I started planning our road trip in my mind months before Ben was born. In the year I got pregnant, my husband and I had taken three significant adventures together, both domestic and international, by plane and by car. In fact, only a few hours after I first saw that double-pink line appear on the at-home pregnancy test, I boarded a plane for a surprise 65th birthday trip to Chicago I had planned for my dad.
Our road trip had some elements of necessity and convenience; we had to get from Orange County, Cali. to Seattle, Wa., to see family. However, with the trip now behind us, I readily admit that I really planned the whole thing to prove to myself that adventure would not stop once the baby was born.
Yes, our trip was a thrilling (and, at times, maddening) adventure. But it was also a transformative experience. It allowed me to slow down, to finally bond with my son. It brought my husband and I close again after the shock of becoming parents, and it made me a more confident mother.
Here are a few things I learned about myself while traveling with a baby:
I learned to enjoy my limitations
A newborn can’t spend that much time on the road. We used naptime to drive in 90-minute increments and, if we were lucky, he’d give us an extra 30-minutes of awake time in the car before we needed to stop. Anything above that, he simply got too hungry or restless to stay in the car. This limits how far you can get on a road trip, so I learned I had to find pleasure in these limitations.
Instead of checking off all the must-see sights in a given city, we would pick one interesting and unpopulated spot in town and spend a lot of time there. This meant less rushing around for us and more comfort for the baby. This is how we learned all about micro-distilling in Oregon and how I came to be the proud owner of a $50 bottle of sipping agave liquor.
In lieu of planning activities like a brisk hour-long hike — like I would normally do — I learned to find the same enjoyment from a brief stop at one or two scenic viewpoints along the way. Bonus if the stop doubled as a breastfeeding break.
And, when our day was forced to end at 5 pm because of Ben’s early bedtime, I learned to use the time to reconnect with my husband over bad wine in plastic cups while hiding in the hotel’s hallway or our bathroom.
I learned to get over myself
Most significantly, I learned to get over my discomfort with breastfeeding. I had hang-ups about breastfeeding. I’m not proud of it, but it weirded me out and, on top of that, breastfeeding is really hard. I only got by those first few months with the help of certain comforts and a strict routine.
Before our trip, I would only breastfeed every three hours in a private room with a comfortable chair and My Breast Friend (actual name of a breastfeeding pillow). If I was away from home, I would find the nearest Nordstrom, so I could breastfeed in the comfort of their women’s lounge.
Guess what? There are not many Nordstrom women’s lounges on a four-state road trip. So I had to let go of my hang-ups and embrace the convenience of supplying all my son’s necessary nourishment with my body. I breastfed my son everywhere: in the car, on park benches, in hotel lobbies, you name it! I even cozied up to a fireplace in a classy restaurant and breastfed him while I ordered— and possibly sipped on—a bourbon cocktail.
I learned how to be a confident mother
Self-doubt is a given, in life and certainly in motherhood. It takes different shapes for different women. For me, I felt most inadequate about my feelings toward my son. I was never sure I wanted to be a mom, and that uncertainty did not go away once I was pregnant or even after our son arrived. I know now that it is normal for the bonding feelings to take time. But, at a basic level, because I could not feel a strong emotional connection to my son, I doubted my ability to even be a good mom at all.
Throughout our travels, I learned to understand Ben’s cues, his feelings and his attachment to me, along with navigating unforeseen hiccups that came along the way. It helped me believe in my own abilities as a parent. Plus, on the road, we couldn’t fall victim to outside influences or the comparison game. And we only had so much time each evening to consult Google about whatever new thing was happening with the baby that day.
So, should you consider taking your baby on an extended road trip? I would certainly advocate for it. Expect it to be equally as wonderful as it is challenging while you are in it. But, I promise you’ll look back at it as one of the best things you did that first year as a mom.