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The mountain climber Lene Gammelgaard:”The Plan Was Never To Have Children Alone”

The mountain climber Lene Gammelgaard: The Plan Was Never To Have Children AloneBjerbestigeren Lene Gammelgaard: "Planen Var Aldrig At Fa Born Alene", 47/2009, Denmark
By Majbritt Lacuhr. Photo: Lisbeth Holten, Miklos Szabo and Bulls. Translation to English: Anna Svarinskaya

Lene Gammelgaard was the first Scandinavian woman to climb Mount Everest. In the last year, she was busy with the most adventurous mission of raising children - without a man. It has cost a lot of money, energy, long trips abroad and wear and tear, but today she is a mother of three. You can read her story here.

I feel like I've kind of pushed it off. I have experienced what many would describe as  dreams come true. And I know also that dreams have also the reverse side. I have been sitting so much at gourmet restaurants that I didn't want to eat any more good food, and I've been drinking so much caffe latte.

The only thing I longed for was for a change to take place, so that I would have to go at four o'clock to collect my children! I had spent far too much time planning to go to the theater and the pub and that and that.

Until just three years ago, there were still no children in Lene Gammelgaard's life, despite the fact that they were at the very top of her wishing list. And life was going in circles around the worries about how she was going to get them into her life. And there was no man either.

But on the New Year's Eve of 2007, she was finally able to bring home the first part of her life - her adopted daughter Srijana, who was two years old at that time - from Nepal.

And on a dewy afternoon in May, the second part was completed, then

she parked in her newly purchased car in front of the villa in Rungsted with her 4-year-old Srijana sitting side by side with the two latest additions to her life - twins Sylvester and Smilla, whom Lene had born a few days before at Rigshospitalet. A moment she had only imagined in her wildest imagination. And still without a man in her life.

Pull off at an exit

Lene Gammelgaard herself comes from a safe and good nuclear family. The parents have been clear role models. Sticking together through thick and thin and still feeling good about themselves and each other.

- For many, many years, I didn't feel like having a nuclear family at all. A bit of a paradox. But there was just a lot of stuff in it that wasn't me. That's why I haven't quit it either, but lived in a different way. And when I cast an envious glance at couples who have started the family at a young age, I have to remind myself of all the fantastic and extreme experiences I have with me.

Yet I have always believed that. "Well, now I'll meet that man, and then we'll live together until the end of our days and figure out the crises and have the children we want". As it happened to many others. But gradually it dawned on me, that it's obviously not just like that. It takes a lot of luck and some coincidences too.

When I got divorced at 30, I pulled off the highway and thought, "Whoa, how am I going to get back on track?"

A struggle lies ahead of Lene Gammelgaard's own family reunion. An internal struggle with nature. And also with systems, laws and rules. But now this 48-year-old woman  is made of a very special substance and has the ability to focus on the goal, since she - quite literally - is used to the fact that life can go pretty much uphill. In 1996 she climbed - as the first Scandinavian woman - Mount Everest. And  it was the same steep constancy and indomitable will that got her out of the biggest crisis of her life and brought the children into her life that she wanted so dearly.

You must find a father

For children, the nature didn’t provide what Lene Gammelgaard had in mind. So she took things into her own hands. And so it ended with an adoption in Nepal and an in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Russia.

"I had been really, really sad not to be allowed to experience being a mother. But I will be able to experience that now. At full blast."

- The gods must know that I have also wanted it differently. It is not a happy choice. Nothing with: "Yes, man, I'll show them!". When my daughter says, "Mom, I want a father", I say, "Well, I'm looking into it too - and we'll probably find the best world’s father for you". That was clearly my intention. It was never about wanting to have children alone. My life just hasn't turned out the way I thought it would. And it takes courage to admit it

Now Smilla makes noises from the bedroom and is immediately brought into the room with the music playing and her brother, who welcomes his sister with a smile and high-pitched chattering noises.

In the meantime, we rewind to the beginning of Lene Gammelgaard's story.

Too old

After the divorce from a man she did not want to have children with, she spends several years trying to have children the natural way. Time passed. Suddenly she was 40, and one day there was a friend who said: "What if you don't marry that man - then what?" That got Lene out of her chair. Because…maybe she would never meet him.

During the year and a half she went through a series of inseminations, followed by IVF attempts. Nothing succeeded. She therefore decided to adopt. And then followed a long and exhausting story with - according to her - quite rigid adoption rules, unfortunate bottlenecks and failures from the authorities.

And  when the path to the desired child finally seemed fairly clear, she ended with 14 months of an involuntary exile in Nepal due to the country's political situation. An emotional rollercoaster, which has now been published in her book under the title: "My life's struggle - 14 months in Nepal for my daughter" - and which we told about in this magazine in the summer of 2008.

Despite the hardships in Nepal, Lene did not doubt for a second that Srijana should have siblings Not even though she herself had turned 47 and thus, according to Danish law, was clearly too old to receive fertility treatment at home.


In the spring of 2008, she travelled to a fertility clinic in St. Petersburg in Russia, where the age limit for IVF is not so strict. And she got pregnant on the second try.

- I have been really sad at the thought of not being allowed to experience being a mother of a toddler. But I'm allowed to live it up now. And it is quite exhausting. Lene is smiling down at her two little miracles, who are not even half a year old, and are now lying on a giant nursing pillow, while taking care of their mother's breasts.

- It is good that I am an intense person who has always sought the great experiences. Three children is intense. Non-stop. You can't park them on hold somewhere. Most of the time I hope that I appreciate it and feel that it is a gift.
To help her through the practical part of her new life, she has hired an au pair.

A young woman she got to know at the children's home in Nepal, and who, among other things, can ensure a reasonable balance in Lene's sleep.

- Au pair in my life is here to stay. I just need to have some breaks. In a month's time, when people here are a little more independent of my breasts, I imagine that I can slip out of the door one evening a week and, for example, go to have dinner with friends. Without children.

Close to giving up

- Many years of my life are connected with being involuntarily childless. With poor quality of life and grief, and lots of financial expenses. When the first IVF attempt in St. Petersburg failed, I became distraught. I thought I'd try it once at the most. But I also didn’t want to give up. I didn't sail and travel at that time. I didn't want to spend more of my life without my biggest dream. Before, I could be out for months at a time, but not now. I got focused on one goal and finally achieved it!

"I want a man who is totally crazy about kids"

Now my life is completely, completely, completely different. I really haven't lived this stable since I was a child. The problem has also been the type of man I've been interested in, long-distance sailors or mountain climbers. But this time I won't have an adventurer. As long as the children are so small, I face a glaring change of life. I want a man who is totally crazy about kids. In the most literal sense! Somebody with the concept of everyday life and who thinks it's great to just stay at home and enjoy yourself.

The contrast to Lene Gammelgaard's previous adventurous life is startling. Mountain climbing is not related to the responsibility of having children, she believes. But she can easily be herself on a sailing holiday with the kids already next year, or across Australia in a mobile home.

- Right now, however, I can do without the travels and the wild adventures. But I went trekking in the Himalayas with the big one when she was 2. So maybe it can also be done with the twins. There will come a time when it's not just about diapers, mashed potatoes and hard work.
As early as November, they will be on their first trip of a lifetime - to Dubai. 


Having children under the circumstances that Lene Gammelgaard has, involves challenges in many ways. Did they one day wish to know their parentage? And if something happens to Lene - who is going to take care of them?

- I have to make sure that everything is settled so that I can answer questions truthfully then they arise. The big one knows very well that she has a Nepalese mother and a Nepalese father, and that she has not lain inside my  belly, but that she has always lain inside my heart. But the twins will never have the opportunity to find their biological roots, since it was an anonymous donation.

- And the question of who will take care of them is a bit like a gray shadow... I have to deal with it, but I just can't right now. My older brother and his wife have signed to take care of Srijana, but they won't take all three of them. And they must not be separated.

On the internet, one comes across several unreserved opinions about Lene Gammelgaard's decision to have children later in life. And also as a sole breadwinner.

She herself has not read them.

But about people who do not understand her choice, she says:

- People who have not been exposed to the harsh realities of life tend to have a very fixed view of everything. Right up until something hits them, then they become more flexible. What people out there must be thinking... it's really not something I listen to. It was my choice to have these children. And it's been many years since I stopped taking other people's opinions as a limitation in my life.

And what about someone calls an expression of extreme selfishness?

- Finally, if you are to take that comment seriously, adoption is anything but selfish. The existence of the children who are adopted no matter how bad it is - is so extremely much better than the life they would have had where they come from. It may be true that the need to have children is selfish, but what you offer the child is absolutely a future they would never have had.


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