I sleep, therefore I am.

Sleeping womanLast night my one-year-old son slept 5.5 hours hours in a row. A mundane fact to most, but for me, it is a ‘Hallelujah!! Explode with pride and momentous amounts of relief moment.

The best part is that I slept too. Five hours, a record since his birth a year ago.

At four-months-old Jack went from waking 1-2 times a night to waking almost every two hours. This has continued until now. Nine months of broken, interrupted sleep. Sleep that is not refreshing nor do I look forward to bed. I never remember my dreams like I used to and wake feeling like the day will be impossible. It has been incomprehensible, unacceptable and combined with four months of travel through South America, a recipe for self-destruction.

Being a Mum is the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had. I thought my natural, water birth had pushed me to my limits. I was wrong. Give me eight hours of agony over a year of haphazard sleep any day of the week.

Sleep depravation has broken me. Broken me to a point I had never experienced before. I knew something was seriously wrong, the grey haze never lifted and I kept wondering if I was ever going to feel excited or happy again. My vulnerability became needy, desperate. I was/am argumentative, moody and emotional. I have been exhausted. I have seen how easy it is to become a martyr, a nag, a whiner. Like anyone in the throes of extreme sleeplessness I became irrational and manic. Jack’s sleep and naps were an obsession, the boredom of this obsession hurt my brain.

The constant hit of adrenaline and cortisol as you’re jolted from sleep every few hours plays havoc with your nervous system. I gave up coffee as after a cup I felt like I was going to have heart attack.

The strain on a relationship is heavy. I’d heard the first year after after having a baby tests even the strongest of partnerships. But if there are already cracks, then they widen until there is so much distance it’s a crevasse. Throughout this there are always choices, but tiredness makes the best choice hard. Tiredness and stress gives the subconscious power, autopilot is easy. You can choose to go deeper together, or belay the ‘f’ out.

Like depression, you can’t see any way out of it. For a few weeks I seriously considered anti-depressants, something I never thought would ever ‘need’. But the thought of some kind of reprieve from the greyness, the anxiety, the cortisol was like a soothing balm. I needed I short break, a rest from my mind.

I read this statistic. “Over 50% of post-natal depression can be resolved in a few days when the baby learns to sleep through the night, i.e the link between maternal sleep depravation and depression is very strong.”

It made me feel better. Like I wasn’t going nuts. Like I would make it.

Meanwhile you continue to love your child deeply and unconditionally. You give and give and give. The well of love is endless. Mother Nature made this bond possibly the strongest of all. The survival of the human race depends on it. The will to look after your baby usurps the will to look after yourself. Each morning their smile makes it all worthwhile.

And the crazy thing is that I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t change him. If I could afford a full-time nanny to take over I wouldn’t want that. What I have learned and seen about my Self cannot be unlearned and Jack knows that no matter what I will always be there for him, even at night.

When I arrived back to New Zealand those closest to me saw it before I did, my brother remarked I had become very ‘serious’ and my Mother, well she was just worried. It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize myself, I felt extinguished.

A sleep deprived new Mum needs as much help as she can get. She needs compassion, understanding and support. She needs home and family and friends. She needs her Mother while she is being a Mother. She needs people who will allow her to prioritize herself again. She needs sleep. She also needs exercise, vitamin C and Magnesium.

This lowest point for me exposed so much of myself I didn’t even know was there. Sleep deprivation didn’t cause the anger, the sadness, the emptiness, it exposed what was and is there. It’s not the situation that’s to blame, the situation just triggers what’s deep inside. And with no will to muster the energy to call on a ‘personality’ to cover this the darkness up, it’s right there exposed and it’s ok.

Motherhood keeps me learning and relearning all that I thought I knew about myself.

He is still sleeping like poop. He just can’t switch off for long. I’m hoping it means he’s a genius. Anyway, that one night of 5.5 hours was a cruel tease as the next day he got a cold and conjunctivitis. Murphy and his f*cking law.

I do know that it won’t last forever. And finding grace and dignity in this situation is something I’m working on. What doesn’t kill you, will either make you stronger, or bat-shit crazy.

Jack’s Top Five Healthy Travel Snacks

healthy snacks for babiesI soon realized that snacks aren’t just a nutritional necessity for Jack but if you do it right, they can become a distraction and fun ‘activity’ on long flights, boat-rides, taxis, buses, in transit to the airport…I could go on but you get the idea.

So here are five healthy snacks for babies that Jack really enjoys.

1. Dried Mango
dried mango snacksJack can happily suck and chew on a piece of dried mango for at least 30 minutes, which in baby time is a long-ass time. On one very turbulent 2.5 hour boat ride between islands in the Galapagos, other passengers on the boat couldn’t believe how long it distracted him for.

2. Happy Puffs
happy puffs

These little tiny little rice flour puffs are not only a great distraction but were awesome at developing the ‘pincher grip’ for Jack. He spent aaaaages attempting to pick the little puffs out of a cup.

I like the greens flavor as whenever I can I try and limit the sugar in jack’s snacks on the road – flipping hard to do. The best part is they don’t have any gluten. I have also broken up rice puff crackers when I ran out of puffs.

 

3. Fruit
avocadoKind of obvious but fruit has been our lifesaver. I need things that are soft and portable so fruit has been a go to in these tropical countries.

Banana, pineapple, watermelon, mango, you name it, Jack loves it. Fruit that has to be peeled is great because you know it will be safe and on top of this list is Avocado as you get some fat and protein too, not just carbs.

4. Coconut water and flesh
Coconut-WaterThis snack has been available on the side of the road pretty regularly and serves the double purpose of hydration and nutrition. I fill his bottle with the liquid and scoop out the flesh for him. This is a potassium and antioxidant rich food is one of his faves. Luke got pretty good at cracking these babies open.

5. Scrambled egg in butter
scrambled eggsProtein and healthy fats are really, really important for little bubbas and the choline in eggs really boosts brain development – not that Jack needs that as he’s already Mensa material we reckon. We usually stay in hostels so I can quickly whip up some eggs as a high protein snack, cooked in a little grass-fed butter to add some more healthy fats. This is a great finger food if you scrambled the eggs until firm.

 

Places We Stay – Santa Maria Volcano Lodge, Colonia Blanca, Costa Rica

We drove up to Colonia Blanca with hopes of seeing and hiking some of the volcanoes up there. Unfortunately the weather was pretty crappy and we didn’t even catch a glimpse of a volcano let alone clamber up one. The lodge we stayed at was kind of the same too and a bit damp and chilly. We had a room with four bunk beds and a teeny bathroom. Cold showers made the experience feel even chillier and damper.IMG_5903However, the food at this little lodge was outstanding, perhaps the best we had in Costa Rica. Each day there is a set menu of traditional Costa Rican dishes, their Gallo Pinto – beans, rice and eggs was delish but the whole fried fish we had on our last night was the winner. Milk comes fresh from the cow each morning and I was having at least 3 cups of coffee each day because of that milk. I think this little spot would be a hell of a lot more charming if the weather had been better but it was worth the trip for the food alone!

Jack's Tent

Galapagos Islands – Every Little Butt Counts

This was the most exciting episode to shoot so far because it took me back to my days as an actual reporter. When our original ‘talent’ fell through on our last day in the Galapagos, Luke and I rode around on bikes trying to find another story.

It was awesome.

I flourish under pressure and just like in the newsroom, failure just wasn’t an option. Serendipity and a bit of luck were on our side when we literally bumped into the star of our Galapagos episode – we’d heard about him in Costa Rica. This man has an incredible story and it was an honor to spend the day with him.

 

The Society of Friends

The Monteverde Cloud forest is home to a community of Quakers that has flourished since they settled there almost 30-odd years ago. Before meeting this amazing group of people I had no idea what being a ‘Quaker’ meant. I just thought it was another division of Christianity. However, Quakers are far less about God and religion and far more about love, acceptance and community.

This episode is all about Benito, the son of the one of the community’s founders. This dairy-farming, basket weaving, stilt-walking dude has an incredible story, particularly about his community and their support when he ‘came out’ later in life.

 

Places We Stay – Posada Lapas, Oratina, Costa Rica

Posada LapasThe first stop on our Million Ways to Live adventure was Costa Rica; and our first home away from home was Posada Lapas just outside of Oratina – about two hours from San Jose.

It was basic, simple accommodation Costa Rican-style – a wooden house with big open glassless windows and once we were there we really felt like we’d arrived in CR.  This little guest-house had three bedrooms and was fully equipped with all the necessities like a kitchen, comfy beds and a shower. We were woken up at 6am by the morning chorus of the local flock of ‘Lapas’ or ‘Scarlet Macaws’.

Luke and Bensen get their yoga on in the kitchen.
Luke and Bensen get their yoga on in the kitchen.

Posada Lapas is owned by a charming couple from San Jose who have a weekend home on the property. Jack and I spent the day with them sitting by the little freshwater pool on the property, attempting to communicate in a mix of broken English and Spanish. In walking distance there are little streams to take a dip in, a cool local bar that does a killer ceviche and hikes in the mountains.

We made friends with the neighbor’s dog and went for lots of walks and J had his first fresh-water swim. Jack in the StreamFor us it was the perfect place to stop for a night after our flight from the US, before starting our adventure up to Colonia Blanca.

The River near Posada Lapas

Travel with Baby – Things I have learned so far.

1. Ditch the strollerIMG_6452When we started traveling Jack was 7 months old. I had bought a really expensive travel stroller especially for the trip. It lasted 2 weeks and then I realized that a baby carrier (a good one like the BabyBjorn One or the Ergo 360) is all you need. Jack happily naps in our Bjorn and I love that he’s always right with either one of us in all these different places. With all the luggage we already have, getting rid of the stroller was a relief.

2. Our travel cot rules

The Samsonite Sun n' Sleep in Colonia Blanca, Costa Rica
The Samsonite Sun n’ Sleep in Colonia Blanca, Costa Rica

The second most awesome thing we purchased for this trip is our Samsonite ‘Sun n’ Sleep’. This little sleeping tent has been Jack’s familiar bed, it always has his blankets, Foxy and Donkey. It’s light, easy to assemble and has blackout sides to help with those time changes and early sunrises.

3. You need less than you think

Baby's play with anything.
Babies play with anything.

You can buy most things you need even in the most remote places – like nappies and wipes. Food is easier than you’d think too – fruit, veges and meat are always readily available.

So here are the items I’m glad I packed before we left. I also have learned to ask Mums in whichever area we are what products/tricks they have and copy them!

  • Talcum powder with Zinc Oxide to counter heat rash and the humidity
  • Natural bug spray
  • Natural sunscreen
  • Homeopathic teething drops
  • Rescue Remedy
  • BabyBjorn One
  • Sleeping tent
  • Large pillow (awesome for jack to sleep on during flights and to prop up my arm breastfeeding)
  • Baby Ibuprofen
  • A sunhat that ties under his chin

Our day pack has these items in it: a nappy, wipes, a toy, fruit, bug spray, sunscreen, hat.

4. Breast is best

Jack's lunch at the waterfalls, Savusavu, Fiji.
Jack’s lunch at the waterfalls, Savusavu, Fiji.

Breastfeeding has made this whole experience so much easier. On planes, boats, in taxis, hostels, cars, wherever, whenever Jack has a safe, healthy, sustaining food supply.

Traveling with a baby is challenging and exhausting at times. However, the amazing moments I have with my son in all these cool places more than makes up for a little extra work and preparation.

Places We Stay – El Manso Boutique Hostal, Guayaquil, Ecuador

Photo credit - Juan Xavier Borja
This striking art deco building adds to the charm of this property.

From the moment you walk up the stairs, this funky, multilevel boutique hostel is a welcome relief from the heat and bustle of Guayaquil. This is a hostel with style, comfort and ambiance – it’s left big shoes to fill as we continue our travels.

El Manso has an energy that can’t be described, perhaps it’s the beautiful art-deco style building or the contemporary artistic touches or maybe it’s the location overlooking the waters of the Malecón.

resident artists have contributed to the art throughout the building.
Resident artists have contributed to the art throughout the building.

Besides being the perfect base to see the best Guayaquil has to offer, the staff at El Manso are open, friendly and beyond accommodating. They run daily bike tours around the city (an amazing way to see the city) and have great suggestions for sampling the Ecuadorian cuisine in the area.

Not that you need/want to leave El Manso to find amazing food. The hostel’s café ‘MansoMix’ is popular with locals and guests alike.

Patacones con Guacamole, the perfect start to an Ecuadorian meal.
Patacones con Guacamole, the perfect start to an Ecuadorian meal.

The cafe’s cuisine is ‘Cocina Agroecologica del Ecuador’. Ecuador’s version of organic cooking embraces not just organic ingredients but is more holistic in that it aims to reduce the negative impact of agriculture. You’ll find things like: fresh salads, a quinoa burger and crab-stuffed patacones (green plantains). The food is fresh, delicious and sustainably sourced.

Each room is brightly painted and is spacious and welcoming. With private and dormitory room options. El Manso has all the budget benefits of a hostel. We tried our two rooms on our two stays there: one with a private bath and one with the shared bath option. All the rooms are painted vibrant colors and unique artwork on the walls.

The room from our first stay.
The room from our first stay.

The beds were comfy with high quality linens and fluffy pillows. Rooms are serviced daily and the shared bathroom was always spotless.

The bathroom on our first stay even had a bidet!
The quirky vintage style of Manso. This bathroom even had a bidet!

Wi-Fi throughout the hostel means you can sit in the café and catch up on emails or lay in the second floor balcony hammock overlooking the Malecón – a beautiful way to spent the evening and watch the city go by.

Jack's View from his handcrafted high-chair.
Jack’s View from his handcrafted high-chair.

Points to note:

  • The building doesn’t have elevators.
  • Restaurant has a high chair.
  • Payment for rooms is in cash only.

Click here for the hotel website.

Monday Afternoon, Guayaquil

Guayacil FamilyThe concept of ‘Couchsurfing’ with a baby boy, was something I had some trepidation about before we left New Zealand and now here we are in a tiny home somewhere in the middle of Guayaquil: Bensen, Luke, Jack and I. Marcela warned us that her house was “very small” before we got here; it is.

She usually only hosts one person at a a time, as her spare room is single-bed sized. Now it’s housing the single bed, Jack’s travel cot, Luke and I and our luggage stacked in a two meter high pile. Bensen’s on the floor in the living room, planning to sleep in the sleeping bag (in thirty plus degree temperatures, with no air-con) he has for the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb he and Luke will be doing.

Couchsurfing GuayacilMy immediate reaction is “fuck this”. If there’s something that makes me super-duper uncomfortable, it’s feeling like I’m imposing.

There are people that no matter what, make you immediately feel welcome and wanted in their home. Our hosts are those kind of people. Marcela, Christian and their fourteen month old baby boy, Emeliano. Emeliano is Jack’s first experience with a boisterous, toddler and he’s scared shitless half the time, fascinated the other half.Jack and EmelianoThis simple home in Guayaquil, Ecuador has bars and a solid iron gate to keep us locked in at night. When I venture out onto the street and towards the shops, Christian steps out behind me. I’m aware Guayacil isn’t the safest of cities but to what degree I’m still not sure.

It’s funny to me when the boys assume there will be Wi-Fi anywhere. Airports, hostels, people’s homes. It’s a combo of living in the Western world I suppose and I think their age, they’re younger than me. I did most of my backpacking almost a decade ago. My parents were lucky if they got one email a week from a tiny internet cafe with dial-up. We relied on paper maps, phone calls and the Lonely Planet guides to find our way.

Laundry Time, GuayacilWe spend the day at the mall, catching up on emails because the mall has free Wi-Fi and it’s air-conditioned. I FaceTime my family. It feels good to hear their voices and see their faces. My Dad has bought a flash new car, they are heading ‘up North’ with the boat for Christmas, all things that feel foreign and far away when I am here in this very different world.

Local Butcher GuayacilSo far my first Couchsurfing experience has been a success. Mainly due to the openness of these strangers who’s home we have taken over. Even though we speak different languages, a connection and true kindness can always be felt and understood.

Confidence

IMG_6178

Confidence is a funny thing. For me it’s one of those emotions that comes and goes like the tides. It’s never been a consistent part of my life. I have moments of self-assured-ness and then deep periods of insecurity and self-doubt. I’m know I’m not alone in this, but it’s not something people talk openly about. I found that the changes in my life during pregnancy and after becoming a Mum compounded and deepened my sense of fragility and vulnerability.

Growing up I always had to keep up with the boys. I would be the first to jump off high cliffs into deep ocean, steal my parents car and go for joyrides, laugh at girly-girls and never say no to a challenge. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy excitement and the wind in my hair, I love the ocean and I’m naturally a physically active person, but I have to be honest in that a lot of this sense of adventure was driven by a need to never be thought of as ‘girly’ or ‘afraid’. It continued into adulthood with drinking and partying, I always kept up with my husband and his friends’ extreme drinking and was often the last girl to go to bed.

We all have an innate urge to be accepted, to be loved, to be thought of as awesome, attractive, cool, intelligent, interesting, wealthy, different. In this way, we’re all the same.

This urge has affected so many decisions in my life. From the stupid amount of money I (used to) spend on clothes, to the jobs I’ve had, who I married and the demise of my marriage. It’s made me lose myself in relationships, lose sight of what makes me happy and most of all lose confidence in myself.

Validation from the outside. We all seek it. I still do. Quite simply, it makes me feel good and when I feel good, I’m more confident, self-assured and open. A viscous cycle, a Catch 22.

During this trip, circumstances have meant I have had to deal with my insecurities head on. My relationship has mirrored back to me how any sense of security or confidence based around the actions of others isn’t true security or confidence at all. Because that can all be taken away in an instant.

In theory I understand that the only person that can make me happy is me. No relationship can do that. None, never. I understand that nothing external can ever give me security or stability or true joy.

In theory I understand this, but understanding is different to ‘knowing’.

To know this, to feel it from the inside out, to be rock solid in my knowledge will take some time and work. It will take mantra and meditation and persistence.

It will take trust.

A while ago someone gave me a tiny piece of paper with the words ‘Trust Yourself’ scribbled on them. I kept it in my wallet for a long time, looking at it when I needed to. In the past could of weeks this phrase has popped into my head so often, as my gut and instincts send me messages that I doubt or ignore, hoping them to be wrong. They weren’t. They never, ever are.

I believe learning to absolutely trust yourself is the first step towards creating your truth. And when you are true to yourself, confidence starts to grow, from the inside out, rather than the outside in.

True confidence isn’t arrogance. True confidence doesn’t come and go, waxing and waning with the moon. A truly confident person doesn’t struggle against others or feel the need to be ‘right’. When you’re self-assured you make decisions that consistently empower you.

But it’s hard. And you have to say no to things that you used to say yes to. Things you said yes to because you wanted to be loved and thought of as awesome.

It’s hard and it will take time. Just like anything worthwhile and lasting, but it’s possible and for me that’s all I need.