Being a mom, being me
On February 11, 2012, I traveled from Chamonix to Switzerland to visit my mom and go ski touring in the blistering cold. An Arctic cold snap had hit Europe and I was running out of “reasonable” tours to do while pregnant around Chamonix. I was a few days past my due date and needed to find tours on which I could just strip the skins off my skis and glide back down to my car should I be going into labor. The tours had to be somewhat close to a hospital too. My mom – an avid climber and multiple time ski mountaineering competition winner – wasn’t too psyched on me skiing while pregnant. But she joined me on a few tours, soon realizing that there was no changing my mind and that I was being really careful and that well, it really was safe enough. We skied 3300ft that day.
I stayed in Leysin that night, the little sunny Swiss ski resort I grew up in and where my parents still live. The following day was yet another bluebird sunny Siberian cold day and my mom was determined to keep me at home, sure that the only reason I hadn’t yet given birth was that I was too active. But I felt that every day could be my last day of skiing, since I could be going into labor at any time. So we went out for a shorter ski tour above the house. We got home by 4pm. An hour later, my stomach started to ache a little so I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to get checked out. We drove down to the hospital, where Adam met us. 6hours later, Olivia was born at fifteen minutes past midnight.
As they say, nothing can prepare you for giving birth. Not even your growing belly. You’d think that with so many women having given birth over time, you’d get a sense of what it’s like! My labor was as painful as it was quick. My best description of it is this: coming out of the water after having fallen off your surfboard and resurfacing only to get drowned over and over again by huge waves that don’t let you catch your breath, wishing for someone to make it stop, wondering if it will ever stop, while the waves get bigger bigger, and closer and closer together. A French comic said: “When women say that giving birth is the most beautiful day of their life, I can’t help but wonder what the other days of their lives are like!!!”. As excruciating as labor and giving birth is, it’s true that once the baby is crawling on your belly, staring straight into your eyes, you instantly forget the nightmare you just experienced.
We – Olivia, Adam and I – were all that once both startled, in awe. I wondered how such a perfect being could have been inside of me, already formed, with eyes, ears, a mouth, a head, a belly, arms, legs, etc. Adam and I were both mesmerized and slightly in denial of the miracle of life. It’s all at the same time unreal, magical, beautiful, surreal, moving and right then, you know that your life will never be the same. Or do you?
These very words are what’s kept me from having a child for so long. I love my life. I have worked long and hard to make my life what it is. And I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. I often felt that when people said that you’re life will never be the same, it was said with a negative edge. I was therefore all the more determined that while having a child would change my life, it would be for the better: I would still be me, I would still do what I love to do. I would find a way to make it all work, because I strongly believe that happy parents lead to a happy baby.
Yet, the first week, all I wanted was to be a mom to this little wonder in my life. There was so much to learn: changing diapers, bathing her, learning how to care for her, marveling over her, breastfeeding, learning to be a family of three and “sharing” the little being that had grown inside of me with Adam. But soon though, sitting for hours-long feedings at a time, listening to her cries, not knowing how to help close those beautiful beady eyes at night and sleep deprivation all got to me. One evening, as I felt overwhelmed, I grabbed the trash from Adam’s hand and said that I would be taking the trash out, and no one would get in my way of doing so. I NEEDED to get out, breathe some fresh air, be alone, for even 5 mins. Suddenly, taking the trash out seemed like the greatest adventure ever! Adam encouraged me to get out of the house. But I think it’s innate for moms to want to feel irreplaceable to the child. So, when 10 days into it, I went skate skiing, guilt was my silent partner as I glided down the smooth track. I rushed home after an hour, feeling like a bad mom for having enjoyed my time outside so much, for having enjoyed something other than my little one. But I also realized that I was all the more excited to be with her, and her cries no longer felt like daggers stabbing my heart. What if my all consuming passion was actually beneficial to helping me be a good patient mother?
The following day, I tried to go ski touring up the nearby piste in Les Houches. I got there, put my ski boots on my feet, put my skins on my skis, called Adam, heard her cry, took my boots off and drove home. “She needs my milk, she needs me”, I thought. I felt that no one could do this job as well as me. It’s hard to break the bond that connects a mother to the little being that was in the womb for so long. But I am lucky that Adam is such an eager Dad, as happy to be with her as to be in the mountains. He encouraged me to try getting out again the next day. I ski toured for an hour and went home. The next day, I toured a little longer. Over that week-end, while Adam was guiding, I even let my mom watch her while I went out to breathe some fresh air and reconnect to myself. Gradually, the tours got a little longer (not too long or my boobs would burst!!!), I was able to pump more milk, and I soon realized that in order to be a good mom to Olivia, I needed to feel good myself and that doing what I love most – being in the mountains – enabled me to get perspective and feel energized. The time away didn’t only benefit me: it also gave Adam the space to be a Dad to Olivia without me looking over his shoulder all the time. Maybe I’m just trying to justify what I do, but I feel now that it is essential for Olivia to know at a young age that she is loved not only by me, but that others love her (nearly) as much as I love her, and that she can be happy even when I’m not around.
Olivia is now 10 weeks old. She has nearly doubled her weight and is a much loved, thriving and very smiley baby girl.My life has changed in that I am now a mom and she will forever be my daughter. I learn everyday from her. She is my priority. But I am also learning how to keep being me and do what I love to do, to find the balance that enables me to be a good, patient and loving mom to her. When I’m up there, all I want is to be with her. But if I stayed home 24/7, I wouldn’t have perspective and might end up feeling frustration, which isn’t good for anyone. So I get out on most days to ski tour, ice climb, climb, run and also guide.
I don’t go out for as long as I normally would, but I am more efficient and appreciate my time away all the more. The rest of the time, I am with her.
I figured out a way to work while she sleeps on me and I take her on hikes in my baby carrier.
That way, it feels for both of us as though we were still out together in the mountains like she was when she was in my womb – those were some of the most beautiful moments in my life.
While I love every second of being a mom to her, I know that I need perspective. I can get it by taking a little time for myself each day, and reconnecting to who I am outside of motherhood. I am lucky to have a support system – Adam and my parents mainly – who enable me to do that too. I also live in a place, which enables me to get a quick workout without having to drive. People will always judge how you do things and have an opinion as to how it should be done, but what I have learnt so far is that there is no one way to be a good parent, there is only the way that works for you, your baby and your family. And to feel good about the process. It’s still early days and I know that my life will change as Olivia grows up and I will grow with her. Yet, I am determined to set as an example for her, that parenthood doesn’t have to be a frustrating, sacrificial experience. I want her to see that life goes on, but that it is only more beautiful by having her in it.
Adventures, before and after:
Difficile pour un homme de saisir toute la profondeur des relations intimes entre la mère et son enfant. Parfois je suis jaloux des confidences que se font la mère et la fille. Je pense qu’Adam doit se dire parfois la même chose.
You’re an inspiration, Caroline, and it’s great to hear you’re finding the best balance for your family. I look forward to seeing you on the slopes someday soon!
Parenting is such an amazing journey. Your blog entry brings so many significant feelings and decisions back to me in a vivid flood. My perspective is this –I speak from the other end of the journey, the empty nest. Sam, our youngest, graduated last spring and started his “real job” at the time your baby was born. I can say with certainty things that you can only choose thoughtfully at the start of your journey, a few months into motherhood.
These are things that came true: Being a happy mom matters. It is your own precious life and as always you need to follow your heart and make room not only for parenting, but also for your passions. You must refill your pitcher in order to pour out what parenting demands. Olivia has a ton of needs. But you are doing her a favor when you give her space and time to form relationships with Adam and your parents. They can fill most of her needs, not always the same way you would, but in their own just right way. Sitters, friends, and teachers, will also become important to her in the future and she has to craft these relationships by having time away from you. I also skied alone when I was days past my due date despite the raised eye brows of others. It was good practice for the whole rest of my parenting journey, practice making my own best decisions, balancing risk with caution, my choices over those others seemed to prescribe for me. Balance. It’s not always serene. I left Sam crying at the door many a time as I departed on week long backpacking and climbing trips (trips of this length started when he was 5) — this was hard in the moment, but I always checked in and he was happy in my absence. Particularly for my daughter, I wanted her to see the life she can (and should) have through my example of pursuing my passions, making space for myself in my life. It seems most women have trouble with guilt when they choose to do things for themselves instead of sacrificing for their family. My mother’s entire generation was in a rage over the narrow and self sacrificing maternal model that 1950′s norms dictated. You are setting a norm that should be that, normal. It’s like the oxygen mask thing on the plane, put your mask on first before assisting others.
Excellent essay Caroline! You are, and are going to be, as awesome a Mom as you are an athlete! You’re doing great. Allez!!!
Caroline, great post…not that I can speak to any of this but, I’ve seen my sisters lose some balance through this process. I think what you do is awesome : ) Cheers, J
Great article! Keep working on the balance. The biggest disservice I ever did my girls was the frustration of not making time for me to get away, clear my head and remember who I was. Thankfully they survived it to become amazing young women in their own right. Perspective is a wonderful thing…a little time for you, then pack her up and take her along…she is just longing for the adventure that she has grown to know and, of course, to be with you:-)
As an active mother of a 9.5 week old little man, I burst into tears reading your essay. You were able to put into words the emotions that I could not describe. Thank you for sharing!!!
Thx for this essay. I found your site awhile back, looking for inspiration as my hubby and I embark on the next adventure of parenting. Reading this entry and others, your words could be mine…only you are a few months ahead of me. I’m 6 months pregnant with our first. Like you, I found this decision scary bc so many people had told me about how my life -of ski touring, climbing, biking- would end. Also, like you, I LOVE my life and feel determined to keep going on my outdoor endeavors. Truly, I dont know many women (only 1) who have continued getting out for adventures once baby came along, whatever the reasons. Anyway, as such, I have been grateful to women like you, in the virtual world, showing us by example that it can be done: you can be a good mom and still ski, ice climb, have a life in whatever form it takes. I hope to be a similar inspiration. Thank you!
Thank you for this. I am three months pregnant and after 14 years of rock and ice climbing can’t imagine my life without either. I look forward to sharing those adventures with my new family member but worry about how my passion for climbing will mesh with motherhood. Your essay is a breath of fresh air at this crazy time in life.
Thanks so much for sharing this Caroline. I got married four years ago. My husband currently works as a guide, I don’t have a climbing job, but love climbing and being in the mountains. For myself, I’m terrified of having kids because of the way it might change my life. There are so many climbs I still want to do, places I want to travel, etc. Seeing you continue to ski and climb even as a mom inspires that me that I can continue to climb even if I chose to become a mom one day.