Adventure is a part of my soul. It inspires me, drives me and satisfies a deep part of me.
I don't mind too much what that adventure looks like, be it a bus journey across a foreign country, an epic outdoor expedition or an evening bike ride squeezed in around work. What the adventure is matters less than its existence. I thrive best, both mentally and physically, with a steady trickle of challenge in my life.
At 41 weeks pregnant, I started to freak out. I finally got to the stage where even walking was hard work and I worried that becoming a mum would only mean giving up all the things I loved. I struggled to see how adventure and outdoor life would remain part of my life in the immediate future.
When our baby girl arrived, none of that seemed to matter.
I was utterly captivated.
I felt an amazing sense of acceptance.
The first few weeks were of course a blur of little sleep, nappies and feeding, as well as socialising and muddling through. But to my surprise, dreaming of adventure suddenly seemed, not only possible, but natural again.
I realised that being a mum does not have to mean giving up who you are. Instead of dread, I was excited. I wanted to share the spirit of adventure with my daughter.
So I resolved to start as soon as possible. Here are nine things I have learned.
It's all about Attitude
"Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure." Bob Bitchin
In the first 3 months, there is not much in the way of adventure sports that is safe to do with baby. Given they cannot even support their own heads, doing anything more than walking with baby in those early weeks seems a little irresponsible. And personally, I had no desire to be apart from my baby initially, so walking was my only option (although I did take a few cold water dips mid walk whilst my partner held baby on the bank, so you can get creative!)
Luckily, walking can still be an adventure!
And with a newborn, even leaving the house to walk around the block feels like an adventure in the early days.
It also helped me a lot to keep my expectations low.
That way, I was grateful for anything I managed to do, however small.
Planning with a newborn rarely seemed to work. Everything is random. Instead of trying to control the day as I may have done in the past, I tried to embrace the randomness.
And as long as this phase of randomness lasts (we are definitely still in it), the easiest way to get outside and go for a walk is to live by carpe diem - seizing the moment in a day when baby is fed, changed and settled. We all enjoy the adventure more because of it.
"While s/he remains a newborn, rather than a baby who has settled into life outside the womb, her/his behaviour will be random and unpredictable." Penelope Leach
I may have stolen this one from the Scouts.
But they have a point.
This is the bit that makes the opportunistic approach work - being prepared allows you to leave the house in minutes and maximise your time out and about.
I have a rucksack by the door packed with a travel changing mat, nappies, wipes, barrier cream, 2 changes of clothes, hats, mittens and booties for baby, sterilised bottle, ready made formula and muslin. Just in case. I also made sure I always took a bottle of water and some snacks for me. (I had no idea that breastfeeding made one so hungry and thirsty!) Mostly, my "adventures" were small in those early days, so I rarely needed any of it, but knowing I had it made me much more relaxed.
I've since added two things to my rucksack - an Alpkit Drift Inflatable Pillow and a Koo-di Pop up travel cot. The pillow makes breastfeeding on the go so much more comfortable, especially combined with a rucksack - yet hardly takes up any space. And the Koo-di cot makes taking breaks so much easier. I have no affiliation with either company - I just like their products!
Find a Partner in Crime
9 weeks in and I am feeling much more relaxed about flying solo, but in the beginning, having a buddy for your adventures makes a massive difference! It doesn't have to be a partner, although it could be, but it could also be a friend, relative or another mum - having someone else with me definitely made me feel a lot braver.
Having a partner in crime has also meant that I can do a few things for myself, without baby - whether that is go for a skinny dip or a quick run - it has helped my headspace to be able to do a few of these things.
Finally...it helps if your baby starts to cry partway through - mostly to have another perspective, and perhaps an extra pair of hands to soothe you, as well as baby! I found it far more distressing if my baby cried when I was on my own...
Build up Slowly
The first time I took Chiara out solo I was feeling confident. I set off on exactly the same walk as the day before, this time without my husband. It is about a 5km long walk through some lovely woods and wildflower meadows close to where we live. She had been as good as gold on every walk so far, so I expected nothing else.
How wrong I was!
This time, she started crying inconsolably at the furthest point from home. I panicked.
I tried to continue, hoping the pram would soothe her, but it didn't.
I stopped in the woods. I tried to breastfeed her whilst standing up, while the sunlight streamed through the trees straight into her eyes. Suffice to say this didn't work either!
I ended up power walking home, bent over the pram the whole way trying to soothe her with strokes and my voice. Nothing worked.
I got home, she fell asleep after 5 minutes and I felt traumatised. It took me a little while to build up the confidence to try again after that!
When I did venture out again, I only went for a 2km walk, and then slowly built up from there. I tried to keep in mind the rule of flow (stay tuned for a blog about this) and challenged myself a marginal 4% more each time. The more times I went out solo and stretched myself, the more I gained confidence, until I felt able once more to go for a decent length walk.
I also bought a sling.
Invest in a Sling.
This is the single best thing I have bought. I got it in the third week after birth and have used it almost every day since. And it was a bargain compared to most baby things, setting me back only £25!
It is a simple wraparound fabric sling, which is perfect for when they are newborn.
Tightly wrapped up against your warm body, with the gentle thud of your heartbeat, it is the closest thing to being back in the womb that they can experience in this new type of life. It is familiar and comforting for them and therefore they are happier, settle more easily and cry less.
Added bonus: there have been medical studies to show that babies even grow better, without any extra food, when they are carried in a sling.
It's also great for us mums (or new parents of any type) as it gives us back our hands. I also found it gave me back my freedom. I could go anywhere and for much further distances than with the pram. I was no longer limited by stiles or too rough terrain.
It also saved my neck. (I thought for a few days that it was giving me a bad neck - but I later realised that it was when I held her out of the sling that I was hunching my shoulders, and therefore stressing my neck. The sling actually helped reduce this pressure on my spine.)
Finally, it means I got a bit more of a workout when I did go for a walk and helped me feel I was regaining some fitness for later adventures a bit faster (this may have been all in my mind - but it made me feel better!)
Build in Breaks
As our little girl has grown, she has started to enjoy time to kick and wave her arms around more and more. It is a joy to see her already getting so much out of movement at the tender age of 9weeks!
But this also means that her tolerance for the sling is changing. I don't particularly enjoy being cramped up in the same position for hours on end and it seems unfair to expect her to stay cooped up in a sling all day.
So we have started to build in breaks into our longer walks. Sometimes just to breastfeed, other times to let her have a kick around. We found the Koo-di travel cot particularly useful when there is not much shade, or when there were hundreds of pesky midges around (thanks Northumberland!), we can pop her in that.
She is also an alert little thing, becoming more interested in the world around her every day. High contrast shapes and colours are particularly appealing. The cot also allows you to hang things from the top, transforming it into a jungle gym on the go. This was pretty useful! And definitely makes things like a picnic or going for a wild swim more possible and flexible!
It won't always be possible to get outside on an expedition or an adventure, no matter how prepared or opportunistic you are.
So that's where this one comes in. Prioritise your health and movement practice.
This isn't about beating yourself up when you have a bar of chocolate all to yourself or sit on the sofa all day because you haven't slept all night.
Instead, it's about shifting your mindset, so that when you do have a few minutes to yourself, you can do some movement or exercise that is helpful for you.
This will be different for everyone.
I combined pumping breast milk with squats sometimes. I couldn't do much else as pumping means you are stuck in one place, but squats helped me to keep my legs strong as I did it. I understand to a new level why mums are known as such good multi-taskers!
I have also been using my yoga practice to build back my strength. The nice thing is, I enjoy the practice anyway, but I can also tailor what kind of yoga I do to what I need - do I want to rehab my core, stretch out my back or build leg strength? Yoga may not be for you, but I recommend finding something you can do from your living room/bedroom/kitchen that will help you to keep moving, so when the opportunity for an adventure does present itself, you are ready for it!
Embrace the New
"One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure" William Feather
The final tip is the most important.
Everything is temporary.
Knowing this, keeping it at the forefront of my mind, has made it much easier to find enjoyment in everything, especially on the days that I don't manage to get out.
Before I know it, life will have changed again and I'll be on my bike with her, camping again, cycle touring, climbing, swimming...
Life itself is unknown, full of new experiences of all kinds. Life itself is the adventure.