Top 5 things to know before vanlife. Less is more, slow down, pack warm, and plan for the unexpected.
Our first days with Cedar Fox were spent in the hospital. I was recovering from a c-section and we wanted to make sure that breastfeeding was established before we went home. The four days we spent in the hospital blur together, days into nights, and nights into days. (Read Cedar Fox’s birth story)
Our plan had always been to co-sleep with Cedar, but the hospital doesn’t allow babies to be in your bed, they’re supposed to sleep in their own little bed. Which makes sense since the beds are small, and in my case I couldn’t feel half my body, but it didn’t feel right. For ten months my baby was growing inside me and now all of a sudden he’s not allowed to be next to me! Cedar sleeping in his own little bed didn’t last for long. That first night Adam rolled Cedar’s bed right next to me so he’d be close, and I’d be able to touch him even with my limited mobility. I was very hyper aware of Cedar so I got very little sleep that night, waking at every sound and movement he made.
By the next night the anesthetic had worn off so I was able to sleep on my side. After nursing, Cedar fell asleep next to me and Adam stayed up to watch us so that we could sleep skin-to-skin. Adam and I would take turns holding him skin-to-skin after I nursed so he didn’t sleep in his “own” bed again while we were there.
During our stay at the hospital we had a lot of help from our midwives, lactation consultants and nurses to establish breastfeeding. We seemed to be figuring things out, I did have a few bad bruises around one of my nipples from the first night, but he seemed to be getting on better, and there was very little pain when I was nursing. We could also see that I was producing colostrum, but we wanted to make sure that Cedar was latching well because it could be harder once my milk comes in.
We were discharged on the 5th. Cedar had lost 5 oz, but was within the 10% weight loss expected after birth, and I was feeling more confident about breastfeeding. Plus, I knew that our midwife would be coming to our place the next day, so if I needed anything I knew I had people there for me. Before we left, our midwife let me know that it would be normal to feel overly emotional in the coming weeks, that I may be laughing one minute and crying the next. That all those pregnancy hormones my body was used to are gone now with the placenta and as my body is reeling from that, it’s flooded with a whole new set of hormones that come with my milk, which should be in in a day or two.
I hadn’t really thought about how emotional the postpartum experience can be. Of course I’d read that it could be, but the reality of it didn’t really hit until I was in the midst of it. Before, I was just looking forward to holding my baby and focusing more on preparing for birth then I was for postpartum. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty rough for the first couple weeks after we got home, both emotionally and physically. I was grieving the loss of the birth I hoped to have, recovering from major surgery, seriously sleep reprieved, and having a really difficult and painful time breastfeeding.
I didn’t find myself getting overly emotional until we were home for a few days. I would be looking at Cedar, and get totally overcome and start crying. One time Adam asked Caeden to leave the bedroom and I started to cry hysterically because I felt bad that he would have to sleep alone. Despite all my wild emotions, were were enjoying these beginning days with Cedar. We were both spending a lot of time skin-to-skin boding with him, cozied up in blankets except for when we left the house for lactation consultant appointments. It wasn’t without challenges though, mainly one challenge: breastfeeding (Read about our I almost Stopped Breastfeeding).
Cedar Fox Hickey was born December 2, 2018 at 2:35 PM. He was 7lb 7oz, 54cm long and absolutely perfect. Nothing about his arrival earth-side was what we hoped for but he was here and he was healthy and in our arms and we couldn’t have been filled with more love because of it. There are people in our lives who aren’t so lucky, and we are acutely aware of how special our experience is no matter how Cedar arrived.
It has taken some time for me to process my emotions surrounding Cedar’s birth. Nothing about it went as we hoped it would. In fact, it seemed like every moment throughout the labour and birth process went the opposite way. It took me about 3 days and many moments of crying to write out his birth story, something I’m glad I did because now, almost 2 months later, the details are getting fuzzy, and I don’t ever want to forget. I want to share that story with you.
Adam had been working in Halifax, and got home the afternoon of Nov 30th. I was so glad he was home because we were getting close to Cedar’s due date, Dec 6, and I didn’t want to go into labour while he was away. Well it turns out he made it home just in time because at 01:20 on Dec 1st, I rolled over in bed and my water broke. It took me a few seconds to realize what happened, and I quickly went to the washroom to make sure. As I sat on the toilet, positive that my water broke, feeling my heart start to beat quicker in excitement, I called Adam to let him know.
We were hoping labour would have started before my water broke. Only 10% of women have their water break before labour starts. That is unless you are GBS+ (Group B Streptococcus Positive), then you have a 30-40% chance of having your water break first. I was GBS+ and this is exactly what happened.
If you are GBS+ the immediate and standard practice is induction. That and IV antibiotics every 4 hours throughout labour. I had done research on GBS and the studies conducted, and I felt there were some serious gaps in them, so after speaking with our midwives, we made a plan that Adam and I were comfortable with. We decided that if my water broke before I went into labour, I would start the antibiotics, but I didn’t want to be induced for at least 18 hours, to give me the chance to have a natural labour and a home birth. I thought that 18 hours would be plenty. 50% of women whose water breaks before labour starts, start natural labour within 12 hours and about 90% or women within 24 hours.
After I woke Adam up, we made sure that my abiotic fluid was clear, if it wasn’t then we’d have to go to the hospital right away. After that I jumped in the shower to clean off and Adam changed the bed sheets. When I got out of the shower I called our midwife C to let her know. It was 01:30 and she suggested we go to bed and get some sleep because we’d be needing it, and to call if contractions started. If she didn’t hear from us, then she’d come for 08:00 to check in.
Adam and I went to bed but we were too excited to sleep right away so we just talked, wondering if our baby was a girl or a boy, all the things we were excited to share with them, and the kind of person we hoped they would be. Around 02:30 contractions started. They were mild, but there. I could feel them flowing in and out like a wave. I called C to let her know and went back to bed and listened to my hypnobirthing meditation till I fell asleep. When I woke up at 07:30 the contractions were gone.
When C came at 08:00 she said she had some bad news for us. We wouldn’t be getting that home birth we hoped for. There was no backup on call so we’d be having the baby at the hospital. She said we’d be able to have the baby in the Midwife Labour Room, which is more like a room at a birthing centre as opposed to the clinical rooms at a hospital. We talked about our options and knew that we’d have to go into the hospital to get my first round of antibiotics, so we followed C to the hospital. I also called our doula Cori to let her know what was going on.
My first round of antibiotics was given at 10:00 and for the next 12 hours Adam and I did EVERYTHING you can think of to get labour started. Nothing worked. I felt devastated. In my mind I had come to terms with having the baby at the hospital in the Midwife Room, but an induction meant that we were in the regular room and that I’d be constantly hooked up to the fetal heart rate monitor and have a continuous oxytocin IV drip, limiting my movement. It was definitely not what I wanted and I could feel my anxiety around this reality increasing.
Once we got home from our second last antibiotic treatment, I decided to go to bed and try and relax. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to go into labour and I knew that stress wasn’t helpful so I put on my hypnobirthing meditation and just focused on my beautiful baby that I’d be meeting soon.
At 22:00 we went in to the hospital with our bags packed, we knew that the next time we’d be leaving there, we’d be doing it with our baby. C and Cori were waiting for us when we got there. C went over the two options for induction and that it would depend on how ripe my cervix was, but that she’d have to call the OB because they’re the ones that take over with an induction. Dr. G was called and when he arrived he gave me a vaginal exam. He said I was 80% effaced and he could feel the babies head so I’d be getting the oxytocin induction. That seemed like good news to us given the situation. I was thinking “OK, my body is ready for this, Baby is ready to come. It’s not how we hoped it would be, but it’s going to be great and we can do this!”
We moved from the exam room to the labour room, and Cori and Adam went out to the van to grab our bags. We brought our speaker and a small essential oil diffuser, as well as our own pillows and a cozy blanket from home to make the space feel more personal. C came in to check on me and let me know that the nurses would be taking over for the night, and that they’d call her once I got into active labour: contractions ever 3 minutes lasting for over a minute. If I didn’t go into active labour by the morning she’d be in around 10:00 to see how I was doing. Then she left and the nurses got me all hooked up. Cori also went home at this point because we didn’t know how long it would take for the oxytocin to kick in, and we all thought it would be better for her to go home and get some rest.
There is no way your getting any rest when you’re being induced, no matter how exhausted you are. It was about midnight when everything was all said and done, so we were almost 24 hours in at that point with very little rest. The nurses come into the room every 15 minutes to check the baby and my progress and to check my blood pressure, ensuring that even if you do fall asleep you’ll be woken up regularly.
Two hours into the induction, contractions had started. They felt completely different then the ones I’d had just after my water broke. These ones didn’t build, the just hit me, and then I could feel them receding. They weren’t that intense yet, I could still talk through them, but I could feel them getting more frequent. At 03:30 Adam called Cori, and she came to join us shortly after. It was great to have another person there, and the three of us chatted, helping the time pass. As my contractions intensified, Cori grabbed this heating pad and would press it into my lower back while I was contracting which really helped relieve the pain. As the contractions intensified, I focused on my hypnobreathing, going into myself, and letting the outside world slip away.
Around 05:00 the oxytocin drip was at full dose and by then I could no longer talk through the contractions. I moved around, used the washroom, bounced on the ball, leaned on the ball, hung on Adam’s neck. At some point exhaustion set in and I laid in bed and tried to rest in between contractions. They were so much more intense while I was lying down, but I stayed down resting as long as I could. The contractions got more are more intense, they were coming every couple of minutes lasting 30-45 seconds.
Just before C arrived at 10:00, Cori said I shouldn't get my hopes up that I’d be dilated more then 4 or 5 cm. C checked me and said that I was only 1 cm dilated. My heart sank. I’m sure that Adam and Cori could see the panic in my eyes. The first thought in my mind was how could I have been in labour, contracting since 02:00 and not dilated at all! I was so exhausted and sad and all I could think was how much longer could I last like this if I’m only at 1 cm! I knew I’d be able to do it - I remember thinking about something our other midwife saying: “It’s painful, but you can do anything for one long day”. Then C said that she could feel some swelling on babies head, she was concerned about it and would be calling Dr. G to get an opinion. When she came back she said she’d be taking me off the oxytocin to see what happens while we wait for Dr. G to come.
By the time Dr. G arrived my contractions had almost disappeared completely. I was still having them, but they felt more like aftershocks and I could easily talk through them. After Dr. G checked me, he and C went out to talk. They came back and gave us two options on how to proceed. Option 1: they keep me off oxytocin for 12 hours and let us rest in the hospital while continuing the antibiotics every 4 hours. Then if labour hadn’t started on its own they’d induce me again. He said that I had about a 50% chance of having this baby naturally. Option 2: C-Section.
Adam and I needed to talk everything out, so everyone left us alone. We both cried. Everything we wanted was slipping away. This was a hard decision. If we decided to hold off, that would likely mean 48+ hours of antibiotics being pumped into both mine and the babies system killing all our good bacteria and putting us both at risk for yeast infections like thrush later on. The baby was stable right now, but if we did this all again in 12 hours, might that put the baby in distress and send us off for an emergency section? The babies head was swollen, not a concern now, but what about after more time pushing against my cervix? Are we putting the baby at more risk for a 50% chance of having a vaginal birth? What if we did this all and then ended up in a section anyway? Would we get any rest at the hospital, be even more exhausted going into an induced labour again? What if the induction didn’t work again?
There were just too many “what if’s”, and both of us had a gut feeling that it was too risky. We decided on the c-section. This meant that if we ever have another baby we won’t be able to have that home birth we hoped for. Heart broken again. Once we gave Dr. G and C our decision, Dr. G went out to book the section and get ready. C stayed with us to see how we were doing. She said she thought we made the right decision. That made us feel a little better. We knew she’d be there with us and that gave us comfort.
We got moved to our room on the maternity ward and Cori went home since there was nothing left for her to do; she’d come visit us once the baby was born and we were settled a bit. Now all we had to do was wait. Someone came in to tell us that it would be around 14:00 when they’d do the c-section. C came in to let us know that another woman in her care had come in to have her baby and she wouldn’t be able to be in the surgery with us like we thought she would, she said she’d try but didn’t think she’d make it. Sadness. Exaused, Adam and I curled up in bed and fell asleep. I woke up around 13:45 and a nurse came in to let us know we needed to get ready. She brought in a gown for me a scrubs for Adam.
Dr. M came into our room to introduce herself and let us know she’d be assisting on the surgery. She asked if there was anything we wanted. I told her that we didn’t know the sex of the baby and we didn’t want anyone to announce it, we wanted to keep that a surprise. I also told her I wanted skin-to-skin as soon as possible and if it wasn’t possible with me then with Adam. She asked if we wanted delayed cord clamping if possible and we said yes. She went to let the surgical team know.
I have never had surgery before. The most intense thing that’s every happened to me was getting out my wisdom teeth and that does not count. This was scary, and luckily we were so exhausted that I didn’t really have time to think about it until we were both gowned up, ready to go and waiting for the nurse to take us over. They came at 14:00 to get us.
I was brought into the operating room and a nurse talked to me while the anesthesiologist got everything ready. I was told it would feel like a really bad bee sting when they inserted the needle but it wasn’t that bad. As soon as he was done, the mood in the room quickly changed, it was business now, and there was a flurry of activity as the cool tingling spread through my body. I was strapped down, arms spread open, IV’s in both hands, and told I might start shivering uncontrollably, but not to worry, that it was normal. A barrier was put up so that I couldn’t see anything. Fear was creeping in, as I lay there looking at the ceiling, feeling my body be tugged this was and that. Adam was missing, where was he? When would he be here? In that moment, when I could literally not do anything but turn my head from side-to-side, I remembered my hynobreathing, I could do that. Close my eyes. In for 4, out for 8, in for 4, out for 8, over and over.
Adam was brought in and he was there, right beside me. I kept breathing. He talked to me, keeping me calm. Within seconds we could hear our baby crying!! They said our baby was perfect and beautiful. We just listed to the sound of him while we waited as they did delayed cord clamping. Someone said it had been over a minute, and then the cord was cut and our baby was free of my body. An independent little person. A nurse brought our baby over to Adam and he unwrapped him and told me we had a son! Our little Cedar Fox!
This tiny, pink little person was placed on my chest, and we shared our first moments as a family while the surgeons closed me up. Afterwards we were rolled into recovery where the nurses helped me to nurse Cedar for the first time. They checked his weight, length, and head circumference, and made sure he had 10 fingers and 10 toes. They were also making sure I was ok, changing the dressings on my incision, and checking to see how the anesthetic was wearing off so that we could be brought to our room.
We were in the hospital for 4 days before we were discharged. We spent the majority of our time cuddling our son skin-to-skin, and learning how to breastfeed. It was a long few days, but our midwives were amazing, as were the lactation consultants we saw and the other hospital staff that were caring for us.
Labour and birth is a funny thing, you do everything you can to prepare yourself for it, and in the end you have to let everything go and surrender to your experience. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t prepare because “whatever will happen, will happen, and I have no control of that”. Even though our experience was not the one we wanted to have, our birth plan and my hypnobrithing preparation was so helpful. It gave me the tools to stay focused and breathe when the contractions got intense, and it helped me stay clear headed and look at each new situation with a openness when they were presented. I was also able to use the breathing techniques during the surgery to keep myself calm. Having a plan helped us, preparing for the birth we wanted helped us to appreciate the birth we had. It’s not a waist of time, and I’m glad we didn’t listen to all the people who told us it didn’t matter. It mattered to us.
We are so grateful to our midwives, and to the doctors and nurses that helped me bring our beautiful son into this world. We’re grateful he’s healthy and thriving, and perfect in every way. Every time we look at him, we’re amazed, and filled with love and gratitude that we get to be his parents.
Thank you for reading our story!
Before van life was a reality for us, we had already purged our lives of any and all unnecessary items. Things that took up space, clothing we never wore, kitchen items that serve only one obscure purpose. We decided that we had certain criteria that any new product had to have in order to buy it.
These criteria were: Would it be going in the van with us? Does it serve multiple functions? Is it made to last? Do we feel like the company is ethical or sustainable?
Obviously not everything can meet all of those criteria, but it’s the list of things we thought about for every purchase we made before moving into the van.
The following items are OUR Top 10 Must Haves for Van Life. They may very well be different then what you’d chose, but for us, we can’t live without them.
1. 3 QT INSTANT POT
We love our instant pot and can easily recommend this to anyone living in a van or a house or anywhere! It’s a rice cooker, pressure cooker, slow cooker, steamer… Well I think you get the picture. It has multiple functions, uses only 700watts of power, and with it’s pressure cooker abilities means that you can basically cook anything in under 30 minutes. We use ours at least once a week, making chilli, curry, lentils, rice, etc.
2. Berkey Water Filter
Before we moved into the van we knew we wanted to have some kind of water purifications system. After a lot of research we decided to go with the Travel Berkey. The Berkey system can be permanently set up on our counter unlike a lot of bag filtration systems, and it removes over 200+ harmful contaminants including bacteria, viruses, pesticides, heavy metals, etc. which means that we can essentially get drinking water anywhere!
3. Hydro Flask
Following along with recommendation #2, is having somewhere for that water to go. It doesn’t matter to us what container you choose to drink your water out of, just that you don’t use disposable bottles. Find a reusable bottle you love and always have that with you. We love our double walled, vacuum insulated bottles because it keeps our water cool all day, which is amazing when we we’re hiking in the desert! It also keeps hot things hot because who likes cold tea?!
We love our smoothies. Having our vitamix was a priority for us, we even made sure our solar system could handle this one appliance that’s how important it was for us. We have had other high powered blenders before but nothing can compare to a Vitamix. Not only does it fulfil our smoothie needs, but Vanessa often make banana ice-cream in there, as well a cashew creams and fruit sorbets.
5. Patagonia synchilla & nano puff jackets
Both of us found these jackets on sale and we LOVE them! Adam has the Synchilla Fleece and Vanessa has a Nano Puff Jacket. Everyone needs something comfy and we love what the Patagonia brand stands for and represents. These are purchases we knew we’d only need to make once. Both can also serve as an insulating layer under a rain jacket making a good combo for cold weather.
6. Marley Bluetooth Speakers
Our van speakers suck. We could have upgraded the factory sound system, but the thought of spending thousands to upgrade was not at all appealing. We decided to go with a simpler solution: portable bluetooth speakers. We looked at a couple different options and settled on these Marley speakers for a couple reasons. We liked the way they looked, they has one of the best water resistant ratings, and the sound out of them is great.
7. Manduka Yoga Mats
A yoga mat or pilates mat definitely comes in handy while on the road. It’s small and easy to pack up and you can roll it out on an old blanket and get a quick workout in. It also fits perfectly in the “hallway” of our van so if need be we could have a little yoga sesh wherever we like.
8. Wandrd bag
We needed a bag that served multiple purposes. We needed a camera bag that could hold more than just camera gear but could also be a regular bag as well. The PRVKE21 by Wandrd was the perfect bag for us. It holds all our camera gear when we need, but the '“camera bag” compartment can be removed, then we can us it as a regular backpack, or a combo of the two.
9. Coffee Dripper
We’re not BIG coffee drinkers, but every now and then we do like a really good cup of coffee. Sometimes, you can’t beat a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning. That being said, we didn’t want anything complicated or big in the van so this simple little coffee dripper works perfect. We use undyed bamboo disposable strainers on the road, but if we’re in an apartment we have a reusable one. Not to worry if you’re not a big coffee drinker, you can you this for loose leaf tea as well.
10. Amazon Kindle ereader
Vanessa loves to read, so when we moved into the van and she had to give up her precious book collection, getting an eReader was a must. She decided to go with the Amazon Kindle and has been enjoying it, and the access to great books since.
It's crazy to think about all the things that have happened this past year. From where we started to where we are now. If you've been following along from the beginning you know that last year we finished the full renovation of our house and sold it. We then immediately, and I mean immediately went out and bought a Sprinter van and built it out. It took us about 1.5-2 months to build out our van and hit the road.
We left in October and for 5 months we travelled all over the western states: Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Utah, and visited 18 National Parks. It was so amazing, and we met so many wonderful people. People who saw our van and wanted to see it, people who had been following our journey online and invited us to stay or visit or have coffee, other van lifers, and travellers; our paths crossing just for a moment in time. The memory of these places and people will always stay with us.
Now we're back in Canada, and we've just finished building out a second van for someone else to adventure in. Now, we're thinking ahead to the transition to apartment life as we wait for the arrival of our baby this December. We love our van and the tiny house we've create in there, it's familiar and comfortable and home to us unlike any apartment has ever been. It might be a challenge for us to make that transition, but we've never shied away from challenges, and we know this will only be temporary. That's right, we are planning on continuing our travels with our baby. We love this life we've intentionally created and we can't imagine not sharing it with our child, so we will be hitting the road in the new year with Caeden and the baby along for the ride. What that looks like and when we'll leave is yet to be determined. Right now we're enjoying time with family and getting excited for baby's arrival.
There's a different kind of silence in the desert. It's something you would never think of, but when you spend any time in the desert you realize it's like living in a vacuum. There is true silence in the desert. No birds chirping or crickets and even the wind is silent as it flows over the dry sand.
We have been in the van for over 2 months now. We are settling into #vanlife and the ebb and flow of the day. Our mornings are related and easy going. Our voice of where to go and what to see is totally open: one day its a beautiful hike, the next its stroll downtown in a new city.
We have met lots of interesting people along the way so far. There are so many people living the freedom of van life but their reasons for hitting the road are all different.