As a busy birth doula, I have to book our vacation time 9 months in advance. I can't fly to Hawaii on less than 24 hours notice like I did before I was a doula. Spontaneous trips were exciting, but there was a cost to that kind of spontaneity. We lost the depth of experience that research, reading and planning can bring. So, we think of the 9 months of waiting for our yearly summer European trip as a gestational period...allowing time for thoughtful planning, gradual learning, reflection on past experiences, and the building expectation.
My husband and I started our Summer 2013 planning in the Fall of 2012. We asked each other which slow travel experiences we have loved the most. We listed off our favourites easily. "That Lustleigh Cleave walk in Devon - green and quiet." "Our East Linton hike in Scotland past Hailes Castle and Traprain Law - a sacred hill climb with fighter jets overhead." "Fort Buoux in Provence with the kids - following the souls of those escaping down the secret stone stairway." "Monterosso to Levanto - dripping with sweat on the hike, then returning by boat over the sparkling sea." These memories are crisp and sparkling, and each involved a hike in a place so quiet you can almost hear the ghosts of the past. No crowds. Just slow travel.
But we need to include another love of ours - cycling. It's a bit faster travel than hiking, but it still qualifies as slow travel (except for our speed-demon mountain descents). Past stand-out memories include riding our Velib bikes (me in a skirt!) through the busy streets of Paris to an outdoor concert, pedaling to the tip of Galiano Island, and speeding down a hill to lunch at an agriturismo in the Chianti hills.
As a doula, I nurture each woman's experience, reminding her that my goal is to help her create a positive memory that will last a lifetime. That sounds a lot like travel! Each person's concept of the "ideal birth" or the "ideal holiday" is different. The woman who has a cesarean might be more satisfied than the woman whose baby is born on her bathroom floor (ah, crazy expectations). One person's stolen passport disaster can be another person's colourful story! After our passports were stolen in Montmartre one year (like a scene out of the Bourne Identity), we thought "what more could we lose?" and created some of our best Paris memories. From the leather-jacketed detectives who came home with us, to the hole-in-the-wall studio photographer (I'm sure he makes fake passports) off the Champs Elysees, to the box seats at the ballet at the Palais Garnier, it was an epic weekend, topped off by a race from the Canadian Consulate to the airport, with no time to spare!
While my clients are googling everything pregnancy and birth related, I'm doing my own birth research, plus googling Trenitalia, Tour de France and Alistair Sawday. When they say "I don't know what I don't know!", I remind them (and myself) to simply read for a few months...and then all will become clear.
So, after sharing with me their best and worst experiences of trekking in the Himalayas, the couples who didn't have any opinions about anything baby-related start to draw from their slow travel lessons and current experiences, and eventually start asking me about slow parenting, co-sleeping and babywearing. And they, in turn, help me to understand that a 5-hour drive to pick up bikes in Provence is crazy. I change our bookings to slow our travel down. And my clients decide to leave work earlier each day and start walking on the beach more, giving themselves more time to talk about their hopes and dreams of their future family. We all slow down. We learn from each other. We learn from our own lives, our own histories. We remember what is important to us. In travel and in birth, the journey can have as much long-lasting impact on us as the destination.
I really don't believe that "a healthy baby" or "a healthy body" or "a safe arrival at our destination" is our only goal. An open mind, an open heart, connecting with others, and a positive perception of our experience, ultimately leading to a good memory (in addition to the safe and sometimes unexpectedly interesting arrival) is what is important.
Each of us has a singular perception of reality. Each experience is unique. The key is to roll with it.
Because, even though we may have planned a great trip...
- Flying into Venice and staying in a flat in a Palazzo
- Hiking to San Fruttuoso Abbey over Portofino Peninsula (only accessible by foot or boat)
- Watching (in person!) 5 stages of the 100th Tour de France
- Cycling with 5000 others down the cobbles on the Champs Elysees on the last day of the tour
...we have no idea what adventures will come our way.
There's always a wildcard at play.
After 9 months of planning and anticipation, we head off on our trip. And, just like in birth, whatever happens, the journey is going to be amazing! And nothing like we'd ever imagined.