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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Wilderness (KuKd?) Survival Skills

Greetings, KuKd'ers, TTC'ers and Inquisitive Guests...

Kevin said this once, or something like it: "Promise me that we'll keep having an adventurous life forever." Those were his first words when we decided with giddy excitement to stay together after coming home from Uzbekistan. Of course I promised him that. Keep that quote in mind, because it'll come up later.

* * *

It's Superbowl time - and the postange-stamp sized living room of our 1939-built home is filled with loud, boistrously beer-drinking males. I can't say I mind having so many nice, cute, happily football-watching male specimens in close proximity. If they all had their shirts off, it would be even better. As for me, I've retreated into the quieter "office-soon-to-be-baby-room," where I just stumbled across this blog on basic wilderness survival skills. And I quote:

Imagine suddenly finding yourself stranded in the wilderness. Perhaps your plane has crashed, or you have become lost. Darkness is falling and you are on your own. Self extraction is out of the question. Your next course of action could mean the difference between a miserable life threatening experience and reasonably comfortable survival.

We assume that you are not grievously injured; that you can still function well enough to take care of yourself but need a survival guide outlining the essential steps you must take to survive in the wilderness.

Do the Most Important Survival Tasks First

Flailing around in the wilderness without a well thought out plan isn’t going to increase your chances for survival - but it could reduce them. Proper actions taken in proper sequence will enhance your ability to survive.

The first question you should ask yourself in this situation is “what are the most important survival tasks to be accomplished”?

Lots of seemingly reasonable, if not slightly simplistic, bits of insight here. Although, I must admit, as a mere Someone Who Could Potentially Get Lost In the Woods, I'm not sure how useful these tips really would be when faced with the a real challenge to survive. Perhaps I'd find this blurb more helpful if I were literally naked and trembling in a dark forest at this exact moment, rather than pre-reading it from the comfort of my own armchair.

So, to give this blurb more meaning, I tried to picture myself during the months after losing Zachary and the fetus before him, which is the closest wilderness-survival experience I remember actually ever having. With that in mind, I re-read this wilderness-survival intro more like a more focused version of Dead-Baby Mad Libs, like this:

Imagine suddenly finding yourself stranded in the wilderness (KNOCKED DOWN). Perhaps your plane has crashed (PREGNANCY ENDED BEFORE IT WAS SUPPOSED TO), or you have become lost (CAN'T SEEM TO GET KNOCKED UP IN THE FIRST PLACE). Darkness is falling and you are on your own (ALL YOUR FRIENDS ARE HAVING BABIES). Self extraction is out of the question (YOU AIN'T GETTIN' THAT BABY BACK, KIDDO). Your next course of action (BOOZE?) could mean the difference between a miserable life-threatening experience and reasonably comfortable survival.

We assume that you are not grievously injured (WELL, NOT PHYSICALLY, I GUESS...); that you can still function well enough to take care of yourself (DEPENDS ON HOW YOU DEFINE "FUNCTION") but need a survival guide outlining the essential steps you must take to survive in the wilderness (SURE! GIMME WHATCHA GOT).


Flailing around in the wilderness (RUNNING INTO THE STREET SHRIEKING LIKE A CRAZY WOMAN FROM HELL) without a well thought out plan isn’t going to increase your chances for survival - but it could reduce them (YOU MEAN I MIGHT DIE IF I DON'T HAVE A PLAN FOR RECOVERY? THIS IS NOT GOOD). Proper actions taken in proper sequence will enhance your ability to survive. (FINE, BUT WHERE DO I START?)

The first question you should ask yourself in this situation is “what are the most important survival tasks to be accomplished”? (I KNOW! MAKE PLANS TO GO BACKPACKING IN A REMOTE CENTRAL AMERICAN JUNGLE, WEAR A LOIN CLOTH AND HAVE LOTS OF PRIMITIVE SEX!)

Here's how and why I found this blog: I was Googling "survival" in hopes, still - 2.5 years later - of making sense of my own psychological coping mechanisms in dealing with my KuKd past. I was curious to know, I guess, if wilderness survival skills are anything like stillbirth/miscarriage survival skills, if I could use one to help me understand the other.

Why do I give a crap about this now? It's over, done. I healed the way I healed, dealt the way I dealt, for better or for worse. But I was thinking (read: overthinking), again, about my friend's insightful message from my last post, and the kind of mother to new baby Theo that her earlier stillborn daughter, Annika, had caused her to become. Stillborn Annika made my friend into a better mother to later-brother Theo. That's the final message that I distilled from her words:

A better mother.

One who appreciates the preciousness of his life more than she would have if she'd not lost an earlier baby.

Honestly, I read this and thought it was poetic, brilliant, touching. But it was unsettling in some weird way, too - because I wasn't totally relating to it. So I wanted to know if my weirdness, if you could call it that, stems from some primitive coping mechanism of my own. Which brought me to my Google search for "survival."

You see, supposedly there is a baby who is set to arrive with kicking, screaming force in just six short weeks. He will suddenly fill our home and our lives with cuteness, loudness, and a poopy stench. I feel oddly as though I should be preemptively appreciating the preciousness of his life now, perhaps even more than I did Zachary's. I should have a nursery painted and furnished, clothes bought, car seat installed, breastfeeding classes completed, bottles and binkies and what-nots stashed away in anticipation of his thundrous arrival, pre-school picked out, elementary school lined up. I should be thinking of him, planning for him, and not for me. I should already be...before he even makes his grand appearance on planet earth...

a better mother.

But I've not done any of those things. In fact, an outsider stepping into my life right now would find no evidence of a baby on the way, save for a dog-eared ultrasound picture from four months ago, stuck to the fridge with a magnet that says, "Coffee first, and then your mundane bullshit!" (and the magnet is so big that it just about obscures the entire picture anyway, so you'd really have to be looking for it).

Here's what I HAVE given thought to - absolutely inordinate and obsessive amounts of thought:
EUROPE! AIRPLANES! COBBLED ROADS! CAFE AU LAIT IN LUXEMBOURG GARDENS! EATING CHICKEN FEET AT A CROWDED SHANGHAI MARKET! And once in a while, the fact that I'm thinking of those things instead of nursery paint colors makes feel like a bit of an oddball.

To start, right after my last "successful" ultrasound - the one where my doctor told me as seriously and earnestly as she could that "this is a normal pregnancy" - you know what I did? Not run off to Target to stock up on baby booty. Nope: I marched into the Chair of Arts and Humanities office at the college where I work, and told her to put my name in the hat for the next faculty exchange in China. That means: baby, husband and I would spend 12 weeks teaching at a Chinese college sometime over the next few years.

Then, I downloaded the latest Fulbright Exchange application, which could - maybe, possibly - land the three of us in another country - Nicaragua, I hope - for a year in 2012. And THEN, I began researching apartments to rent in Paris or Amsterdam this summer - THIS VERY SUMMER!- as part of my mom's 60th birthday - a family trip to Europe with baby.

Totally selfish, all of these. Oh, I say they're about baby, about giving him lots of "cross-cultural exposure" as a child. And I think they are. But who am I kidding? That's not the whole story. These ideas are actually about me and Kevin, about our dreams we've always had, things we want, things we've imagined ourselves doing with baby ever since we started trying for one. They're about sitting on a blanket with baby beside the Eiffle Tower, drinking wine and stealing kisses while baby is looking the other way.

They're things that sometimes cause others, I know, to look at me like I'm wacked: but airplanes have germs! And hospitals are medical wastelands over there! And your baby's whole sleeping/pooping/farting/puking routine will be irreparably screwed! Deep down, I know to some degree: they're right. But that doesn't stop me from believing that our kid will handle such obstacles like a real man, that some overseas-air will do him good, that he'll in fact benefit from these experiences in some crunchy cosmic way.

And it certainly doesn't stop me from obsessively planning and fantasizing and imagining like my brain has gone haywire.

Stop Googling airfares to Madrid. You need to install a car seat.

* * *

Is this normal, this fixation on getting my ass overseas with baby and husband?

"Promise me that we'll keep having an adventurous life forever."

(echoing in my brain)

I distinctly remember leaning into Kevin one night at the tavern about six months after Zach's stillbirth, the neon jukebox lights flickering behind him, and telling him I'd never rest everything on having a baby again. It was the second time I'd banked on a baby future - mentally, emotionally, everything - and gotten burned.

I'd like to look back and think that this was a normal thing to think, say and feel - part of some primitive "wilderness survival mechanism" that might even earn honorable mention in the survival-skills blurb above. I'd like to believe that it's been my simple, weird way of handling trauma: of clinging to this notion of an "adventurous life" as though it is, in and of itself, a lifeline.

Something terrible could happen to this baby, even after he's born - and the thought of life going completely flat and dark without him is...well...unbearable. So I have to plan for a life that seems bright and awesome and exciting to me, with or without baby. And that means having cool trips planned, dammit.

So, back to Googling "survival." I'm hoping I'll find some evidence that all this frenzied trip-planning is, in fact, a valid survival tip - that just because I'm doing that at the moment instead of installing a car seat doesn't mean I'm not being the preemptive better mother that an earlier stillbirth is supposed to turn me into.

But damn. We really should be installing a car seat.


Anabelle said...

haha you crack me up.

Although personally I couldnt' imagine trying to live an adventurous traveling life style with a baby, that doesn't mean it can't be done.

My hubs raced cars before we had Rowan... it was definitly high adrenaline and most definitly adventurous. We even once bumped uglies on top of his car the night before a race... (HoT!)

.. but we gave that up.. it sounds like such a horrible sacrafice, but it wasn't.. I couldn't imagine being any happier now.

We are still adventurous, its just now it invovles trips to the laundry room for a 30 second make out/cop a feel session instead of getting rough and roudy on a racecar ala White Snake style

It's not the same, but it's still just as fun. And that's quite possibly the best description of parenthood I can give.

Schae said...

i think that is perfectly normal.
or maybe i'm a bit of a plan for with or without type of person too.
expect the worst and get a pleasant surprise?

i find myself doing similar to you. i plan for whichever of the two possible outcomes. but that means i'm installing the car seat AND googling flights to madrid! lol!

namastemom said...

Just because you want your life to remain similar to what you know doesn't make you abnormal. It is possible to be adventurous in life. Pre and post baby. We drag our kids all over the world and they seem to enjoy it. I'm coming up for sabbatical soon and am trying to figure out a great place, hopefully with 4 kids in tow -- Belize? Nepal? Peru? The world seems so open to possiblities. You can travel and care for a baby -- I took a baby to India for 2 months. She was 4-6 months old. Hopefully, if the new one survives, he/she will also go to India.

Anonymous said...

i am planning our life with or without this baby (am 13 weeks). if this baby doesn't make it then we are going to scoop up our one living child and start traveling like crazy fools. and for you, just so you know, the best time to travel is when your wee one is strapped to you and your boob and still sleeps throughout the day no matter where you are. it's the safest place for him and the easiest for you.

myskytimes said...

Thanks Monica for writing exactly my cup of tea, eh: post! Traveling, survival and KuKd mentioned. (Oh, and shirtless men). I am with you on anything. Period.

Needless to say: I bookmarked the survival-website. Off to read some more...


PS: Hopefully sharing a chat and coffee with you on a cobblestone-street one day... Or drinks on the beach? Or chicken-feet at a foodstall? *sigh* Where to go next, is the question...

Chris said...

As newish parent stumbling sleepily through all the baby changes, your post still rings true.

You lose a ton of control of your own life with the baby. Shannon and I felt a desperate need to not just morph into parent zombies with no adventures. It can happen!

You can maintain your sense of adventure and keep the magic alive, but I've found that there is a cost. The baby always collects in the end. Keep him out too late? You get a demonic, evil baby who won't sleep through the night.

Travel the world? You thought airports were bad now? Just wait till a delay makes you miss your connection, and you're stranded in a shithole airport with no baby gear, stroller, or carseat.

You can have these advetures. However, I think your future parent-self will sometimes decide to be a little lame in order to reap the benefits of luxuries like, oh, avoiding psychosis-inducing sleep deprivation.

PS. I'm jealous of your travel plans. One other side effect of baby is that money for expensive trips is very scarce :(

Heather said...

KuKders don't say "when" they say "if". We're a different breed now. We know what it is to plan and get the great cosmic fail. Its a coping thing, if you don't can't be dissapointed. I just love that you say it in a fashion that makes us all chuckle! I'm waiting for your next blog post "A Survival Guid for the Great Cosmic Fail!"

KuKd Chick said...

Wowsers, thank you for this insightful mix of comments from KuKd vets + non-KuKd parental vets! I'm glad that I'm not totally cray-zay for thinking about overseas trips at a time like this. And yeah, Chris - I can totally see how all of those things you mentioned could be true. Of course, our kid will sit quietly and color in coloring books the whole time, no matter now many airports we have to slog thru. Right? RIGHT??? ;-)

Kristen said...

Our 2 month old? He still doesn't have a nursery. We still haven't gotten his car seat inspected (though we did install it the night before I went into labor -- *just in case* we had to transfer to the hospital after he was born...oh, the irony). And he doesn't have oodles of toys or gear.

Sure, now we're pretty confident that he is real and that he's here to stay. But frankly sharing our bed with him is just marvelous. Not to mention all the money we saved on baby furniture. And he's only taken 5 car trips so far, so the car seat inspection keeps moving down on the priority list. Below, say, staring at him. I basically never put him down (like your friend reported, I think I've got my priorities in a different order now than I would have if this had been an easy road) so he doesn't need much more than my arms, my boobs, and a clean diaper. And that's about all he's got.

As thrilled and lucky as we feel to have him, it would take 30 seconds and 2 trips to the basement to rid our first floor of any sign that a baby lives here. We don't have large stashes of years' worth of clothes and supplies. And we have no idea where he'll go to school. We keep hosting visitors and having small parties. (Osh Fest 2010 is on for August!) Yeah, we prefer brunch to dinner now, but we're still seeing our friends. And we're trying to talk about non-baby things too so they'll want to keep coming back.

We're planning a trip to FL for a few weeks from now. OK, so that's not Europe, but we did consider taking my whole maternity leave in Italy. We figured that if we were going to be sleep deprived, we might as well be in a gorgeous place. Alas, budget realities interfered, but your Paris plan sounds ideal. (Just stop by here with a chocolate tart on your way back, ok?)

My point is that you are not crazy. You may have to make modifications to your plans, but it will all be for good reasons. And whether or not your motivation for wanting to travel is selfish right now, you know that your baby will benefit from being out and about. Because if you start it now, you won't have inertia to overcome down the road when you really want to travel but don't have the confidence because you haven't done it before.

So go for it, Mon. Plan away! You're still going to be yourself after this little guy comes -- just like you've been yourself the whole time...since before you started down this whole road.

PS - Don't worry about the car seat right now. If you're like us, you'll be hauling all sorts of stuff in your car up until the last minute, and the car seat would just be in the way! Kevin can install it after the baby is born, while you're sitting in a hospital bed marveling at your new little boy.

mekate said...

This is really an amazing piece of writing, incredible really- I'm just sayin'.

I think a lot about identity, who we are and who we were "before" and the often immense chasm between the two... but also, experience says it makes sense --this idea about not trusting the outcome until you see it, experience it, feel it, hold it, change it, nap with it. I think it is absolutely self preservation at work, it IS survival in action. I am truly humbled by how well you write about such difficult-to-articulate things.

My losses are different than yours but I can relate enough to get choked up, to nod and say yes, and to feel grateful that someone got it right.

Your life will always be adventurous. I don't think it has an option.


Sonya said...

Hey kiddo.

All you need to be ready is a boob full of milk and a few diapers. The other stuff is really all about the parents.

Before I met David, I had promised myself, and everyone around me, that I would stop investing my whole being in stupid, overbearing relationships. I created a non-man life for myself.. I had it all planned out... my photography studio below my apartment, which had soft yellow walls and a fat cat that lounged around on windowsills. It would smell like flowers and oranges and I would have casual flings with young musicians or dark constructioni workers. I got excited about my new life.. my relationshipless life. And then I met David. It took me a long time to let those lingering dreams go, even while I was basking in the glow of the first healthy, real relationship I'd ever blissfully tasted.

And we did the same thing with baby. I have an amazing non-baby life planned out, with my amazing husband and I as the very center of our world. We'll be moving to a warm wet beach country in about 10 years, running a dive shop and having a little house on the side of the mountain. My grown sons are included in our plan, currently getting their diving tickets upgraded, and we are all investing in traveling to check out the prospective countries.

I'm going to drop the trying to make baby fat I've gained, get my body back into a sexy machine, and be a smokin' hot 30something (almost 40something). We got a sweet thing planned out for a non-baby life... and it's exciting.

It's okay to have a backup plan. A parachute. A net in case we take a tumble off the highwire. It's sane. It's what we do once the innocence is pulled screaming from our clutching, desperate fingers.

You're doing great. Baby is doing great. And it won't hurt him to travel. You can always change your mind if you want to stay home and bake cookies with the other soccer moms. ((hugs)) It's going to be fine.

AnxiousMummyto3 said...

Monica, thanks so much for writing this post with such honesty. If I may say so, I believe this post illustrates that you are
'....a better mother.' Perhaps not one who is devoting every spare second to crocheting booties, rewriting her birth plan (I'm guessing you don't have one!!) and yes, installing a car seat! Instead, you're a better mother because you are choosing to pursue some of your own interests. Having that time and space for yourself will help you to retain that special part of your identity which is not a mum. It will mean that you'll be happier devoting time to bubs and not resentful. Not that you would be, but I think you know what I mean. I think it's great that you're making all these plans-and I think it's a necessary survival tactic. Either way, whether you travel to all those places, or just one, I think it will help you to be happier about non-baby related things. As we KuKd chicks know, those things are important. They help us survive.
Take care

Ya Chun said...

i dunno, i think many americans have hang ups about traveling. But when we were in the yucatan, i saw a lot of europeans with infants and toddlers on 'holidays'

I'd say, if you get an opportunity like that thru work and the hubs can go, GO! I'd be super jealous. And I think not being a super scaredy cat afraid of germs and anything different is an example of a very good mother.

AnnaMarie said...

To prepare for survival in shitty situations I should learn how to turn random fruits and berries into wine. Just like post dead baby life, I would want/need a drink if stranded in the wilderness.

Sam or a family member can run out to buy a car seat while you recover in the hospital from giving birth. Have them pick up some diapers too. Have a bring my kid some stuff party (baby shower) AFTER the little boy is born and lives. I think you will be fine if you wait.

Brenna said...

I admire your commitment to continuing a life full of travel and adventure after the baby arrives.

I'm too much of a homebody to totally relate, I'll admit, but I can understand and admire your thinking. Even when we were living in Europe, I had days where I pined for nothing more than a street to walk down where everyone spoke English. (Wouldn't trade living abroad for anything, but at the same time I was soooo happy to come back home!)

Anyway, everyone who's already posted is quite right about your kiddo needing very little in the beginning. Says the woman with just about every accoutrement under the sun (crib, pack-n-play, AND bassinet? Yep, that would be me... ;).

Wherever you are, your little guy is going to be one of the luckiest around just to be hanging with you and Kevin. Be it in China or Nicaragua or at home in Seattle. Who wouldn't be psyched to have such cool, smart, fun, adventurous parents?

Sara said...

this also sounds like nesting to me - just Monica-style. If anyone is going to pull off the around the world trekking post take-home baby, it's the woman who bicycled through Ireland & Pennsylvania during the first trimester of a pregnancy after being KuKd three times. Do get on that carseat - they won't let you out of the hospital without one. . .but otherwise babies don't really need much.