I think I understand my mother better now. I understand why she would stay awake after we all went to sleep, reading, or watching tv, often with a small bowl of plain potato chips beside her. It is 12:30 am. I have just nursed my infant daughter to sleep. She is in bed, upstairs in the loft, my partner is asleep in bed beside her, where I should probably be, also sleeping. But instead I am downstairs, sitting on the bottom step, in front of the wood stove, with a hot cup of tea in my hands. It is the first hot drink I’ve had all day, the only one that is not lukewarm and too strong by the time I reach it. And, I hope, unlike the others I will finish it, instead of being distracted by a diaper change, or separated from it by the need to breastfeed.
Mom still keeps her nightly ritual, and I wonder now if instead of solace from a house full of noise and two raucous daughters, the nightly moments on her own serve as reminders of when we were both there, instead of in our own houses with our own newborns.
I love my daughter. I am thrilled to have a year to stay at home to hold her, to wear her around for most of my day, to sing to her, to rock her to sleep. The time to spend with her, with my partner, building our family is a privilege. But so too are these few stolen moments by myself. My family in the bed in the loft above me, our huskies curled in tight balls at my feet, the northern lights and the cold subarctic dark outside around us all.
I recognize mom and her small rituals in a new way now, see that it was not that she was a night owl- or, if she was an owl, she only spent her nights scanning for and grasping at a small darting bits of stillness and solitude, skittish and as difficult to catch as mice. I’ll head back upstairs soon, probably only a few minutes really since I came downstairs. But I can fit a lot into a few quiet moments. I’ll be back upstairs, arms around my daughter, back warmed by my furnace of a mate. Until I go back to my roost for the night, I’ll sit here, like my mom may be doing at this moment as well, far away, hands grasping tight at my hot mug, eyes wide in the quiet and dim light.
A 3:00 pm subarctic sunset.
We are, finally, wonderfully, tucked into our home across the river, through the snowy spruce, and under the northern lights looking across the Tintina Trench at the Ogilvie mountains.
We are happy, the babe keeps us busy and there is so much to tell and so little time to write. (How is that for a tease?)
This time two weeks ago I was high on adrenaline and holding an hour old infant on my chest in the Whitehorse General Hospital. Giving birth to Maggie was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and the most awesome. Bodies are amazing, and what my body did was mind-blowing. I built a human. With tiny complete bones, and eyebrows, and teeny tiny toenails and facial expressions all her own. I can’t stop thinking about how incredible this whole thing is. Our life has been completely changed- there is so much that is new about all of this- and yet it feels like she’s always been here.
Right now, Chris and Maggie are in bed sleeping. Their faces are a few inches apart and Maggie has her tiny fingers tangled in his beard. I am the very luckiest.
(I promise there is a real honest to goodness blog post headed your way, with tales of contractions and labour and all the good nitty gritty details of Ms. Maggie’s arrival, but for now all I can write is gushy. Apologies. How can I write something serious when there is a bearded northern ginger napping in front of me with our newborn babe? Lets blame this post on postpartum hormones.)
I spent two weeks writing about what it is like to wait in a city away from home to have a baby, and then, before publishing said post, I had a baby.
I promise to share the whole story soon, but at the moment I’m too busy smelling my own daughter and marvelling at absolutely everything she does.
This is a crazy wholehearted love. We are utterly thrilled and enthralled.
I kneel down low to blow on the last few embers of the fire, under the log I’ve just put on. As hard as it is to get out of a warm bed, walk across a chilled floor and tend to the fire, once I am up I love these quiet moments alone. I have to spread my knees wide to get low enough to blow on the coals, and even then they cradle my belly. My stomach brushes the floor. It is strange to have your anatomy change so drastically in a matter of months. I am at once constantly aware of the babe growing inside me, and constantly forgetting that it means I have to do things differently, widen my stance to put on socks and boots, an action my partner finds endlessly comical. I have a new collection of stains on the stomachs of my shirts, evidence of my new habits of brushing the counters with my belly, or soaking my shirts at the waist with the dishwater.
It is five in the morning and I am awake again, hungry. Sitting in front of the open door of the wood stove, watching, eating a banana. I have spent many hours watching fires. From the wood stove in my childhood home, campfires at our cottage, to the tiny cabins I lived in alone when I first moved to the Yukon, where fire and I really got to know each other.
Living with fire as your main source of heat in a subarctic winter is a practice in timing, preparation, and the uncanny. I say uncanny because it is always thrilling when you wake up just before your fire is out, just in time to coax it back. You develop a relationship with your wood stove, a sixth sense for its needs. You have to know it well; how big to build a fire that will last, will heat your space without waking you sweltering in the middle of the night gasping for oxygen or have you wake up to your dogs water bowl frozen solid on the floor. Your plans when the days are darkest and the temperature drops to 40 below revolve around your wood stove, how long can leave your cabin and come back to still find it warm?
Tending a fire gives your days a pattern, a welcome rhythm. Living with electric or oil heat means you can fall into the trap of the long dark mornings and early evenings, lose track of time, hibernate forgetting exercise and fresh air, sleep through the short sunlit afternoons. You may think that being tied to a wood stove traps you, but at least it keeps you up and moving.
This winter, I will have another, even more demanding role to give my winter rhythm. Our babe is due to arrive early this coming month. My late night and early morning watch over the fire will now come with company, a mouth to feed, a small body to hold.
Living in a small isolated rural northern community means that we “cannot” deliver our babes here in our own communities. Our new local hospital boasts many things, but surgical facilities and staff, as well as blood and blood products, are not among them, meaning, that in the case of an emergency, or an early labour, you’re evacuated by plane, an hour and a half flight south, to Whitehorse. Expectant moms and their partners travel 6 hours by car to Whitehorse, the nearest centre, the largest city in the Yukon, two weeks before their estimated due date, and there, among the big box stores and streetlights, neither of which are features of Dawson, we wait to deliver our babes.
I am 38 weeks pregnant. In two days we will be 532 kilometers away, waiting. Nesting has turned into packing, cleaning out the fridge, writing out a lengthy tome detailing our dog-beasts quirks for the house sitter (mostly assuring her that Wiley can go a little nuts when I’m gone for a long period of time and that if he eats a boot, or wall, or something, it is most definitely not her fault.) I have also packed what is probably a ridiculous amount of baby paraphernalia for our two day stay in the hospital after birth and a day’s drive home. Not knowing what I can possibly actually need for this babe, I am erring on the side of over-preparation. As annoying as it is to have to leave our own space and travel 6 hours to wait to have a baby, I am choosing to see this as a vacation, and will take advantage of all of the relatively urban perks of the Territory’s capital: swimming pool, prenatal yoga classes, movie theatres, and most importantly, mexican food.
I keep reminding myself that no matter how much I will miss our home, our dogs, our favourite places and people and walks, we will be home soon, with our babe, and it is my hope that it will seem like we’d never left at all. Away we go!
I wrote this yesterday, thinking about things I can expect while I’m expecting. Today it all happened. Magic!
“I can expect it to snow in the next week or so. And I can expect that my eagerness for cold weather will annoy others. I need it to get cold fast this fall, so the river that lies between us and our homestead freezes quickly, and we can move in as soon as possible with our new babe. I expect that in the next two weeks the small flurries that I’ve seen, that melt when they hit they ground, will become solid and stay, casting light back up onto my bedroom ceiling some morning. I expect that on this morning, as with all my recent mornings, I will be woken by my babe stirring, my bladder, or my babe stirring on my bladder. I can expect our three dogs to hear me wake up and gather on my side of the bed, a lineup of eager noses in my face, tails thrashing against the rubbermaid container full of baby gear I’ve nicknamed “the nursery”. I can expect Chris to roll over and rub my shoulders briefly before resting his head on my chest and talking to our child, trying to not make eye contact with my protruding belly button which totally freaks him out. ”
It is a morning for tea, CBC on the radio and tending the wood stove. I am thrilled winter is making her way!