Eva Rosenbaum is an adventure-loving emergency doctor based in Sydney, who has been climbing for the last 25 years at Climb Fit St Leonard’s. She’s currently 25 weeks pregnant and climbing for two!
Granted Covid ensured it only lasted six weeks before I was back where I started, but as I write this with my 25 week pregnant belly in front of me, I concede that sometimes the really big adventures in life are not how we imagined them to be.
Words can’t describe how excited my partner and I were when I peed on a stick and it lit up like a Christmas tree, but in true Eva style, the moment of the great reveal was NOT as we had planned. Poor Kate had been ridiculously patient with me, tolerating my daily “today is the day I’m doing the test” and by nightfall absolutely refusing. See somehow I had decided that when it came to finding out whether I was pregnant or not, I was much more open to having bad news broken to me by my period than by an inanimate plastic stick that could be mistaken for a RAT test.
(Side-note, but as a pregnant gay woman, I feel the need to point out that when two women are trying to conceive there is a third party required, specifically an owner of sperm). I know I know it seems obvious but a delightful soul recently congratulated me with beaming eyes and eagerly asked if the pregnancy was planned. I didn’t need to reply, we sort of just looked at each other until someone started laughing.
Actually, that reminds me of the time a friend of mine spoke about her twins and how lovely it was to have a boy and a girl, and the first thing out of my mouth was are they identical?
Anyway, back to the test. By the time I took it, deep down I already knew. Well at least I like to think I did, but I can see how that may just be hindsight bias at its best. Really though I was feeling so utterly atrocious that I think at that point it was hard not to know. And this struggle pretty much continued for the entire first trimester. I spent the days fatigued to my core, permanently nauseated and trying to predict which bouts of nausea were actually going to progress to projectile vomiting, ideally with enough time to take my mask off first (an added pregnant-in-a-pandemic-whilst-working-in-healthcare complication… we wear those firmly fitting N95s remember. It’s not the time you want a solid seal around your nose and mouth). It honestly felt like I was using every ounce of my strength just to get to work for the day, and anything else (like a basic conversation) was an added bonus.
When you’re feeling so atrocious it’s really difficult to pretend that everything is fine. But during those first few months, I realised that actually, this has become the expected norm; that you keep the biggest secret of your life until you are out of the riskiest period of early pregnancy (which mind you is like 13 weeks after you started vomiting in your own mouth) before explaining to people why you have been a semi-functioning hot mess for the last three months. I mean it’s obviously an extremely personal decision as to how many people you decide to tell in those early stages, but I have to say that for me it was a fairly simple decision and it went like this:
I am fucking suffering over here and everyone is going to know about it.
I had also decided that should things not go well at any point, it would be really important to me to have the support of those I was closest to.
It was during that early stage that I found myself wondering how I was going to look after myself physically and mentally, whilst trying to grow a human. Exercise has become such an important part of my life but suddenly I found myself completely overwhelmed. What can I do? What’s safe? What’s gonna keep the little one safe?
Pretty early on you feel the weight of expectation and societal judgement. Especially when it comes to donning a harness and hauling yourself up a wall. I remember scanning my own memory bank in the beginning, trying to conjure images of pregnant women climbing, and generating none. It was just not something I remembered seeing much of, and if I had, I guess I just hadn’t really clocked it.
There was so much to consider: how do you climb without falling, can I wear a harness, what sort of harness should I wear? The more I searched for reliable information the more disheartened I became. I did stumble across some pieces written by women in similar situations who had taken the time to document and share their own journey of navigating climbing whilst pregnant, but they were so few and far between that I quickly found myself swimming in a sea of guilt for even contemplating it.
One night in the midst of the delta lockdown, I decided that we needed a break from our regular schedule of MAFS and dinner on the couch (I’m not even going to attempt to blame the viewing choice on lockdown. This show is mindless entertainment at its best. Kate was utterly mortified when I told her we have to watch it.
She now eagerly watches along under the guise of being forced to. I don’t care. I’ll take one for the team.) Cinemas were closed so all the regular adventure film festivals had switched to online streaming, and whilst not quite the same as watching on the big screen surrounded by equally excited like-minded people, I was desperate for a glimpse of the big outdoors, and very ready to be inspired by all the incredible things we humans achieve out there. So I purchased our online ticket for the Women’s Adventure Film Tour.
My jaw hit the floor when the film title Mum’s Gone Climbing appeared on the screen, followed by footage of a group of pregnant women climbing the cliffs of Queensland. Me and my rapidly proliferating bunch of intrauterine cells (I had only peed on a stick the week before) could not believe what we were watching – how did the universe know?! (Granted the universe had a bit going on at the time, but I like to think that making sure Eva from Sydney keeps climbing whilst pregnant was high on the list).
I think many would read this blog and think why bother?. Why not just give it up for nine months and eliminate all risks. And I think the answer to this question lies in the ability to undertake a comprehensive risk assessment. The thing is, when you’re not familiar with a particular activity, gauging the risk level is simply not possible. What you’re gauging is most likely the perceived risk. What matters though, is the actual risk.
Current guidelines around exercise in pregnancy are to avoid activities with the possibility of falling, and if you’re not familiar with the intricacies of climbing then you would be forgiven for assuming that any activity involving a rope, a harness and height comes with a risk of falling. The reality though is that this is simply not the case.
I think it’s important to specify here that there is no “one recipe fits all” when it comes to navigating how you are going to climb whilst pregnant. There are so many individual factors to consider, with the biggest being what YOU are comfortable with. The below recipe is what I have been comfortable with.
Right from the day, I found out I was pregnant, I decided to stop bouldering and lead climbing and just stick to top-roping. I’m no Olympic climber and I had only started lead climbing properly a couple of years prior, so this felt like the most sure-fire way for me to eliminate any risk of falling, including a surprise fall.
It did mean that I lost some of my favourite downtime hanging at my local climbing gym, headphones in, bouldering to my hearts’ content, without being dependent on a partner to climb with, but the further I progress through my pregnancy the more comfortable I feel with this decision.
I think intuitively I had assumed that a waist harness was simply a no go, especially once you start growing that bump.
There were also a lot of anecdotal recommendations advocating for a full-body harness that avoids the belly, and so I eagerly sought one out at around 15 weeks. The one I got happened to be the only dedicated-pregnancy harness on the market, and I was so disappointed to find that it had been discontinued. This harness avoided the belly beautifully, but the workaround meant you were entirely suspended from your armpits which were just too uncomfortable when being lowered off the wall.
It also meant you were unable to sit back and bounce off the wall naturally, which actually made me feel like I was more likely to bump my belly as I was coming down. I ended up going back to my waist harness, as the bigger my bump got the more I realised that in fact, when you sit back in the harness on a top rope, your weight is distributed to the back of the harness and the leg loops, whereas the front of the waistband is pulled forward, away from your belly.
At 25 weeks I have about a cm to go I reckon before I’ll need to find a bigger waist harness, but this will absolutely be my approach, as opposed to sourcing a full-body harness.
This one has been a really interesting journey, and I have to say it’s taught me a lot about self-kindness and getting rid of the all-or-nothing mentality. My previous approach (admittedly not just to climbing, but to life) has been to push myself relentlessly and to continually raise the bar. Climbing with an ever-growing belly, however, not to mention far too many hormones and an extra 50% of my own blood volume has forced me to re-evaluate my expectations of myself.
This is a lesson I really did not think I would be capable of learning, but it seems when not given a choice, it’s possible! At my local gym, I was very comfortable with the grades I could scale and the overhangs I could tackle. But with a bump in tow I simply cannot maintain my usual grade, nor can I scale the roof and warm up on overhangs at present. I really did wonder how I would go with this mentally, but I can honestly say it has taught me to slow down and appreciate simply being on the wall, in a way that I have never allowed myself to do before.
I now find myself excitedly adapting climbs to suit my ever-changing physical capacity, as well as my mental threshold for what now feels comfortable, even on a top rope. At this stage of my pregnancy, I’m not happy to take any surprise falls, even on a tight top-rope, and so I make sure that I choose bigger feet options. It’s amazing though how you can still get a pump on by sticking to the higher-grade hands, and these are the types of modifications I’ve been making to keep me moving on the wall.
I also take my time on the overhangs and even give myself a little cheer when I manage the steeper climbs that now feel so much harder. (It also helps to have an incredible climbing partner who encourages my every move, no matter how small. Thank you Shira, your positivity and encouragement have been so awesome!!)
At the end of the day, this is a very personal journey and one that every pregnant climber will navigate differently. The benefits that I gain from being a part of the climbing community are so significant, for both my mental and physical wellbeing. And that’s why I have chosen to continue climbing whilst pregnant. I can’t wait to pull out the photos in the years to come, and show my child what helped to keep me physically strong, mentally robust, and genuinely happy, whilst growing a little human!
Join Eva as she hosts the first Sydney Meetup at her home gym Climb Fit St Leonards. Mingle with other mums (and mums-to-be) in a friendly, relaxed environment for a climb and a catch up. It’s a chance to share stories, swap tips and inspire others.
For new climbers, or hardcore crushers.
Stick around after climbing for coffee and cake at our local cafe.
*Please note: this event is not designed for kids to attend, but mums and bubs sessions are definitely something that we are working towards for future events.
Price: FREE for Climb Fit members, Discounted entry fee of $18 for everyone else
Check them out https://www.mumsgoneclimbing.com/
“We are a community that supports and inspires mothers to find balance in parenthood through climbing and outdoor adventure. Holding space for mothers, as they push their boundaries, and find their joy”.