When people say, “It can’t be done,” or “You don’t have what it takes,” it makes the task all the more interesting.
Lynn Hill is a living legend. Few have accomplished an athletic feat more than a decade before anyone else man or woman. Lynn changed the definition of what is possible in rock climbing with her first free ascent of the most famous big wall climb in the world called The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, California. Over nineteen years later, Tommy Caldwell and Lynn are still the only two people in the world to have succeeded in making an all free one-day ascent of The Nose.
bio courtesy of LynnHill.com
When I was 19 years old I met the legendary Lynn Hill. I had just completed my first 5.14 at Smith Rock in Oregon, To Bolt Or Not To Be, when Lynn invited me to go to Madagascar with her, Nancy Feagin and Kath Pyke. Being more famous that most male climbers, Lynn has accomplished things decades ahead of her time. With her free ascent of the Nose, numerous 5.14’s, first ascents on different continents, her list of accomplishments is endless. I was completely humbled that such a legend would invite me to go on a trip with her. I was by far the gumby and weak link of the crew, but I jumped at the opportunity to learn and spend time with some of my heroes.
Lynn is immediately someone who I thought of when I knew I was pregnant. Being one of the most legendary climbers of all time, I wondered what the process was like for her. How did she deal with that changes in her body, in her career, etc. She was kind enough to answer a few questions that I know helped me and hopefully will help you.
You are one of the most accomplished climbers in history, male or female. You have broken barriers that most men couldn’t even achieve. I’m curious about your thought process to have Owen, can you tell me a little more about it?
I’ve always wanted to have a child but as it turns out, this was not very compatible with my career as a professional rock climber. I feel fortunate to have been on so many amazing adventures around the world AND still able to become a mother at the age of 42. I saved money throughout my career so that I would be able to afford to spend plenty of time with my child. I was confident that I could continue to make a living through teaching/guiding, speaking, writing, and working as a design consultant and “ambassador” for companies such as Patagonia and Petzl.
I remember climbing with you well into your pregnancy, can you tell me about how you felt during your pregnancy?
How I felt during my pregnancy varied at each stage. I was definitely more nauseous during the first and last trimester, but I felt more irritable than nauseous during the last trimester. Whenever I felt irritable, I reminded myself that it was due to the hormonal changes and I tried to relax and re-group as necessary.
Can you tell me about how people reacted to your being pregnant?
Most people were happy for me that I was pregnant since they knew that I really wanted to have a child. But I wouldn’t say that was true of everyone… Some people don’t like kids or understand why a person like me would want to give up their freedom and money to have a child.
Can you think of a time during pregnancy when it caught you by surprise?
I gained a lot more weight than I thought I would (35 pounds by the end), but I didn’t look or feel particularly “fat.” Just knowing that there was a human being growing inside me seemed like an amazing miracle and worthy of the temporary inconvenience.
How long were you able to climb for? Gym vs outdoors?
I climbed until I was about five months pregnant, but I could have continued climbing for much longer. Rather than worrying about my fitness on the rock, I chose to do activities such as yoga, which seemed to be a healthier choice for both of us. Since I gained so much weight and my belly started to get in the way, it wasn’t as much fun, nor beneficial to climb under such conditions. The hormones of pregnancy cause the tendons and ligaments to become more lax (so be careful of twisting your ankle/s). I was content to take a break from climbing since I knew that I would get back in shape relatively quickly after giving birth. It took me about 3-4 months to lose all that weight without really even trying. I breast-fed Owen until he was just over two years old, which requires a lot of calories so the weight seemed to melt off naturally and easily. Breast milk is much better for your baby that formula and it’s much more convenient as long as you don’t have issues with breast-feeding.
Did you see any changes in your body with respect to climbing?
The biggest changes in my body with regard to being pregnant was my size/weight. I made sure to rub lotion on my belly to make sure that I didn’t get stretch marks on my stomach. Either I was lucky or the lotion was beneficial since I don’t have any stretch marks.
Did you have any worries with pregnancy?
My biggest worry about pregnancy had to do with having a healthy child. I wasn’t so concerned about complications on my end, but I did end up having a C-section since Owen wasn’t coming after pushing non-stop for three hours (my labor lasted 22 hours once my water broke).
At what point did you start climbing again after your delivery of Owen?
I started climbing just a few days shy of a month after having a c-section (cesarean). I believe they recommended waiting about a month before doing any strenuous physical activities. I did win the Roctrip event in Millau less than a year after giving birth to Owen. I know that I was still breast-feeding!!
How did it ultimately affect your career?
The most significant change was my willingness to spend long periods of time away from home. However I think with a supportive partner, arrangements can be made to help out with the baby while mom is engaged with work. As far as climbing, most mothers (myself included) take far fewer risks for obvious reasons. Even before becoming a mother, I believed in taking calculated risks anyway.
How do you see pregnant professional climbers in the future?
Balancing parenthood with the lifestyle of a professional climber is tricky and it certainly helps to have a supportive partner. For me it has been quite a juggling act to manage all the demands on my time in both my personal and public life. But like climbing itself, the most challenging experiences are usually the most satisfying. Motherhood is certainly more challenging than any climb I’ve done, but there’s nothing greater than the sense of love I feel for my child.