Becoming a mother for the first time is a wonderful, albeit daunting experience. With mammoth life changes, coupled with daunting responsibilities and sleep deprivation, its almost inevitable that our mental wellbeing takes a blow. I was blissfully happy after Maddie was born. A mix of excitement, hormones and love kept me crying happy tears for weeks. I appreciate that I was lucky; anxiety and postnatal depression are both common and very real. Despite my joy, lurking somewhere in the shadows of my mind was the niggling feeling I may not be able to enjoy the great outdoors in the same way again. Below is the story of how my first hike as a new mum gave me confidence, reassurance and, in many ways, saved my sanity.
Although hiking helped me tremendously, I want to acknowledge that it is not for everyone and it is not a universal cure for depression. Our mental wellbeing is so important and I send my love and a cyber-hug to anyone who is struggling right now xxx
Jed and I mapped out many aspects of Maddie’s childhood long before she came into being. We had ideals about how we wanted to parent and the life she would enjoy in her early years. Some things ended up being easier than we expected like giving her no screen time and no processed food. Others, like maintaining my exercise routine throughout pregnancy and not putting on excess weight went by the wayside. Good bye long beach walks and bright salads, hello low iron, spewing anything that wasn’t bulk white carbs, and 30kg weight gain. That podgy mum-bod would stubbornly stick around until I cut down breastfeeding when Maddie started eating solids. Thank you hormones! Not that I minded too much though. That podgy body grew a little human, and a gorgeous, bubbly little human at that! Sometimes, I still miss having a life inside me. But I digress…
The one thing that Jed and I were adamant about was that we would continue to enjoy the outdoors. Our hobbies seemed family-friendly enough. We enjoyed road trips, camping and bush walking. We already had all the gear. We had progressed from a Big W dome tent at the start, through a rooftop tent, to a camp trailer and white four-wheel drive. We already had the WA outdoor-family starter pack, all that was missing was the family! So how hard could it be to continue doing what we knew so well, just with an additional little person? “We’ll take it in baby-steps” we reassured each other and decided on the King Jarrah Trail, a nice, short walk in Dwellingup as our first family excursion.
Maddie was 10 weeks old when we plucked up the courage to go for our first hike. Having said that, I was not particularly nervous about taking Maddie out into the bush. Jed and I knew Lane Pool Reserve well and had walked that track several times in the past. We would be accompanied by my parents, who were visiting from the UK, as well as our new friend Michelle and her baby boy, Colt.
The weeks leading up to our first family hike had been a bit of a frenzy. Jed was home with me for the first four weeks of Maddie’s life, then went away to work for a month. My parents had arrived from the UK after three weeks of being home alone with a new born. I was happy, hormonally-blissful I’d say, but I had not left Mandurah in months and the cabin fever had started to creep in. I needed to get out and sense that freedom of the wild. I need my regular fix of crisp forest air to stave off the claustrophobia. I needed a lot of things out of this hike.
After years of asserting ‘we won’t change’ when we have children, I needed to prove it. I needed to know for my own sanity, and to give me some sort of baseline of what to expect in the oh-so-uncertain new world of motherhood. I needed to show the world that I was still me. That I still existed. I needed to shut up the nay-sayers who scoff at the best intentions of first time mums and jibe “huh huh huh, how foolish you are, you’ll never be able to do that with a baby”. The one that really grates on me is “you’ll understand when you’re a mum”. Well, I am a mum now and I’m going to mother however I damn well please thankyouverymuch. And I would be damn well pleased to bring this child up with plenty of fresh air and an appreciation of nature and the great outdoors.
I wanted very much to go on this hike. Jed was a little more cautious but still optimistic. He had been away for a month so was enjoying being home at last. He didn’t have the whole GET ME OFF THIS ISLAND thing going on that I was experiencing. I felt very safe in the bush with Jed, and with the added support of nanny and granddad, and our friends Michelle and Colt, our first family hike was a breeze. The babies both slept most of the walk, cosy in their carriers.
My stamina wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be. Both Michelle and I had been quite active before getting pregnant, that probably helped. We walked the 5km loop at a gentle but consistent pace. Almost immediately I sensed that freedom that I so desperately needed. I was relieved not to be struggling physically. I don’t suppose the babies knew it was any different to a trip to the supermarket but still, seeing them at ease during our walk was a huge weight off my mind. My fears of losing independence and being confined to urban areas dissipated as we walked. Upon completing the hike we settled down by a stream for a picnic. The babies lay on a blanket watching the trees above. We saw some ducks approaching and babies cooed and waved their hands in excitement as one waddled over, looking for some food scraps. The rest of the morning was spent peacefully enjoying our surroundings and chatting between us. The expedition had been far easier than I had imagined, which was a huge relief.
This first hike with our little girl was a milestone I was glad to tick off. The babies revelled in the new environment, taking in all the things around them. Jed saw just how comfortable Maddie and I were in the great outdoors together. Most importantly, I relieved my anxieties about being a new mother and had reassured myself that I was still a capable woman. It’s funny how such a short walk can give such a mental boost and ensure my emotional wellbeing.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression and anxiety, Beyond Blue (Australia) have a wealth of tools, information and helplines you can call. Stay safe everyone x
More Amazing Family Adventures:
- Kalbarri Coastal Walks – Wildflowers and Whale Watching
- Family Fossil Hunting in Kalbarri National Park
- Home Sweet Home – Hiking the South Downs Way, Sussex, with a Baby