“Your life will never be the same again...”
By Rachel Willan
“Your life will never be the same again…” a phrase heard often by women during pregnancy, with the tone usually heavily weighted with negativity. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the arrival of a miniature human in your household is going to require a change in routine and commitments. For better or for worse, the change is a new challenge, a fresh adventure.
I sit here now, 12 months on, as a mother to a beautiful, lively, little boy by day (and night!) whilst being the Nocturnal Baker by night, running my personalised celebration cake business that I brought to life during my maternity leave. My husband kisses us goodbye on a Sunday evening and returns on the Friday evening: he is a long distance HGV driver.
Let’s rewind to the Rach prior to pregnancy: I lived life at a pace that I sometimes struggled to keep up with. I was climbing the career ladder at school, taking on curriculum managerial roles whilst assisting on the family farm, racing the national downhill mountain bike series and hunting down the qualifications to allow me to be a mountain bike guide in my ‘spare’ time. I was free to go where I liked at whatever time I liked. I had dreams and ambitions – I was planning for the future and the future was full of doing.
I predicted, in my head, what people might say on discovering my news and consequently, due to caving in to my own negative thoughts and fears, I hid my pregnancy and the health complications that came with it for nearly four months. My last day mountain biking sticks vividly in my mind: being unable to join the rest of the group for a lunch break at the top of Rossett Ghyll due to the dreaded morning (all day) sickness. I tried to blag that I was just doing some detailed map checking whilst sitting far enough away not to hear, see or smell their food… a dodgy descent down Stakes Pass finished me off. I wasn’t very well, physically and emotionally. I had my wrists metaphorically slapped by my midwife the next morning and banned from my bike. I felt like I had lost everything., my connections to the things that made me, me.
A deterioration in my health led to the medical team around me signing me off work at the 5 month mark which resulted in further isolation. I was prescribed rest, Pilates and walking. There were some pretty long days ahead. To conquer the loneliness I kept myself busy until I exhausted myself. Being busy made the days pass quickly and being exhausted meant that I could sleep. People became very important to me. It goes without saying how amazing my direct family were. They never faltered and went above and beyond for me. Then there were the people who kept in touch, visited and included me and my growing bump. Life might have been changing, but the person I was wasn’t and their simple actions meant so much to me.
The doctors prescription was spot on and before long I was active again, this time on two feet rather than two wheels. It didn’t matter to my family, friends and I – outside was outside however it was done.
As my due date crept up I was on count down. 10 days until I can get back on my bike! Yey! I had in my head where my first ride would be – I’d maybe even squeeze in two rides a day! What else would you do with all that spare time on maternity leave?!
Who was I kidding? My little boy arrived on time and I fell head over heels in love in a way that I hadn’t felt before, (sorry Mark if you’re reading this, our wedding day comes a close second!).
Twenty four hours later, with my little boy at home, the first question I asked the visiting midwife was, “When can I take him outside?”. “As soon as you feel ready,” she replied. Day 1 it was. With the husband having to return to work at the end of that week, long distance wagon driving Sunday – Friday, being able to go outside together was important. I wore him everywhere I went, in a sling on my chest and at 9 weeks old he reached the summit of his first Wainright.
Even after delivering our baby, my body was still working hard to help him grow, it will bounce back to how it was before when it’s ready, I thought. Carrying him every day gradually increased my core strength as he grew too, whilst also allowing me to get out and about without worrying about burdening anybody else with the responsibility of caring for him. This would turn out to be the most disabling fear I had. The fear of being a burden in an attempt to get a little bit of ‘me’ back.
As he hit his development milestones for sitting I was able to pop him into the hiking rucksack on my back and walk further, climb higher and move faster. Whatever the weather, we were out having fun – I was being independent without shirking the responsibility of my new role. It motivated me and made me feel physically satisfied and emotionally calm. Together we scrambled on our hands and knees up slate screes, nearly got blown over sideways by summit winds and got caught out in showers that made us look like we had been wild swimming in a puddle. Despite all of that and more, we never stopped smiling. That’s the power of Lake District fresh air.
Don’t get me wrong, on the blue bird summer evenings my eyes would trace the mountain trails I fondly remembered having to myself many months prior. It’s just that my new role of being a mother gave me so much satisfaction, more satisfaction than descending down a rocky singletrack at Mach ten at that point in time.
An investment was made in a Weeride to add some variety into Jacob’s outdoor education when he was 5 months old – it gave me the chance to convert my walking legs to pedalling legs. In the early days we did minuscule rides to give him chance to practice wearing his helmet. You will only fully appreciate the enormity of this challenge if you have tried to convince a baby to wear a helmet yourself…!
With his neck strength increasing, the ride length could extend. In the northern Lake District longer rides go hand in hand with higher climbs! Jacob would find it incredibly entertaining listening to me huffing and puffing – he would flip his head back on purpose and giggle his little head off at my exhausted face. When it came to the descents, if it was a boring fire road roll he would put his head rest to good use and have a cat nap, but, if things were a bit jiggly he preferred to pretend he was riding the bike with no hands, flapping his little arms up and down in an attempt to boost our airtime.
So will my life never be the same again? I hold my hands up high in confession whilst identifying the main reason I’ve been so slow in getting back to being the ‘me’ that I was nearly 2 years ago: my own stubborn independence. Delegation is not a skill I enjoy using. Does that make me unhappy? No. I can’t put into words how it feels to share the places and experiences you love with a miniature human that you made.
I admit that because of that stubborn independence I have a weatherproof sub-1 year old (that is the most amazing little thing in the world) but he comes with his own set of terms and conditions: He gets pretty hung up about me heading out without him. I can totally relate to how he feels, I know what it is like to be left behind by people you love spending time with. It can be remedied with balance, sharing and communication.
The bottom line is: change is a challenge – life may change but the person does not.
It takes 30 seconds to check in on somebody who you think has become isolated or lonely due to challenging or changing circumstances. Embrace their changes with them and adapt. They’ll be eternally grateful and your life will be much richer for it.