When Mason was born I remember having a feeling of dread because I knew I was about to enter into a period of isolation. I had friends, but not many with kids and I was fairly new to Portland, OR. The bonds I had were based on going out and getting drinks and going to networking events, the farmer’s markets at a moments notice, a quick hike on the wildwood trail at sunset.
Having a baby puts an end to all of that fast.
At about week 2 after Mason was born I remember thinking as I sat alone in my house nursing, wondering how I would fill the next few days, that my phone wasn’t ringing anymore. I liked the friends I had. I wanted to keep them. I was tired of making new friends every time I moved ( I have moved a ridiculous amount of times).
I would come to see that at first I stayed friendly with them and we could go out with baby in tow because he slept a lot. But six months later that was the end of that. They wanted to hike further, go out more often, weren’t exactly excited about trips to the zoo and other baby friendly locations.
The thing everyone knows but no one talks about when having a baby is how you can’t help but fall in love with this little beautiful person you’ve created and get all consumed (yes, I can stare at my baby for hours and it’s kind of annoying I am sure!) but at the same time it also can be a lonely time if you let it. There’s no roadmap to explain how to navigate your way through parenthood and how to make new friends. One of the big things that happens for many new parents is we fall into groups of people through parenting classes and such that are not people we would necessarily be friends with if we didn’t have kids. That’s not real friendship.
Having moved tons and because I was a journalist in my past career I can strike up a conversation with anyone. It’s easy for me to make friends. That said, just because you can make friends easily, it doesn’t mean you can make lasting friends.
When I started Hike it Baby in the first few months after Mason was born my idea was that if new parents could gather on trails and go for a hike, we could move easily amongst each other and really pick who we wanted to walk and talk with.
Hike it Baby is kind of like when you go to a club. You can dance with lots of people and then decide who you really want to dance with as you move through the room and “test out” different people. Not to say Hike it Baby is a pick up circuit for new moms, but you are starting with something in common, love of the outdoors, and then you have kids.
Let’s break it down, going to something with your child can be intimidating whether it’s storytime or music and me or whatever. Hike it Baby has that same barrier, but once you get there we work hard to make sure that we start with a Welcome circle so everyone feels like that can be a part of the group. Then we hike. And that’s all we do. We talk freely but we focus on hiking and positive conversations. The hiking gets your endorphins going and the interactions with adults who you don’t have to ask to clean the toilet or change a diaper is great. It’s real conversation and at the same time your child is entertained if they are in the toddle waddle stage. So many things accomplished.
This morning I was reading an article in the Huffington Post a woman wrote about how motherhood is lonely. I think it can be if you let it, but it’s up to you. My experience has been that for a moment I just about slipped into loneliness as my friends of past faded away, but then I took a bold step forward by inviting a few mamas to hike with me from a new mama class. That first hike was enough to make me realize that loneliness is not a requirement of parenthood.
Finding a community of new people is hard, but those other parents like you are out there if you look around for them in places like Hike it Baby. Start with what you like to do and don’t use the baby as an excuse for not being able to do those things. There’s always a way to bring baby along, whether you have a friend of someone join in with you.
In September 2014 a study from the University of Michigan and Edge Hill University in England was published in Ecopsychology about the benefits of walking in nature for your mental state. The study found just one walk a week can lower your levels of stress and raise your positive outlook on life.
On another note another study study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that hiking helped cancer patients heal, which leads me to believe that if you are healing from a birthing experience, hiking would undoubtedly help. Feeling depression coming on? Hike it off.
Heading out for the first hike with Hike it Baby may seem intimidating because it’s hard to know what to bring and it’s scary to think “oh what if I can’t keep up with the group.” But again this is why Hike it Baby was formed and how it’s grown as it has, because we don’t leave anyone behind. I feel the benefits personally and see the positive energy radiating all around me. This is not just because we are all a happy jolly bunch, it’s because we hike.
Lately my mantra has been when my days going bad or things just feel off I rearrange my schedule and go for a hike either with Hike it Baby or alone. I just have found if I hike more, I smile more. It’s not something that even needs to be studied. I dare you to get out there and try it today. I promise if you hike just once a week for 4 weeks, you will notice a dramatic difference in your life as a parent. Go ahead, I dare you to get out there.
Shanti Hodges is the founder of Hike it Baby. She tries to hike 2-3 times a week with Mason. If you are interested in hiking with her drop her an email and she might just show up on your doorstep for a hike. firstname.lastname@example.org