One Year into Parenthood
My baby girl has just turned four months. But I would say parenthood actually started about a year ago. I’m not saying I had all these paternal feelings eight months before she was born. I just mean my climbing lifestyle changed at this point – the lifestyle I had become very comfortable with.
While I grew up on Portland, I didn’t climb until I was 21. My friend’s dad and my science teacher (same person, Mr Leonard or John, as I refer to him now) took us bouldering on the island when we were 16ish, but I just didn’t get it. At that time, I was failing at being a dirt jump rider as I didn’t have the stones to do the big jumps. I also didn’t have the coordination to be a trials bike rider. I didn’t have the speed to be a footballer. I didn’t have any rhythm, so playing music was off the cards too. The one thing I found I was okay at was partying and I did that pretty solidly for five years (maybe a little longer).
Climbing and partying overlapped for a while, but I started to see that it’s much easier to have a good climb if you get up for a full day rather than start climbing at five in the afternoon. For the next 11 years, I only climbed. All my friends were climbers or if they weren’t climbers, they came to the crag to see me. I moved back to Portland to climb more, I then packed in my life and moved into my van to climb around Spain for three months. When I returned I found a way to work in the climbing industry and eventually started a company inspecting climbing walls alongside route-setting. The lockdowns hit that pretty hard so I went to work in a wall alongside running the business. Every part of my life was climbing. I had fortunately found my amazing wife early on in this obsession and she came and climbed with me on nearly every trip. In nine years of being together, we have been on one non-climbing holiday: a long weekend in Venice that was nice but it was three-and-a half-days too long. Emmie also agrees.
I thought of myself as a solid sport climber, if not particularly a good one. I had found the thing which I was just above average at and loved the lifestyle. I was a climber.
Now in those 11 years, I have only had six weeks off a couple of times because of injury. Each time I started questioning myself and felt a loss of identity. ‘Am I still a climber? And if I’m not, what the fuck am I?’ Fortunately the six weeks’ rest would come to an end and I would be back on it.
Baby life is different. The first thing which happened is Emmie told me she was pregnant. We were buzzing, it was great news. Arguably it wasn’t the greatest timing, as I had just signed up for a Lattice plan and we’d booked flights to Spain for a climbing trip. Neither of us thought it would happen so quickly, Turns out partying a LOT doesn’t affect your swimmer as much as you might think!
‘Okay great,’ I thought, ‘Nine months of solid climbing and then we just bring the baby to the crag.’
One thing I didn’t take into account was that Emmie wasn’t going to want to lead anymore in case she took a fall and hurt the precious cargo. Also, she didn’t want to belay me on projects in case I fell and yanked her to the wall. This made days out different straightaway as we had predominantly climbed with each other. While many of our friends were away or very much ‘I only climb in pairs’. This meant that we went mostly to crags which had easier routes, which I didn’t mind as it meant I could fill in some gaps. I’m not going to complete the Portland UKC tick list without climbing all of the routes.
We carried on with days at the crag on the weekends, but mornings became slower and so did the psych. Every now and then Emmie might be busy so I would get a day out with different climbers. My want to tick a hard route was always battling with my want to climb a lot. This would often end with me feeling relatively unsatisfied.
Our trip to Spain was great. Our friends live out there so they showed us tons of crags which aren’t on UKC and have no guides. It was awesome to climb Spanish rock, which wasn’t anywhere near polished. We had to let our friends know that Emmie was pregnant as there is no way of turning down a beer after a long day of climbing without getting the question ‘why?!?’ Emmie top-roped on the trip but very few climbs as the exhaustion had well and truly hit her. One of our friends got injured so I was essentially a lone climber. Everyone said they were happy to belay but only a psychopath can pretend people actually don’t mind belaying all day. This made for short days, but this wasn’t a bad thing, as I was still getting quite a bit of climbing in. The trip ended with ticks I was quite happy with. Although they aren’t on UKC, so do they really count?
I returned from Spain and jumped straight onto the Lattice plan. I have never been much of a trainer, 90% of my climbing has been outdoors and my ticks have come from just climbing a lot and not by training. I enjoyed the routine for a while but found I had to sacrifice my free time to train and had less time on the rock. I saw gains in most aspects of the training but I was squeezing sessions in so that I could still have some free time for some climbing. This eventually ended with me being continuously pumped, I couldn’t shake it, even though I had been training to prevent it. I would start a session, barely warmed up, and just get pumped. This finally became too much and I quit the plan one week from the end.
Straight after the SPORT climbing Lattice training plan, we had a trip to Font. It seemed like the best spot to go for Emmie to potter around on low problems and for me to try as much as I wanted. We went for the classic long weekend with some of our closest friends. The day we arrived it was beautiful and exciting to be back in the forest but I have fallen for that before. We were smart, we said let’s not overdo it on the first day we need to save our skin. The next day it rained all day. The next day was possibly the hottest day on earth. Oh, and it was more humid than a bath. A thunderstorm was coming and that was the end of the climbing. Our last baby-free climbing trip was over before it even began.
The weekends then began getting busier with family commitments. Once you are on the family train it’s hard to get off it. It’s lovely that everyone wants to see you and help but the very selfish and tunnel-visioned side of me was just counting down the days in which I had left.
In mid-July I found a free day to head to Portland. It was around two months before our baby was due and I managed to sneak out for a DWS. By this time Emmie had packed in climbing – the full body harness had a few outings but nothing was comfortable anymore. This climb on Portland was my last on the island for six months! Considering I had climbed on the island most weekends for 11 years this was a shock!
I did manage to find a few more outdoor sessions local to my work. These were evening sessions with a friend who had a project at the same crag. I am pleased to say we both ticked before it simply got too dark to visit.
I tried to squeeze board sessions (in the garage) around helping Emmie prepare for our new arrival. As our baby grew, Emmie’s energy shrank which meant my workload doubled. Now I understand I may sound terrible here but it is the truth. I didn’t mind doing more, I was buzzing for the baby to arrive. But honestly, I was still very detached. It’s a strange thing, the experience for each parent is incredibly different. They say a woman is a mother when they know they are pregnant but a man is a father when they hold their baby. It is completely true! My environment changed, my responsibilities changed but I didn’t and I was waiting for something to happen. I wanted something to flip but I was honestly still thinking about how I could get out for a climb and would think ‘I’m sure Emmie could still get up one or two routes’.
The day it changed was the day everything changed. We were a couple of days overdue and we finally gave in to some of the recommendations to get the baby moving. This we did in the form of a curry. Well, actually Emmie isn’t mad on curry, so we got Chinese. And it was just chicken balls. I haven’t read anywhere that chicken balls help labour but it did for us, that and a go on the swings.
It basically kicked off quite poorly, which meant five attempts at calling LabourLine followed by calling the ward. They asked us to come in. Outwardly, I was trying to keep my cool. ‘Don’t worry babe, I will grab the bags and we can get in the van and drive there. We can just come home if they don’t want us there once they have checked things. No bother.’ I then went upstairs and my head was going ‘WHERE ARE THE FUCKING BAGS?! ARE THE ROADS OPEN?!’
Back downstairs: ‘Got them, let’s get in the van. In your own time. Do you want to listen to whale song?’
I’m not going to go into the labour, but fucking hell: everything happened which shouldn’t have. And it finally came down to the midwife leaning over my wife and asking if I was alright. The consultant, who I would describe as very busy at the time, also asked if I was okay. She then announced to the room full of 10+ midwives ‘Can we get some tissues for the emotional dad!’ All said and done, our baby girl was out.
I was concerned I wouldn’t have ‘the feeling’ as I am generally quite reserved and I had listened to podcasts about not every parent having the overwhelming feeling of love. So I was pleasantly relieved when I saw our girl on my wife’s chest getting her first skin-to-skin still covered in slime and all I could think was ‘Wow she is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen! Even covered in slime!’
The next couple of weeks were a blur. Make that a month! Climbing has come in the form of fingerboard sessions with my girl strapped to me for weight. My thoughts on this are as she grows, I get stronger and by the time she leaves for uni I am going to have fingers like McClure! During this time, I also managed to sneak in one board session in the garage. But time is really not available once the baby is out even just an hour in the garage.
We visited Boulder Shack within three weeks of birth. Emmie was obviously not climbing and I had around an hour on and off but I also just wanted to stare at the baby still.
We then managed a day at Brean Down within the first two months with some parent friends but their kids are around 18 months. We somehow planned it and it was a sunny warm day in November and the crag was quiet. This gave me a lot of hope. What to expect in the future.
In the third month of baby life, Emmie had planned to see her parents which left a day spare for me. I planned to get on the rock with a friend and was super excited. We talked about Portland and the conditions were looking good all week until the Friday before. A threat of snow was due locally making Emmie nervous about driving and Portland looked rainy. This meant a half-day session at Parthian. This was an eye-opening experience, I don’t think I have fallen off that many 6b’s for nine years! The session started out well and I felt strong. The issue came at route 4 and every bit of my stamina evacuated my body.
Around Christmas, a walk was planned on Portland with friends but I was also offered to be a third in a climbing party so I could disappear when needed. I took this chance and had a sweet 2 hours on the rock, in which I climbed okay. Stamina was again the issue on route 3 but then I had to leave.
I guess that brings us up to date. It’s fair to say having a baby is not conducive to having a lot of climbing and feeling super strong. Your climbing stamina leaves along with any power and general finger strength. Your hands lose their thick skin which is replaced with skin similar to your baby’s ass. Even your grim feet with all their callouses and bumps perfectly sculpted for the snuggest climbing shoe somehow soften into normal grim feet. Some people manage to train around having a baby and do fingerboard sessions at four in the morning, these people are freaks of nature! I have succumbed to the fact that I will climb when I can and I will expect very little. At least for a while.
As corny as it is, I can be upset that I’m not climbing but when our baby flashes me a smile or I see her roll over for the first time, I’m not actually thinking about climbing. I guess I have a new identity now.
Saying that we have booked a week in Font with another family, and a long weekend in the Peak, and are actively trying to relocate back to Portland.