Ever since my husband and I met in our early 20s, we’ve travelled. We’ve run road races along the French Riviera, relaxed on the beaches of Hawaii’s Big Island and driven through snowstorms jumping between Colorado mountain towns. But on June 20, just after midnight, our daughter Sunday was born. And just like that, a loop around the neighbourhood with a buggy was the biggest outing I could fathom.
No matter how much you yearn for the role, the transition to motherhood – and the sleep deprivation and changes in family dynamics that come with it – is monumental. It can be stressful, overwhelming, confusing, challenging. It changes the way you live.
It was mid-August when the haze started to clear for me. Summer’s last flowers had bloomed, the kind of sleep deprivation that makes you cry slowly subsided. I thought, maybe we can go somewhere. Sunday had just eight weeks of life behind her, so my husband and I started with our first family-of-three trip close to home. We packed Sunday (and all of her things) up and headed from our home in the Boston suburbs toward the ferries to spend a few nights on Block Island with my husband’s family. Sunday was cuddled in her great grandmother’s arms as the sun set red behind her on the old wooden deck at his family’s long-time island home. I fed her in the middle of the night during a wild summer rainstorm.
She’ll never remember any of it
It’s a poignant point. All of our experiences shape the brain, even the infant brain, in important ways, but infantile amnesia is the scientific term for our inability as adults to recall memories from the early years of life. So why do we choose to travel with our young children? Sunday will never recall naps in a beach tent that her uncle wrestled diligently with to build; peaceful, early-morning strolls through sleepy island streets; her great grandmother. But none of that keeps us from travelling.
Of course, there's also the case to be made that travelling with a baby (versus, say, a toddler or two) isn't all that difficult. Children grow up fast and holidays are worth taking when they're small and sleep most of the day: Narin Hussain, a 36-year-old in Union City, New Jersey whose three-year-old son has been travelling with her and her husband since he was two months old, looks back fondly on trips they took when he was a baby. ‘He slept a lot, there was no jet lag for him, and if we had to be feeding him every few hours, it felt much more enjoyable doing it while touring the streets of Prague, hanging in a cabana poolside in Cuba, or walking through a museum in Madrid.’
It's not always that easy, though. Travelling with a baby requires foresight and means: portable breast pumps if you're breastfeeding; baby passports; hired baby gear (Little Longtails is a Bermuda-based service, Airtot services London, BabyQuip services many US cities); bulkhead cots (call the airline ahead of time); places to nap; and maternity leave.
Annie Mathew, a 34-year-old in Philadelphia and mother of two, notes that she and her husband started holidaying with their daughter Julia when she was just four months old. They quickly learned travelling was no longer planned with an itinerary that started upon touchdown. ‘Travelling with a baby means you cannot be selfish,’ Mathew says. ‘You have to consider the little human and her schedule. You learn to go with the flow and enjoy the time as a family. Julia showed us we can slow down and enjoy the little things.’
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Hussain says family trips have shaped her son. ‘He has developed so many traits that I feel can be attributed to travel: willingness to try any food, ability to be flexible with his sleep times, openness with different kinds of people and languages, and a curiosity for new places.’
A few weeks ago, my husband and I travelled to Bermuda with Sunday. It was her first flight and international trip. She played under an umbrella as soft waves crashed on the shore in front of her. She dipped her feet in the pool overlooking Hamilton's harbour from our hotel and slept in a buggy while we ate supper. Sometimes, she cried. She saw a rainbow as we hiked through a nature reserve.
Sitting in the airport, the day we left Bermuda, I sent my parents photos of my trip and looked back through my phone at our summer of travel. Soon enough, Sunday will remember all of our holidays, the things we do and the people we meet. But walking up the ramp to board our flight home, under the rumble of the plane’s engine, I told her that I hope she takes trips like these of her own one day, with her own little family.
Maybe she’ll send me photos.