Feb 04 2014

Climbing Pregnant: Lynn Hill Interview

When I was 19 years old I met the legendary Lynn Hill. I had just completed my first 5.14 at Smith Rock in Oregon, To Bolt Or Not To Be, when Lynn invited me to go to Madagascar with her, Nancy Feagin and Kath Pyke. Being more famous that most male climbers, Lynn has accomplished things decades ahead of her time. With her free ascent of the Nose, numerous 5.14’s, first ascents on different continents, her list of accomplishments is endless. I was completely humbled that such a legend would invite me to go on a trip with her. I was by far the gumby and weak link of the crew, but I jumped at the opportunity to learn and spend time with some of my heroes.

Lynn is immediately someone that I thought of when I knew I was pregnant. Being one of the most legendary climbers of all time, I wondered what the process was like for her. How did she deal with that changes in her body, in her career, etc. She was kind enough to answer a few questions that I know helped me and hopefully will help you.

You are one of the most accomplished climbers in history, male or female. You have broken barriers that most men couldn’t even achieve. I’m curious about your thought process to have Owen, can you tell me a little more about it?

I’ve always wanted to have a child but as it turns out, this was not very compatible with my career as a professional rock climber. I feel fortunate to have been on so many amazing adventures around the world AND still able to become a mother at the age of 42. I saved money throughout my career so that I would be able to afford to spend plenty of time with my child. I was confident that I could continue to make a living through teaching/guiding, speaking, writing, and working as a design consultant and “ambassador” for companies such as Patagonia and Petzl.

I remember climbing with you well into your pregnancy, can you tell me about how you felt during your pregnancy?

How I felt during my pregnancy varied at each stage. I was definitely more nauseous during the first and last trimester, but I felt more irritable than nauseous during the last trimester. Whenever I felt irritable, I reminded myself that it was due to the hormonal changes and I tried to relax and re-group as necessary.

Can you tell me about how people reacted to your being pregnant?

Most people were happy for me that I was pregnant since they knew that I really wanted to have a child. But I wouldn’t say that was true of everyone… Some people don’t like kids or understand why a person like me would want to give up their freedom and money to have a child.

Can you think of a time during pregnancy when it caught you by surprise?

I gained a lot more weight than I thought I would (35 pounds by the end), but I didn’t look or feel particularly “fat.” Just knowing that there was a human being growing inside me seemed like an amazing miracle and worthy of the temporary inconvenience.

How long were you able to climb for? Gym vs outdoors?

I climbed until I was about five months pregnant, but I could have continued climbing for much longer. Rather than worrying about my fitness on the rock, I chose to do activities such as yoga, which seemed to be a healthier choice for both of us. Since I gained so much weight and my belly started to get in the way, it wasn’t as much fun, nor beneficial to climb under such conditions. The hormones of pregnancy cause the tendons and ligaments to become more lax (so be careful of twisting your ankle/s). I was content to take a break from climbing since I knew that I would get back in shape relatively quickly after giving birth. It took me about 3-4 months to lose all that weight without really even trying. I breast fed Owen until he was just over two years old, which requires a lot of calories so the weight seemed to melt off naturally and easily. Breast milk is much better for your baby that formula and it’s much more convenient as long as you don’t have issues with breast feeding.

Did you see any changes in your body with respect to climbing?

The biggest changes in my body with regard to being pregnant was my size/weight. I made sure to rub lotion on my belly to make sure that I didn’t get stretch marks on my stomach. Either I was lucky or the lotion was beneficial since I don’t have any stretch marks. I think I was the only one out of my friends who was this lucky. When they were pregnant with their children, they were always talking about how their stretch marks had affected their confidence, and this was heartbreaking to hear. They are all beautiful, regardless of whether they have stretch marks or not. It is a sign of the strength they showed bringing a child into this world. In the end, some of them decided to have a look at the services offered by a plastic surgery company similar to Atlantic Coast Aesthetics, to see how their laser technology can help to eliminate them. Of course, I support them in whatever decision they decide to make. As long as they feel beautiful in their own skin, that’s all that matters.

Did you have any worries with pregnancy?

My biggest worry about pregnancy had to do with having a healthy child. I wasn’t so concerned about complications on my end, but I did end up having a C-section since Owen wasn’t coming after pushing non-stop for three hours (my labor lasted 22 hours once my water broke).

At what point did you start climbing again after your delivery of Owen?

I started climbing just a few days shy of a month after having a c-section (cesarean). I believe they recommended waiting about a month before doing any strenuous physical activities. I did win the Roctrip event in Millau less than a year after giving birth to Owen. I know that I was still breast feeding!!

How did it ultimately effect your career?

The most significant change was my willingness to spend long periods of time away from home. However I think with a supportive partner, arrangements can be made to help out with the baby while mom is engaged with work. As far as climbing, most mothers (myself included) take far fewer risks for obvious reasons. Even before becoming a mother, I believed in taking calculated risks anyway.

How do you see pregnant professional climbers in the future?

Balancing parenthood with the lifestyle of a professional climber is tricky and it certainly helps to have a supportive partner. For me it has been quite a juggling act to manage all the demands on my time in both my personal and public life. But like climbing itself, the most challenging experiences are usually the most satisfying. Motherhood is certainly more challenging than any climb I’ve done, but there’s nothing greater than the sense of love I feel for my child.

Lynn and Owen

Lynn and Owen

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  • Hi Beth, thank you so much about your blog posts on this topic. I have struggled with the idea of a child for years. How will affect my ability to climb, ski, run? How will my body react? Will I still be able to do the things I love? Honestly I always thought you pretty much had to give up, sit on the couch and never have a life again. I am realizing this is not the case and if you're psyched and motivated you can make things happen and have a happy and healthy pregnancy and not be completely miserable. Thank you for being open and honest, and for these interviews. It even gives those of us non-pro athletes great honest perspectives. Please keep writing about yours and others' experiences. Thank you!

    February 5, 2014 at 12:43 am
  • Thank you so much for your comment! I too shared all those same thoughts and am hoping by writing about it and interviewing some women who have proven that you can still do everything, perhaps the stigma can be lifted! I'll definitely keep writing about it and let you know how it goes.
    Thanks again for the message, I really really appreciate it!
    All my best.

    February 6, 2014 at 1:25 am
  • Hey Beth. I am a climber and a husband to a climber. While we are not anything close to professional climbers, my wife and I get out and climb a lot. Climbing has always been important to our relationship. It is how we dated before marriage and we continued it after. I am a lucky man in that sense. We have 3 sons and my wife continued to climb during each pregnancy. All of our climbing was done outside. Obviously she climbed at a lower level than before she was pregnant. Of course each pregnancy is different but the climbing didn't have any negative effects on the pregnancy. My wife just listened to her body didn't carry very high expectation regarding her level of climbing. and We took some precautions like, top roping instead of lead climbing, full body harness instead of a waist harness. Less exciting climbing for sure, but it allowed her to stay on the wall. After the birth she waited about a month before she began climbing again. Hope this info helps in some way.

    February 11, 2014 at 5:33 pm
  • Hi Ryan –
    Thank you so much for your comment, I really appreciate it! It's so wonderful to hear how women can climb during their pregnancies with just a few slight adjustments.
    And I have to say it's wonderful to hear from the fathers as well!
    Thanks again for the comment and information!
    All my best,

    February 12, 2014 at 7:35 pm