Outdoors

RAISING AN OUTDOOR BABY IS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED

This article was first published in Intangible Magazine, a publication by the Northland College Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute.
Front pack carrier with baby at cabin in the Boundary Waters

I was in the Boundary Waters when I found out I was pregnant with my son. I often wonder if I’m the first person to have portaged a pregnancy test into the BWCAW. Carrying that little First Response pregnancy test in my canoe pack weighed heavy amidst my usual camping gear, but when I saw the result, my heart skipped a beat out of excitement and the realization that life would forever be changed. 

I stayed active during my pregnancy in an effort to be healthy and to prove that a pregnant gal can do it all. I went pheasant hunting, bow hunting for deer, and ice fishing every chance I got. Secretly, I thought exposing my unborn baby to the outdoors would somehow leave an impression on him. 

Carrying shotgun for pheasant hunting
Nick, Jenny, and Harlan at the hospital
Holding a baby in the cabin

The first months of Harlan’s life weren’t exactly as I had envisioned. I was overwhelmed with joy and recovering from a C-section; emotions were high, my hormones were all over the place, and I was sleep deprived. I thought maternity leave would be filled with afternoon naps in a hammock with my baby, frequent trips to state parks, long hikes on my favorite trails, and plenty of fishing in the canoe. That was a beautiful dream. But, let’s be honest, it required some adjustments.

Adjustment 1: Minutes can be as valuable as hours

When Harlan was 2 weeks old, I realized I needed to get fresh air away from the house. We went to our family cabin where I fished off the dock with Harlan napping next to me. I probably had my line in the water for a half hour before Harlan woke for his next feeding. But then, in the last 15 minutes, I caught a walleye and a bass! It was exciting and exactly what I needed. I went home with a renewed mind and spirit. It’s amazing what a little bit of nature and “me time” can do for the soul.

Catching walleye with a baby

Adjustment 2: There’s no such thing as bad weather

We bought a boat when Harlan was a month old because I realized canoe fishing wasn’t going to cut it. We added a Bimini top to the boat for shade, and I found a battery-powered portable fan on Amazon. On hot summer days, I packed fresh breast milk in the cooler with ice packs and bottlefed Harlan semi-cold milk. 

When water turned to ice, we took Harlan ice fishing. Some people are shocked when we tell them that we take our baby on the ice. But, in reality, a hard sided fish house is a lot like a real house. We call ours the Lil Hotdish, and it has a heater, power, sink, stove, two beds, plus four fish holes. Ice fishing is by far my favorite outdoor activity, so I’m thankful I can still do it with Harlan. I even bring Harlan’s little sled and down bunting suit for outdoor playtime.

Baby relaxing on boat
Catching walleye while ice fishing

Adjustment 3: Let go of the usual expectations

When Harlan was five months old, my husband and I took him full circle, returning to the edge of the Boundary Waters where we first learned that I was pregnant. By this time, though, I knew that a traditional canoe camping trip would be difficult with a baby. 

So I made adjustments. I worked with Voyageur Canoe Outfitters and got a cabin on the Seagull River at the end of the Gunflint Trail. We invited Nick’s parents to join us, and they watched Harlan at the cabin, while Nick and I went fishing (I caught and released a gorgeous Laker!) and camping. When we got back, I swapped places with my father-in-law and spent a couple days at the cabin with Harlan and my mother-in-law. And, even though my breast pump broke after I returned to the cabin, thanks to two-day shipping, we were able to continue enjoying day hikes and paddling in the north woods. 

Canoeing with a baby in the Boundary Waters
Hiking with baby in front pack carrier

Harlan is almost a year old now, and afternoons in the hammock are still elusive. But, raising an outdoor baby isn’t so much about napping anyway.

This article was first published in Intangible Magazine, a publication by the Northland College Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute.

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