Written Sept 2014… (very interesting now to look back on the ‘me’ then! - in fact I deleted loads of sections when I reposted this July 2019). Leading up to this blog I’d found it hard to write about being a mum and climber (and hadn’t done) - because basically I found the combination really hard - and it felt like what you were ‘supposed’ to say isn’t what I wrote below!! The reason I wrote in the end because at the time friends were asking me to - especially ones who hadn’t yet had children. So this is what I wrote - it seems honest and fairly brutal!
I personally believe that climbing as a mum has different obstacles to being a dad. These are just MY ramblings of course. And everyone has a very different experience. I was very fearful of pregnancy and pretty much terrified of birth. Aside from making the decision to actually have a baby (very difficult from my perspective - how would I really balance everything and climbing already gives such as full life doesn’t it), 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 fitness is literally FULL ON.
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.
I really want to emphasise that I’m not saying that dads have an easy ride - it is just different. I am so glad I don’t have that ‘bread winner conditioning’ 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):
Do not at any time compare yourself to anyone else. Everybody’s bodies and lives are completely different.
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.
Here are some key ‘fact's’ from pregnancy and the early years 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). My abs suffered.
The birth was hell but obviously successful.
Breastfeeding was a physical drain, 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).
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.
My body took a very long time to recover and fine tuning is still ongoing. It took 2 years to reach my previous best climbng form but more like 3 to really be back in the swing. 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.
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. Every single climb felt amazing. AND Vanessa’s first year was one of the happiest of my life.
Addition 2019: If If I could give one piece of advice looking back, it would be to truely listen to your body and go as gently as possible - pushing too hard WILL catch up with you in some way down the line. Looking back - I wasn’t always kind with myself or my body - my expectations where way out (I’m still learning). But I’ve learnt really (probably the hard way), genuinely I need to climb - when I make time for myself and give myself what I need, I am a much better, more giving parent.