Once in a Babymoon

Exploring the Olympic Peninsula while pregnant meant rethinking the way I traveled—and how I viewed my body.

The most obvious reason to travel north in winter is for off-season deals. The second-most obvious, at least when you’re pregnant, is the lack of Zika. Logistics aside, it’s beautiful and quiet, a good excuse for hotel room fireplaces and sleeping until the late-rising sun starts to burn off the fog. 

I was six months pregnant when my husband, Tanner, and I flew from New York to Seattle to spend four days in Olympic National Park. We followed that with two days in Seattle for an urban decompression before we headed home so we wouldn’t miss the trees too badly when we got back to Brooklyn. I could still fly, but not without compression socks and a little sling to make a footrest for my restless feet. I could hike, but nowhere treacherous and not too quickly. I could wander through an art museum, but only for so long before I had to sit down. Travel had never before been so much about the facts of my body. 

In a way, my body was the whole reason for the trip. It would be—I can’t say it without the widening eyes and raised eyebrows of ironic distance from the term—our babymoon. It’s an embarrassing portmanteau, but a beautiful idea: one last vacation, just the two of you, before the baby comes. It could be considered a celebration, but it’s more like trying to bank up vacation vibes for later on when you’re sleep-deprived and stuck at home, truly desperate for a break. 

I didn’t let myself dwell on the longer-term implication that this could be our last vacation just for the two of us. (I was determined, anyway, that this wouldn’t be the case; check back with me in five or 10 years to see how that pans out.) Travel has always been when Tanner and I feel most connected. Babymoon does have a secondary meaning—“a period of time for parents to spend alone with their new child shortly after the child’s birth”—but we were after the more common, more selfish usage. More than banking relaxation, I think we wanted one last chance to anchor our identities—as ourselves and as a couple—before everything changed. 

You’re not supposed to fly too late in pregnancy. By that biological timing, my babymoon fell in January, at the end of my second trimester. I work from home, so walking through the airport made me feel publicly pregnant in a brand-new way. Riding the AirTrain, going through security, browsing terminal snacks—with every interaction I wondered, Can they tell I’m pregnant? I was only just crossing that line. I rested my hand on my belly a little self-consciously, but also because I loved to feel the baby move, the only convincing reminder that I wasn’t just enduring an arbitrary sequence of physical annoyances. There was a baby, and he was with me.

In Seattle, I fitted the rental car seat belt under my belly and realized that, for all the other reasons to take this trip now instead of when I was nearly fully cooked, I wouldn’t be able to fit in the driver’s seat for much longer.  

We drove two-and-a-half hours from SeaTac through smaller and smaller towns, into denser and denser forests until, in the last hour, night fell and we could feel more than see the trees towering at the roadside. The air smelled like cedar and soil and rain.

I unpacked and hung up my four maternity shirts, leggings, and a pair of overalls that would’ve been two sizes too big for me six months ago but fit snugly now. The closet door had, of course, a full-length mirror. I have a mirror at home, but there was something about this one—it was bigger and hung flush instead of leaning against a wall—or maybe it was the unfamiliar setting: I saw my body more than I’d seen it in a long time. I’ve never particularly prided myself on my butt, but now, I realized, whatever I’d once had was gone. I’d anticipated so many ways pregnancy would change my body, but nothing had prepared me for this salt in my vain little wounds.

We strung together short hikes and excursions like beads on the twine of Highway 101: We pulled off into an unmarked parking area to hike five minutes to a stunning waterfall. We followed a small sign for “Big Cedar Tree,” which did not disappoint, towering and ancient, barely steps from the road. At Ruby Beach, a forest path led down to the coast, where a vast rocky beach stretched before us—on the other side of an obstacle course of driftwood logs. I’ve never been the best scrabbler, neither brave nor agile, but I felt even more daunted than usual. Pregnancy hadn’t made me particularly clumsy, but I’d been inundated with warnings: My center of gravity would be off, a fall could be terrible for the baby. I told Tanner, “I’m going to need more help than usual; I need you to go extra slow.” He stepped out ahead of me and reached back his hand, and we gingerly made our way toward the water.

On the beach, I took pictures of the sky and the ocean and distant rocks and closer trees. Everywhere we went, I paused and took out my phone—I wanted to remember the waterfalls and lakes and woods, to have something pretty to put on Instagram and as a sense-memory investment for when I wouldn’t be on vacation but caring for a newborn. My vacation photos are usually either prettily framed pictures of vistas or selfies, solo or with Tanner. But this time, I asked him, sheepishly, to take pictures of me by myself. Wide shots, full body or from the knees up at least. In front of a waterfall or Lake Quinault, I self-consciously unzipped my jacket, turned to three-quarter profile, and tried to figure out what to do with my hands. When we were done, I’d take the phone from his grip and swipe through, thinking, OK, I guess this is what I look like. I guess this is my body right now.

On our last day in Olympia, we drove as far north and west as we could, to Cape Flattery, the point of land jutting out toward Vancouver Island. My cellphone switched over to Canadian service as we drove across the upper edge of the peninsula. I had GPS directions running, but at a certain point you don’t need them: The road dead-ends at a parking lot, beyond which is only woods and rocks and the sea.

It was gray and drizzly, and I zipped my parka up over my belly—just barely and, I had a feeling, for one of the last times. This trail, like so many others, snaked ahead of us downhill. This is a coastline too formidable for your car to take you all the way to the water. A small cache of walking sticks leaned on a trailhead sign. I took one as insurance against stumbling and for the return hike uphill. 

The forest was green and wet. The leafless trees were draped with moss, and the undergrowth was full of ferns. We wove down and down, until the land dropped out and, far below us, was the sea.

The water was slate blue, a darker cousin of glacier runoff. It slammed into caves, and we could see across an inlet where the waves had eaten into the cliff face. The ocean foamed and frothed and slapped against stone that would surely wear away, too, in time. I’m using all these violent words, but it was less violent than kinetic, not dramatic so much as indifferent to anything human. 

When we finally, reluctantly, tore ourselves away—it was 4 p.m. and we had a long drive back to Quinault—we were trudging uphill when I said to Tanner, “Wait, stay there,” and scampered ahead. I turned back to face him and asked him to take my picture as I stood between two poufs of foliage, a hill of pine trees stretching up behind me. I didn’t pose or unzip my jacket; I didn’t even push back my hood. I just leaned a bit on my walking stick and smiled. I was tired and happy and totally in love with the place around us. I wasn’t thinking about my body at all.

I was tired and happy and totally in love with the place around us.

The next day we drove to Seattle and checked into a room at the Hotel Monaco downtown with a bathtub so big and beautiful I almost cried. At Uwajimaya, the Asian mega-market, I stocked up on matcha candies and flavored potato chips. I also bought a pair of bath bombs, one for each night we had left. We spent a day eating piroshkis from Pike Place Market and soaking in the sublime weirdness of Letters From the Institute of Empathy at the Seattle Art Museum. I had to sit down after almost every gallery floor, stretching my hips as inconspicuously as I could. Instead of visiting a second museum, we went back to our hotel before dinner and watched TV.

We think of babymoons as last-hurrah vacations, but it turned out that I needed it more for that moment of pregnancy than insurance against future wanderlust. I needed my new body to be in new contexts: navigating an altered center of gravity down a rocky slope, squeezing into a booth in a vegan pizza parlor, getting dressed and undressed in front of hotel room mirrors larger and starker than anything we owned at home. I never got to flaunt a maternity bikini, but I didn’t need to flaunt anything. I just needed to live in it. 

On our last night in Seattle, I ran the bath and dropped in a bath bomb to fizz. The steam didn’t fog the wall-wide mirror above the tub. And I didn’t shy away from my reflection when I got in. I didn’t gaze and admire, but I also didn’t mind. It wasn’t a question of good or bad or what-the-hell-is-happening?—it was just me.

Jaime Green is a freelance writer and editor. She’s the series editor for The Best American Science and Nature Writing and the romance fiction columnist for The New York Times Book Review. She’s on Twitter at @jaimealyse.

Illustration by Alex Green/Folio Art

Originally Published November 2019