Winning the Baby Race
What has become of me?
Six months ago I would have been salivating over the specs of the latest Trek Top Fuel mountain bike, or scouring the internet for the next epic adventure race to sink my Salomons into.
Instead, I’m scouring Baby Bunting, weighing up the merits of attachment parenting, and wondering if sterilising bottles is really that necessary. Meanwhile my ever-increasing baby bump is testing the limits of my ‘normal’ jeans, while my rapidly atrophying quadriceps remind me I must dust off the wind-trainer while I can still actually get on it.
It’s official: this free-spirited, don’t-fence-me-in adventure athlete has officially joined the ranks of the breeders.
How did this happen?
As a latecomer to the world of adventure sports, baby-making was the last thing on my to-do list. Indeed, mere weeks before I conceived, I’d completed the toughest, most profoundly life-affirming adventure race of my short career: the nine-day XPD in North Queensland. And to be perfectly honest, the exhilarating freedom of that week partially lost in the wilderness, in the company of some unapologetically unfettered women, didn’t exactly fire up my maternal instincts. On the contrary, it left me feeling more ambivalent than ever about parenthood.
How will I cope with not being able to train for a whole nine months? How will I live without my daily dose of off-road adrenalin? What if, despite my best intentions, I never regain my pre-parenthood fitness or competitive drive? Worse, what if I become one of those harried mums I see so often loitering impatiently at race finish lines, jiggling fussy babies or wrangling tired toddlers, while dad indulges his mid-life crisis out on course?
Oh, the humanity!
Well, never underestimate the power of the biological clock. Despite all these very valid reservations, the panic of a 37th birthday spurred me into action. If my partner and I wanted children – and ultimately we did – there was no time like the present. In fact, there was no time, full stop.
And so I did what any other free-spirited, don’t-fence-me-in adventure athlete does when staring down the barrel of swollen ankles, sleep schedules and the end of spontaneity – I channelled all my competitive energies into the baby race.
Indeed, my training for baby began in much the same spirit as my training for adventure racing: with all the blind optimism and, dare I say it, inflated ego, of someone who doesn’t have a clue. Just as I assumed I would be a natural athlete and rise to the top quickly with a bit of half-arsed training (I didn’t), so too did I convince myself I would be a natural at pregnancy and parenthood; a shining exception to the mummy-blogger mantra that insists it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
Harder than paddling a kayak across Bass Strait, or hiking 30 hours through thick North Queensland rainforest? Pfft!
While the getting pregnant bit was surprisingly easy (analogous to paying the entry fee for a race), reality soon caught up with me. As the debilitating nausea and fatigue of the first trimester set in, I realised that perhaps I wouldn’t be one of those mums that runs a half-marathon on the way to the delivery room after all. Instead, with all this time to wallow on the couch and “take it easy”, I began Googling everything and anything on pregnancy and parenthood, and soon found myself falling down the rabbit hole of modern motherhood, where anxiety reigns and every cross word or non-organic mouthful condemns your child to a lifetime of therapy and pharmaceuticals. Before I knew it, I was forming strident, self-righteous views on everything from self-soothing to private-versus-public school.
And to think how simple it was when it was just me, my bike, and some sweet singletrack.
But was it really that simple then? Wasn’t I plagued by the same feelings of inadequacy and anxiety when I was in the thralls adventure racing? Wasn’t I similarly crippled by self-doubt and overly concerned about what others thought? That I wasn’t fast or tough enough? That I didn’t train hard enough? That I’d never live up to my own expectations, or the imaginary expectations of others?
Didn’t I often wish that I could just let go of the ego, chill out and enjoy the moment? Much like now?
It seems in an age when success, celebrity and individualism is revered above service, humility and community, we are always subconsciously competing, or, perhaps more accurately, comparing – be it out on a training run with friends, or at coffee with mothers’ group.
But here’s what I’ve also discovered. One of the great gifts of procreation is how quickly it changes one’s perspective and reveals what is truly important in life: namely, love. I reckon to care deeply and unconditionally for someone or something other than ourselves is as close as we’re going to get to the meaning of life, at least in this century. And the more I care about this little person growing inside me, the less I care about if or when I’ll compete at the same level again.
Of course, I will keep racing and having athletic adventures in the great outdoors – that is my oxygen – but perhaps the destination will be less important than the journey. And that is a blessing.
Besides, if I don’t ever get back to my pre-baby form, I can always project all my unfulfilled dreams onto my child. That’s what they’re for, right?