The first hike I went on with my baby, my bag contained four bananas, seven bottles of formula (even though I was breastfeeding), two water bottles, a switchblade, a whistle, a first aid kit, a headlamp, two blankets, four changes of clothes for my baby, ten diapers, two full packs of wipes, a pack of matches and, just in case, a book called “Bushcraft” by the naturalist Mors Kochanski with important pages dog-eared, like how to build a shelter and how to build a fire (just in case I needed to access these pages in an emergency).
Wow, such a prepared and smart hiker, right? Well…sure if I was going on a day hike. No, not me; I was going on a popular 3.8km roundtrip hike a stone’s throw from a bustling community. My biggest concern was stepping on the heels of a tourist or giving a small child a concussion with my behemoth of a backpack. Nevertheless, I was convinced I needed every single last item listed above. I was not going to be an ill-prepared mom. So my bag weighed about twice the weight of my 4-month-old.
The only thing I ended up using from the backpack: a diaper, my water and a banana.
Life with a new baby
My baby was a cluster feeder. She fed constantly; and when I say constantly, I am not exaggerating. I remember hearing other moms talk about their baby-free time when their babies napped. I was left saying, “Huh? My baby’s supposed to nap?” Okay, okay…she DID nap, but when she napped, she was attached to my breast. It was the only way she would sleep. So I would camp out at my station watching entire Netlix series in a day with my gallon of water and loaf of banana bread within easy reach. It gave a whole new meaning to the term “Boob Tube.”
My baby refused to nap anywhere except on me until the age of six months. I was tired of having to wait until my partner came home if I wanted to pee. I needed to get out of the house and my baby hated the stroller, car seat, anything that would allow me a smidgen of freedom. So I made babywearing work. Wearing my baby did not come easily to me though.
I was so jealous of other parents who rocked wrap carriers with their newborns and looked like they just walked out of a photo shoot for Today’s Parent.
Postpartum Anxiety made me feel desperate
I was desperate. This desperation made even worse with my later onset Postpartum Anxiety, which reared its head around the 4-month mark. I experienced dizziness, spinning, racing heart and nausea anytime I had to go anywhere with my baby. I panicked about packing enough food, diapers, wipes, extra clothes, etc.
It didn’t help that breastfeeding was a royal challenge. We saw every possible professional to help us get the hang of breastfeeding. I took it day by day, ready to quit at any moment. It was a major source of my heightened anxiety in public. I had to use a nipple shield and it was always awkward to put it on in public, wash it, store it, etc. I bought extras in case I should lose one. Eventually, I got up to four nipple shields before my partner insisted we couldn’t afford to get any more.
I needed to get out, socialize and move my body. My PPA manifested itself in body aches and pains, migraines and lots of sweats and shaking. Then I saw a post for Hike it Baby and I instantly fell in love. I wanted it so bad it hurt, and I fantasized about wandering through the woods with my babe strapped to my back. I longed to be outside. Too many hours I spent inside. If I did go outside, it was often the same route around my neighbourhood. I was usually too scared to venture outside my comfort zone lest I drop four-plus nipple shields randomly and strayed too far from a store that sold them. I was worried I was already setting my baby up for failure. Mostly, I needed to just get out of my darn head.
I impulsively signed up for a hike
I prepped and prepped for the hike days ahead. It was a group of parents meeting up for a hike called Quarry Rock in Deep Cove North Vancouver. Not a super hard hike but not necessarily an easy one with a baby either. I went whole hog. I figured I could do it.
Part of my prep included Facebook stalking the members who were attending the hike. I checked their profile pics to gauge how intimidating they appeared. Basically, I was hoping for a profile pic of a parent like me, dishevelled, terrified, deer-in-headlights mess. Nope. All these parents had epic profile pics. Like glowing, ethereal-CEO of Momness-outdoor-women-survival-goddess-style profile pics. And just like that, I was a no-show. I told myself there was no way I was showing up with my postpartum body, old ratty shoes, making a fool of my bumbling anxious self in front of these Amazonian/Viking warrior women.
I remember I had programmed the hike into my phone for a reminder and when the reminder came and went, I felt a tidal wave of regret, shame and despair. My partner, seeing that I was spiraling deeper and deeper into my anxiety, suggested we try a few hikes together. I jumped on the chance; in fact, I tackled the chance with full force. My PPA brain decided that not only would I try a few hikes, I would need to complete exactly thirty hikes in thirty days. Only then would I be ready to show myself to other hiking parents.
Signing up for the Hike it Baby 30 changed my outlook
Let me preface this by saying that I am not fit. I mean that with full sincerity. I’ve only hiked casually pre-baby and struggled each time at that. So this endeavor was indeed a little ambitious to say the least. My partner, God love him, indulged this quest as he just desperately wanted to support me any way he could.
So I did it. We did it. I went on thirty different hikes in my city in thirty days; some hikes were super mild, and others were quite challenging. Over the course of the thirty days, my body became stronger, my mood became more consistent, my comfort level with hiking increased and my backpack became increasingly lighter and lighter.
I logged my miles on the Hike It Baby website. I joined the Hike it Baby 30 challenge and got my motivation from seeing photos of other parents hitting their miles all over the continent. Parents from all over the place, different levels of skills, varying weather and terrain were logging both modest and astronomical amounts of miles. Whenever I faltered, I checked this page, getting a burst of motivation each time. Each new hike gave me a bit more confidence. Some days I struggled…very, very badly. Sleep deprivation and breastfeeding still taking its toll on my body and mental health, I pushed through this arbitrary goal I made for myself, believing that if I could just accomplish this one goal that I could survive this whole Mom gig.
I still longed for a community of my own
When the challenge was over, I was ready. I was exhausted but I was ready. Even though I managed to meet my goal, I realized that the one thing I still desperately longed for was community. I no longer wanted to hike alone or just with my partner. I wanted to meet other parents. That was the original reason Hike it Baby stood out for me in the beginning: the sense of community I was so desperately lacking. My family lived on the other side of the country and my childless friends dwindled dramatically after my babe was born. I needed human contact.
The moment a new Hike it Baby hike went up in my local chapter, I leapt at the opportunity, refusing to allow myself a chance to back out. It was a simple hike around flat terrain. It was toddler-paced too, meaning I could bring my stroller. Which I did. Which also meant I didn’t have to walk around like a pack mule with all the survivalist gear.
The parents who showed up were all kind, welcoming and supportive. There were about six of us. Some of us outdoor enthusiasts; others were hiking for the first time. It was exactly like I hoped it would be. And exactly how the initial hike months before may have gone if I just allowed myself to be vulnerable. As much as I grew from my own personal thirty hikes in thirty days challenge, I didn’t need to go all Rambo in order to prep for a Hike it Baby hike.
Everybody has to start somewhere
Don’t worry about not having the right gear or the right look. Do what you need to do to help yourself make the first step. For me, it was packing my bags for the apocalypse to hike a 3km rounder.
I’d like to say I’ve matured and stopped carrying my copy of Mors Kochanski’s “Bushcraft” on hikes in my overstuffed bag, but for some strange reason it has become my rabbit’s foot. It helps me walk out of the door. So if ever I feel ill-prepared, nervous or anxious about my skills or experience, worse case scenario, I have the apocalypse handbook tucked away next to an extra banana, a first aid kit, water, a whistle, a switchblade, extra clothes, blankets and, this time, only one pack of wipes, because let’s face it, two packs of wipes just seems…excessive.
Jaime Lintott currently lives in Vancouver, BC . When she is not glued to the latest horror movie or a good murder mystery, you can find her out along some of BC’s most beautiful trails with her partner and 18-month-old. You can follow along with her adventures on Instagram as Linty_McTotts.