Walking the Camino Norte pregnant: The story

Last summer was a time of transition. After leaving Geneva and before starting our training in Finland in the autumn, we had more than three months for rest and reflection. We’d made plans for the period well in advance: travels to Israel, Finland and Austria and a 5-week walk through northern Spain. Then we found out I was pregnant. Hurray! Yet, I had started feeling exhausted and nauseous, and the idea of living out of a backpack for months no longer seemed realistic or attractive. But I found peace in prayer, taking one step at a time.

During our travels in Israel and Finland I was still having pregnancy symptoms, but the level of physical demandingness wasn’t too high, so I made it through – even surviving a food poisoning in Jerusalem. But a day before our flights to Spain, where we were supposed to do the Camino Norte which is an over 800 km walk on the north coast, we started hesitating. Of course, we had consulted health care professionals on this and they had said that in my case, there would be no reason why not to walk, if I listened to my body and didn’t overdo it, rested well, ate enough (pasteurized and hygienically produced food) and drank a lot of water. However, having done three weeks of the Camino Frances (another route of the Way of St James) I knew that even for a fit, non-pregnant person, the day stages of 20-30+ km were exhausting in the long term. Besides, the Camino Norte is even more demanding with longer stages without guest houses or other type of helpful infrastructure. So, instead of focusing on smart packing, we spent a fair share of the last day before the trip googling whether walking was a smart idea (don’t do the same) and finding out about alternative travel options. But then again, we prayed and concluded that we can at least give it a try.

I was exactly four months pregnant when the journey started marking the beginning of a new era free from uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms. It was amazing how all the tiredness and nausea was suddenly gone. Anyhow, “health first” was the rule from the start, and on this trip hopping on a bus or a train was always our preference over taking unnecessary risks. In the end, we did this twice (apart from day 0 when we actually took a bus from Irun to San Sebastian to avoid the first planned day stage due to a number of reasons). Moreover, we took days off when needed or simply reduced the length of our day stages (which soon caused us to lag behind everybody with whom we’d initially begun the walk in San Sebastian). Besides, I was carrying a rather light backpack.

We sought not to compete with anyone else but to make decisions based on what we thought was good for the little one. But as I tried to listen to my body, I often found it hard to discern whether the tiredness caused by walking was just fine or too much. In fact, given that it is my first time pregnant, I had no idea what ‘normal’ was supposed to feel like, and besides, walking for the whole day carrying a backpack (even a light one) wouldn’t feel normal for most of the people in any case. In this way, it was at times a great relief to be able to call the Finnish prenatal health care number or visit a local health centre, just to hear that my ‘symptoms’ (real or imagined) were not alarming and that I could continue the walk.

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Still, I must admit that the journey involved moments of frustration. For instance, I once realised the tap water I had just drunk was orange-coloured, the salad leaves on my plate in a restaurant were seasoned with soil, the yogurt I had just gulped down was unpasteurized, or I had some unpainful contractions (which is by the way normal in mid-pregnancy) after having walked for a long day (had it been a too long one?) It was in those moments when self-blame tried to take over and I started asking myself how silly one must be to do something like this (although, as noted above, going on the trip had been an informed choice). During the walk I learned that fear has a tremendous capacity to eat me up from the inside and how necessary it is to trust the Lord to fight it.

In the end, we walked 650 km in 38 days, our day stages varying between 4 and 27 km, the average lying at a bit over 20 km. The day we arrived in Santiago de Compostela was with no doubt the last day I was feeling fit enough to walk to this extent, given that my belly had started growing and I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable about doing so much exercise. But even through some tears of frustration (we actually considered taking a taxi for the last 2 km), I realised how no human being could have planned the journey like this including its perfect timing and every necessary detail to allow for a safe walk. There was always a bush available to be used as a natural toilet, a spring when we were running out of water, accommodation when feeling tired, poles that I got as a gift just before some hilly stages, a backpack delivery service for the last few days when I wouldn’t have been able to carry mine anymore, and a pleasantly chilly weather during a supposed heatwave. The list continues but you got the point. I saw that our Heavenly Father’s providence had covered the entire journey from the beginning to the very end.

An interesting effect of the walk was that in the course of the weeks, we developed a routine of prayer walk. This means we would spend a fair part of the day talking (sometimes alone but mostly together) to God in the name of Jesus, lifting up to Him whatever was on our hearts. This could be the people in our lives, ourselves and different nations; praise; thanksgiving etc. I found prayer was the best place where to put my mind, yielding peace, joy and lots of other good products.

The walk was enjoyable for plenty of further reasons too. The way took us through some truly stunning landscapes, and we met lots of interesting and lovely people on the way. I’m happy we did it also because of its positive impact on my fitness, and I assume it’s been beneficial to the baby as well.

Despite all the numerous advantages, I definitely would not recommend all pregnant women to do a month-long walk. We’re all different and so is every pregnancy, too. Therefore, please do consult a doctor to find out whether it would be a good idea or not! Instead, my wish is to encourage you to inform yourself about what’s feasible in your case, pray and make wise decisions given your situation, health and personality, trust the Lord… and enjoy it. This, I believe, applies to pregnancy and beyond.

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