Guest blogger: Valerie Van den Hende
This is the promised update to my post ‘Climbing for Two: to climb or not to climb’ from May 2013 in which I discussed my decision to continue with rock climbing at the same time as growing Baby Van den Hende, currently known to his friends as ‘Bump’.
Bump is due any day now, and Robin has been reminding me that it would be a good time for me to tell you about my experiences before life is filled with nappies and puke, and my brain can no longer string together a meaningful sentence. Personally, I think my brain reached that stage a while ago, so there may have been some hefty editing to this post on my behalf by well-meaning relatives…
My last climbing session took place towards the end of July when I was around 33 weeks pregnant. I didn’t cause myself any injuries while climbing over the previous seven and a half months, following the last session my back was pretty achy and my body was definitely telling me that it’d had enough. My decision to call it a day was actually quite easy as due to increasing physical and mental tiredness climbing simply became undesirable.
Over the last few months of climbing I found that every time we went to the wall my body had changed in some way, typically feeling more and more friable. Each time I had to carefully reassess what I was capable of and I became quite reluctant to do anything that required straining or awkward positions.
As Bump grew, climbing became noticeably more difficult, both from a manoeuvrability point of view and from the extra weight I was lugging up with me. Small pinchy holds were out, as was any thing remotely wall hugging. I found myself at times having to invent new and strange ways of solving route problems. On one occasion, after ending up face out from the slab I gave up and cheated… I also found that overhanging routes were actually easier to negotiate if I was feeling strong and the holds were nice and juggy. Towards the end, we would interleave our top-rope climbing sessions with periods of bouldering for Robin so that he could tire himself out while I took the opportunity to rest (and laugh when he fell off).
There were a few things that I learnt during the period since my last guest blog post:
Traversing: I actually stopped traversing very soon after five months. We had traditionally used traversing (with easy bouldering) as gentle warm up activities before stretching and moving on to more strenuous activities. I found, however, that the sideways movement and associated twisting along with a fear of stumbling off backwards made me too worried about injury.
Full body harness: my Petzl harness continued to work very well. It needed adjusting under the thighs when lowering or being lowered to avoid it digging into or pinching my skin, but otherwise it stayed in position well. Depending on the angle of the rope when I was lowering Robin, the front leg/hip section would at times pull up into the belly, causing some side compression that could be a slightly uncomfortable. Otherwise, I was very happy with it, and plan to hang onto it for a few more years in case I’m crazy enough to try this again.
Diastasis recti: diastasis recti is the separation of abdominal muscles and is fairly common during pregnancy. I have a mild example of this, and have had to take care to not strain my muscles in such a way as to exacerbate the separation – i.e. avoiding sit-up type motions. There are certain exercises that can help with control during pregnancy, as well as others to help close the gap again postpartum. It’s worth being aware of this as a pregnant climber as correctly repairing the separation is important before other core strength work can be resumed during the recovery period.
The next challenges are to a) get fit enough to return to climbing (which will probably take around 3 months if the delivery is uncomplicated), and b) get Bump hooked on climbing too. He already has his own shoes! One thing I have particularly missed during this pregnancy is bouldering, and recently the wall we climb at has opened several new outdoor boulders as well as a competition wall that I can’t wait to try.
The experience of climbing during pregnancy for me has been very positive, and, I believe, has allowed me to stay strong and active throughout. Reactions from other climbers have in general been friendly, and staff at the climbing wall have even asked after me when Robin’s been there alone recently. I think the main thing I have taken away from this journey is how important it is to listen closely to your body and adjust your limits accordingly – probably a lesson that should be applied to all aspects of life!