Baby Prout diary
Welcome to a different adventure for us, a ‘normal’ and natural one, but also a super scary one: we are on the road to having a baby!
Because I struggled to find much information about climbing and babies, or about climbing and pregnancy, and after endless hours or research I thought about publishing my thoughts and feelings on this journey on our website; because it definitely qualifies as being an important adventure for the two of us! James and I have decided to jump into this, after 8 years of fun adventures as a couple.
So why? Why add a 3rd one and risk breaking our perfect balance? I guess all the answers are long, and quite personal, but after all, most of them were: Because we both really wanted a mini prout. If you wonder why we often call him “Baby Prout”, you’ll find the answer in French.
So maybe it’s time to start this diary now, as we just told our big secret to our sponsors. James’s sister and my sister already know, but not our parents yet! And not our friends. This is weird no? To tell our sponsors that we’re having a baby before we told our parents?
Well, it felt not only necessary, but the normal thing to do. Our sponsors are our friends, we spend a fair amount of time with them, they hugely support our life choices, sometimes even more so than our parents. Plus, we needed to tell them because it will effect how we work, and in our adventures together.
James and I weren’t crazily worried about their reactions, mainly because we both thought that whatever our sponsors decided to do about my contract, we would figure things out together. We were right not to be concerned, because everyone was very happy for us, and we are all starting to plan new adventures that will include Baby Prout.
Anyway, the secret is out now!
As soon as I knew that a baby was on the way, I immediately started researching for information or articles about pregnancy and climbing. Needless to say, I didn’t find that much. A few interviews, but mainly, a very generic advice: ‘top rope only, and take it easy’.
I didn’t want to take it easy. I wanted to maintain my level as much as possible, I feared I would die of boredom sat on our sofa.
But I had an ace up my sleeve: Carole Palmier, one of my best friends, and she is a midwife, and an 8c+ climber! You won’t find many of thoses!
I explained my feelings to Carole, and here is what she told me: “In France, everyone (doctors, nurses) will be very cautious with their advice, but it’s mainly because they want to protect their own asses. But if you listen carefully to your body, it’ll be fine.” Moving a lot doesn’t hurt the baby at all, it may only increase very slightly the risk of miscarriage. And for that, you’ll have physical signs before hand that you should slow down.
I kept on gathering information and reading as much as I could find. A friend of mine did trampolining until she was at 8 months pregnant, and I know that Chloé Minoret (a former comp climber) kept on climbing as usual until she 4 months. But Chloe had said that she didn’t put on any weight until then, and she felt that maybe the rest was then needed to allow the baby to grow? And of course I read every article of Beth Roden’s website. But she was, I would say, mostly in a worst case scenario (Beth injured herself while pregnant and had a hard time recovering), and I am hoping to be more lucky.
I really felt like I wanted to continue to go on the adventures that I had planned before mini monkey came on board: An eco trip to Ordesa, Spain (when I would be at 3 months), and an adventure trip to Japan (at 4 months). Of course I will listen to physical sensations and how my body feels, and what the doctors say, but so far, all good.
So, how does it effect me in every day training , climbing, living?
I definitely have to take a few things easier: I sleep more. I struggle to digest a lot of food, which means I have to nap a bit, but I haven’t slowed down a lot. I am definitely not as good at climbing though. I really notice a lack of core tension. I still try nearly as hard as usual, but I listen much more: if I feel like my abs are straining, or if I feel any mild discomfort in my belly – I listen, and I do one less route. Maybe half of the time it’s absolutely fine, but my level is going to go down anyway in the next few months, so one less training lap doesn’t matter that much.
When we go cross country biking, I am a scaredy cat. I don’t want to risk a bike fall. But climbing on lead, provided your belayer is competent, definitely does not make any of the shock on your body that people imagine when they aren’t climbers. Jumping off a chair is more of a shock! I have the same harness, that I open up a bit when I am not on routes, and I lead. But I don’t lead when there is a risk of falling onto a ledge and taking a shock that way. If I weren’t pregnant, I would accept the risk of breaking a leg. But now, no risk.
Biking in Ordesa was fine, I took as little risk as possible, and as a result I ended up walking my bike down a lot. Sometimes I hated James for bringing the bikes!
Climbing, on the other hand, was way more dangerous than we had planned. The rock was very loose, and as a result James and I decided that I would only second on ‘El Ojo Critico’. But we discovered, that even seconding felt dangerous. You could still pull a block off onto yourself, or maybe even cut the rope. Leading, of course, was therefore out of the question, there were just way too many ledges, and way too much bad rock.
I did lead Trad in half of the pitchs of a 7a+ route, called ‘Racks’. That was still a little bit scary, again because of the rock quality, but I chose to lead because I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t scared. Was this a good choice? I don’t know. It went well, I didn’t fall. But at the end of this trip, we stopped climbing because we agreed the risk wasn’t worth it. It was actually James who wanted to stop before me. And that has never happened before!
We did alternate long climbing days, the biggest one waking up at 5:30 am, walking 1h30, climbing 13 hours, then walking back down 4 hours. On the rest days I made giant snoozes! I felt totally fine. The rest days were the bad days really, as I struggled to digest more on the sofa than when climbing a route.
Before doing Racks I had to walk up on the appraoch very, very slowly, I didn’t feel well, and had some mild pain in my belly, and I wondered if climbing would make any sense. But then I did the first pitch, and everything went much better. I think it’s because climbing is ‘my thing’. Even when I’ve been ill, had flu, or stomach aches in the past, going climbing was always a good idea, as it would make me feel better. Now maybe I questioned whether this was just the power of the mind. But it definitely felt easier to climb, less physically stressful, than the uphill approach walks.
Yesterday I went to a steep crag and tried quite hard routes. Not crazy hard for me, 8a max, but routes where sometimes I will struggle with a move, or have to get very pumped, and fall. I am still leading steep sport, because I can’t see how falling into the air can be bad. If you have a good belayer, with a soft catch, you’re fine. This of course is something I could never explain to a doctor who doesn’t climb, so I just don’t tell the doctor.
I still have so many questions, and can’t find an in depth answer. Everyone says it’s ok to climb, so I have decided, with my friend Carole (who is a midwife and a climber), that leading in overhangs is fine. But what I don’t know, is, how hard can I climb?
By now I have stopped using rings and doing pull ups, because I have been told that I should not work on my abdominals – and that those exercises engage the abs. After a bit of research, well, it seems that I can potentially keep going with the pull ups too, so that at least gives me a chance to keep my arms and shoulders in shape.
Another thing I don’t know, is what happens if I go for a full endurance climbing effort: if I get out of breath because of climbing, like it happens on long resistance routes. Is that slowing oxygen flow to the baby? I assume it must be, I have read that in extreme situations the body with put priority to the survival of the mum. So… Should I go far in resistance? I still want that cardio type exercise, but obviously I don’t like the idea that me breathing really hard is depriving my baby of oxygen, so I don’t really know what is right, and I am struggling to figure out.
To be honest, I have really slowed down on training now. I mainly just climb outside. Partly because with indoor bouldering, falling on mats isn’t great, I don’t think, and I struggle to have the motivation to train in a gym without a goal.
In 3 weeks we are going to Japan for waterfall climbing. I don’t think I need to prepare much physically for that, it’s just going to be so weird!
I haven’t started putting on weight yet, but my belly is definitely starting to come out. In secret, I think it’s because I have now told my baby that he’s allowed to stick out now, after Ordesa.
Nearly 4 months…
I am not climbing much at the moment. At 35 degrees Celsius minimum, it feels too hot to do much activity. A few pull ups here and there. But I did find a book about pregnancy and sport, where it advises to really avoid abdominal exercises like crunches; Because it says if you keep them strong – you increase your chances of them ripping when the belly grows, and then recovery of your abdominals is going to be much more difficult. It’s even recommended to avoid standing up from a lying position, and to rather roll to the side to get up. I am not quite there yet. But as far as I feel, pull ups, and push ups are still fine.
My belly has popped out in the last 2 weeks at a speed that nearly worries me: just how big am I going to get during our Japan expedition!
It feels pretty weird to not be able to contract my abs in my posture, in my every day life, as I usually do. It changes the way I stand, and I guess that’s because the change in my belly’s size is so fast.
James and I have started the “haptonomy” courses. So far, the midwife has mainly been telling us, to make some emotional space for the baby within your lives as a couple, but equally, don’t let him use all the space! When it’s time for you two, he can wait. And then that starts us off with all the questions about education. James and I haven’t talked about it that much, but I think we are on the same page. Mostly because we have both been observing and discussing the various educational methods of our friends.
In the same book I also discovered that my little theory about getting really out of breath and the baby lacking oxygen – was right. Obviously that does make sense. Therefore, you should really avoid getting too out of breath… well, I did a bit of that, while hiking up hills. So I will now keep a serious eye on that in Japan. It means no very hard climbing too.
We’re 4 months in now, and things are starting to become more serious. Caroline has a real, little baby bump, and although you might not realise it if you didn’t already know her, seeing it grow with my own eyes, I can confirm it is definitely there. We’ve been for 2 scans together, and seen the happy little chappy dancing around. At 4 months apparently all the development is finished, and now its just a case of growing.
I’ve been thinking a little about what life might look like in 5 months time, and in fact, about if life is already starting to change. The big questions seem to always resolve around 2 subjects, time management, and risk. The first is easy to answer, at least in theory – I’m personally going to have to find a way to be more organized, less forgetful, and be generally a little less floaty than I am now. In the last 2 weeks I’ve flown to Italy without my driving licence (meaning no hire car, and a public transport nightmare), and almost missed my flight to Japan thanks to a forgotten drone battery bag. Caroline jokes that I will be able to forget Baby’s things, or even worse, Baby himself. I laugh, but deep down know I have some things to work on.
The second subject, Risk, is not quite as easy to answer. It seems obvious at first that with a baby in your life, with a little person depending completely on you, that you should take your personal safety more seriously than before. The problem comes when you try to quantify it, and justify it, and you realise it’s all, well, a little bit ambiguous. Life itself is inherently risky, and to quote a famous cliché, we could get hit by a bus tomorrow crossing the street. I’m not going to close myself in a padded room just because I have a kid. I’m aware that things happen, that sometimes people find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I’m also confident in my ability to deal with day to day life. I’m still going to cross the street, I’ll still walk to the shops, drive a car, and do everything I did before.
So what about climbing? Obviously going climbing is more risky than not going climbing, and if you add Trad climbing to the mix, first ascents, bad rock, onsights, long days in the mountains… well, things are only moving in one direction. Yet just like I’m confident not to trip off the curb and put my head under a bus, I’m confident I can deal with climbing, and I’ll know inside, somehow, when enough is enough. Trad climbing for me is about managing risks, not taking them.
The problem comes when you find yourself in a situation that is more dangerous than expected, especially ones that you can’t easily get yourself out of. This happened recently in Ordesa, Spain. We’d decided to try to repeat a certain route, knowing it might be quite dangerous, and after 4 or 5 steep pitches when retreat had become really complicated, we realised the route was a lot more serious than we’d expected. Everything went well that time, somewhat thanks to being physically and mentally in good shape, and also having the experience to stay calm and carry on, yet I’d be lying if I said I was in complete control all of the time. There were too many unknowns, too many variables, too many things that could have turned out to be really bad, and if I had the chance to go back on the route again, I must admit that I wouldn’t.
So what could I have done better? Should I have erred on the side of caution and not gone at all? Or should I have trained more to have a bigger margin and be more comfortable on the pitches? Or should I just accept the possibility that I’m a bit selfish, and that I wanted to do these things, and no matter how dangerous they might be, that I’ll always find a way to justify the risk?
These are all questions I don’t yet have the answers to, and maybe never will. They’re not new questions, but ones I’ve been asking myself, sometimes subconsciously, my entire climbing life, and so I’m not sure if this new arrival will offer any more clarity, or just further muddy the waters. The risks we choose to take are rarely black or white.
NB: From ‘Japan’ until now, I ran out of energy to write about pregnancy and sport. It’s been a full year now… so everything from this point in the diary is from memory… and the memory of a young mum is famously very bad… but bear with me, and maybe it will be a help to someone.
Japan was definitely a special trip, it deserves more than a few paraphaphs, and I promise I will get around to that essay too, but for now, here is a glimpse of yet another original idea from James (video here).
To sum up a long story in just a few words, James decided to try the Japanese concept of “Sawanobori”; which is in essence – climbing up waterfalls. Using ropes, and Trad gear, and some weird shoes with a felt sole. Going for a proper adventure wasn’t always easy for pregnant me, I can definitely remember some crying in the rain because I was so frustrated to miss part of the excitement, and being so jealous that James could carry on with is normal life while I couldn’t. On the last day of the biggest “Sawanobori” climb, the team left me on the ground because it was too much effort for me (sleeping on a wet ledge and a huge day of wet climbing with a lot of unknown). So I was in charge of the drone footage, and I did worry a lot for them, especially when I couldn’t see them on my drone’s screen. I was finding myself frantically looking for a colourful patch in the jungly walls on the side of the cascade, at the same time fearing to find that colourful patch in a wrong place. From the eye of my drone, all I knew was that James was in yellow, Yuji in red. This little mini-panic made me realise that I was definitely not ready to raise a baby alone. James had to come back. Which of course he did. So all was good!
To be honest though, I would do it all again, even if for sure, my doctor would NOT have agreed. Hiking was sometimes very hard, but climbing, even IN the waterfall, was always totally fine. It felt happy. For me, and for baby.
picture from Dark sky media, Sardinia
We came back from Japan when I was 5 months pregnant. While we were there, I had still onsighted an 8a at 4 and a half months, and even taken some falls on a 7c+, which was really 100% fine. But in the next few weeks, my belly became much bigger, and I decided/accepted to stop leading. Why then? Simply because I was less comfortable in my harness, and I didn’t want the belt to push in a fall.
For the last 3 months, I did still climb, but James and I switched into ‘easy adventure mode’. I tried a Salewa industrial harness, but it just didn’t feel right, and I really didn’t want to buy a pregnancy harness for only 3 months. My view on that is that most people can’t afford to spend €150 on such a temporary item, so they don’t, and nor will I. But instead of stopping climbing altogether, we tweaked my harness by adding some slings to shift some weight back onto my legs. It took a few tries to get to the right set up, and I think it only worked because James is vey good with slings – geeky, and patient.
Even then, lowering off was not immensely comfortable, but then… you are never very comfortable in any position when you 6 months or more pregnant. As long as I was seconding though, I was still feeling fine when climbing, and we did quite a few easy multi pitches, Trad and sport. You might say: why bother? Very simply because I am unbearable when I can’t climb. When I was 6 months pregnant, we did a multi-pitch up ‘Les Sucettes de Bornes’, 6c, and I did it mostly, but had to pull on a quickdraw in a roof because I couldn’t use my feet at all! Then, in Corsica and Sardinia, now up to 8 months pregnant, we kept on going with our belief that: ‘keep on climbing as long as it feels okay’. Then we did some 5+ multi-pitch Trad. Basically we’d dropped down through the grades. In the end I only stopped climbing for the last two weeks, because mini monkey was 2 weeks early! And those last two weeks have been the very worst. For James. I was a pain in the a**, and I knew it.