My husband works for the forest service as a fire fighter, and spends a good portion of the hotter months of the year away or on call. So when we got married in February, we decided to delay our honeymoon until after the fire season was over. We finally bought our tickets to Peru over labor day weekend. On September 9, I found out I was pregnant. Lindsey is an old pro at the whole pregnancy thing. Every time she’s told me she was pregnant it was like. So, yeah, I’m having a baby in nine months. What are you going to be doing?
Me? I went into shock. How much yummy soft cheese had I digested in the last month? Was that last glass of wine three nights ago the end of my baby’s future? My body was going to change forever… in the wrong ways. How was I going to get a job after finishing the PhD if I also had a baby? And how in the world was I going to get back the money we’d spent on our Peru plane tickets?
After three days of hyperventilating, my brain finally stopped seizing, and I started doing some research. Technically I’d be in my second trimester when we left. Technically I was up to date on all my weird foreign disease shots. Technically there was no reason I couldn’t go. My doctor agreed, and the planning commenced. In my head I envisioned taking my unborn child to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, and wherever else we ventured. I envisioned it benefiting from my good mood, my relaxed attitude, and it being born stronger and healthier because I had taken it abroad. Perhaps it would miraculously have an aptitude for Spanish language as a result, and I would have a bilingual genius at the age of three.
The hormones in my body had different ideas–apparently they don’t deal in technicalities. Remember how everything is supposed to be better as soon as the second trimester begins? That’s an average. I was not average. My food aversions, my sensitive nose, my lethargy lingered well into my fifteenth week… until the second to last day of Peru.
I knew I was in trouble the minute I stepped out of the airport into the fresh night air of Peru. I inhaled. And promptly gagged. I spent the entire two weeks fighting the urge to gag at the smell of fried food, peppery sauces, coca leaves, dirty dogs, and various types of debris collecting in the gutters and crevasses of Peruvian cities.
I also developed motion sickness for the first time in my 36 years, which turned our Peruvian bus rides into hours (as in, 16 hours straight on a bus) of hell on earth. Granted, it appears that Peruvian bus drivers hire teenagers who think they are driving Ferraris to captain their buses… but still, I have always been game for the fastest, jerkiest, most hair-raising roller coaster rides, and usually beg to go again as soon as we lurch to a stop. Not so anymore.
We hopped on our first bus at 3:45 in the morning–our second day in Peru. We were headed for a little place south of Lima on the beach for a day of sight seeing by boat, bike rides along the coast, and amazing seafood. The bus was nice. Amtrak could learn a thing or two about decor from those guys. Plush seats that lay almost flat, foot rests, tables, soft blankets and pillows, curtains on the windows, soft flute music playing on the speakers.
At 4:00 am I woke my now slumbering husband by announcing that I was going to puke, and promptly did. All over my soft blanket. I was horrified. Embarrassed. Panicked. And did I mention horrified? With a Spanish vocabulary of six words I had no way to tell the nice bus attendant that I had just vomited on my blanket and was so very sorry. We cleaned up the mess as best we could, folded the blanket up and stuffed it back in its bag until we got off the bus, and I tried to relax, willing myself not to repeat the incident in the next four hours. I was destined to repeat this horror on two subsequent bus rides, though I was much more prepared with each subsequent event.
I additionally developed a wonderful ability to nap. The minute it occurred to me that a nap would be nice, Bam! I would fall asleep. On our 8 hour train ride through the Andean mountains, my husband took photos of llamas, small villages, and glacier-capped mountains from the ‘viewing car’ at the back of the train. I slept, snoring like a bear in my seat up front. On our four hour boat ride on Lake Titicaca, my husband lounged on the top of the boat with other travelers, exchanging stories about politics, worldly adventures, and the curiosities of Peru. I slept, mouth agape, drooling like fool in my seat below. After walking an old colonial town, seeing towering Spanish cathedrals, catacombs, and monasteries, I begged to go take a short nap at our room. Dennis begged to see the chocolate museum, or browse the store fronts for some baby alpaca goods. What a downer I was! The urge to sleep seemed beyond my control, and no amount of willing myself to stay awake seemed to work. It didn’t help that the smell of coffee, which I have loved my whole adult life, disgusted me.
I turned into a sap on this trip. The bus rides would often feature movies to watch to pass the time. Dubbed over in Spanish so that I couldn’t understand a word. Nonetheless, I bawled–no exaggeration.. I sobbed and went through an entire pack of Kleenex watching a Bollywood movie. For those that don’t know better–this is not what I usually do during movies of any kind. You should have seen the look on Dennis’ face.
And lastly, it appears that I forgot to pack my stamina. Hiking to Machu Picchu from the little town of Aguas Calientes is no small feat, mind you. The town itself is at 6,690 feet, and Machu Picchu is roughly 2-3 miles away (1 mile flat, 1-2 miles up a rock staircase), at 7,972 feet. But I’ve done things like that a thousand times here at home, and I live at 7,300 feet, so this should have been a cake walk. For Dennis, it was. I gasped for air, stopped at every switch back, and whined in my head about my husband being so very very far ahead of me. After the first 400 feet up, he took my backpack, tied it on to his, and carried both. This helped tremendously, but he still beat me to the top with enough time to strike up casual conversation with others at the top. We then immediately hiked from Machu Picchu to Huayna Picchu, the peak in the background in every picture of the infamous ruins that you see. Huayna Picchu is at 8924 feet. The hike is less than a mile up. Straight up. Then we hiked down the backside of Huayna Picchu, to the Grand Caverns–1300 feet lower than the summit of Huayna Picchu, and then back up to Machu Picchu. As far as I can recall, this is the only hike in my life where I thought to myself, “I don’t think I can make it”.
I spent two weeks feeling like I was a foreigner–not only in another country, but in my own body. I didn’t recognize any of the things I was feeling. Nausea was new to me. Food aversions have never been a problem. Fatigue? Pah. Who was this person that had taken over my body? Lindsey, my sister, my mother, and every other woman who has ever carried a child tells me this is all normal. And if this is normal, then I suppose all I can do is become comfortable with the new norm (which, thankfully, is abating every day). Here’s the good news though: Peru was fabulous. Even while sick, and tired, and cranky, Peru was an incredible and unforgettable experience. I can always tell how much I like something by my subconscious effort to collect it on film. In this case I collected 2500 pictures. I’d go again in a heartbeat… only I’d change a couple of things up front to make the ‘adjustment’ a little easier.
If you are also thinking about travelling abroad while carrying a babe in your belly, here are my pointers… the things I learned over two weeks but that I wish I’d known before I left.
1) You are no longer super woman. If you’re like me, you’re used to powering through the rough times. If I get hungry on a trail, I just forget about it until I get to a good stopping spot–usually at the top. If I’m tired, I put ‘sleep’ on my to-do list for that evening, and keep going. If I feel a little off, I ignore it. I know my body and I know how hard I can push it. But I don’t know how hard I can push the little one growing inside me, and I don’t know how not taking care of myself will affect my baby. I chose not to take the physical risks I normally would. Rather than saving the extra apple for Dennis on a long hike, I ate it. Same with the chocolate. When my heart beat seemed too high, I stopped to rest. I fretted about how slow I was going, but looking back, we had enough time for everything, and the stops gave me a chance to really look around me and see things I might have missed–odd flowers, leaf-cutter ants, a passing brightly-colored bird. I found that accepting my new state of being, and focusing on finding creative ways to deal with it put me in a much better mood than fighting it or pretending it wasn’t real.
2) Gorge yourself when your tummy is feeling good.While at home I can eat small meals all day long, this proved difficult while travelling in Peru. We’d stock up on snacks to get through long bus rides, but inevitably would run out it seemed. Every evening, when we’d sit down for a big meal, I’d lose my appetite. Rather than forcing myself to continue eating as if all was normal, I took to eating large breakfasts in the morning when my tummy was happy and the Food Aversion Muse was sleeping, and smaller dinners if I could eat at all at night.
3) Be mindful of what you eat. Make certain you talk to your doctor about what is okay to eat while abroad. The usual food-and-travel rules apply of course (no ice, no un-peel-able fruits or veggies, etc.), and the usual food-and-pregnancy rules too (limit or avoid unpasteurized milk, deli meats, raw fish (doh!), etc.)… but I would have gone to town on the homemade cheeses if my doctor hadn’t reminded me that most cheese outside the U.S. is (alas) unpasteurized. So. So. Sad.
4) Prepare yourself for being more nauseous than normal. After my first embarrassing bus ride, I took to carrying a Ziploc bag on my person when on the bus; my own personal puke bag. I tried a small dose of Dramamine, which has helped some pregnant woman, but I got no relief. I carried water crackers, and if I chewed on one or two as soon as I started to feel queasy it would help. If I waited too long, they just made me sicker. I carried ample wet wipes, Kleenex, toothpaste, and extra Ziploc just in case. We took one extremely choppy boat ride, so bad that half the people on the boat were sick by the end–strangely I didn’t have any problems. However, I shared my useless Dramamine with two other passengers, and was happy to be able to help.
5) Give your nose a break. I took a couple of dryer sheets with me, and would slip them into my pillow case at night, just to give my nose a break from all the things that were annoying it. I also sucked on lots of breath mints, and used my cherry chap-stick more than I probably needed to. I know it sounds silly and uptight–but the smell clung to my poor nose–even now I occasionally recall the odors of Peru and feel sick to my stomach. Dennis didn’t notice at all.
Have you traveled abroad while pregnant? Share with us your own stories, and what you do to make it easier.