pregnancy the abdominals start to separate to accommodate the growing uterus. The connective tissue known as linea alba which joins the left and right side, starts to stretch and thin.
"This is a necessary process to make room for the expansion of the uterus, but body size, size of baby, and positioning of baby are all factors that can create distasis. There are no universal studies or research on whether having strong vs. weak abs pre pregnancy, a short vs. long torso, or core work performed during pregnancy make the difference in the degree of DR."
"The 10k that was more than just 6.2 miles." My post race recap up on my website. A little inside into how I got to racing 5 months post partum, my support team, the feeling of crossing a finish line again, and in true #keepinitreal Steph fashion a little anecdote towards the end. Warning may be TMI for some:) Enjoy! Link in profile.
Stephanie is sharing her story in a bid to help other women suffering from abdominal separation. In addition to her running, she also does daily core strengthening exercises as she attempts to repair the separation.
She shares the exercises with her readers but points out her reason for wanting to repair the separation is to avoid other problems such as back and joint pain, not for the sake of appearance.
"Looks aside, you can have distasis recti that never fully closes but still have functioning core muscles if they are activated and stabilising correctly. Basically you can have a gap in your stomach but if you have no back pain, pelvis or SI (sacroiliac) joint issues, and no incontinence most likely everything is in working order.
"Let's look at this as nature's way of giving some women a permanent 'love handle' down the middle of our belly.
"I stress this to convey that the focus shouldn't be on repairing ourselves aesthetically but functionally."
Stephanie's honesty and advice is being appreciated by other woman who suffered abdominal separation following pregnancy.
"Thanks for keeping it real and being so open. I carried twin boys ... It has been 11 years since they were born and I still consider myself a work in progress. I have embraced my saggy, stretchy skin and know that the result was worth it," one fellow mum wrote.
"Thank you so much for bringing more attention to this issue! I love that you are facilitating open and honest conversations about what happens to women's bodies during and after pregnancy," said another.
Posting after recently completing a half marathon, her first in three years, Stephanie said she hopes she can inspire other new mums to stay active.
"Not many women I raced today were pumping breast milk pre-race, but it can be done. I hope more pro-runner ladies don't wait for their careers to end to have babies. I hope runner mamas everywhere find belief and strength and humour in their post-baby comeback," she wrote.
"I hope men runners aren't weirded or grossed out by the realities of a mum runner. Because the mum strength and power is real ya'll."