Last week, as I was huffing and puffing my way up the basement steps with my Specialized clumsily tucked under my arm, I managed to get myself a fresh chain tat on my calf. (By the way, the ease and agreeableness with which my husband’s Cervelo purred as it practically pedaled itself up the steps, hooked on my pinky finger and weighing, like, a pound, is fodder for another day.) Anyway, the calf tat is not something new. This April marks my fourth year as a cyclist, yet I still can’t avoid getting that rookie ink.
Setting the bike down and surveying the disaster that was my living room, my eyes settled on a package of baby wipes, halfway visible under a giant stuffed Gorilla, fur matted with infant snot, known lovingly as “Mr. Monkey Man.” I fished out a wipe and gave it a go, and, like magic, my calf tat was gone. Apparently, this is a well-known trick of the trade for cyclists, except none of you ever told me that.
So as I am now a person who has a disastrous mess of a living room, when before I did not; and as I am now a person who has excess amounts of baby wipes and baby diapers and baby drool and baby everything, this moment was kind of the perfect snapshot of my new life: all kitted-up and ready to get on the bike, wading through the new, confusing and ever-growing physical (and psychological) accumulation of all-things momhood.
I thought my first year on the bike was hard—my scarred knees and bruised ego will certainly back me up. But navigating my first year on the bike as a mom? That’s been my toughest Strava segment yet.
Before our daughter, Z, was even born, she had her first crash. At about 18 weeks pregnant, I ate some pavement—hard. I was at the back of a quickly moving pace line and, admittedly, not paying the required amount of attention when my tire found a lovely little pavement divot, and that’s all she wrote. I’ve dealt with road rash on the knees and elbows—painful, but tolerable. But raw, angry, deep abrasions across your cheeks, your lips, your forehead? That’s a little tough. I distinctly remember when I came to, thinking my life was over. I’ll never forget what the blueness of the sky above me in that moment, so calm and comforting, a surreal contradiction to the thunderstorm swelling in my heart when I thought about the little person I was growing. A sonogram and multiple stitches later, I got the all clear. I could breathe again.
Waiting for my discharge, I remember telling my mom about the moment while I was lying at that intersection and thinking that my life would now forever be fractured into two deeply painful, jagged halves: my life before that fall, and my life thereafter.
“Thank god you’ll never have to have that kind of moment again,” my mom said. I laughed. “Let’s not get crazy. I’m sure I’ll take another spill—hopefully not on this level—but I won’t be pregnant.” She gave a pointed look at the bedside table, upon which sat the sonogram image of my perfectly safe and sound little girl, and said, “No, I meant, you won’t be riding anymore once you’re a mom.”
Excuse me, what?
This was not a one-off.
My father. My in-laws. My closest friends. They all felt strongly that “mom” and “cyclist” went together about as well as “easy spin” and “20+mph winds.” (Props to my insanely supportive husband, who, as a cyclist, understood how important it was for me to get back on the bike; and, who, as a partner, simply supported me.)
I was a lot of things: I was angry. I felt dismissed as a person. But I was mostly incredulous—the notion of folks telling me that I should stop doing something I am deeply passionate about solely because I crossed that line from ‘person’ to ‘mom’ felt laughably absurd. Three days after that crash, I was back in the saddle. Cautiously back in the saddle, but back.
You might say I’m an idiot or I’m selfish or I’m silly for that decision—and I don’t even want to know what you might have said had you run into me and my burgeoning belly on the bike, well into my eight month of pregnancy. But I kept thinking about that little girl growing big and strong and brave inside of me—should I bow to fear and remove something from my life that I love so deeply, something that thrills me and feeds me and centers me, because of what could maybe happen? No, ma’am. I could not do that. I would never want her to do that.
Now we’ve got a little curly-headed, giggly 1-year-old clomping around our house. As she’s easing herself into this tiny body of hers—one that recently took its first curious, tentative steps—I’m likewise doing my own balancing act, trying to figure out how to be a new mother and a cyclist. How to manage to get critical time for myself to ride, while devoting the critical time to our little one. How to not feel guilty—is this a mom thing? I’m new to the party—for heading out the door to do something that I love while my heart is being ferociously tugged on by little baby fingers.
Last season was pretty much a wash—I was barely sleeping. I was a version of myself that I can’t even recognize. I was not adjusting easily to my new life, let’s put it that way. On sunny Saturday mornings, even though I was cradling this tiny little piece of perfect, I was sad thinking about what all my friends were doing—Filling water bottles. Mapping routes. Regrouping after a tough climb. I was relieved on rainy days, when I knew I wasn’t missing out on those aspects of my old life.
Which leads me to a really important part of the balancing act—shouldn’t I feel fulfilled, wholly and deeply, by this little girl? The idea of motherhood being the ultimate fulfillment is a beautifully packaged concept mailed out to the masses, but for many women who open that box, it’s not exactly what we’ve ordered. Let me be clear: I love this fierce, hilarious, sometimes strange little creature who likes to snuggle with me in blanket forts, fling her dinner all over my just-cleaned floor, and blow sweet baby kisses through the slats of her cribs each night. It is a fierce, warm, all-encompassing, rewarding and sometimes debilitating kind of love that I was seriously unprepared for. It’s the kind of love that needs its own word because ‘love’ will never, ever feel like enough for me.
But I also miss the freedom I once had, to get on the bike any old hour I wanted, to ride for however long I wanted, to sit in a circle on a stretch of hot driveway pavement in the sun and drink a beer with my cycling pals while we rehash the highlight reel of what just went down (or, rather, “up,” in this case) on our ride to Turkey Point.
Now that she’s older, Z’s sleeping (when she wants to!), and I’m feeling not only rested and energetic and confident again, but also like I’ve got this mom thing as handled as I can at this point. I’m seizing the cray. It doesn’t hurt that I happen to have the world’s most supportive, involved and understanding husband—even if he does encourage my jealousy with his super-sleek bike. So, this year, I’m working on trying to figure out how to honor the athlete in me and the mother in me. I’ll be talking about that—and, in general, about being a woman in the pack—on Tuesdays, if you care to join me. I’d love to hear from you, and know your struggles, if any.
For what its worth, there are probably many-a-cyclist mom out there reading this, possibly scoffing: ‘Dude. It’s not that hard. And you only have one kid! Give me a break.’ And to that, all I can say is, I hope, someday, to be on your level, and you are my hero, and please, tell me all your secrets.
Yesterday, I was pedaling up Ohio State road in Academy Hill (a fantastic place to do hill repeats, if you haven’t been). Typically on the short yet steep Ohio State, my mantra is, ‘Go forth, ye, and suffer.’ But yesterday, the first time I’ve done that particular hill post-Z, I was pedaling my little heart out and had a moment of panic: Crap! What am I going to cook my kid for dinner tonight? I was in the middle of my mental inventory of my cupboard when I realized I’d crested the darn hill and didn’t even realize it. So Z—I owe you one, kid. And so many, many more.
(Ed. This is the first in a series of stories by the author about the author as she embraces her life as a new mom, while trying to balance it with her cycling life before momhood. Look for the series to continue on a weekly basis.)