Jan 23 2014

Climbing Pregnant: Month One: How to Listen to your Body

It’s very interesting to me to look back on the first couple months and see how hard it was for me, what a different mind set I was in with the unknowns and worries, coupled with the sickness and physical changes. I’m glad that I documented this when I was going through it, even though it was a difficult space to be in.


We found out the day after Max died. The first pregnancy test read positive. Then so did the second. One of the saddest times of my life was crashing head first into what was supposed to be one of the happiest. But it wasn’t. Looking at that blue indicator strip, it was hard to feel any joy. My constant companion had left me the day before, and I was still reeling—lost and aimless.


Emotionally it was so hard not to tell people. One of my good friends was also pregnant (about 3 months ahead of me) and I wanted to talk to her about it, but then my nervous, worried self took over. What if I miscarried? And she was having a healthy pregnancy and baby? Which would be harder to deal with? Being such a private person, I opted to not say much, but I almost spilled the news a few times.


The first month for me was a rough one. In the wake of Max’s death, I was still trying to regain some sort of normality in my life. I wanted to keep climbing, running and exercising as long as I could. I was essentially doing anything to delay the inevitable and profound changes I knew were about to take place. I wanted to try and maintain a sense of normal.


That worked really well for a whopping two weeks. Then I started to notice some changes.


I made a couple of phone calls to double check about my body and maintain health without compromising anything with the baby. Even though I am a stubborn, driven athlete, my first concern and line of thought was always for the health of the baby. First was to my amazing hand therapist Brenda in Colorado, who has been through thick and thin with the dozens of finger injuries and shoulder injuries I’ve sustained over the years. She was the first one to tell me almost a decade ago that I would have to be extremely careful if I ever got pregnant because of my already unusually loose joints. She told me to be super careful and just listen to my body because of the hormone Relaxin. Women’s bodies loosen and stretch over their pregnancy to make room for the baby in their belly and eventual birth. The flood of extra loosening hormones in my body, in addition to the Relaxin, would only make my already loose joints even worse.


The second call was to my primary care physician. I had heard from some friends not to get my heart rate above 140, which to me felt like practically walking, as I’m sure it does for a lot of athletes. I wanted to make sure that this was accurate and not outdated. By all means if that’s what I needed to do, then I would absolutely stay below 140. She told me, again, to listen to my body. What did pushing it to me feel like? She said to stay below that level and “No wind sprints or interval training,” she said, laughing. My OB also cited a new study that said the heart rate rule was very outdated.


It’s hard to know what to trust when studies change by the month, and everyone has an opinion about what is dangerous, and what is safe and healthy. This blog is no different. I’m the furthest thing from a doctor, so if your doctor says something different, please listen to him or her.


I gathered as much information as I could from the trusted professionals around me and from the few blogs and information I could find from other mom climbers. From about week two on, I started taking it quite easy with physical activities. At first I jogged at an easy pace. After a few weeks my breasts got so big that it was extremely uncomfortable to run, so I just switched to hiking. Which eventually turned into slow walks.


Occasionally I lifted easy weights: only weights that I could easily do more than 10 reps with. I did this during times that my joints felt too loose to climb—learning, again, to try to listen to my body.


With climbing, I took it easy, climbing up to 5.10+ on top rope. I stuck to my normal climbing schedule climbing every other day, but avoided anything that would put a huge strain on my joints—off-widths, overhanging finger cracks, campusing, etc. I noticed that when warming up my elbows would pop, something that has never happened to me in my almost 20 years of climbing. I could definitely tell that my joints were already looser, so I was especially careful to avoid anything tweaky. I wasn’t concerned about sending hard, I mainly wanted to keep movement and flow up. To me, easy climbing feels like yoga, something especially good for my body, so I wanted to just continue to keep my body stretched and limber. I continued my shoulder exercises religiously, and anything that would keep tension in my joints and ligaments.


A friend of mine had her shoulder pop out of its socket while sleeping on her side during the last few months of her pregnancy. I desperately wanted to keep my troublesome shoulders as healthy as possible and avoid relapsing on all the rehab I’ve been doing over the last few years.


By this time I had shared the news about the pregnancy with a few family members and my closest friends, which felt like an amazing outlet to have. I think if it just had been me and Randy, I would have combusted with questions, excitement, worry, and emotion.


The first two weeks of being pregnant were a honeymoon. I was under the guise that I was one of the lucky women who avoided morning sickness, but right around week two it hit me; morning sickness. I’m not even sure why they call it “morning sickness” as it lasts all day! Eating healthy is important to me, and I love having a variety of fruits, vegetables and pasture-raised meats and eggs. But I couldn’t even cook or think of cooking for the next three months, nor could I even stand having Randy cook if I were in the house. Cooking good food is a huge passion of mine, but the smells and thought of preparing food would send me over the edge. We took to eating out, deciding where to eat at the very last minute depending on what I thought I could stomach. I even invested in “Sea Bands” and acupuncture to see if that helped with the nausea.


At 6 weeks, my nausea was overtaken by gnarly diarrhea. I thought this was perhaps just another lovely side effect of being pregnant, but it turned out I had gotten E. Coli from a salad at a restaurant. With a visit to the ER and about two weeks of recovery, I actually lost about eight pounds! Not a good thing when while pregnant.


Luckily, after my E. Coli cleared up, one of the only things that appealed to me was burritos – a far cry from the bland Saltines that I’d taken to because of morning sickness. I figured if I craved them then I might as well go for it. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with burritos over the years, at times eating them for each of my three meals per day while living on the road. Fortunately, in the Bay Area there are a plethora of really good burrito shops in pregnant walking distance. One would think that with a half-dozen Mexican restaurants nearby, I couldn’t become a “regular” at ALL of them, but by the end of the first month the staff at each restaurant knew me and my order perfectly.


These first six weeks were incredibly tough. The pain of losing Max still pulsed through my body daily. I was nervous about my career and what these changes would bring. I was worried telling people the news. I was worried about miscarrying. I was laid up with E. Coli. I wanted to make sure I was doing everything possible to have a healthy baby.


Above all, because I was keeping the news so close to home, I felt very much alone. Though worried, I was also getting excited about the new addition to our family. We started thinking about names. We started talking about trips and places we would want to take the baby. We day-dreamed about our first two years (when kids fly free), envisioning trips to France, Norway, Spain and Japan. Road trips to Squamish, City of Rocks, and Colorado. I started imagining hiking in the Sierras the next summer with the little one, showing them all the amazing places that we love and adore. I remember the joy I felt just walking into a meadow with Max and laying down in the tall grasses. I found myself smiling. I couldn’t wait to do all of that with our kiddo.


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  • Congratulations Beth! It is so inspiring to read you. I am no professional climber, but climbing has become an essential part of life. I am pregnant with a baby girl and she'll be here in April too! I had almost no morning sicknes at all, but lucky me, I am Mexican, so I can eat as many burritos and tortillas as I want 🙂 My OBsaid I could not climb, but I guess it is only because he doesn't understand the sport, so I did my own (exhaustive) research on line and decided to continue training and climbing up to now: only top rope and full-body harness… It has been great and until a month ago I still felt quite strong. Now (at almost 30 weeks) I am starting to feel too heavy, but I am still climbing easy stuff and going to the gym to stay active. All the best for you and your new family 🙂

    January 24, 2014 at 12:10 am
  • Thank you so much for your comment Ana, and congratulations on your little girl coming soon! I think a lot of OBs aren't familiar with climbing, but it seems like if we play it safe and smart, and listen to our bodies, we can climb for a while during pregnancy.
    I'm so glad that you didn't get morning sickness at all! That is so wonderful – it's really no fun!
    Sounds like you are a few weeks ahead of me – I wish you all the best with delivery and your new little one!

    January 24, 2014 at 1:22 am
  • Congrats!! While pregnant, I also looked in vain for any data regarding climbing and basically turned up very little (most helpful was cragmama that has been referenced before. I climbed until 36 wks, but due to a busy (non-climbing!) career and juggling the wonders of a baby and work, sadly I've not successfully reintegrated climbing with having a toddler as much as I had hoped, although we spend a lot of time outdoors. Don't get me wrong–Motherhood is a blast.
    An OB who is a climber told me this (of course this by no means constitutes medical advice!):
    "Go for it!
    Things that worry me are hard falls, especially in the third trimester as there could be risk of abruption (deceleration injury). Your balance is going to change a lot during pregnancy as well. If you drop down a few grades, take breaks, make sure harness fits correctly, I can't see problems with TR, can't really recommend leading as a fall could be more significant. Late term with fetal head engaged in the pelvis may be pretty awkward. Later second/third trimester you will likely be pretty crampy with exercise, but if it resolves with a rest, no worries. Your endurance is going to start taking a hit."

    January 24, 2014 at 2:49 am
  • Thanks Juneko! Really appreciate it, and congrats on your little one 🙂 That's basically what my OB told me as well – I stopped bouldering pretty much right away and haven't led in a really really long time. Seems like practical, smart thinking makes it okay to climb if it feels good while we are pregnant.
    Thanks again for the comment and all my best!

    January 24, 2014 at 4:00 pm
  • Thanks to you! I think is soooooo coooool that you take all this time to reply to all of our posts, seriously. You are awesome 🙂

    January 25, 2014 at 1:21 am
  • Thank you so much for posting about your pregnancy, it is very inspiring to me! I am nearing the end of my first trimester and the nausea is finally starting to wane. Now that I am feeling better I have been anxiously researching ways to stay in shape for climbing– my midwife was horrified at the idea of climbing while pregnant, so I have been doing other things like swimming and yoga, but am worried about maintaining forearm and finger strength. I have already found so much more information here than I did researching on my own. I look forward to your future posts!

    January 25, 2014 at 11:38 pm
  • Thanks for writing about this! Please keep it up! There's a huge void on this topic. I climbed right through to the very last week of my pregnancy. People kept telling me they were impressed, but honestly, it felt easy and natural the whole time. Of course I worried too, as we all do, and I had questions, but whenever I went looking for validation/advice about climbing while pregnant, I found the medical professionals didn't know much about climbing (like the comment above, my midwife was horrified). And not many climbers are well-informed about pregnancy, so there’s not much helpful advice from that side either. I’m certain your blog will be a huge support for all the women who, like me, have been in awe of your climbing accomplishments over the years. Staying active and positive is so important, and we need more excellent examples to follow, and community around us that is supportive and well-informed. I thought about this a lot while I was pregnant, but then it all fades so quickly in the chaos that follows! I only managed to write this one blog post, but felt like there was so much more to say – especially about the amazing physical changes in pregnancy and their effect on climbing.
    Fitting climbing time around a toddler is a whole new ball game. But it’s worth it – my little guy loves doing things outside, and sharing beautiful natural places with him is even better than I could have imagined!

    January 26, 2014 at 2:31 pm
  • Burritos are actually one of the best choices you could make during pregnancy, because of the beans. Beans cover five of the six categories that they want you to hit while pregnant (things like iron, calcium, and protein).

    January 28, 2014 at 5:56 pm
  • Congrats Francie! I'm so glad that your nausea is starting to ease off – it can be unrelenting! I think a lot of midwives and OBs don't understand climbing and they picture us falling or taking really risky chances. Perhaps you can explain to her toproping and using a full body harness. Just listen to your body and be careful of how loose your joints can get – I know that my fingers have been sore just climbing 5.7 lately, so I've been taking it easy. Best of luck in the rest of your pregnancy!

    January 28, 2014 at 6:59 pm
  • Thank you so much for your comment and link to your blog – I really enjoyed it! I agree that there is a huge void on the subject, but I have been amazed at all the responses and links to other blogs! It's wonderful 🙂
    Your little guy is adorable and I look forward to following your adventures on your blog 🙂
    All my best!

    January 28, 2014 at 7:03 pm
  • Thanks B! Glad to know that my Mexican food fetish actually provided some nutrition for the little guy 🙂
    All my best!

    January 28, 2014 at 7:04 pm