During my first maternity leave with V1, I had this ‘brilliant’ idea of spending two months in Asia, visiting family and friends. The rather ambitious route was as follows:
London – Dubai (7 hours), transit in Dubai, Dubai – Kuala Lumpur (7.5 hours)
Kuala Lumpur – Singapore, Singapore – Kuala Lumpur (by car)
Kuala Lumpur – Jakarta (2 hours)
Jakarta – Melbourne (6.5 hours)
Melbourne – Kuala Lumpur (8.5 hours)
Kuala Lumpur – Dubai (7.5 hours), transit in Dubai, Dubai – London (7 hours)
My husband accompanied us up to Jakarta as he only took two weeks off. From Jakarta, he flew back to London while V1 and I completed the rest of the journey on our own. We remained in Jakarta for another week and went on to travel to Melbourne for a couple of weeks before finally heading back to Kuala Lumpur for Chinese New Year. When we left London, V1 was 7 months old and when we returned, she was 9 months old!
I travelled with V2 for two weeks during my second maternity to Kuala Lumpur for Chinese New Year. V2 turned one year old on our flight to Kuala Lumpur. It was a short trip as I left V1, who was a couple of months shy of her third birthday and my husband, behind.
Traveling alone with my babies at that age was hell on earth. They were mobile enough to hurt themselves and alert enough to be irritated by the background sounds and weird smells. But the number one worst reason that flying with them was so totally sh*t?? They could not sleep on the plane. Instead they got so overtired and crieeeeeedddddddd (very loudly) until they fell asleep. And no, they did not stay asleep for long! If you’re blessed with a sleeping baby or travelling with a very young baby, chances are you will not encounter any of my problems.
Assuming you’ve got the practical bits covered (what to pack, what to check before leaving etc), here are some insights into how I personally survived my ordeal(s).
My Connecta Sling
Wearing the Connecta sling in the breastfeeding room at KLIA because that’s the easiest way to transport it! V2 is busy going through the nappy bag.
I thought long and hard about this. If I had to do this all over again and I could only carry ONE item with me (ok, assuming there are nappies and wipes available!!) it would be without a shadow of a doubt my trusty Connecta.
My Connecta enabled me to pee with my baby strapped to me. Pretty handy when you’re alone at the airport and you can’t exactly hand her off to some random stranger. Unlike on the plane, because you probably memorised the flight attendant’s/stranger’s face and you would HUNT THEM DOWN the moment you got out of the loo.
The sling let me have my hands free when I needed them to be: hauling luggage bags off the luggage belt, soothing V1 who’s overtired AND passing my passport to the immigration officer, or doing some stealth breastfeeding in the sling whilst walking up and down the aisle. And yes, the baby slept in the sling (but sadly not for long) and that’s when I could sit for a while and get some rest because I was about to drop dead on my feet.
How about the buggy, I hear you ask? Let me be completely honest. When I was traveling alone with V1 or V2, I was terrified that someone might somehow whisk them away when I was not looking. Or when I was snoozing because I was so DAMN tired. But if she’s strapped to me, they would have to literally get to her over my dead body.
Before and after the flight with V2. No words needed
2. Ignore the Know-It-All and the Critics…
Part of the survival game is the ability to put the safety and wellbeing of your baby above all else. Of course it’s hard to be completely unaffected by a concerned (read: nosy) fellow passenger coming up to you and asking you if you’ve fed your baby when your baby is crying. On that note, why do people always assume that if your baby is crying, it’s because you’re trying to starve him? When I was flying with V1, we had torrents of tears. She was one overtired baby and I had all sorts of not-so-helpful suggestions thrown at me. Bottom line: if they are not offering to assist you so you can get some rest, they are not helping. Ipso facto, you should politely ignore them and focus on your baby instead
3. But Trust Your Instinct.
If you decided to take the night flight, chances are you’ve been up since 7am. Your flight only took off at 11pm and you’ve got another 13 hours of flight time. Add on a few more hours if you’re transiting which means you have been awake for a minimum of 29 hours as your baby barely sleeps. Some mothers recommend the night flight but if your baby doesn’t sleep, a day flight might be a safer bet. When I’ve been awake for more than 24 hours my brain starts to shut down. No matter how much coffee I drink, or pinches I give myself, I’m not in the Mother-of-the-Year state of mind. This is when I relied on my instincts to tell me when something’s wrong.
When I was traveling with V2, we took the night flight back to Kuala Lumpur and I was so exhausted (from all the last minute packing) that I fell asleep the moment V2 took a nap. The next thing I knew, I was wide awake and screaming because she was climbing out of the bassinet. Needless to say, I caught her. Till this day, I’m thankful that I woke up from that extremely deep sleep.
V1 (top) and V2 (bottom) in the bassinet. Neither wanted to sleep in it!
4. Ask for Help
This was the hardest thing for me to do. Only because I’m Asian and don’t want to trouble people. Oh and perhaps I have trouble trusting people as well! Best thing to do is to make friends with someone sitting near you. That person can be a lifesaver – holding your baby when you need to eat, pee or close your eyes for ten minutes. If you’re lucky, you might come across a friendly flight attendant! I’ve had people help me load my luggage onto the trolley without me even asking. There is kindness out there and sometimes it needs a bit of a prompt from you.
5. Keep Calm
No matter how prepared you are, things have a way of going awry. When that happens, there is really no point going ape sh*t about it (unless it helps you cope). V2 had an allergic reaction when peanuts were being served on the plane which resulted in me scrambling for the Piriton (anti-histamines). V1 and I almost missed our connecting flight in Dubai on the way back to London as we had a poo-mergency. V1 was crying so much on our flight from Jakarta to Melbourne at one point I went to the airplane toilet, held her whilst she was still crying and CRIED to God…PLEASE GOD PLEASE LET HER SLEEP!!!
With V1 on the way back to London. We flew Emirates.
At the end of the day, it helps to remember that this is just one moment in time and you and your baby will get to your destination eventually. So avoid looking at your watch too often and try to think happy thoughts. Thoughts of durian helped me tremendously…good luck on your travels!
Jessica Cheng is a management consultant in Deloitte Consulting in London, specialising in Finance Transformation and Operating Model projects. She is currently undertaking a Deloitte Relationship Manager role for the Travel, Hospitality and Leisure industry. Besides being a qualified accountant and a member of CPA Australia and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, Jessica has worked across Europe, Africa and Asia and has a background in external audit, internal audit, risk management and controls transformation with Consumer Business organisations.
Outside of her full-time professional career, Jessica is a mother of two girls, aged 3 and 1.5. She enjoys reading and writing in her spare time and loves to travel (and eat). Her parenting experience includes extended breastfeeding, nutrition with respect to allergies to dairy, egg and nuts as well as parenting without assistance from family members or in-house help. She is happily married to a nutrition-obsessed, computer games geek who loves ballroom dancing and snowboarding.