Last week my social media feed showed me some memories from two years ago. Memories of my giant pregnant belly. This inspired me to tell you the story of how we drove across the Nullabor Desert when I was 37 weeks pregnant.
Before I start, I should acknowledge how hard it must have been on Michael. I was determined to have my baby closer to home, and he patiently accommodated this demand, even though it must have seemed like the craziest thing someone can do. In fact, everyone we tell is more than a little horrified at the thought, but how could he possibly have stopped a 37-week pregnant girl doing what she has her heart set on?
We moved to Perth in 2009, and while we enjoyed our time there, we never truly felt like it was home. We missed our families on the east coast. I always told Michael that I didn’t want to have a baby in Perth, and that I wanted to raise our child somewhere unique and adventurous. The plan had always been to work towards leaving at the end of 2017, but when I fell pregnant the need to leave became more urgent.
We worked hard to finish renovating our house so we could make a clean break from Perth and leave with no loose ends. We worked like maniacs right up until the end; I was still laying tiles when I was 33 weeks pregnant. We put the house on the market knowing I only had a few weeks left before I wouldn’t be able to travel; doctor’s will not allow you to fly after 37 weeks. I was happy and determined to attempt the cross-country drive if I was still able to fly because if the journey had gotten too hard, scary, or there were any issues, I could always get on a plane and be home in less than five hours. Less than a week after we listed the house it was signed and sold, at which point, I had about 10 days left before I was not allowed to travel.
The next problem was what to do with a house full of furniture and belongings? We packed everything we couldn’t part with into a few boxes and dragged everything else out onto the lawn. Over one weekend we sold (or donated) practically everything we owned. I don’t think anyone can truly understand how hard it is for a heavily pregnant, hormonally emotional girl to have hordes of people pick over her entire life. People haggling over our worldly belongings and being nasty and critical just to save a few cents. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever done. There was also the continual background worry that we were making a huge mistake. But in a matter of days, and many trips to the tip, it was all gone. We slept on cushions on the floor for two more nights, said teary farewells to our friends, crammed the car to bursting and hit the road.
It took us six days to drive the 4500kms from Perth to Brisbane. The days were long, but it wasn’t a particularly difficult drive, although there were certainly a few times where we felt a bit nervous. As you can imagine, there are long stretches of desert where there is absolutely nothing, not even a roadhouse, for hours at a time. And when your baby could come at any minute, that can be pretty scary. Luckily, across remote Australia, there are places where roads can be sectioned off so that the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service can land planes in emergencies. While this is an amazing service for people who live in these remote areas, it was a constant reminder of how isolated we were and what could happen if contractions started.
On the first day we got away a bit late and only drove a few hours, but upon arrival at our destination for the night, the owner of the motel took one look at how pregnant I was and gave Michael a beer. The second day was long and we spent the night in Cocklebiddy. This isn’t even a town, just a roadhouse around nine-hour’s drive to the nearest hospital. When I checked in, I asked if there was an after-hours contact incase I had needed access to medical facilities. The lady behind the counter looked me up and down and worriedly said “just don’t”.
We crossed the border the next day and drove what is Australia’s, and many consider, the world’s, longest stretch of straight road. That’s 146km without a bend! At the South Australian border, the quarantine officer wanted to check our Esky for fresh food and contraband, but when he saw how tightly packed the car was he shook his head, waved us on, and said “never mind”. After crossing into South Australia, we took a small detour to visit the Great Australian Bight and see my uncle’s caravan on a windswept bay near Ceduna. It was not far, but the road was very rough and bumpy. I was certainly nervous in bed that night thinking that those corrugations were just the sort of thing that might induce labour.
The next day, a lady in a bakery in Wilcania, felt sorry for me and gave us free scones, and we stayed the night in a hotel in Broken Hill. The next day, I scoured the internet looking for a nice place where we could spend a romantic last night on the road before reaching Brisbane, and probably the last before the baby came. I picked a fantastic-looking Bed and Breakfast in Narrabri, but we were sorely disappointed when we arrived to what we still refer to it as the ‘murder house’. The old house was next to the public hospital and was originally built as a maternity ward (how ironic). Our room was totally pink and was furnished with a big double bed and two creepy children’s beds in the corner. All the beds had soft toys, teddy bears and dolls propped up on the frilly pillows, while the faces of all the children who had been born in the house stared down at us from their pictures on the walls. Ours was only one of four rooms in the house and the bathroom and kitchen were shared with other guests and the lovely old owner. When we asked about breakfast, the owner pointed to the fridge and said, “there’s eggs and bacon in there, help yourself”. I can remember sobbing in the driveway, overwhelmed by hormones and exhaustion. Just the way it always goes for us.
The next afternoon, we rolled into Brisbane, a warm dinner, and lots of hugs from our families. I can remember thinking it would be just our luck if the baby came that night, with us never having one minute to relax. But thankfully little Baz waited until his due date and gave us a couple more weeks to catch our breath.