Climbing Pregnant: Pregnant thoughts by Janet Wilkinson
I am extremely honored to share Janet’s story on this blog. She has an incredible climbing resume from alpine, to big walls to boulders. She was kind enough to share her journey and thoughts about pregnancy in an incredibly open way. I hope that you draw strength and inspiration from her words as much as I have.
For several nights I tossed and turned, unable to get comfortable, until I remembered it: the u-shaped human-sized pillow passed down from one of my done-with-pregnancy friends. I’d laughed when I saw it and stuffed it in a corner, but now, at 2 in the morning, the joke was on me as I dragged it down the hall and pushed my husband Freddie out of the way to make room for it and me and my 6 month belly in our bed. Our dog Tagger found it within hours of me waking up, and we now compete to be first into it every night. It is impossible to describe the heavenly nest-like support that pillow has provided at just the right time, in just the right places.
This pregnancy isn’t my first. My first was an accident. We were living in a 12×12 cabin with no plumbing or running water and I took the pee stick test squatting outside in the woods. I waited for Freddie to get home from an expedition so we could hear that galloping heartbeat together for the first time. Problem was, the midwife couldn’t find the heartbeat. The days that followed were as you’d imagine: the heartbreak and shame of learning it was a molar pregnancy; the physical and emotional pain of the D&C procedure and months of follow up testing; the awkwardness as friends continued to congratulate us on our pregnancy news; the anger induced by fighting our insurance company for help (this was before ‘Obama Care’ made it illegal to call pregnancy a pre-existing condition).
This pregnancy isn’t my second, either. I was much more careful the second time, going in to hear the heartbeat at only 6 weeks and telling no one except our very closest friends and family. And again, the deep, consuming sadness when that life was lost.
Pregnancy after loss is a trial for the parents and their whole support system, especially if, as in our case, it is mixed with advanced maternal age stressors (I’m 35) like diminished fertility. So this time we’ve again been secretive, which is problematic as a semi-pro climber. I felt delicate and didn’t want to risk another loss, and I worried about slowing down and backing off lead climbing without an excuse. So I just backed off climbing all together. Canceling trips broke my heart. Saying no to cragging days for no apparent reason sucked. Missing out on the income from potential guiding work did, too. I felt guilt over being pregnant while others continued with fertility and loss struggles, not to mention experiencing the intensity of the pregnancy itself.
Those unhelpful thoughts have, as I was told they would, mostly melted away as the pregnancy has progressed and I have learned to listen to my body. Now the kicks, instead of making me nauseous (not sure if I’m the only one, but if I let myself think too much about a human being alive inside of me, it makes me kinda queasy), are my invitation to slow down and smile. Speaking of invitations, the ones to go out climbing have mostly dried up now that my ‘condition’ is known. And why wouldn’t they? I shouldn’t be lead belaying, I am molasses on the approaches, and I am climbing at a level way below my peers. But man do I appreciate those who have taken the time to drag this koala bear up some routes this Fall.
Knowing we are having a girl, I’ve been reflecting a lot on being a woman, climber or not. Hey, we bleed for a week every month, we bear children (and sometimes we don’t/can’t), we excrete milk like cows, we are intuitive, we are maternal…shall I go on? These things are universal and natural, but we seem to file them away in a secret women’s world as we try to ‘lean in’, get ahead and/or protect ourselves. I am as guilty as anyone, hiding my pregnancy to my own detriment, as shared above. However, that secret world, for better or worse, has also provided valuable sanctuary. Friends and family have bestowed gifts, advice and time in a steady stream – human-sized pillow included. As-needed googling for mommy writing – from Beth’s climbing-focused chronicles of pregnancy and motherhood here, to the informative/honest/snarky pregnancy and parenting collections elsewhere – fill any remaining gaps. So I guess until we do a better job bending our world to women’s realities instead of vice versa, I’ll simply remain grateful.
My friend Steve says it’s only ever been possible to balance two of three priorities – climbing, family and work – at any given time in his life. After this pregnancy, when I re-start that juggling act, I’ll be armed with many lessons from this loss and pregnancy journey that I feel certain will benefit my climbing especially: to be more accepting and gentle with myself (chill out, you goal obsessed Capricorn!), to feel more empowered by my femininity (a hard learned one for a lifetime tomboy!), and to retreat and/or find refuge as needed and without hesitation in whatever form the moment demands (Summit or bust! Body pillow schmody pillow! I can do it all, all by myself! Wait, what?). In the meantime, you can find me waddling around eating my weight in bread and chocolate.
Janet Wilkinson is a longtime climber and guide and a new climbing gym owner. She and her husband Freddie look forward to meeting their daughter in early 2016.