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Climbing and motherhood part 1

15 Sep 2014

I must admit that since becoming a mother I have found it hard to know exactly what to write about on this blog; mainly because I seem to do less climbing and have fewer ascents to write about.  Should I write about my work, clients, training, getting better at climbing or... myself?  I’m not actually sure what people want to hear about so I write about a selection of the above.  A friend recently told me that people actually want to hear more about ‘me’.  Whilst I could actually write a whole book on that subject, it doesn’t mean that it would be right for public consumption!  Some of you may even have read a selection of my blogs that have been live for up to 24 hours, only to be deleted soon after (probably around 3am) for fear of them being too ‘honest’.


There is obviously one topic that I am becoming an expert on:  being a mum and a climber.  People regularly ask me advice on climbing when pregnant and I have realised lately that even women without children may be looking (just as I used to) to people like me keen to hear whether it’s possible to climb hard after children and crucially how to do it.

Vanessa France rucksack

They may be cute, but how compatible is one of these with climbing?

So why have I found it difficult to write on this topic?  Ultimately I think that the reality is bloody hard work and I haven’t wanted to seem like I’m complaining in any way, preaching, alienating anyone or even put people off having children!  I don’t regret having Vanessa for a second, but trying to fit everything into my life that I want to, seems like I’m pulling my hair out a lot of the time.  I regularly question whether I should just give in to being mum, however climbing seems to be completely integral into who I am and hence there are forces out of my control.  You can’t change who you are.


Body harness

The first day I wore a body harness, I didn't like it! My ego took a hit, when a passing climber asked if it was my first ever day out climbing


Why am I ready now to write?  It’s partly because of what a friend said to me recently, but after a summer of injury (finger and elbow) and endless resting, I’m now back climbing (still injured, resting did nothing), Vanessa has just started school (freedom!) and I am in a better headspace.  I might just have turned a big corner and feel optimistic about climbing more.


So without wanting to complain, and by simply putting my experiences forward I will endeavour to communicate my challenges of being a climbing mum.


I personally believe that climbing as a mum has different obstacles to being a dad.  First of all the obvious: carrying a baby inside of you.  I was fearful of pregnancy and pretty much terrified of birth.  I didn’t write that in my blogs before did I?!  Aside from making the decision to actually have a baby (very difficult from my perspective – didn’t talk about that either), giving up your whole body for 9 months and beyond (if you breastfeed as I did for 6 months), the birth and then the recovery to full form fitness is literally FULL ON.

Vanessa Rubicon

Vanessa sitting still (for about 2 minutes) at Rubicon.  I actually got quite fit traversing here


Secondly, our culture and society.  We are constantly, either consciously or subconsciously, fighting this super mum thing (you rarely hear ‘super dad’ being banded about do you), and this term, in my mind, should be banned.  What this practically means is that literally nothing you achieve will ever seem to be enough.  Society pressures us to regain our figures, our work and everything else, ideally effortlessly and quickly.  Sometimes media reports of women climbing hard during pregnancy and immediately after the birth do not actually help (or at least it didn’t help me).  If your bump doesn’t allow you even get off the sofa easily or your joints are so lax they may snap, that’s not your fault, it’s just the way your body works.  Women climbing hard just before or after they pop is one big mystery to me.


Thirdly: guilt.  This was certainly, for me, unexpected.  That heavy, thick, dark cloud seems to accompany me many places but mysteriously disappears whenever I’m with Vanessa.  Why do I feel ‘guilty’ when I climb and Vanessa goes to nursery (I’ve only done this about 4 times), why do most mothers feel terribly torn, even after a year of maternity leave (men only get 1-2 weeks) in that decision whether or when to return to work?  From my observations, again, men struggle less with this.

Chesterfield wall

The brick walls of Sheffield are definately useful when things get desperate.  This one off Chesterfield road is good for low level endurance, while Broomgrove is more for finger endurance


I really want to emphasise that I’m not saying that dads have an easy ride.  I am so glad I don’t have that ‘bread winner’ weight dangling round my neck and of course dads get tired and run down too, just as mums do.  But what I’m saying is that mums have different issues to deal with.


So if you can wade through all of that, you could well be set for a climbing come back!


Before I continue, here are my 2 golden rules of being a mum (which I aspire to but do not always manage to adhere to):


  1. Do not at any time compare yourself to anyone else.  Everybody’s bodies and lives are completely different.
  2. Whether you realise it or not you are always doing your best.

Wow, I really should pay a bit more attention to those two points.


France V asleep

Our first day climbing at a crag with Vanessa.  It looks so easy here but this was the only day we managed to get her to sleep at the crag (not in a pram) that holiday in France.


I need to be careful that this doesn’t not turn into chapter 1 of a book, but I will go ahead and talk about my early stages of having Vanessa.

  • The pregnancy was great, in fact I enjoyed it.
  • I had a hard time leaving my ego behind in pregnancy – standing on Nic’s back (around 5 months pregnant) to overcome a steep start in an effort to lead an HVS in Northumberland and still not managing it was a low point.
  • I stopped climbing and physical work at 6 months pregnant (I should have stopped jumaring next to clients a shit load earlier though). 
  • The birth was hell but obviously successful.
  • Breastfeeding was a killer, but I wouldn’t have done anything else.
  • I didn’t lose any weight (and lost all ability to do a single pull up) until I finished breastfeeding.
  • I didn’t feel the need to remind myself that I felt like a sack of potatoes so after a couple of early attempts I didn’t even try climbing until Vanessa was about 4 months (I spent my time doing pilates instead).
  • My body took a very long time to recover (about a year) and fine tuning is still ongoing.  It took 2 years to regain previous best and after 3 I was climbing better than ever.  I felt like I took it slowly.
  • It was 16 months before Vanessa went to nursery and whilst I did bits of work in that period, I didn’t do nearly as much as I do now.

Vanessa’s first year was one of the happiest of my life.


During that first year I got more climbing in that I could have anticipated and I climbed with pure joy.  I trad climbed on Lundy, North Wales, sport climbed in France and the Peak and enjoyed every second I had on the rock.  How did I do this?  I was extremely motivated and Vanessa couldn’t really move!  During all my non-rock time she would sit in the pram, sit on the floor, mostly fit in with what I wanted to do and sleep... she’s always been a good sleeper.  Plus I didn’t work as much as I do now.  I kept fit through walking everywhere with the pram, visited my local wall probably twice a week and climbed outside once a week, only on climbs that were well within my grade. 


We have not really mastered in any shape or form taking Vanessa to the crag – whilst we have done it, it was always a big hassle and a bit of a stress from my side of things.  So we don’t really bother trying any more and that one day a week outside has always been a haven of me time, something I can barely manage without.


Me on Supercharged in Lundy (E5 but more more E4 in reality).  I was so keen I forgot the tide was coming in... we just managed to get onto that ledge in time.

Everything I did felt like a bonus.  Never again will I experience of the euphoria of notching up a grade like that each week.  By the end of that first year I had redpointed 7c and onsighted E4 (it said E5 in the book, but I’m being realistic about the grade): all some way below my max but every single climb felt amazing.


And then things changed:  Vanessa learned to walk and I placed more expectations on myself.


Installment 2 coming soon...