Thursday, January 15, 2015

Longterm Travel While Pregnant

{15 weeks pregnant in Dhanushkodi, India}

About a month into our 7-month travel adventure, I learned that I was pregnant. We were planning on getting pregnant at some point during our trip and were thrilled at the news, however it happened a little sooner than we were expecting, causing some mixed feelings from both of us. I was, above all, grateful for this little miracle inside of me. But there was another side of me that wanted to live out our travel adventure to the fullest and I was really nervous about how being pregnant would affect the rest of our travel plans. 

During the first few weeks of my pregnancy, I searched and searched online for stories or advice from other women who have traveled extensively (aka backpacked) while pregnant and found nothing--maybe that's because no one is crazy enough to do that. Now that I've made it through our journey alive and healthy (and still pregnant), I wanted to share my thoughts and feelings on the experience, and offer a few tips*, in case someone down the road is as crazy enough as I was to travel through places like Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, India, and Nepal for six months while pregnant. 

I don't necessarily recommend this type of travel while pregnant as there are unforeseen risks that can happen during any pregnancy and traveling can make them much harder to deal with, but if you're an adventurous person and willing to accept what life throws at you no matter what, I hope this post will help you. 

I'm happy (and slightly relieved) to say that we returned home to America safely just as I entered my third trimester and while my pregnancy did slow us down a little, I still felt extremely happy with our travel experiences and decision to keep going even while pregnant. In many ways, I think travel was a great way to spend my first and second trimesters because it forced me to stay active, helped me to eat nutritiously (especially in India, the food is chocked full of vegetables and fresh spices--a winning combo), and helped keep my mind active instead of wondering and worrying about all the things that are so easy to worry about when expecting a baby. 

Now, it's really starting to feel real that we'll have a baby (a girl!) in less than two months. I love the fact that she was with us when we experienced so many wonderful things and I hope we can raise her in a way that reflects the many things we learned during our time in South and Southeast Asia. 

Now, here are some tips if you or someone you know ever finds themselves pregnant while traveling the world. 

*Please note that these are my thoughts and opinions only. I'm not a medical professional. I'm just sharing one girl's experience. 

1. Remember that women are pregnant and give birth to healthy babies all over the world. Half of what I struggled with while being pregnant during our travels was the mental anxiety of wondering whether everything was going to be okay. It's good to be aware of your body and your health, but at some point, you need to accept your situation and be at peace with your decisions. Stress and anxiety are not healthy traits. Knowing that women get pregnant all over the world helped me feel better that my baby was safe and healthy.

2. Take pre-natal vitamins everyday. I would actually suggest that anyone traveling for an extensive amount of time take a daily vitamin no matter what your situation. Before you leave, stock up on enough vitamins to last through your travels and carry them with you. One of the biggest challenges of travel can be finding nutritious (and safe) foods to eat and this is one of the most important things you can do for your baby while pregnant. If you're taking a pre-natal vitamin everyday, you can rest assured that your baby is getting the nourishment it needs, even if the only actual food you're eating is chicken and rice. For anyone traveling through Asia, I would also recommend finding a calcium supplement to take daily as things like milk and cheese can be hard to come by. 

3. Schedule a 12-week and 20-week doctor appointment and aim to be in major cities for these appointments. In America, pregnant women see an OBGYN about once a month. After research, I learned that 12-week and 20-week appointments are the most important ones and my OBGYN in Bangkok confirmed this. 12 weeks is when the all-important NT scan can be performed and 20 weeks is when the full anatomy scan is performed. Both of these are designed to check that the baby is growing and developing properly. 

For anyone who may be in Bangkok for these appointments, I recommend Bumrungrad Hospital. They're very easy to work with in scheduling appointments (everything is done through email) and the hospital is extremely clean and nice with professional staff. We had our 12-week appointment there and it cost about $200 USD. (We paid out of pocket.) 

India is a little bit trickier as there just seems to be more hoops to jump through to schedule appointments. Start early as it may take some time to confirm an appointment. I had to provide copies of my passport, visa, and plane ticket just to schedule the appointment. I ended up having my 20-week appointment in Delhi with Dr. Vandana Chaddha at the Sattva Fetal Medicine Centre. She was professional and clean and nice and my entire appointment with ultrasound cost around $40 USD. 

Overall, if you need to schedule a doctor's appointment while traveling, do your research (thanks, Dr. Google) to see what advice other expats living in those areas have to offer about the best places to give birth. Here is a great blog post about having a baby overseas

4. Tell one or two close friends about your pregnancy early on or join an online pregnancy community so you can have some good female support. For me, I was so grateful to have confided in my sister and best friend about my pregnancy very early on so that they could offer the moral support I needed to feel okay about my decisions and my pregnancy overall. If you're traveling with your significant other, he may be a great help and support, but I think it's harder for men to fully understand and sympathize with pregnancy, especially in the first trimester when you're not yet showing and also feeling the most sick. In addition to my real-life family and friends, I was also really grateful for the online community I found through whattoexpect.com. I downloaded their app to track my pregnancy and the online community was a surprisingly helpful and appreciated perk. Sometimes the easiest place to ask questions and cope with the ups and downs of pregnancy is with complete strangers. 

5. Stay active, but don't over-exert yourself. Be sensible in what you can and can't do. Walking for miles and miles is probably fine (and in fact, healthy for you), but you might want to think twice about hiking up mountains. There were a couple times when I sat in a restaurant while Bradford journeyed to the top of an ancient temple without me and I was completely fine with that. 

6. If you're traveling with a backpack, lighten your load. This wasn't a problem for me as we were already traveling very light, but I saw some backpackers with huge backpacks that would have been difficult for me to handle while pregnant. You don't need much while traveling, so stick to the essentials and keep your backpack small and light. 

6. Enjoy the journey. In some ways, being pregnant is the best time to travel because it is the last opportunity you'll have to enjoy life as a couple before children and what better way to do that than seeing new things everyday! Also, having a flexible schedule gives you the option to stay in bed for a day if you're just not feeling well. Embrace the opportunity to see new things, follow your gut, be sensible, listen to your body, and enjoy the journey. 

4 comments:

Tanya Parker Mills said...

This is terrific, Catherine, and I'm so excited it's a girl! You really ought to consider writing a book on your experience since there's so little out there. Seriously!

Japolina said...

congratulations!

Lee Sydney said...

so amazing! congratulations and i wish you health always xxx

also, i agree with tanya

sydsense.blogspot.com

Bess Corey said...

This is refreshing to read. I found out I was pregnant a month into a 6-month trip as well. We are now 2 1/2 months in, in Nepal, and oscillate between having a horrible time and an amazing time. I feel crazy, A LOT. We have only been together for 5 months, and are/ were very in love and had no doubts about having the baby even though it seemed fast, until we really started fighting a lot. The whole thing is very confusing.
I'm also supposed to work for 6 weeks in Nepal doing acupuncture and I'm debating if this is a good idea (we would be apart for this time) or if I should just go home finally. This is one of the hardest things I've ever been through and I just want to enjoy it! There's so much more to the story but that's enough for now. Thanks for sharing your experiences and taking the risks that you took.
Any words of comfort are appreciated.