The terrain was getting steeper, blockier and trickier to navigate – the kind of terrain I thrive in. I like to use my hands. I like to solve problems. I like it when the route presents a mental challenge. It’s the steady slogging up high-angled trails that starts to get to me, when getting up something is just a matter of good cardio and stamina.
Here I was last Monday making my way up the final summit block of Mt. Cory in Banff National Park. A cornice hung over the top like a tidal wave, making it unclear where solid rock ended and a punch through to a fatal fall began. Our party of three got two vertical metres from the summit and called it our high point.
We had a long way to go down – over 1300 metres, in fact – and before we started the downward trod, we found a flat lunch spot on the ridge, and put our backs to the summit so that we could take in the distant views. To the South, the prominent North face of Mt. Assiniboine hung above a sea of peaks. To the East stood Mt. Rundle, the West Mt. Temple. I said “hello” to my familiar friends. It’s been a while…
It was my second peak in 10 days, the first being Mt. Lawrence Grassi – a personal record-setting rate for the last three years. Prior to that it was a peak a week until pregnancy set my balance off, put too much pressure on my pelvis and brought on extreme fatigue. That was followed by two years spent clinging to a thread most of the time. The abyss for me wasn’t postpartum depression, but rather physical recovery after a long and traumatic delivery, exhaustion beyond what I thought any human was able to cope with, and a total lack of balance. There were many joyful, fun times amidst those two years, but my denial of the struggle caught up to me last summer.
I felt plagued by a feeling of heaviness, as if birthing the baby and shedding the extra weight had not made a difference. I saw an osteopath, who told me I had no vitality in my body. I believed her. My limbs felt like the rusty parts of an old tractor, abandoned in a field. The thought of having the energy and strength to climb a mountain – something that came so naturally to me “before” – left me feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. I loved my little girl with all my heart, but quietly wondered if motherhood was this hard for everyone.
Even today, I am reminded of the pain and frustration of falling down that slippery slope of comparing myself to other mothers. These feelings are visceral, sometimes painful. I have since learned how much damage is caused by this whole notion of “bouncing back”. Our culture puts too much pressure on women to return to ‘normal’ by over-emphasizing the successes of new mothers who accomplish considerable feats. I marvel at the women who, soon after having a baby, slide into their skinny jeans, run triathlons, climb mountains, compete in the Olympics, even have another child. I acknowledge it is often a matter of will and desire, but I am convinced more than ever that some women’s bodies allow them to push hard. I had all the will, but my body protested. I now marvel, but for a long time I resented.
A few times, I pushed hard – trips into the backcountry, up small peaks, across the world island-hopping – but my saving grace, from a recovery standpoint, turned out to be bicycling and hiking gently with my baby girl. This got me out of the town limits, out into pseudo wilderness. It also got my body moving without putting pressure on my joints. Slowly, but surely, I felt my vitality returning. One step in the right direction led to another. I started taking fish oils and Vitamin D. I made a concerted effort to sleep better. Now I book extra days at the day home when I feel myself starting to split at the seams.
Yesterday, I took a leap on the dock at Vermilion Lakes. I felt lightness, and it was a celebration.
As we approached the top of Mt. Cory, our team encountered some steep snow slopes. The exposure was considerable enough for me to switch my hiking pole for an ice axe. As I plunged it into the snow and pulled on it to test its security, I had a moment of nostalgia. The rhythm of placing the axe – plunge, step, step – reminded me I still had it in me. It had been there all along. I just needed to be patient with the process. I needed to accept my own journey; it is the only way that I can teach my daughter the same patience and acceptance.
What still surprises me about motherhood, among many things, is just how long it took me to feel vitality return to my body. Two years in I finally feel capable again. I am learning to love the “after” version of my body – the stretch marks, as much as the new limits.
I finally feel at ease, powerful… free.
Did your ‘recovery’ time surprise you, too? How did you deal with it?
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