Climbing Pregnant: Month 9: Letting Go and Holding On
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Everyone said that the last month was miserable and, sure, I was huge, slow and encumbered when it came to certain tasks. I was used to seeing a huge basketball on my front side, used to my waddle and my limitations. But I felt good—really.
I was truly enjoying hearing from the outdoor community of pregnant women and moms. I felt as if I had joined a club, or helped create a dialogue that all of us could start sharing and partaking in. I loved coming home each day to an inbox full of messages from women with questions or comments that had been going through similar experiences.
But, as more and more people began reminding me that I should be or feel “done,” I began to think about the prospect of that idea. There was another huge change coming my way any day now—physically, emotionally and mentally. Yet I realized something that surprised me: I felt … unafraid. Normally I’m someone who dreads change and uncertainty. I’ve gone through a lot in my life so far, from climbing some of the hardest trad routes in the world to being held hostage by a group of terrorists in Kyrgyzstan. Some of those experiences have been empowering, while others have caused me to shrink and recoil inside myself and my own anxieties.
I began thinking back to where I began this whole journey: afraid to get pregnant due to various factors, from fear of losing my climbing sponsors, to fear of losing my climbing body, to my fear of whether I could be both a professional athlete AND a mom.
A week or so before my due date, I found myself reflecting a bit on these past 9 months, and realized how far I’ve come in terms of not worrying about everything—especially climbing. Don’t get me wrong. I love climbing and always will. But I think when you get too close to something, that genuine love and passion for that activity may sometimes turn sour. I’ve learned it’s healthy to have that separation and distance, mentally more than anything else.
I kept making trips up to Yosemite throughout month 9. My OB said that until I reached my due date, I was probably pretty safe, as most first babies don’t come quickly. So, one day before my due date I made my last trip to the Valley. I accompanied Randy while he battled some climbing projects. It was gorgeous spring day, no bugs, no heat and I was in my favorite place in the world. I tried to wrap my head around the fact that the next time I was there, we would have a little boy with us.
Due to my OB’s comment about most first babies arriving late and my family history of going well past due dates, I was fully prepared for a two-week late baby. My brother and I were both two weeks late, as was my mom, uncle, niece and nephew. I treated my due date as I did any other day. I worked and I tried to get as much done around the house as possible—cleaned, organized, shopped, cooked, etc. I figured I had a couple more weeks to get everything ready.
I am the fifth generation to be born San Francisco, and I thought it would be nice to carry on that tradition. After all six generations in the same spot seems pretty rare these days. We had briefly considered the prospect of a home delivery, after one friend encouraged me to watch “The Business of Being Born” and described that experience of using a midwife. I met with a friend, Jamie, who is a home-birth midwife, and we talked about that possibility. But that would mean not having our little guy born in San Francisco.
After talking with Jaime, I decided to get a lot of my prenatal care done with her, but birth in the hospital in San Francisco where she would accompany us. I’ve found through my years of injuries, it’s super important for me to find the care that works for me and makes me feel the most comfortable. That usually means finding someone who will spend a lot of time with me, explain things to me, etc. I have to say that my experience with Jaime versus my OB was unbelievable. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked my OB, but just the process of it all was so starkly different that I would for sure have midwife care if I were to ever embark on this journey again. I felt as if I was just one of thousands of patients to my OB (which I probably was) which made the care not very personal. With Jaime, however, she spent as much time with us as we needed, really listened to my concerns and figured out what was best for me and our situation; it was just the personal care that I felt the situation warranted. I’m sure there are OB’s out there that have the same personal touch, or women who don’t need or want the same type of care that I do. But for me, the care that Jaime provided was fantastic.
As my due date came around, Jaime mentioned to me that I looked flushed, and she thought that I would have the baby soon. I laughed and told her that the weather was just warm and that I probably had a couple more weeks. She asked if Randy and I were going out to dinner for our “due date” and although we had no plans, I figured maybe we should go. After all, it could be our last date for some time!
We went to one of our favorite restaurants, Penrose, for a late dinner around 9pm. Just as they handed us the dessert menus, I started feeling a bit weird. I had had some cramps that weekend, but they turned out to be nothing. I figured they were just back again and so I shouldn’t think anything of it. But by the time we got home they became regular, about 7 minutes apart each time. Randy said I should get some rest, but honestly the cramps were too intense and I was a bit too anxious.
Was this real labor? Was it actually happening? Was I prepared? Wasn’t there something official, like a buzzer going off, that should tell me I’m in labor?
About 6 hours after the contractions began, we finally called Jaime, gave her an update, and she said that she’d make her way over. We had arranged that I would stay home as long as possible before going to the hospital. Anytime you are fully present, fully in the moment, whether that’s mid-pitch on a demanding route or even in labor, time takes on a new dimension. I felt as though the hour or so between talking to Jaime and her arrival was only a minute or two. Within a couple hours of Jaime’s arrival, I progressed to about 6-cm dilation. We decided it was time to make our way to the hospital.
Without much trouble despite a few uncomfortable contractions along the way, we arrived safe and sound at the hospital. Over the next eight hours I went through labor. It definitely was the most intense thing I’ve ever been through. I oscillated between dreading the arrival of each contraction, to breathing and screaming through them—literally, all out screaming in front of strangers. Along with time, humility was taking on a whole new dimension for me, too.
After two hours of pushing at the end, we welcomed our little boy Theo into the world.
I want to write all the emotions, and everything that happened during the birth, but I fear that might just be boring. But the truth is, it was just so overwhelming and almost impossible to describe. Let’s just say that it was the most primal and instinctual thing I’ve ever been through. Somehow the body knows exactly what to do. And while I didn’t have any intervention or pain medicine, I can totally understand why people take it.
I also think I learned something about myself through the experience. I’m pretty okay with pain if it isn’t damaging me or bad for me—labor is supposed to be painful, and I could handle it. I also believe I got very lucky with my labor and birth, which made my process possible. The hardest, most intimidating part for me was not knowing the end. When you are climbing, even a huge wall or climb, you know where you stand; pitch 10 out of 20; move 25 out of 80, etc. But with birth, there was no way of knowing how much longer I had. Was I progressing? During hour 17, did I have 10 more to go? Three more to go? Or just 5 minutes? There was no way of knowing. I just had to keep going.
But this whole journey was so much bigger than just those moments in the hospital. I thought back to the beginning. Not being as overjoyed as I thought I should be at first. Worried about how scared I was. Worried about telling my friends and sponsors. Worried about not climbing.
Yet through these past 9 months, I think the biggest thing I learned was trying not to worry. Trying to let go and enjoy the process—something that is extremely hard for me. How to enjoy my solitary hikes, enjoy my trad walking in the Valley, and just enjoy climbing not through performance, but simply because climbing feels good and it’s what I love to do.
All I could I think about at the beginning was what I was going to lose: my climbing body, climbing sponsors, my fitness, my career. And now, I sit here typing this blog with little Theo nestled into my arms, I only see possibilities yet to be gained.
I’m overwhelmed and overjoyed to have this little man in the world. It’s pretty incredible.