One of the things I feared the most when deciding to have a baby was that I would lose my freedom, my own sense of self. I mean, motherhood is exactly glamorized in the most positive way sometimes. I was scared of the “mom” label. Did that suddenly mean I would go to the supermarket in sweatpants, with a screaming baby who I would yell at all day. Would it mean I was confined to my house, leaving behind my wanderlust and desire to see the world? Were my best years behind me?
When my first child Nathan was born, I was determined I wouldn’t be one of “those” moms. I decided I would just carry on with life, with a baby in tow. I always knew I wanted to have kids, but I wasn’t one of those overly maternal people. I never crumbled into ooohs and ahhhs when a young child was around and wasn’t one of those people who everyone said “aww you will be such a great mom one day.” But I really had no idea how much you could love something so little and grow so selfless overnight. Literally overnight.
So rather than jump on my mission to naively prove that I could be my own person, and have a baby, it changed to taking him everywhere because I just loved him so much that I wanted to share him with everyone.
In New Zealand, we are lucky enough to get paid maternity leave. When Nathan was born, it was 12 weeks of paid leave and now it is 22 weeks (going up to 26 weeks in 2020) This bonding time is amazing to have, so I decided to use this time to visit my parents who lived in the USA. So at 8 weeks old, I took my first trip with a newborn baby, solo, on 24 hours of travel. To be honest, people thought I was crazy. But my husband was going to meet me there later on and come back on the plane with us, so I figured, “if it’s a nightmare on the way over, at least I’ll have help on the way back.”
So how is flying with an 8 week old baby on your own? Totally doable. As a mother of 3, looking back, it was a piece of cake. But at the time, it was still pretty good. My number one piece of advice is to have a baby carrier of some sort, so that you can have your hands free. I have an Ergobaby soft shell carrier (which means no metal frames) and it can be used as a front pack and a backpack. He snuggled in there through all the security and customs in our connecting flights and loved the movement from walking between terminals.
As much as possible, I tried to keep him on schedule with feed times and sleep times, similar to at home and he was no more unsettled than he would usually be. I got a bassinet on our 12 hour international flight from Auckland to San Francisco and it was awesome to have somewhere to put him and get an hour of sleep here and there.
Perhaps the first thing I learned on this trip, was how much empathy other people can have, and how easy it is to go the extra mile and make such a difference to someone. Let me give you some context… New Zealand has a real “tall poppy” syndrome, meaning we hate when anyone thinks there are better than someone else. We think everyone is the same no matter what. And naively before travel, I would have seen parents with small children, and barely have given them another look. Now though, I can’t help but look for ways to help them. Whether it is to pick up a bag, hold the door, give a kind word of support, I feel such empathy for these other parents who are basically juggling ticking time bombs and trying to hold everything together.
I never expected extra treatment for traveling with a little baby, as I am just like everyone else, but it was just the little things that made a difference. The family line through customs, the extra glass of water when you usually had a pay for a bottle (on a cheap airline), the priority boarding etc. They sound like little things, but they made so much of a difference.
While we were in the USA, we took a trip to New York City. Another one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. It was just after New Years, it was 1F (-17C) in the middle of a blizzard, and we took our 8 week old on holiday. I mean, what were we thinking? Well, we rugged up wee Nathan in winter gear, in a sleeping bag in the stroller, with a weatherproof cover so he was toasty and warm and we pushed him around the city sightseeing.
Again, people were so incredibly nice. We were in a store on 5th Avenue and store clerks offered us space in the changing room if we wanted to feed him. We went up the Rockefeller Centre Building to get a view across the city, and the lovely people there offered us to skip the queue since we had such a little one. On the way down the lift, they offered an alternative exit that wouldn’t be so busy. I just had no idea that people could be so helpful. Perhaps it was always happening around me and I was too self-centered to noticed. I mean I don’t think I was a narcissist by any means, but I never had any reason to wonder about the parents, nor any context on how to help them. Everyday people were going out of their way to help little old me, traveling around a foreign country, with a baby I was still figuring out how to program.
These beautiful acts of altruism have continued as our family has grown. With three children, we hike around New Zealand and show them the beauty of our surroundings. On a recent 7.5 hour hike up to Little Mt Peel,(where I took all three kids by myself), members of the local tramping club, held my kids hands as they traversed a ridgeline. They slowed their own trek down through this narrow section, just to give us a hand.
So here I was, trying to prove to the world (or myself) that I could travel with a baby and life could be amazing… but that actually wasn’t the lesson at all. It was opening my eyes to the kindness and the love from other people. It was learning in practice how a little kindness can go a long way. It was understanding that, in the context of the tall poppy syndrome, that sometimes, other people are more important, and that’s okay.
Now when I travel, I look for opportunities to pay forward that kindness, because I just know how much it helped me. I offer to hold or look after a child while their mum goes to the bathroom, we bring extra small toys and encourage our kids to share them while waiting, and we try to offer kind words of encouragement and support to those that really need it.
As I stand in the sausage shaped queue with little chatterboxes littering the air with their thoughts, I don’t just ignore and carry on. I think of the community I have joined, I understand how we are all one people and I bend down and look into their eyes and know its not about me, it’s about all of us.