Have you ever passed on an opportunity to do something because you were breastfeeding? What if it could have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience? That’s what my climb of Mount Fuji in August this year turned out to be!
Mount Fuji is located a few hours outside of Tokyo, Japan. At 12,389 feet (3,776 meters), it is the tallest mountain and volcano in Japan and has a very narrow hiking season due to extreme weather conditions. There were so many reasons for me not to do a climb like this. As a military spouse, I have been managing the household and caring for my four children single-handedly during my husband's many deployments. The youngest of my children are 10-month-old twins who are nursing around the clock.
I was inspired to hike Mount Fuji because I love the outdoors, hiking and a challenge. But I was very hesitant about doing the hike. I hadn't been able to do much hiking in the past few years due to a lack of childcare when we first arrived and then being pregnant with twins last year. I had not left the babies for a long period of time and they don't always take the bottle well, so it was very nerve- wracking. I did find comfort in knowing the babies were being cared for by my visiting mother-in-law and my husband. Ultimately, my turning point in deciding to do this challenging climb was fear of not having the opportunity again, because I knew we would be leaving Japan soon.
I successfully did the climb on August 14, 2017. I think leaving behind the babies was equally as mentally challenging as climbing the mountain was physically challenging. As I started the ascent, the thought crossed my mind that I was hiking a active volcano, and worst-case scenarios played through my mind!
Earlier that day, I nursed my babies when they woke at around 4am and then headed out with my visiting cousin. I drove two hours to the parking lot where we would take the bus to Mount Fuji 5th station, and I used an electric pump in the car for 20 minutes. I left the electric pump and milk in the car cooler. In my hiking pack I carried a cooler with ice packs, six milk bags and a hand pump. Then we set off, ascending the Fujinomiya trail and would return by descending the Gotemba trail. We hiked about five hours before I felt engorgement, so I pumped at the 9th station. Thankfully I am not shy, after nursing for almost five years straight, and was comfortable enough to pump in the open; there was no seclusion to be found. I went about another five hours until I pumped again on our decent. My final pumping session of the trip was when we returned to the car, after about another five hours. It felt nice to use the electric pump again, as it drains the breast much better than the hand pump for me and I was feeling some tenderness and discomfort after about 10 hours of only hand pumping. I drove home and woke the sleeping babies to nurse for full relief.
Because they eat solids quite well, my babies had been perfectly content with the 22 ounces I had left them, until bedtime when they were a bit fussy because they normally nurse to sleep. The following day, they nursed a bit more than usual, probably trying to catch me up from the previous day’s adventure.
Climbing Mount Fuji was one of the most challenging things I have ever done! I worried about the babies the whole time, but I was distracted by the beautiful views and by pushing my body when I didn't think I could push any more. It was definitely worth it and very rewarding. Arriving at the summit was exhilarating; the last 200m were very difficult, between exhaustion, altitude shock and shortness of breath. When I saw the Tori gate at the top, suddenly I was filled with energy again and just felt so accomplished! The best part of the hike was the view above the clouds; I felt like a bird up there, there seeing the view I’ve only seen through airplane windows.
My advice to other women who might be hesitant to take on a challenge due to nursing would be to ask themselves if they would regret NOT doing it. That is the question I asked myself. I felt selfish, possibly sacrificing a day of unhappy kiddos for a day of happy mommy, but I knew I would always regret not attempting to climb Mount Fuji. I had trusted family to care for the babies and a willing cousin to climb with me, so it all fell into place for me. Thankfully, my babies weren't unhappy for that time I was away, even though I stressed about it the whole hike. It was incredible and I wouldn't change my decision.
Close to the Heart Vol. 18, No. 3 (Late-Year 2017)
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