Staying Active Post Baby Part 3: Take the Baby
After having each of our kids, there came a time where even in my totally blissed out, sleep-deprived state, I could not sit on the couch even one more second. I still didn’t feel comfortable leaving the baby for longer than a quick solo trip to the grocery store (freeeeeeeedom!!!!) but I needed to get out and move.
This is where all the toys and gear comes in very handy. I didn’t want to have a baby registry, figuring we would get everything used. Also, I naively thought we really wouldn’t need that much stuff anyways. Hahahaha wow I was wrong about that! We need a lot! (Except for a baby wipe warmer. We haven’t needed that.)
Luckily, one very smart friend convinced me to let a bunch of friends band together and get us a group gift, a very fancy off-road stroller with shocks, and the carseat attachment. Another friend of a friend gave us their Ergo carrier with the infant insert. And we found a good deal on a used double Chariot with the bike, stroller, and ski components on Craigslist that we snatched up right away after another friend gave us the wise tip to just get a double Chariot from the beginning because then you can haul the kid plus lots of gear or groceries, and if you think you want to have a second kid sometime then you’re set.
It all seemed like a ridiculous amount of gear, because it really is. However, the first time I put the baby in the carseat, snapped it into the stroller, and walked down a dirt road and watched the baby drift contentedly off to sleep, it felt like pure freedom after being cooped up inside for weeks. And this is how I’ve felt about each of these pieces of gear at different times: they represent freedom. They also have been an excellent bridge between my previous self, who could head out for a jog with my biggest worry being…gosh, I’m not even sure. I have no idea what I used to worry about. Anyways, the gear allowed my old self to get out into the world and get acquainted with this new self, now out in the world while responsible for the care and feeding of a tiny human and also possibly leaking milk all over. It was still me, doing the same things, but now there was someone else always either attached to me and/or occupying 80% of my grey matter and 100% of the rest of my brain matter. The trail seemed like as good a place as any to try to make sense of this new equation.
For a while we strolled every day at a leisurely pace, sticking fairly close to home as I got used to the idea of being out on the loose, just me and the baby. As I got bolder, we would go for longer and just stop to nurse if she woke up, then race home singing and making funny faces to keep her happy while awake in the carseat (attached to the stroller), which generally ended with a screaming baby. Sometimes we would try to “walk” with a friend, also with their baby. This meant usually that one person needed to stop to nurse right when the other person wanted to keep going to keep their baby asleep, so one person would be stopped sitting on a rock or the ground nursing while the other did little stroller circles. We would get a few minutes of actual walking in, start (and never finish) about twenty different conversations, and then one or both babies would end up screaming and we would carry them back in our arms, pushing empty strollers. Not exactly exercise, but hilarious to look back now, and it was great new-mom bonding time. Just part of the deal.
I felt even more giddy with freedom when I strapped the baby into the frontpack and got onto a trail in the woods. I tried to go light and tight, only bringing a muslim blanket (doubled as a sun cover for the baby and a nursing cover) and my phone, and time our hikes for when I guessed she might be willing to grace me with a nap. It was very empowering and uplifting to know that it was just me and her, and it might not have been easy or pretty, but that I could handle it—diaper blowouts, roadside nursing, sweaty hot baby, the thirst of a thousand camels, many tears (hers and mine) and all. I remain awestruck and delighted that those first six months I did not need to bring any food or really anything for the baby; I was all she needed.
I know that all the sleep experts recommend to not do “moving naps” in a carrier, car, or stroller. And neither of my kids have been great sleepers, so I’ve been obsessed with reading all the baby sleep books and researching all of the methods. (My husband jokes that he is going to write a baby sleep book that’s called Just Hang In There, Suck It Up and Wait a Year, and that will be the whole book.) However, I do also know that I like to move, and so does my husband. So, moving naps were a very natural fit for our lives. I saw no change in the babies’ sleep patterns on days or weeks when they napped in their cribs vs days or weeks they napped on the move, and I never really saw any downside to it. One of us was always willing to take a walk if we had to make a nap happen, even once at 11pm during a friend’s wedding, which also allowed us to stay out dancing while the baby slept in the corner of the wedding tent which was a major victory. The sleep experts say that the baby will learn to rely on movement for sleep, but we found that as long as they are sleeping in their crib sometimes, like at night, and some naps, they gradually outgrew the mobile naps on their own and soon I was wishing for those simpler times when I could pop them in the frontpack for a nap.
Once the babies reached 7-8 months or so, they found a more regular nap schedule and no longer were so susceptible to moving naps. Also, they could sit up on their own right around then, so the backpack became my freedom gear of choice. I would get all ready to go during their nap and right when they woke I would feed them and rush out for a walk or hike, the baby content to play with my hair or a toy that I would clip on, while I hiked and sang. So much singing. And snacks. Our older daughter was usually content to enjoy the view for an hour or two uphill, and then we would stop for a few minutes to let her play around for a while. Then, for the downhill, I held a baggy of snacks that I could dispense one by one (usually matchsticks of cheese, fruit and soft vegetables), and sang almost the whole time, or at least pointed out every tree, bird, bush, river, and thing that we passed, while doling out snacks. We took her skiing (mellow backcountry touring) several times in the backpack, which she loved—the crux was keeping her hands and feet warm, and her face on the way down. Sure, we weren’t doing anything gnarly, but we were out skiing mellow powder and getting exercise, and the baby was getting fresh air and lots of songs. We would just time the drive to the trailhead for during her first nap, and then try to be out either short enough to keep her awake on the drive home, or long enough that she would sleep on the drive home.
The Chariot took our game to a new level. Suddenly we could bike into town again just to do errands! I’ve never had so much fun doing errands before. I practically shed tears of joy the first time I rode my cruiser bike with chariot in tow up a long hill near our house, then coasted downhill to the grocery story and shopped, red-faced and proud with the baby. It was exactly the combination of freedom, leg-burn, autonomy, and pure fresh air movement that makes me love exercising in the first place, and I was even riding on pavement. Pulling the chariot skate skiing for me was less pure joy, more grunting, sweating, swearing, dealing, and type two fun, but still excellent exercise. Plus, the baby was getting a nap, so I was also meeting my own standard of mom-requirements. Any time I get to do something for me while also taking care of the family is a major win in my book.
Of course there have been (and still are) many times when I’ve been out with a baby or two in tow and have shed a hot frustrated tear or two over wishing I was moving freely, faster, unencumbered, like I used to. I’ve wished I was running when I’ve been hiking with the baby in the frontpack. I’ve wished I was mountain biking instead of towing the chariot on the pavement. Many times I’ve wished I felt stronger and faster doing whatever I was doing, wishing that the recovery process could speed up. But each time I’ve just kept my ridiculous little pity party moving, sometimes crying a little bit as necessary, and the simple act of moving forward, no matter how slowly, has helped me feel increasingly certain that I’m right where I need to be. The time where the baby is portable and easy to bring along is such a fleeting time; all of a sudden one day our first daughter went from riding happily along to wanting to push, walk, or scoot her own self along.
Which, in the end is really what it’s all about. Bringing the baby with me when easing back into post-partum outdoor activities has been a natural way to make myself go slow, to work back up, to enjoy each step and each breath. It is a way to be myself while being with my kids, and hopefully they pick up on some of my joy while breathing the fresh air and seeing the sights. And it’s about showing the little ones how to love moving outdoors. Sure, there are logistics, feedings, blown naptimes, blown diapers, panicked hustle-footing down a trail with a wailing baby while passing hikers give disapproving looks. And gear. So much gear that packing it all up and schlepping it around sometimes seems overwhelming. But every time we get out, the good always outweighs the sucky. Because besides helping me adjust to this new role as a mom (who still likes to do stuff outside), getting out with the baby has meant berry picking, songs, stars, river dips, rock skips, wildlife sightings, and much more, for all of us. Hopefully it’s just the start!