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What they didn’t tell me: Surviving winter and infanthood in rural North Dakota

From January's issue

When I found out my baby was due at the end of November, a year and ten months ago to be exact, I looked forward to a winter spent snuggled in with a newborn.

I thought it was perfect timing really. No one is in any hurry to go anywhere when the North Dakota wind is whipping snow against the side of the house. And because I would be bringing our baby to our home at least thirty miles away from any form of civilization, I intended on soaking up every secluded moment together.

In a nutshell, I had a fantasy, one I thought I would look back on with fondness. I imagined nursing the baby while the fireplace crackled and the moon shone bright on a calm and twinkling landscape. I would wear sweaters and stretchy pants all day and my husband would cook us hearty meals at night and we would settle into our new role as parents with ease and love.

That was the plan.

And while I think some of those moments occurred at least a few times in those very long, very lonely and very overwhelming five hundred months of winter (like I was spot on with the stretchy pants) for the most part it looked nothing like the winter lodge getaway vision I had in my mind.

I loved my baby, but her arrival on the cusp of the coldest season meant more isolation than I had planned for and I didn’t know how affected I’d be by my sudden lack of flexibility.

Because nothing is impromptu or seamless with a newborn (unless you count feeding or unexpected bodily functions) and, for as much as I love the wide open spaces and miles of country roads that come with ranch living, I wasn’t prepared for the obstacles those miles would place on me as a new mom.

Like, I obsessed over stocking up on supplies. I worried what sort of chaos a diaper shortage would create as I sat, sweaty, starving, thirsty and disheveled in the recliner breastfeeding my baby and wondering why no one told me how sweaty, starving, thirsty and disheveled breastfeeding would make me.

Because it’s not like I could just pop out to the market for a few minutes.

No.

Living out in rural Western North Dakota in the middle of winter with a newborn made me wish I lived in a town (in California?) for the first time since we moved back to the ranch. I longed to be a mom who could strap her sleeping child in a stroller and take a walk to the nearest coffee shop for a chance at some sunshine and human interaction.

Instead, getting out of the house for me meant spending the morning packing a diaper bag with at least a half a day’s worth of supplies and perfectly timing the trip to coincide with a post-feeding nap and diaper change before packing the car up with her carrier, extra blankets, bottle warmer and stroller and braving the 45 minute trip to town with my fingers crossed that she wouldn’t scream the entire way, pulling over at least three times to replace the paci to help keep the peace.

Her first doctor’s appointment the week after she was born meant a 120-mile round trip road trip during a period of my life where the mere act of sitting down was a challenge.

These are the things they don’t tell you in the “What to Expect” books. There’s no chapter that covers surviving the newborn phase while living on a cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere in the middle of winter. The whole experience made me find a new appreciation for my pioneering great grandmother who birthed and raised twelve children out here without drugs or Amazon.com

Seriously.

Yes, looking back on those months now, a year later, there are moments I’m not too eager to re-live (like the baby puke vs. car seat situation during the six hour drive across the state for the holidays) but I’m happy to say that it all got a little easier, day-by-day.

We eventually hit our stride.

And on the first warm day of the new year, I bundled up my baby, strapped her to my chest and we took off walking over the hills. Her eyes lit up as she looked up at the way the tree branches danced across the blue sky and, just like the spring that unfolded before her on the big, wide open landscape that would always be her home, she came more awake and aware, so much more incredibly herself, molded even at such a young age by the beauty around her and I decided then and there that the pain, the worries, the piles of miles and snow it takes to raise her here is worth it.

It’s all worth it.

 

Written by Jessie Veeder

Jessie Veeder

Jessie is a singer/songwriter/writer and statewide columnist living on her family’s ranch near Watford City with her husband and daughter. She blogs at veederranch.com . Reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com. (facebook.com/veederranch)

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