Raising Babies in the Woods With No Running Water

Raising Babies in the Woods With No Running Water

Take a look back some 17 years and you’d find me raising babies in the woods with no running water. I was a stay-at-home-mom trying to survive from one day to the next, when my second son came into this world. Scraping by on one minimum wage income, trying to stretch the food budget and running myself ragged chasing a 4 year old while nursing a newborn. Celebrating BraeTek’s birthday last week had me wondering, how could 17 years have gone so fast?

raising babies in the woods
BraeTek and William in the woods.

Raising Babies in the Woods With No Running Water

Dug down some 18 or 20 feet and lined with stones from the Maine hillside, lay the old farm well. With little more than 2 lengths of metal roofing nailed to a couple of boards to serve as a cover, the gaping hole in the earth was hazardous, but our only source of water.

I dropped the 5 gallon bucket down in, holding the rope and positioning myself carefully on the flagstones. With 2 babies napping in the trailer up the hill, it would not do to slip and fall in.

My mid-twenties were spent raising babies in the woods with no running water. We lived in a single-wide trailer, not-so-deep in the wilds of western Maine. I was a stay-at-home-mom and my husband had gone off to work. The nearest neighbor lived half a mile away. If I made a mistake and ended up at the bottom of the well, it would have been hours before anyone found me─or my babies.

Hand over hand, I hoisted the pail of water up out of the well. I poured it’s contents into one of the two buckets waiting in my son’s all-terrain red radio flier wagon. Then, I dropped the bucket back in for a second haul. With my 10 gallons of water, I pulled the wagon up the hill to the trailer.

Health Hazard

We’d scored the single-wide for free, paying only to have it moved to our location. My husband’s family owned some 200 acres and the remnants of the family’s old dairy farm. Even back then I had a powerful need to be close to nature.

A trailer pad and septic were installed─and even the line to the well. But we ran out of funds about the same time my ex-husband ran out of motivation. For 5 years we lived like that without running water. If I needed to wash dishes, flush the toilet, bathe my children or water my garden, I had to haul water to do it─and yet, I dearly loved that simple life.

By the time BraeTek was about 18 months old, we realized why we’d been able to secure the trailer for free. It had been in a flood, as evidenced by a hip-high water-line running throughout the entirety of the structure.

This led to rot and mold, and eventually the trailer became a health hazard. At that point, my older son had just been diagnosed with autism. In our naivety (or desperation?), we were concerned that it had been triggered by mold spores. For the benefit of my children, I gave up my beloved woodland-home and we moved into a small house in-town.

That was a difficult transition for me, and I spent the next 10 years trying to get back to that former state of being. Living close to nature, growing and making my own food, raising and educating my babies…I loved that existence.

I still love that existence.

17 years
One of the rare instances when my boys were getting along…

Pride & Guilt

How do you cope with the conflux of pride and guilt that inevitably comes with any amount of success? I’m asking for a friend…

When all of society tells mothers in particular to exist only for their children and their families─how to you assuage the feeling of selfishness that wells up within?

What do you do when the simple act of following a dream is considered rebellion? Then, if you should prioritize that ambition above all else because that’s the only way to make it a reality, how do you quell the worry that you might be wrong afterall?

I take great pride in knowing I’ve given my boys fond memories of playing in and eating out of the garden. My boys know what it’s like to hold delicate baby lambs and little fluffy-butt chicks in their hands. They’ve had homemade bread fresh from the oven, seen me slave over marinara sauce made from our own home-grown tomatoes, and poked their naughty little fingers into still-soft loaves of beeswax soap.

It’s also a great source of guilt that I’ve had to put the farm first at times, even before the needs of my children.

When I walked away from my husband and marriage of 15 years, I did the unthinkable and left my 2 boys behind. I knew I was entering a very unsettled phase of my life, and I felt my ex would provide better stability for our children in the short-term.

When all of society tells mothers in particular to exist only for their children and their families, how to you assuage the feeling of selfishness that wells up within?

I was especially worried for my older son, William, and all of the quirks that come with his autism. He does not perform well in chaotic or unpredictable situations. So I left them─until I could provide a roof and beds for my sons. It was only 3 months, thankfully, before I was able to have the boys with me 2 nights a week.

A Mother’s Angst

It took several years to re-build my life and grow my income from farming so that I could buy a home. At my lowest point, I was all but homeless, living out of my car and still clinging to that dream. All because I was unable and unwilling to give up on farming.

For me, life without a garden or animals to coexist with is only a half-life. Surely I’d survive, but part of my soul would wither and die.

Deep down I knew that farming was my salvation. If I could hold on until I bought a home, I could use that home to generate my income. Then I could return to that same lifestyle of living close to nature, growing and making my own food, and raising and educating my babies.

It just happened that along the way I found an even greater calling─that of wildlife conservation through agriculture.

Sadly, William’s autism is such that he has a very rigid way of thinking. If someone or something does not line up with that thinking, he can become volatile and aggressive. He refuses to forgive me for having a second child, and he never warmed up to BraeTek, either. The relationship between the two boys is tenuous at best.

Shortly after I bought the farm, my ex and I re-negotiated visitations. Tensions between the boys had reached a fever-pitch, leading to a rise in physical altercations. To put some space between them, we agreed that BraeTek would live at the farm Monday through Friday, spending weekends with his father.

For a time, William came over the same 2 nights a week, until the age of 17 or so. Then he decided he was grown and no longer needed a mom. What’s more, he hates the farm and especially loathes the bees (having stepped on bees more than once in his childhood as the son of a beekeeper, I totally get where this one comes from). He lives full-time with his father and will be 21 later this month. He does not want to see me.

It’s source of pain for me. To have a son I love so dearly, with this condition that shuts me out of his life for one reason or another… I console myself in knowing that leaving my ex was the cataclysm he needed to become a better man. I’m fortunate I’ve never had to worry over the care my boys receive from their father.

That mother’s angst, however, has made me an even better parent for BraeTek. I’ve put a lot of time, energy─and love─into our homeschool program. I want to provide my son with a solid foundation to grow on. It shows, I think, in the strength of his character. I’m incredibly proud of the man he is becoming.

17 Years

raising babies in the woods
BraeTek at 17.

Turning 17 years old last week, it dawned on me that BraeTek has shared more of my farm-journey than any other person. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over the fact that─this child─has been the most reliable man in my life for a good many years now.

This boy was 9, making his own lemonade and dog cookies to sell at farmers’ markets beside me. He’s helped move the farm many times before we finally settled down. Every year he participates in our annual “Hay Mission” (in which we purchase 400 bales off the field in summertime, bring them home and put them up in the barn loft for the winter)─despite the fact that it’s his least favorite part of farming. He even promises to come back to help after he’s moved out.

BraeTek helps to care for Runamuk’s sheep, chickens, cats and dogs. He cooks, cleans, assists customers, helps with on-farm events, and so much more─most of the time with a good attitude! What more can a mom ask for?

I can’t help but wonder, though, how will he look back on his childhood 17 years from now? Will he see the farm as the source of his own childhood traumas? Or will it be as I hope─a cherished chapter of his life that helped mold his character in a positive way? If you have experience with such matters, please feel free to share your thoughts below!

Much love to you and yours, my friends!

Thank you for following along with the story of this lady-farmer! It is truly a privilege to live this life serving my family and community, and protecting wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook!

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Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm