As an attachment mom of three young children, self-care isn’t just important. It’s mandatory.
My husband and mother both understand and appreciate this, and they regularly encourage me to get out by myself and just exist as a woman, taking care of no one but myself. I’ll sit at a coffee shop and people watch, or walk around an antique store and make imaginary wishlists, anything I want. It’s magical.
But after 5 years of spending every single night with someone waking up and needing me, I needed a night away. Just one. Everyone would survive, right? To reduce my chances of chickening out, I arranged a road trip – I planned to drive 7 hours to the Pacific Ocean, pitch a tent at a campsite and return refreshed the next day.
See, my husband has traveled quite a bit for his job. He’s spent time in Canada, Germany and Wales, and I hadn’t even gotten on a plane since our babymoon before our first child was born. Any traveling was done with at least one baby in tow. I needed to have a few days of doing what I wanted, only stopping the car when it was convenient for me. I sought relaxation and space.
My trip was nothing like I’d imagined, but worth all of the trouble.
Our youngest is 11 months old and nurses several times a day. I’m able to go long stretches without nursing with minimal discomfort, so I brought along a Medela Harmony hand pump and some bottles in case I needed to pump for comfort.
I made it about 300 miles before my boobs requested a pit stop. Little did I know, this would be the theme of the getaway.
Just outside of my destination, I stopped for some hot dogs and s’mores supplies and my bosoms were pounding. Both sides of my chest were now rock hard, lumpy, and swollen. I was frantically pushing my shopping cart through the busy, tourist-infested grocery store, desperate to get to the campground and move some milk.
Thankfully, I made it without incident. I’d camped there years before and knew it wasn’t the woodsy, private campground of my childhood – each site was nearly on top of the other, and a narrow patch of grass separated the back of my area and a road. There was little privacy, but it was $30 as opposed to a $350 hotel stay. I could make do.
Children of all ages were riding their bikes through our loop of campsites. Fires were roaring and campers were relaxing in folding chairs. I was sitting in the front seat of my car with the pump under my shirt, desperate for some relief. Being a stay-at-home-mom with a very part-time job, I hadn’t pumped much, especially for my third baby. My breasts weren’t pleased about the cold, plastic device trying to drain them so I moved to hand expression. I’ve hand expressed a lot before and love to sing its praises – you don’t always need a pump! Learn to milk yourself! MacGyver your boobs! It’s not so bad! Except when you’re at a busy campsite with engorged melons attached to your torso, with no privacy.
I managed to get a few ounces out and they felt softer but not empty. I figured that would be OK for now.
Determined to be a successful solo camper, I began to set up the tent, which I’d borrowed from my sister. I did it! The poles were up and the tent was spacious! Excited to snuggle up alone in my sleeping bag, I marveled at my accomplishment and moved onto step 2: attaching the waterproof cover.
Which wasn’t included in the tent.
Which was very necessary, because the Oregon Coast is almost constantly wet, ranging from misty to pouring buckets of rain.
So down the tent came. I figured I’d sleep in my car, and everything would be well with the world. My neighbors to the south, three middle-aged women, had an extravagant set-up including multiple tents and an eating station, and they were laughing. Not at me, not in the slightest – but failing at tenting and hearing constant laughter was a bit frustrating.
But I wouldn’t be discouraged! I’m not just a wife and mom, I’m a totally badass woman who can do whatever she sets her mind to! So I drove the mile down to the beach to temporarily forget about my troubles.
It was blissful. Cold, windy, and rainy bliss, but I was alone. I pulled my folding wagon to the sand, set up my chair and just thought. Cried a little, purely for some emotional release. Talked to God, or my own version of him/her/the universe. But it was needed, and I felt refreshed. Cold and sandy, sure. But renewed. I packed up and headed back to camp, excited to get warm around the fire.
But I must ask, have you lit a campfire? Do you know how hard it is? Are you shocked to read that I dismissed my husband’s fire-lighting tips because I’m a capable woman who can do anything?
Well, reality sunk in as I realized I was running out of matches. Several attempts caused some small flames and smoke, but the end result was always the same – no campfire. Feeling defeated, I cried. I opened the back hatch of my van, planted my butt in the trunk and fake read a grocery store advertisement circular, hoping no one would see my tears. I coughed to cover sobs and sniffles.
What the heck was I doing out here, 500 miles from home? Alone? Sleeping in my car, no fire to keep warm? Should I just drive home now?
No. I wouldn’t give up. So I dried my tears, blew my nose in a Starbucks napkin, gave my body a good shake and went to make some friends.
“Hey, neighborinos,” I said shyly. “You ladies seem to really know what you’re doing. Can you help me light a fire?”
And they were so kind. All three sprang to action and used various supplies to get my fire going. I grabbed some hot dogs from my cooler right as it began to rain.
I charred them quickly, then I roasted two marshmallows to make sure I could at least have s’mores before I was rained out. I barely made it in time. Again, I sat in my trunk. I devoured my dinner, trying to muster some pride when I felt more embarrassed than anything.
Then, the tears returned. I journaled to get through it and hoped scribbling some deep thoughts would be a signal to anyone who saw me crying that I was OK and didn’t need help.
At the Ocean, the top of the page read. 8/12/17.
It continued down the page:
I am HOMESICK. Which is DUMB.
then crossed it out and wrote:
some stuff isn’t going well.
- No rain cover on tent.
- Fire got rained out.
- Neighbors keep looking at me.
- Phone has super low battery.
- I MISS VIOLET.
- Boobs are too full.
- I keep crying.
I moved on to discuss with my notebook all the good things about the trip – explaining why I’d come, what I’d seen along the way, and what I’d learned so far. That helped.
I rearranged my van and rolled out my sleeping bag. I hand expressed my sad, full boobs yet again, finding little relief. I buried the bottles in a bag of ice in the cooler and settled in for sleep.
The middle of the night brought a lot of revelations. I awoke at 1 a.m., engorged and needing to pee. I realized that at home, I was never engorged, especially at night – I simply pulled my shirt up and nursed the baby, who slept next to me. If I had to pee, I’d stumble down the hall to the toilet, not put on sandals, grab a lantern, and walk in the dark to a gross public restroom. It was understandable that I needed a break from my family, but life at home wasn’t bad by any means. And camping sucked.
The whole drive to the coast, I’d thought about how much fun I’d have. How comfortable my air mattress would be in my big, roomy tent. How I’d warm myself by the fire and watch the flames dance.
None of that happened.
I reflected on my husband’s travels and how they were also riddled with errors and inconveniences. Once, after working in a remote part of Canada for 2 weeks, he got halfway home when his boss called and demanded he return for another 2 weeks. He’d had cancelled flights, hotel moves, stomach upset from local cuisine. He’d had his adventures, and this was mine. I was silly to ever expect perfection – that’s just not realistic. But I signed myself up to have an experience, and I’d had one.
I awoke bright and early. Because I didn’t have a tent to take down and literally nothing to pack up, I just got in the driver’s seat and left. I made a brief stop at the beach to say goodbye to the rolling waves and fog, then hit the open road.
I had to stop to help my sore boobs several times, and traffic in Portland about gave me a coronary. I didn’t visit all the places I’d intended to see, but I was truly at peace with that. I just wanted to go home.
I arrived in the late afternoon to an exhausted husband, two little kids who weren’t excited to see me, and a sleeping baby who I quickly woke up and nursed. My chest took a few days to recover – I brought home more than 12 ounces of milk, and that barely scratched the surface of the supply that was eager to leave my boobs.
My kids didn’t wander the neighborhood in the middle of the night, I didn’t die in a head-on crash, and I didn’t even need to use my new SOS whistle or pepper spray. Most importantly, I did something big solely for me, and that’s a huge accomplishment in and of itself. But next time I need a night away, I’m booking a fancy hotel room with room service and a spa.
Kelsey Saintz is a mom of three, wife of one and an all-around mom cheerleader. She’s a breastfeeding, babywearing, bedsharing, coffee-drinking go-getter who’s worked at Mother’s Haven for several years.