The Last Travel Diary of a Pregnant Nomad

Photo by Kelli Mutchler
Photo by Kelli Mutchler

A rule for buying purses: they must have space for a journal. A good rule for every trip, I suppose, as well. Each of my handbags contained a spiral-bound stowaway, its scribbled words both treasure and treasured. While fashions change, my habits do not, and I have carted these personal musings around since a 2006 semester study program in Limerick, Ireland. The only danger in traveling with such open companions? Their silent passages hide periods of my life when more is said between the lines than on them.

11 November 2013 – Strange to think that an entirely new Adventure begins. We have no expectations for this job, so unlike the others – except nicer, more challenging. Silver dining service in an award-winning resort restaurant, as compared to the casual, blasé attendance at last month’s Outback Roadhouse. And Tasmania? So unlike the rest of the red dirt towns in which we’ve landed, swatting flies and cringing as the dry heat swallows us whole.

Here, wallabies cluster in paddocks like rabbits, or weeds. Driving onto the grounds of staff accommodation tonight, thirty pale brown heads angled toward the invading tires. I think they will make much better neighbors than the worn, abandoned work boots that surrounded us in Western Australia.

And then there’s the ocean. A 10-minute drive from our squat bungalow, down a gravel road rutted by rain and scratched by the tail lines of crossing marsupials. Fresh mussels, oysters, Australian salmon and flathead fish. . . Where to begin exploring? On the beaches.

Six months, Hadyn promised me. Six months and we would collect our stunning savings – amassed thanks to long hours in the hospitality industry and the still-strong Australian dollar – and head to Europe. With a bit of budgeting, six months should cover one-way tickets on the Trans-Siberian, a VW van, and my graduate degree in Dublin.

Six months is the longest we’ve ever lived in one location together. On the other side of the equation, six months is roughly six years and six months less than the length of time I’ve dreamed of returning to Ireland. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s precarious to move somewhere with a predetermined date for departure. But it’s too late; we will work and work, then fly away.

30 December 2013 – Christmas was not the worst. But far, far from the best. A stressful six-course degustation lunch, with no previous experience, left me spilling wine, dropping cutlery and describing paired wines with invented details such as, “This is a red varietal. It’s from Tasmania. Tastes faintly of grapes.”

Then, suffered sleepily through the next few days. I honestly predict I’ll be sick of this gig long before Hadyn notices. Grad school, money for Europe . . .

13 January 2014 – My nearly-29-year-old body is betraying me: constantly weary, sleepy, distracted, sore, fat and irritable. According to the Internet, I am 1) pregnant, 2) cancerous, 3) suffering from a hormonal imbalance. Prolly the latter, since I just found out hyperthyroidism runs in the family. Is that why I feel 40,000 pounds and sick at the thought of alcohol? Another night of butter and rice.

I cannot be pregnant. I can’t. By all the laws of physics, of forward planning, and the fastidiousness by which I’ve based all sexual activity, it’s just not possible. Another night of butter and rice, pretending I’m back on the Burmese border, where babies are semi-naked, snot-crusted creatures that belong to anyone but me.

15 January 2014 – I can’t talk about today until tomorrow, until I see a doctor and confirm one little but terrifying ‘+’ sign.

Home pregnancy tests are designed to fail. I’ll re-read the instructional paper, I’ll bargain with Google: give me room for error. A room the size of Germany, with a beer tap, library, and enough pretzels to survive on until this nightmare ends.

28 January 2014 – The Day I Found Out I Was Pregnant.

My traveling journal involuntarily ends.

29 January 2014 – The Day I Remembered I Was Still Pregnant

And so it sets in. I write on scraps of notebook paper, afraid of the commitment that a real entry, in a real diary, would signify.

31 January 2014 – Dr. Parry declares the blood test’s results “irrefutable” and asks, “What are you going to do?” Unanimously irresponsible, joyously, full of grief and wonder, “Keep the baby!” A celebration (alcohol free) follows at Gangster’s Café.

Dr. Parry, in a gesture of British discretion, does not mention that I first argued about the “irrefutable” nature of the aforementioned medical testing. Yes, I fought with a semi-retired family practitioner, verbally insulted his decades of experience by declaring, “There’s just no way I could be pregnant. I’m not pregnant.” I even crossed my arms like a petulant teenager. Dr. Parry clearly thinks someone cut out a few key chapters of my “Where Do Babies Come From?” high school text.

1 February 2014 – Purchased pregnancy vitamins at a Discount Pharmacy. While asking the clerk feels surreal enough, wandering into the Baby Aisle – shelves of “nappies,” rubber nipples, barrier creams, etc. – gives us both premature heart palpations.

Per Doctor Parry’s instructions: “What do I do now?” “Don’t worry, your body will know what to do.” Reassuring or frighteningly nonchalant? “Anything more specific?” “Hmm. . . You could start on antenatal vitamins.”

I was so stunned by pastel iconography and the army of disposable underwear, I forgot what the medication was called and asked the clerk for “baby pills – no, not those kind of pills- far too late for that.”

Photo by Kelli Mutchler
Photo by Kelli Mutchler

2 February 2014 – At the Neck of Bruny Island, Tasmania. It feels impossible, here, that we will be joined by someone else in 7-plus months. The sun won’t set for two hours, and the breeze soothes a day’s sunburned shoulders. Hadyn is, “just for 5 minutes,” on the fishing rod. He’s found a new passion, and I have my pen and paper.

So will these things change? Will we? I can’t yet decipher what drives me more: the assailable fear of losing this nomadic, beach-combing lifestyle, or the unassailable determination not to.

It’s that sense of unknown adrenalin before a big plunge, an uncontemplated event, which you know may just change your life. But you (luckily) have not yet considered the consequences enough to know the Fear.

The week I met Hadyn in Queenstown, New Zealand, he convinced my best friend and I to bungy jump. That act of willingly ignoring gravity is one I long recycled into motivational mantras: “If I can bungy jump, I can do anything . . .” But the leap itself came with a shared sense of triumph, bragging rights, and a story for the blog. This equally death-defying descent must remain a secret.

So when Pierre – a Quebecois coworker with pointy sideburns and purring ‘h’s – joined us for the weekend away, I lied. “No wine?” he asked for the third time. “No, thank you. I have an ulcer.”

10 February 2014 – Breakdown. Badly.

I can’t do this. Everything I’d ever dreamed of doing will become impossible: a receding shoreline, past deadline, dusty shelved. I keep recalling that night after I returned from Europe in 2007: snuggled in the arms of an old boyfriend, supposedly overjoyed at my reunion with U.S. soil, yet all I wished was to be in Europe still. Not home but somewhere else. Trapped, pounding fists on brick walls.

And that long ago night, one painful chorus dragged its fingernails again and again across the blackboard of my mind. From my current bed in Tasmania, it haunts me again:

And, I know a woman / Became a wife / These are the very words she uses to describe her life / She said ‘A good day ain’t got no rain’ / She said ‘A bad day’s when I lie in bed / and think of things that might have been…’

22 February 2014 – I got very angry with God the other night. Waking up before that so-annoying 5:00 a.m. alarm, I stew in thoughts. Everything these days is beyond my grasp and control. Why even bother to make decisions, pretend I have a choice? Where we will live, what work I will do, what I can eat, what I must say. And though I decided in Dr. Parry’s office that I would never regret the conception of my child, someone had to get the blame.

Then, somewhere in the shadows of that dawn squabble, I think He answered me. “Look forward.”

Not bitterly backward, but on to the wide, open, unknown future – a place I’d previously prided myself in focusing on. Didn’t we, Hadyn and I, declare that becoming parents wouldn’t change who we were, just how? Yet here I was, digging my heels down.


So I will do this in the only way I know how: by making lists. I purchase a cheap sketch notebook from Kmart, blessedly free of lines. It quickly fills up with to-do steps from Dr. Parry (avoid uncooked chicken and scuba diving); favorite Gaelic names (Dara, Caitlin, Aisling); and conceivable future homes (New Zealand, Ireland, South Dakota, Tonga, Japan).

5 March 2014 – Weeks go by so quickly now. And the breeze smells of autumn. It’s typically the scent of movement, long associated with Canadian geese honking on their northern passage, and I find myself desperate to move on. But whether that’s the temptation of escaping this situation or merely Capote’s “curse of the gypsy blood” stirred by seasonal change, I can’t determine.

My moods oscillate between peaks and valleys. Sometimes a steady village, peaceful and calm; other times a tsunami that hates the stability, washes it away with vengeance and malice. It’s no longer that I feel trapped, but torn; anxious of the things slipping from my grasp. Anxious too, that the child will mistake my aching for resentment, which it must never know.

Besides the constant tease of hot coffee, work shifts tick past almost without consequence. No one has yet noticed the protruding bulge that requires a larger pant size; I eat enough pastries after the breakfast rush to deter suspicion. Where guests with children previously lacked any extra appeal, they now receive my fervent interrogation regarding breastfeeding on long-haul flights, the art of packing for the non-potty trained, the total costs of family vacations abroad.

New lists appear: tasks for completing my de facto New Zealand visa application; the compiling costs of pills and ever-baggier sweaters; the possessions I’ve never been able to own but now envision in our first, future home (a book shelf buckling under travel narratives and local authors, a yogurt maker, a mortar and pestle.

1 March 2014 – Hadyn’s parents, Chris and Brian, spent four days with us, before a season in Europe.

They’re growing noticeably excited for their upcoming travels, and it’s hard not to get jealous or compare situations. At the same time, I realize that this is a lifestyle choice I’ve always promoted, long-term travel, and it inspires ideas of family holidays we will take together: Disney World, Hawaii, South Korea.

Saying goodbye from the airport, they gently place palms on my belly. Hadyn asks if it’s been kicking, and I suddenly realize that perhaps those internal hiccups came from a more powerful life-force.

As we leave them in front of the Departures entrance, the two are looking for last-minute routes to Gare du Nord, trying to contact the gite owner in France, all those final details we panic and try to crunch in before an international flight. Sigh. Can I do a few more years of stationary existence? Somehow set aside enough money for a year-long backpacking trip with “Bubs” (as the Aussies say) AND grad school, circa 2016? For once, dreaming beyond the next calendar.

15 April 2014 – Finalizing visas, waiting police checks, processing the well wishes of the five closest compatriots who know about our wee surprise.

Pierre, today, talked about going separate ways from his girlfriend because she wanted to return to Hong Kong and have a child, while he wanted ten more years on the road. In a veiled way, I hinted, “Sometimes plans change, what you want – or what you think you want – changes, too.”

And then I add a new list: Folks Who Know, followed by a carefully-tended set of cousins, old school mates and people to be trusted on Facebook.

25 April 2014 – It’s only a matter of time now till everyone at work finds out – and the relief is like a cold cloth after a particularly hectic check-in for a flight.

10 May 2014 – The transition to Motherhood looms more imminently than anything else: the complete realignment of identity, the action of trying to merge two, instead of just folding into one, as society seems to dictate. Blend them both together like the salt-and-sugar Kettle Corn I make with housemates.

I’ve started to take some pride in our current unconventional status = accidentally pregnant, rearing the fetus without OB/GYN or text books, in a foreign country, occasionally drinking wine and eating soft cheeses.

Even if I’m not quite ready to be a mom, maybe there’s a way I don’t have to be, at least in the common sense? I’d much rather be Kelli, with kids, than Mother Kelli.

(And not in a shallow way, afraid of aging or premature greys brought on by toddlers. I think I say this because I can only be my own sort of mother, and it’s going to be different from the Webster definition).

20 May 2014 – Official online announcement: “Kelli’s gonna need to make room for diapers in her traveling backpack…”

3 June 2014 – Q: What is a luxury?

Silken feet, washed and massaged and creamed, slipping out of Sensai sandals; heavy bathrobe tied around giant stomach; herbal mix of yellow flower & juniper berry, while precisely-planted candles flicker under soft light…

It’s a luxury to look at my swollen toes and feel their beauty, when each day they only appear as ugly potatoes attached to pumpkin ankles. Michelle’s just given me a 45-minute foot treatment, plus scalp massage, and I am reveling in the self-care and soothing ethnic music.

Guests pay $1,800 a night for this, but we’ve gotten our staff fam for free. Bubbles upon arrival; homemade biscuits in a room made entirely of local wood; five-course degustation and specially-blended tea before sleeping on a $3,000 mattress.

“Why can’t we just move in here?” I keep asking Hadyn. No, seriously. Luxurious space, unimpeded view, what more do we need?

But then we start to consider how we’d spend $1,800 . . . We pre-decorate our imaginary home with vintage travel posters, hard-cover books, and maps of our earlier journeys. We mentally begin our trip to Europe, a 2-year-old Fitzpatrick in tow. We buy a kiteboard and flights to South Dakota and lime trees for the backyard.

Luxury, to me, is just happiness. Feeling comfortable. Not exclusive and decadent, but AT HOME. It’s a $10.00 bamboo hut on Palawan’s west coast, or the wraparound deck at my parents’ house.

It’s a two-year New Zealand work visa, approved 1 hour ago, giving us the promise of a fresh start in Queenstown.

Luxury is creating that warm, loving space for our child, bringing him or her into a house full of good memories and laughter. It’s being comfortable to travel at will, to seek out those homey places. It’s picking optimism, like a wild flower, out of a field of thistles.

Kelli Mutchler

Kelli Mutchler

When one over-enthusiastic tourist shouted from Queenstown Hill, “I’m never going home again!” she didn’t take herself too seriously. Yet five years and assorted continents later, here she is with a Kiwi-American baby and no sign of a return ticket to South Dakota, U.S.A. Though she’s temporarily traded her backpack for a buggy, Kelli refuses to stop exploring New Zealand – one of her favorite international locales. Dragging Bubs along whenever possible, she writes about the challenges and thrills of traveling with a child.

When one over-enthusiastic tourist shouted from Queenstown Hill, “I’m never going home again!” she didn’t take herself too seriously. Yet five years and assorted continents later, here she is with a Kiwi-American baby and no sign of a return ticket to South Dakota, U.S.A. Though she’s temporarily traded her backpack for a buggy, Kelli refuses to stop exploring New Zealand – one of her favorite international locales. Dragging Bubs along whenever possible, she writes about the challenges and thrills of traveling with a child.

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