Have Baby, Must Travel

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Becoming a parent required Courtney to learn how to hold on tighter to the parts of her identity she values most.  In her latest femail, Courtney maps out her first days and months with her daughter in order to share the experience with a friend who had just given birth and was working through some of the same challenges of motherhood.  

Dear ___,

I’m so glad you reached out a few days ago and I am more than happy to share my thoughts on how to continue having the experiences you had with your husband before ___ was born, just differently.  I just want to put it out there that you will be able to adventure again, and probably soon, since good weather is coming and your little lady is getting stronger every day.

I believe holding on to your identity while parenting is all about staying true to your values and priorities.  Because Sheikh and I had so little extra time after our daughter was born, it was really important for us to take stock of what we cared about most, respectively and as a couple, and then make sure we devoted time and energy to these.   I used a psychotherapist to help with this.  As an advocate of preventative care, I believe people should see a psychotherapist in the same way we see physicians and dentists, so I recommend this if you haven’t gone in that direction yet.  Mine offered me an objective voice, sharp insights, and valuable tools I now use to be better to myself, my partner, and our little lady.

Before you go on a two-week backpacking trip, you will probably start with smaller adventures as you get used to ___’s needs and try to balance them with your own.  Mimi was born in early November.  I had a c-section, so we were stuck indoors a lot due to winter and my recovery.  Even so, Sheikh and I really value being outside, so we braved the cold and tried to go for a walk every day, at least around the block.  We didn’t always hit daylight, but at least we moved our bodies.  We also needed a sense of normalcy, so we took Mimi out to eat when we could.  Of course, every little excursion took time – we would try to go to brunch and often end up at happy hours.  Regardless, it felt good to put ourselves in a social space.

We also needed to get away sometimes.  You and I are lucky to have partners who can support our individual priorities, and I encourage you to lean on your husband for this.  For example, in the very beginning, I really needed time with friends, an occasional hour or two where I could grab dinner and catch up with someone (and most of my friends didn’t have kids).  Sheikh needed to work out and clear his head.  And we both wanted a date night about every other week.  We watched Mimi for each other and had visiting family watch her for us while we went on dates.  We later swapped nights with other parents, and finally found our own babysitter when Mimi was about one.

Are you going to be home solo with her for a while?  I remember how daunting it seemed to take care of Mimi for a full day on my own, let alone for two months – I cried the first day Sheikh went back to work.  But it got easier.  In the beginning, I found a break in the morning, strolled her to a nearby coffee shop, hung out there for 15 minutes, and then strolled her back.  It was a reason to get dressed.  Not long after that, I started taking her to story time at our community library (which is a great place to meet friends).  Soon I was comfortable taking her downtown on the bus to meet Sheikh for lunch.  And at some point I was at Trader Joes and the cashier was like, “do you take her everywhere? My mom took me everywhere.”  And I was like, yeah, I guess I do.  That felt like a good moment.  And I did: Mimi and I went to the zoo, the art museum, walked around parks, ran lots and lots of errands, and on my last day of maternity leave I took her to the aquarium and then took myself out to a happy hour where I journaled and she napped.

I really think all of these little excursions were the building blocks for our comfort traveling with her now.  My favorite metaphor for learning how to get out with Mimi was the experience of arriving in a foreign city for the first time: you get to know the area around the place you’re staying and stumble over a few phrases in the language, then you see some sights, have some meals, become more familiar with the greetings and culture, and if you’re there long enough, you become much more comfortable with the place and customs and language.  And your confidence builds; you can venture further.  Well, I think this is like parenting.  You practice and take some small risks and the next time you take a risk it feels much easier.

Which brings me to my point: it is entirely possible to travel with a baby, and to travel early in your baby’s life.  We took Mimi on her first plane ride when she was 1.5 months to Michigan.  After the flight we felt like we had hit another parenting milestone.  Mimi has been on several flights since then, so I’m happy to talk plane travel tips if you ever want them!

We are friends with a couple who love to backpack and snowshoe and adventure.  When their daughter was born, they waited about a month or two before they started taking her out on day-long snowshoe excursions on Mt. Rainier. They properly bundled her and kept her warm and fed her through layers of clothing.  I really think this just made them feel normal again, so they prioritized it.  They also took their daughter overseas to Sweden when she was about ten months old.  We thought they were total rockstars, but they were like, we couldn’t do this any other way!

Hopefully you’ll find this helpful as you start adventuring with your kiddo.  Take what advice works for you and ditch the rest – you’ll fill in the blanks soon enough with all of the experience you’ll get.   And some final annoying-but-true advice:  try to give yourself a break.   You’re not going to climb Everest with ___ quite yet, but you can start planning and looking forward to the first hike or day trip, and in the mean time, when you can, try to appreciate the quiet moments with your little one because they are so, so fleeting.

Feel free to reach out anytime.

Courtney

 

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