Rock climbing is something you can do at any stage of life… but when you’re pregnant? A lot of changes when you start a family, but Australian filmmaker Nell Gow says that doesn’t have to include your passion for adventure.
British mother Emily Trevitt was at the top of her rock climbing game when she noticed something was not quite right. She was half-way up a route and having much more difficulty than usual.
“I was huffing and puffing up a wall and thinking, ‘Oh, this hangover’s a bit punchy’. But it wasn’t a hangover, it was this little one,” she says, gesturing to her toddler.
“Motherhood, while climbing, is tricky! It’s hard to juggle a baby and your climbing needs, but from the start I wanted her to be part of it, so I was breastfeeding in the middle of the climbing gym… she’s part of the climbing scene now and she’s a brilliant climber herself. She hasn’t been up the wall yet, but she’s up and down anything she can.”
Meanwhile, Kristin Re from Rhode Island in the United States, had just gotten into the sport when she fell pregnant. Despite some initial concerns, she climbed throughout the entire nine months.
“I stopped five days before I had Eleanor because my climbing shoes didn’t fit anymore. The last time I put them on, they pushed all the water up out of my feet and [into] my ankles and they hung over my climbing shoes,” she laughs.
Swedish woman Josefine Germundson took it one step further. She actually went rock climbing the same day her little one decided it was time to meet face-to-face.
“I climbed until the end of both my pregnancies… I didn’t love being pregnant. I guess everyone has their individual experience of pregnancy and childbirth and the recovery process afterwards. To me, to be able to climb through the whole pregnancy really meant a lot.”
Mum’s gone rock climbing?
These women are just three of the many featured in a documentary called Mum’s Gone Climbing, made by Australian videographer Janelle (Nell) Gow.
She is herself a rock climbing mum, with two children aged seven and four. Her film tells the stories of “chalky mothers finding their stoke” all around the world. It’s 26 minutes of non-stop inspiration that will appeal whether you’re a mother or not.
Gow, 34, lives on Queensland’s beautiful Gold Coast and runs a highly-engaged online community with 1,400 members on Instagram and another 500 on Facebook. She tells She Is Adventure it started when she returned to climbing after having kids.
“I did climb for a few years in my mid-20s, but then I got pregnant and I stopped climbing altogether. I didn’t have any role models. It ended up being five years until I started climbing again, because I had my first and then my second and then it was all motherhood,” she says.
“There was a lot of stress in my life – our eldest has special needs. There was nothing in my life other than parenting, which was exhausting and a bit soul-destroying to be honest.”
The group focuses on maternal wellness, encouraging mums to prioritise time to do things that they are passionate about outside of parenting.
When Gow went back to rock climbing, she had to start from step one. Between meeting new people and building up her strength again, she began sharing her progress on Instagram. Not wanting to spam her family and friends, she started the @mumsgoneclimbing account.
“The name is pretty funny because when I first started climbing, and I was leaving the house without the kids, my youngest would say, ‘Oh mum’s gone climbing’ because that’s all she thought I did when I left the house,” she laughs.
Gow initially planned to share content about mums doing all kinds of adventurous things, but she discovered a real niche in climbing. Her followers found a source of inspiration in stories about other women. Some are professional athletes; most are just average climbers. All of them can relate to the challenges and triumphs that come to rock climbing with kids.
Sharing challenges and triumphs
American mother Blair Elspeth went back to rock climbing when her daughter, Whitney, was about nine months old. She says motherhood affected her climbing in a lot of ways.
“I had a really terrible pregnancy, so I didn’t get to climb through my pregnancy like I had hoped to, which was kinda disappointing. Then when I did get to go back to it, it gave me a sense of [normalcy],” she says in the film.
“When you first start off being a mum, so [many] of your own things go away because you’ve got this little blob to keep alive. Having climbing there in the beginning of being a mum was super crucial in helping me reconnect with who I am.”
Gow skillfully weaves many women’s stories together throughout the film. Despite the geographical diversity and the variety of experiences, the project revealed some consistent themes. She hopes sharing them will “help normalise some things”.
“The fear thing is insane. Once you have kids, your idea of risk management changes completely. I climbed in my 20s, I remember being scared, but I don’t remember thinking of the consequences as much. I think as mums it just comes into your head,” she says.
“For me, that’s obviously the worst-case scenario, but for me my son has special needs and it’s very physical type of parenting I need to do with him. Even if I sprain an ankle, I’m going to be relying on my parents to help me for six weeks. The focus on consequences is so much higher.
“A lot of the mums spoke about that and how much harder it is to push boundaries after becoming a mother, so that was a big one. I actually didn’t know it was so prevalent until I put that film together and I started getting all these responses coming in.”
Judgement is another key theme.
While Gow personally hasn’t dealt with negative comments, many of the other women have – especially those who chose to continue rock climbing after they fell pregnant.
“If they were fathers, no-one would be saying anything. In fact, people would probably tell them it was a good thing they were out climbing,” she says.
“The truth is rock climbing is seen as a risky sport by people who don’t do it.”
Rock climbing community
Lauren Humphrey, from Connecticut in the United States, climbed through both of her pregnancies and she says having a solid community of women around her helped.
“I really enjoyed the experience quite a bit actually,” she reveals in the film.
“It really taught me to slow down and forget about some of the extrenuous (sic) things that go with climbing like grades and how hard you’re climbing and how often and totally just start to have fun again.”
Gow says a sense of community is key and that it can be really helpful to have the support as you juggle the logistics of raising young children and living an adventurous lifestyle.
“Finding a community that is going to support you is a really good starting point. I actually did an introduction to climbing [course] when I came back in because it had been five years – just to run over the knots and the things that would keep me safe,” she says.
For mothers looking to continue or resume adventurous lifestyles, she says you don’t have to throw yourself at technical outdoor expedition at the edge of your limits straight away. She recommends starting with activities that have very controlled risk that will ignite the excitement of pushing barriers again, such as indoor climbing.
“As far as expectations go, focus on things that make you feel happy and empowered,give yourself time because it doesn’t happen overnight, and that’s OK,” she says.
“You can set goals, but see them as kind of a steering point – not something to put your heart on. They’re just a guide to help you remember where you’re going.”
Who is the most inspiring adventure mum you know?