Stephanie Bruce is the current USA Track and Field champion in the 10K. She’ll defend her title this Saturday, June 8, at the NYRR New York Mini 10K, which is host to this year’s USATF 10K Women’s Championships.
I had two pregnancies very close together; my sons are 15 months apart. It wasn’t my plan or my path, but life happens when you’re busy making other plans. After giving birth to my first son, Riley, I was a mess. I had a very aggressive delivery and a grade 4 tear with an episiotomy. I struggled quite a bit the first couple of months navigating sleep deprivation, changes to my body, recovering from the birth, and all the new emotions that come with being a new mom. And then it was back to work (that is, until I found out I was pregnant with my second son, Hudson, a few months later).
I’m a professional runner, so going back to work after both of my pregnancies meant something different than it might mean for other mothers: it meant that I was on the roads, training my body back into competitive shape. It wasn’t easy—during my first run after having Riley, at seven weeks postpartum, it felt like my uterus was about to fall out of me during that three-minute jog. The next run, I shit my pants. Yes, I laughed and I shit my pants. This is shit (ha ha!) you can’t make up and you can’t talk about in most settings, but it’s a shame because it’s real life. It’s not gross and shouldn’t be kept in the constraints of hospital walls and ob/gyn appointments. There should be more discussion from women, with women, and even with men about this.
Photo credit: Ryan Sterner
Truthfully, I didn’t really know what I was doing coming back from giving birth that first time. There were many times when I had to research and teach myself things to help me return to training because there wasn’t much information out there from women or athletes that had gone through it and shared their experience. For example, I discovered I had a condition called diastasis recti, which is when your ab muscles separate because of pregnancy. Even though it’s a common issue, I still felt like I knew little about it since there weren’t many athletes talking about it. I had to work hard to figure out how to treat it (thankfully, I found Celeste Goodson of ReCORE, who has helped me immensely), and I made it my mission to be public about the changes to my body following each pregnancy in order to help other mothers going through the same thing.
Through it all, I don’t know what I would’ve done without help from the people in my life. I’m lucky that I had tremendous support from my husband Ben, my coach, my training group, my agent, and my sponsor, Hoka One One, all of whom supported me 100 percent. When I got pregnant accidentally the second time, my agent had to have the hard conversations to tell my sponsor that I wouldn’t be returning to competition like we thought because I was having another baby. Hoka didn’t even think twice—they congratulated me and told me to take my time to get back and they would be supporting me all the way through it. I’m very grateful to have had that kind of encouragement and support when I needed it most. I was able to take about three years off from racing competitively, which helped me focus on time with my boys and gain my strength back.
Now, at three-plus years post-partum, I feel like the strongest version of myself as a woman and a runner. Of course, I grapple with feelings of mom guilt, especially when I have to leave my kids to go race or put them in childcare so I can train and do my job, but I’m grateful to have a team behind me to help me do what I love while being a mom. I also continue to work on my diastasis recti and will do so for the remainder of my life. My aim not just physically but emotionally has been to encourage and inspire women to not feel ashamed of their post-partum bodies and bellies. I now thank my body for how much it has improved and how much strength I’ve gained over the years. It may not look like it did before I had babies, but it is achieving more on the track and roads than it ever has. In fact, last month, I won my second national title at the US Half Marathon Championships in Pittsburgh, where I also nabbed a personal best time of 1:10:44. And after crossing that finish line, elated and exhausted, you can bet I thanked everyone who helped get me there.
Photo credit: Ryan Sterner
Stephanie Rothstein Bruce is a professional distance runner for HOKA NAZ Elite and a mom of two toddler boys. She lives and trains in Flagstaff, AZ alongside her husband Ben, where they run a coaching Business called Running with the Bruces. Stephanie has been running professionally for the past decade and recently won her second national title at the 2019 US Half Marathon Championships in Pittsburgh, PA.