“What does it mean to be 'motherly'? I've never used that adjective to describe myself... let's be real, I am an adrenaline junkie.”
- Caroline Washam
For Caroline Washam, bicycle racing has been a way of life - from when she was 10-years old racing BMX, to her professional downhill mountain bike racing debut at 27, to racing a World Cup at 30, racing has been the defining thread throughout.
After years of saying 'maybe next year' Caroline and her husband decided to let off the brakes, and take a chance on becoming parents.
Heartbreak & Hope
In January 2022 I was recovering from an ankle surgery, and unsure what my racing future would look like when I found out I was pregnant.
I was immediately excited and already thinking ahead at what perfect timing it all was–we’d have a baby in September, heck maybe I could come back and race again in 2023.
But we quickly learned that this journey isn’t linear, nor predictable. At my first doctor’s appointment, 8 weeks gestation, there was no heartbeat detected. After taking medication multiple times to pass the miscarriage, I had to undergo surgery a month later.
Why am I including this in my story? Because it is a big part of my story, and one that’s not often discussed. I was devastated, and it had us questioning everything. Am I strong enough to try again? Am I strong enough to be a mom?
Months later, my ankle healing, and I was racing and winning again, but a few weeks later I was fighting brain fog. After testing negative for COVID-19, I decided to take a different test. It turned out, I was pregnant!
Excited? Yeah. Terrified? Yes. Full of anxiety? Definitely.
Finding the Line
I had a schedule packed full with coaching and mountain bike events. I was going to ride Snowshoe and Whistler in the next two months. I started searching the internet for answers: 'What happens if you fall at 4-weeks pregnant?' 'Can you ride a rollercoaster while pregnant?' 'Are G-forces on a rollercoaster similar to riding downhill MTB?'
Google wasn't helpful.
I couldn't bring myself to tell anyone I was pregnant because I was terrified of having another miscarriage. So what to do? I stalked a few social media accounts of people who biked while pregnant. I read everything Rachel Atherton wrote, and listened to Sonya Looney's podcast like scripture.
I desperately wanted someone to tell me, "Yes, Caroline. You can jump a 20-foot table-top at 15 weeks pregnant." But no-one was going to tell me that, and I was alone in making those judgment calls. Keeping it a secret was hard, and isolating, but I got to know myself and my riding limits better than ever before.
I had to be completely confident in myself and my abilities, and know where to draw the line. I learned when to tell myself 'No.' and retrained my brain to take my natural competitiveness out of my riding. It's a lesson I carried with me into my postpartum journey.
I finally announced I was pregnant on social media. It was a relief. I felt like I could be my authentic self again, but I had new anxieties to contend with: Would I be judged for riding pregnant? Would riding become too uncomfortable? Why are my hands numb? Is everything okay with my baby? What would happen to my body during birth?
I realized I had felt similar fears before; when I was packing for a big race at a mountain I had never been on. It was the same feeling I got scoping a gnarly trail section, or sitting in the gate before dropping into a race run, a queasy feeling.
The nerves were not unlike what I felt while pregnant. So, I decided to approach the final weeks of pregnancy like I would any downhill race.
I hired a doula to be my 'coach' and got to 'training'. I signed up for Hypnobirthing classes, I listened to positive birth stories, I learned about visualization, and focused on learning to calm my mind. My fears about pregnancy and birth became things I could handle. I told myself 'This will not last forever. Months, days, hours... they will pass and at the end of it you will have a baby."
A baby. I would be a mom.
A New Trail
Shyla Leigh was born 13 days past her due date, on March 13.
I was so afraid of how having a baby would change my life and, frankly, if I would be good at it. The day I met my daughter, I changed. I grew a life, brought her into the world, held her in my arms, and became a mom. I felt powerful and confident.
Each day since I’ve changed a little more, some days I feel alone, stuck, and overwhelmed. Others I feel like all the love is going to make me explode! Everyday I’m amazed by something Shyla does, and totally in awe that I am and will always be her Mom.
A couple weeks after giving birth, I had a virtual appointment with my pelvic floor physical therapist, started moving again, and began retraining my core.
I was lucky, my tearing from birth was minimal with just a few stitches. Still, your organs literally move around to give a baby a home – how wild is that!?
At six weeks postpartum, my body felt good enough for an easy 1-hour bike ride.
In my mind, I still didn’t know how riding a bike was going to be possible, but my husband convinced me we could make it work. We drove to the trailhead together, with Shyla asleep in the car, and he dropped me off. He kept her sleeping by taking her for a drive.
I was hesitant at first, but by the end of those first few miles I was laughing out loud and crying happy tears. I could ride, the trail was still there, my baby, my husband and my dog were all still there waiting for me.
That first ride back felt like such an accomplishment.
So we continued to take Shyla with us to pretty much everything; she’s been to races, to bike parks, and clinics. It's never easy, and sometimes she will cry and refuse to nap, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
At least once a week, I ride my bike. I don’t always go “fast,” and my goal isn’t always to get a workout in or seek a dose of adrenaline. My new goal is usually just to reconnect with my own body, let my mind go and come back to my baby a better version of myself.
So am I “motherly” now? I guess what I’ve realized is there is no formula to being a mom. We’re all just figuring it out. I’m figuring out how to take care of my daughter while riding, coaching, and creating events that grow the mountain bike community, and maybe one day racing again.