Towards the end of summer last year, in between cleaning out fine grains of sand from our suitcases—token from a beach holiday—and finalising a long weekend trip to Hanoi in Vietnam, my husband and I were greeted by a surprise. We were pregnant.
After months of calculating ovulation dates and the inevitable frustration when ‘Aunt Flow’ came visiting at the end of the cycle, it had happened. As much as it brought us joy, it also attracted well-meaning but unwarranted advice from friends and family. One was to avoid recreational travel, at least in the first trimester. Yet we had a gut feeling that it would be alright. And so, at six weeks pregnant, we took a 15-hour journey to tranquil Vietnam.
As we flew over a sunrise in China, my mind constantly rummaged through frightening miscarriage stories. I wondered whether the trip was worth risking the life brewing inside of me. By the time we landed in Hanoi, I decided that no two pregnancies were the same, and took the driver’s seat for my own—to do what my body was comfortable with. Maybe this was the beginning of a mother-to-be taking control of her decisions, fielding off exhaustive dos and don’ts that perpetuate more anxiety than joy.
Hanoi gives you what you seek. In light of our new circumstances, we sought to take it slow, and the city did not disappoint. Instead of downing biah hoi (local draught beer), we headed straight for a bite of a bánh mì, the iconic sandwich’s fresh bread oozing with a scrumptious pulled pork filling and homemade sauce. We replaced cruising on two-wheelers with learning to cook Vietnamese food, and exchanged morning hangovers with posing at the social media-friendly Train Street at six in the morning. Our entire Sunday evening was spent enjoying the festive atmosphere around the serene waters of Hoàn Kiem Lake, located in the heart of the city.
Every weekend after 6 pm, the usual traffic is replaced by pedestrians who take a break from life to dance, sing, play games or just be. It’s one of those rare times when laughter, squeals of joy and people’s voices dim the sound of vehicles. The slow holiday patiently allowed us to absorb the city’s electrifying street life, all the while mindful of the new life taking shape in my belly. Once back in Delhi, we heard our baby’s first heartbeats—a flurried 150 a minute.
With winter arrived our second trimester. We were packing for December in Italy, followed by a quiet New Year’s in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Considered the best time to travel, it’s a period of short respite before the joys of weight gain, swollen ankles, and hamorrhoids begin kicking in. It’s also when the baby hears its first sounds, develops taste buds and grows large enough for mothers to feel the first exciting kick.
We started off with Bologna in Northern Italy, home to Europe’s oldest university founded in 1088. Its ancient charm, peppered with the holiday cheer instantly pulled us in. I was walking upto nine kilometres a day around the Old Town, fascinated by its grand porticos and fading frescoes, breaking in between for croissants and coffee in quiet corners. Lunches were grand (‘hello, pasta bolognese’) and were spent gazing at people in the city’s centre. By the time we took two wrong turns and landed smack in the middle of the buzzing University area, I was in love.
We wondered with glee whether our baby could make out the ringing of church bells, the clacking of leather heels on marbled floors, and the medley of cellos, violins and voices in the piazza—the Roman public square. Was it lending an ear from the womb, as we excitedly spoke about the future over apéritifs? What did our child think of its first taste of authentic Italian food? Could it make out that we were surrounded by a completely different language?
By Christmas time we were in Ortisei, my husband’s hometown tucked high in South Tyrol. The latter is an autonomous province in Northern Italy, poised to charm with historical cities, mountain chalets and sunbathed meadows behind which erupt jagged peaks of the Alps’ Dolomite chain.
We took walks on sunny winter afternoons, and took turns in narrating the sights to our baby. Sleepy villages, birds feeding on wild berries, frozen streams, the smell of pine seeds, snowflakes resting on naked branches, colours the mountains wore in quick succession at sunset—the experience left no stone unturned. It was here, on my 18th week, that I felt the baby’s first flutters.
These irregular flutters turned into the first kicks when we left for the sea. We traveled to Zanzibar, a semi–autonomous island in Tanzania, and one of the few places an Indian passport holder is eligible for visa on arrival.
This tiny island was part of the Sultanate of Oman, formerly used by traders from Arabia, Persia and India as a base between the Middle East and Africa. Later, the island’s main settlement, Stone Town (a Unesco World Heritage site), became a centre for the trade of spices and slave labour.
The town’s food and architecture is heavily influenced by foreign cultures the traders interacted with—in fact, you’ll find biryani and curries as part of the local cuisine. Don’t expect the Indian-looking food to be spicy, though.
The five days spent lazing under coconut trees and swimming in turquoise seas was the last holiday where it would be just the two of us. The sea breeze, together with the island’s unhurried vibe, relaxed our muscles to leech out the last of the winter chill. Zanzibar has breath-taking coral reefs, and being a water baby I was excited to go snorkelling. I was recommended against it while pregnant, another piece of advice I decided to forgo as I felt ready in body and mind.
Once underwater, baby and I saw the most beautiful schools of fish. Nevertheless, a word of caution: snorkelling for pregnant women should be limited to 20–30 minutes. The point is to not let the body temperature rise with the increase in physical exertion.
One morning I woke up with a twisted feeling. Something was off. The baby wasn’t moving as much. It took all my courage to not panic.
I lay on my side the whole afternoon, feeling every small movement inside me. On the flight home, my husband put his hand on my belly and felt our baby’s soft jiggle. The life inside me had withstood a month of travel and was growing safely and steadily.
Travelling during pregnancy is a different ball game. There’s the constant tussle between rest and exploration. But if there’s anything I understood in the last nine months, it’s that a pregnant body is not the same as a sick one. Instead, it’s merely working full-time and just needs the occasional slowdown. As I type out these last words and wait to go into labour, I am thankful that my faith in my body’s resilience encouraged me to experience my first pregnancy with less fear and more joy. The baby’s kicks reassure me that I did good.
TIPS FOR THE ROAD
# Choose a destination you’re comfortable with. We planned our Zanzibar trip at a resort with a private beach, to avoid the stress of moving around.
# Let your doctor know about all travel plans, for tailormade advice on necessary precautions
# As backup, get a fit to fly certificate and keep hospital papers at arm’s length
# Stock up on pre-natal medicines. Doctors can recommend pregnancy-friendly medicines for small annoyances like traveller’s stomach
# Make sure car drivers know you’re pregnant, for careful navigation
# Drink a glass of water every 30–40 minutes on flights, and have a stretch and a walk in the aisle every hour. Request aisle seats, for easy access to toilets
# Be cautious when it comes to trying new food. I avoided raw items, and researched before exploring new options
# Squeeze in 30 minutes of a pregnancy workout every day
# Don’t be awkward about asking to cut airport queues or asking favours
# Listen to your body, do not override it