Born to Be WildJohanna Gohmann
The night before the trip, I felt rather anxious. I hovered over a suitcase, one hand holding my swaying belly in place, the other trying to jam a pair of hiking boots on top of some thermal shirts. It’s mid-June, and I’m prepping to go on an all-women “outdoor adventure” trip to Newfoundland for seven days. And I’m doing so while five months pregnant.
I’ve never been to Canada before, and I’ve certainly never been there toting a fetus. This hadn’t been my original plan, of course. When I’d decided to take the trip, the idea of a baby was still some hazy daydream. I mean, the pregnancy wasn’t exactly a surprise, but I hadn’t anticipated it happening so, uh, quickly. All the fertility reports I’d read made it sound like at 36, I practically had tumbleweeds blowing through my uterus. So I was rather taken aback when that pink plus sign appeared. I’d never imagined that when my big trip finally rolled around, my packing list would include pre-natal vitamins.
As my belly went from looking as though I’d had one too many slices of pizza to looking like I’d devoured the whole pie, I soon became even clumsier than usual. On one occasion an attempt to empty the dishwasher resulted in a crashing clang-fest that caused my husband to eye my movements suspiciously. As the Canada jaunt drew closer, he began to frown whenever I mentioned the trip. He’d call me over to Google maps and point at the rather remote smudge of Newfoundland on the screen.
“Are you sure this is still a good idea?” he’d ask, glancing from the computer to my belly.
“Of course!” I’d reply. Even though I wasn’t really sure at all.
Sure, my OB had given the trip the okay, but as I struggled to pack my bag, I felt all jittery. It wasn’t the “traveling alone” bit. I’ve traveled on my own many times. Rather, it was this new idea of traveling for two that had me biting at my cuticles. This time around, I would be toting a wee passenger, and I discovered this carried a whole new twist of emotions.
Partly, I felt anxious for the baby’s safety. Yes, I was just going to Canada; I wasn’t heading off to cover the Syrian conflict. But as a first-time mom, I was still getting used to treading through the days with such care, dealing with the odd, rubber-bandy abdominal sensations, and suddenly eyeing soft cheeses like they were arsenic. Every day felt like it brought a whole new host of dangers. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t think twice about kayaking. But pregnant, I suddenly had visions of being chased by Jaws.
Along with this general anxiety, another thread of thoughts was tangling in my brain: this Canada venture would be the last time I ever took a trip like this again, pre-baby. While I generally glowed with elation whenever I thought about my would-be son, another, quieter part of me had been turning this shift in my identity over and over, staring it down like some strange, alien thing.
It’s not like I hadn’t considered any of this stuff before. Prior to getting pregnant, my husband and I talked at length about how our lives would change with a child. But the emotional difference between chatting about a hypothetical kid and knowing there is a real human growing inside of you, is like the difference between having someone show you a picture of Paris scrawled in crayon and actually standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Now that I was really having a baby, all of the things I thought I had thought through — the sudden shift in freedom, the brain-exploding idea that I was responsible for another life — well, they were all staring me smack in the face. My friends admitted to similar 3 a.m. inner monologues. What can one still do as this new “mom” person? And what’s it going to be like to let this new little guy in my life call the shots? All of this was swirling in my mind as I tried to pack.
When I arrive in the tiny Newfoundland airport, I take a seat near a cluster of three 40-something women clad in hiking boots. I watch as they chat, and then a woman with close-cropped blonde hair suddenly bounds over to them.
“You must be my wild women!” She beams. “I’m Ally, your guide.
The women all rise, and I creep closer.
“Hi! I’m a wild woman too.” I smile awkwardly, feeling everyone’s eyes drop from my face to my swollen abdomen.
The hiking-boot women are two Canadians — Nancy and Sandra — and one fellow New Yorker, Rhonda. The women offer friendly hellos, and we make our way to the mini-van that will shuttle us to our cabins. I gaze sleepily out the window, the shock of so much deep green startling my city-accustomed eyes. I can’t imagine what my week with these women will be like.
I spend one afternoon with Nancy, a woman on the cusp of 50 who sports spiky gray hair. It’s the feared kayaking day, and she ends up acting as my own personal gondolier. Nancy is a Canadian curler, and one afternoon she shows off her impressive upper-body strength by powering the two of us around the crystalline ocean in our red two-seater boat. I paddle when I can, but when I get tired, Nancy clucks at me to rest. I sit with the paddle sit across my lap, and Nancy rockets us forward so close to some minke whales that at one point I actually wonder if we’re going to pull a Jonah. I’m so overwhelmed with excitement, I want to call down to my stomach, Did you see that?
Another day, I get the chance to bond with Ally, the guide. In a rather sweet coincidence, Ally’s first trip to Newfoundland was in utero. Turns out her mom also came for a visit while pregnant, so Ally has a little something in common with my son. When the other ladies head off for mountain biking, Ally takes me on an easier coastal stroll. At first I feel a bit sheepish that I’m missing out on the grandeur of Gros Morne Mountain, but then Ally ushers me into a quiet cove of emerald water and wild irises, and it’s so beautiful I feel awestruck. Along the way she reminds me what to do if we see a bear: “Make noise and try to look big!” I nod, my hands immediately shielding my abdomen.
On the last day of the trip, we’re taken to Newfoundland’s greatest claim to fame: The Tablelands, a billion-year-old stretch of the earth’s crust that was pushed up during the continental drift. Reaching the lookout point means a long walk up an incline, with wind and pellets of rain blasting into your face. But I’m determined to see it. I snap on my rain gear and tilt my head into the wind, feeling steadier in my boots now, as though the baby and I have finally found our footing together after days of stumbling over the craggy rocks and slick mud of the wild.
I end up straggling far behind the others. The wind makes it hard to catch my breath, and several times I have to stop to rest and drink some water. But I finally make it, and I’m rewarded with a jaw-dropping view. The dramatic terrain resembles photos of Mars. I put a hand to the rounded bulge beneath my soaked jacket and think of how, in many ways, motherhood is kind of like a journey to a strange new planet. It occurs to me that I’m not really going to miss anything as a mom. I feel in my heart that I can continue to move through life as I always have — reveling in the new, and delighting in the beauty of the unknown. Only now I will have my wild little boy by my side.