My husband and I have always felt happiest outdoors, particularly in the forests and lakes of central Canada. We dream all year of canoeing through the mist on early summer mornings, and watching the sun set over the trees and water. 

So it was only natural, when we found out that our family would be expanding in spring 2010, that our main focus was on planning for the outdoor adventures our new baby would participate in.

Where other parents might (quite rationally!) be painting the nursery or researching stroller models, our priority purchases included a new tent (big enough to fit two adults, one baby, and one dog), a UV-protective body-suit, and an infant-sized life-jacket.

Changes in the Camp

By the time the due-date arrived we were well-stocked for baby’s first camping trip, and therefore naively assumed we were ready for whatever else might occur. But no manner of planning and outdoors experience could prepare us for what ensued: despite a text-book ‘normal’ pregnancy, our son River was deprived of oxygen sometime just before or during his birth (for reasons that still remain unknown), and an MRI at 4 days old confirmed his significant brain injury. After two surreal weeks in the NICU, where River dealt with seizures and feeding problems, we finally brought him home and began to reconsider what our new reality might be.

Disability Vs The Great Outdoors
Although it may seem selfish, one of the (many) concerns we faced was “What if we are now unable to spend the time outdoors that we crave, and that we thought we would share with our baby?” We despaired over a lost dream of introducing a child to nature, and feared we’d never be able to share our passion for canoeing and camping as he grew. But spending time outdoors is what has always helped us to cope with stress and uncertainty, and as our biggest challenge so far, this was no exception.

Special Adventures
So we focused our energies and our emotions on finding ways to take River to our favourite lakes. We worked together on feeding strategies (transitioning from NG-tube to bottle-fed breast-milk that I pumped day and night) to help River meet the minimum weight requirement for his mini-life-jacket: we took him on his first canoe ride on the day he turned 1 month old. Next, we concentrated on teaching him to breast-feed exclusively, which allowed us to take him on a back-woods canoe-camping-trip before he was 10 weeks old, and several other canoe trips within a few months.

While maybe a little ‘crazy’ (many parents wouldn’t attempt such trips even with developmentally-typical kids), these early adventures were the critical first step in an adapted but exciting life that still includes the pastimes we love, with a new little camper along for the ride.

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