I’ve never been a particularly frequent blog poster but you may have noticed even fewer posts recently from me. Those who follow me on Twitter or know me in person will know that that’s because our family recently grew by 1 tiny human. Baby J joined our family at the end of May.
When we decided to add to our family we had most of the usual concerns that people experience about how to manage a third kid. Money, time, how our other kids would feel about it. But we also had some bike-specific concerns. During my previous pregnancies I was fairly active but it was in the form of walking, not biking, so combining biking and pregnancy was new for me. I don’t have particularly easy pregnancies, at least not for the first half, as I suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) for the first 22-26 weeks of pregnancy. Far beyond normal morning sickness, HG is debilitating levels of nausea and vomiting that land sufferers in the hospital for rehydration and medication. After multiple pregnancies I’m fairly well prepared for HG now. I know what meds work for me (and luckily there are some) and I had my doctor picked out, and my meds picked up, before I even got pregnant. But would I get too sick to bike despite the meds? I got a lot of pubic symphysis and hip pain in the latter part of my second pregnancy. Would this be exacerbated by biking just as the nausea started to go away? Would I even fit on my bike near the end? Would my balance shift and make cycling unwise? Would I still be able to manage the hills as the baby got bigger and the space left for my lungs shrank? Would I get push back on biking from my doctor? Once the baby arrived, how long before I would feel up to biking again? How would we manage biking with a newborn? And how would we transport 3 kids by bike?
I’m lucky enough to have a bunch of amazing mom friends (go Mama Bears!) who have navigated a lot of these things before me. For every step of this experience I’ve had people I can ask for advice and get support from, which has made the road much easier. With almost all our family members far away the friends we’ve made through biking have also been our biggest source of support in the form of meals, hand me downs, and visits during this time. Who knew biking could be the key to forming adult friendships, something we’ve struggled with since having kids!
As predicted, by the time I was 6 weeks pregnant I was taking multiple meds to manage my HG and was still pretty miserably nauseated most of the time. I had to go very slow on the bike to not aggravate my nausea, basically just putting in enough effort to lift my feet and then letting gravity and the assist do the rest of the work. As several of my mom friends had reported, biking was still easier than taking the bus. I didn’t have to worry so much how I would handle it if I needed to throw up while biking (I could just pull over), I felt much better in the open air than closed inside a bus or car, and little T was strapped into his Yepp seat, so I didn’t have to expend the physical and mental energy required to keep him restrained on the bus. As long as I didn’t work myself too hard biking was definitely my best option. Additionally, my experience with what worked for me from my previous pregnancies meant that I managed my meds better and didn’t get as sick. So I kept on bike commuting through the early weeks. We also did fewer weekend rides and I used the weekends to rest as much as possible.
By the midway point of the pregnancy I was showing pretty noticeably and everyday tasks like putting shoes on were getting harder. The hip and rib pain I had in my second pregnancy were also starting to make an appearance. By the 3rd trimester I was also dealing with pubic symphysis pain. In my second pregnancy the hip pain and pubic symphysis pain were exacerbated by walking, especially uphill, so I was worried I would find that biking caused the same issue. I was happy to find the reverse was true. Biking if anything seemed to help reduce the pain. I think this was partly because I could use the assist to help with starting the bike off. When I forgot to turn the assist on or left the bike in too high a gear I would get some pain while starting off. I also think that the fact that the bike kept my legs and hips aligned with each other was helpful. My worst pain was after the Puget Sound area got a bunch of snow in February and I had to walk and use the bus much more. Walking on ice, where my feet would tend to slip out to the side, resulted in a lot of pain and I was very grateful I only had to deal with a couple of weeks of it. Biking also turned out to be my primary respite from the rib pain and more generally from the feeling that I was carrying a watermelon in my abdomen. On the bikes my position is very upright and my core is engaged, which relieved my rib pain without causing back pain (a common problem for me when sitting in chairs and trying to stay straight enough to reduce the rib pain). It also somehow made the belly just disappear in front of me, at least until I needed to hop off the seat at lights and bumped it into my handlebar bag!
The best aspect of biking through this pregnancy was how good it was for my mental health. In my previous pregnancies it felt like I could not go anywhere during the first half, because everything aggravated my nausea. With the bike I could get places without making the nausea much worse. Similarly, later on when the aches and pains of pregnancy got worse, biking meant I could still travel pretty much the same distances I always could without needing to rely on a car. I still felt strong and capable in a way I didn’t with my other pregnancies. That’s not to say things didn’t get harder or that I didn’t feel giant and overwhelmed by the changes to my body as the pregnancy got on. It’s just that I had a respite from it that I didn’t have in my previous pregnancies. I hear swimming can provide a similar respite, but biking was much more accessible to me. Swimming would have required I spend money for each visit and take time out of my day that I just didn’t have. Biking continued to fit right into my day as my transportation, costing me no more than my usual maintenance expenses. I did switch the seat on the GSD out for a noseless one for the final 6 weeks or so of the pregnancy (and first couple of weeks postpartum), but this was something I was able to borrow from a friend who used them during her pregnancy. Other than that the only modifications I had to make was to change the position of my handlebar bag when my belly got big enough to hit it all the time and to lower my seat a little bit so my hips weren’t moving too much as things shifted around when I got bigger.
Both of my bikes worked pretty well throughout the pregnancy, though I did find myself preferring the GSD over the Packster for the last couple of months because the extra weight of the Packster combined with the fact that it wasn’t my commute bike so I wasn’t riding it as often made it feel a bit more awkward for me. My final ride of the pregnancy was the Friday that I hit 39 weeks, 3 days before I gave birth. I took the water taxi in to the city, went to my final doctor’s appointment of the pregnancy, stopped by my work to drop off leave-related paperwork, and then took the long route to the Fauntleroy ferry via Alki. In total I biked a little more than 4000 miles during the pregnancy, much of it with at least one child on board my bike. It gave me a whole new appreciation for bikes as mobility devices, especially the magic of ebikes as mobility devices.
Labor and delivery mostly went well, but I experienced a lot of blood loss and so my recovery this time around was a bit different than after my other two kids. I was comfortable on the bike sooner than I anticipated, and took my first ride at only 5 days postpartum, but because of the blood loss it took me a lot longer than I was expecting to get back to longer rides without making myself exhausted. Even being in good shape and active during pregnancy doesn’t make childbirth into a cake walk! Through the first few months I had to be constantly reminding myself that my body had been through a lot and I needed to take it slow. In that way the electric assist on the cargo bikes was both a blessing and a curse. It was great in that it made it easier for me to do rides without overexerting myself, when I could remember to be conservative. But it sometimes made me think I could do more than I should have been, leaving me needing days to recover from overdoing it. It was a valuable lesson in how the electric assist can sometimes make it harder to listen to your body.
We stayed close to home most of the time in the early days postpartum. I did use a car to get home from the hospital, and to take the baby to her first follow up appointment at 4 days old. Eventually, though, we were ready to start getting out a bit more and it was time to put the baby on a bike. We were lucky enough to be loaned not just one, but TWO Steco BabyMee devices for attaching a car seat to our box bikes. The BabyMee consists of a metal attachment plate that is bolted to the floor of the box and a frame with suspension that cradles the car seat. The frame attaches to the plate in just a few seconds and comes with a couple of bungee cords to attach the seat to the frame. I found the bungees weren’t as secure as I would like and were difficult to undo one handed, so we ended up replacing those with a cargo strap that goes through the seat belt path on the car seat. We are using a Maxi Cosi Mico 30 seat with it because I needed to get a new infant seat (our old one had expired) and I knew it would work with the BabyMee. I’m not sure of all the other seats that would work, but one of the friends who loaned us a BabyMee used a Chicco Keyfit 30, so that would also be an option if you wanted to do a similar setup.
We installed the BabyMees on the box bikes before the baby was born. On the Load we connected the attachment plate directly to the floor of the bike, and the main challenge was simulating weight in the seat in order to make sure we had it positioned in the box such that the car seat would not contact the sides of the box on bumps. For the Load the car seat takes up the entire box, so if we need to carry the other kids with it while also carrying the baby we have a trailer we can attach. The Packster was a different situation altogether. The OEM Packster 80 box is big enough to easily seat one child in the box in addition to a car seat attached using the BabyMee. But we needed to fit two. After some thought we decided the best way to accomplish this was to install the car seat in the center of the box, but raised up a bit to allow the legs of the older kids to fit underneath on either side. We did this by bolting 2x4s to the box to create the raised platform to which we then bolted the attachment frame for the BabyMee. We put in two sets of holes so that over the summer when we didn’t need the rain canopy much we could have the car seat further forward and give the big kids a bit more space, and once we needed the rain canopy more we could move the car seat back so it fits underneath. The biggest drawback is that when we take the BabyMee out of the bike there is still the raised platform there so that the box is not as easy to use for carrying other things. It’s also a bit tight for the older kids if they are both in there with the car seat, so we usually split them up for longer rides (>2-3 miles each way). But compared to buying another, wider box (and the custom rain canopy to go with it) it’s a cheap and effective solution.
When we were ready to start carrying Baby J by bike we started out with her riding in the Load, where the full suspension meant a ride that was basically as cushioned as a car ride. After a few weeks we started doing some short rides in the Packster as well. We keep our speed slower than we would with just the older kids on board and we budget extra time into our trips so we can stop if she needs anything. Really, transporting her by bike is about the same as any other method and in some ways easier. It was hard at first when she couldn’t go long without eating and now it’s pretty easy because she only eats every few hours and likes watching the world go by while she’s on the bike. Having her siblings right there with her has been wonderful because they entertain her, give her back her pacifier, and replace her blanket if she kicks it off. When she gets a bit older I’ve got a Melia infant seat we’ll likely switch her to so that there is more box space free for the big kids. I was also able to find a Babboe toddler seat to move her to once she’s outgrown the Melia, but it’s currently on loan to a friend with an actual toddler.
We’re 4 months in to this 3 kids thing and really it feels pretty much the same as getting 2 kids around by bike did. The baby will get bigger and we’ll face some new challenges (How will we manage 3 kids with a GSD? Will we need to? Does the Load need to get replaced with a different bike?) but for the moment things are in a groove. As with most things family biking related, we’ve found there is a learning curve while you get things figured out, and then the new thing is something you are used to and barely requires any extra thought. Hopefully I’ll manage to post some updates along the way as we test out different seats for the baby while she grows. I’m also hoping to get a post up soon about my strategy for combining breast pumping and bike commuting now that I’m back at work.
Thanks for Sarah Bunch for the maternity and newborn photos. Especially for letting us transport her by bike to the waterfront for the maternity shots when we discovered the road was closed to car traffic!