Monday, January 24, 2011

That's the the night that the lights went out in Georgia...

Saturday night and all is well.  I had settled into that super deep, relaxed sleep - the kind that usually eludes mothers with small children - snuggled into our jersey knit beech sheets and warm despite the single-digit temperatures looming outside our house.  It was heavenly, really.  That is, until I heard a number of beeps, a vibrating sound from my phone, and finally a powering down sound.  All systems abort.  It took me a second to realize what was happening, but my husband was already out of bed and looking out of our front windows to confirm our fears.  Our neighborhood had lost power.

Wielding a flashlight, he informed me of what I already knew: as long as the power was off we wouldn't have heat.  The baby's room is usually a good 20 degrees cooler than the rest of the house (even with the thermostat set at an expensive 75 degrees) so we have this an elaborate system of space heaters set up around the house to shoot warm air into his room.  That is, when we have power.  I had him layered in fleece jammies and a onesie with flannel sheets on his bed so I figured he would be okay for the time being.  Until the house lost heat.

15 minutes later, the power still wasn't on and I was officially starting to panic.  We had never been without electricity for that long.  (I know.  It's a charmed life.)  My husband suggested I try to get some sleep, I assured him that it wasn't going to happen.  Not without a working baby monitor.  Not with all of the worried thoughts in my head about when our power would be restored.  I sat, awake, in my bed.  Playing with my phone, tweeting and Facebook-ing that our power was out.  Wishing we had a second Pack-n-Play to set up in our room for nights like this.  But, who even thinks to prepare for nights like this?

Suddenly, my husband sat up with a shot and said he was going to get the cooler and start salvaging as much as he could from the freezer.  His thoughts - it was freezing outside, so it's probably better than our refrigerator which was slowly thawing by the minute.  It was a good thought, considering our current freezer situation.  It contains:
  • Frozen garlic Texas toast
  • Frozen chicken fingers and quesadillas
  • Some chicken breasts and pork chops
  • A full month's worth of fresh baby food I had made maybe 8 hours before we lost power
  • 6-8 fully filled Ziploc freezer bags (the gallon size) filled with weeks and weeks worth of breast milk

It was at this moment, I envied formula-feeding moms.  Because everything in that refrigerator could be replaced.  Yes, it would cost whole a lot of money.  And as for the fresh-made baby food, it would cost a whole lot of time.  But, I can't replace that much breast milk.  It is physically impossible.  And it is that frozen breast milk that allows me to work outside of my home.  It allows me to be away from my baby for more than 3 hours.  And, in a matter of hours - it was going to be rendered completely useless.

I've often made fun of this part of my favorite breast feeding guide (So That's What They're For!) in which she describes a group of breast feeding mothers who sought out counseling and started a support group for women who had lost their frozen breast milk supplies in power outages.  But, suddenly, at that moment - I totally understood it.  Because if I lost all of the supply in the freezer - it was all over.  The 6 weeks of struggling to learn how to do it?  The week of terror before I went back to work where I was completely unsure if I was able to learn how to feed my baby from so far away?  The blessed 6 months of keeping him alive with something only I can make?  It was turning into soup in my freezer.

So I Google'd like I'd never Google'd before (God bless smart phones!)  Here's what I learned:
  • Breast milk is still considered frozen if it is still has a slushy, ice-crystally consistency.
  • Generally it takes a freezer 4 hours to thaw without power, but that is specific to manufacturer and they are totally used to questions about that stuff - so feel free to call them and ask.
  • If you are without power, the best thing to do is to keep the doors closed to keep the cold in.  The freezer will thaw much more slowly if the doors remain unopened.
  • If you're smart enough to think ahead and if you have room (neither of these apply to my situation, by the way) - fill your freezer with a couple of gallon jugs filled with water.  They will help keep the whole unit cooler in the event of a power outage.
  • Keep an emergency supply of breast milk somewhere other than your house - a family member's home, a close friend, with your child care provider.  Frequently replace it so they always have a fresh, non-expired supply.
  • If it's cold outside (like it was that night), listen to your husband and throw a day's worth of milk outside in a plastic bag.  (Though, this would involve you opening up the freezer, so it's kind of conflicting advice.)
  • In the event you lose everything, start from scratch.  Use the freshest of your newly thawed breast milk to feed your baby from a bottle for the next day and begin to pump a new supply.  Store it elsewhere or in coolers if power still hasn't been restored.  Any milk that you haven't used and that has thawed needs to be discarded after 24 hours.  I'm sorry :(

Fortunately, I didn't have to do any of this stuff (well, except for keeping my freezer door closed - I did that.)  About an hour and fifteen minutes later, whilst texting my mom to ask her if she had room for 2.5 guests (and a personality disordered cat), I saw our alarm clock start to rhythmically flash 12:00 am, I heard the heaters roaring to life, and as well as the snores of a blissfully sleeping baby emanate softly from the monitor.  I said about a million, "Thank you, God"s and settled back in to my bed - which was pretty much as warm as it was when the heat first went off.

I realize I live a life of first world problems where I freak out if the Bluetooth system in my car isn't working correctly, but that hour and fifteen minutes really made me realize how much I rely on technology and electricity and appliances to help me raise this child.  I don't know how people did it without electric breast pumps, Google, smart phones, refrigeration...

It seems almost impossible to me now.  I felt pretty hopeless for even that hour and twenty minutes.
Suffice it to say, I'm a far cry from the family who used to share a bed, the bed was made of straw, and the heat either came from a fire which someone had to tend to throughout the night or from the collective warmth of a family huddled together.  Shoot, I talk about it like it's a thing of the past, but I know there are cultures out there where this would be a totally normal occurrence even now.

I'm impressed at Ameren Missouri for restoring the power so quickly.  Winter has been hard so far this year  in St. Louis (as compared to other years).  I have to say I've been pretty impressed with the hard-working people who keep us warm and safe during these winter months.  So...thank you.


  1. We lost our power a couple of weeks ago too...a 4 county radius. We had a babysitter and were at a restaurant (where it also went pitch black). By the time we got home the house was getting cold and both boys were sleeping. I hated to wake them so we turned on the fire, put extra blankets on them and hoped for the best. Luckily, the power came back on a couple of hours later but I was definitely worried about how cold they'd get in those few hours.

  2. I followed you over from Rants from Mommyland. I've decided to read your posts from the beginning, and I like your style.

    Anyway, the power was out in our entire city the night we brought our daughter home from the hospital. It was an interesting experience to say the least. We set up camp on the nursery floor and took turns holding her. I turned on the battery-powered mobile so we could have light. It was the first thing I thought of after I walked into the nursery.

    Luckily, the power came back on before 3 am, and we were able to put our daughter in her crib and retreat back to our room for the remainder of the night.

    I didn't have to deal with frozen breast milk defrosting, but I know what it's like to be in a house without electricity.

  3. @Superstitions - Oh my gosh, I cannot even imagine. Good for you for thinking on your feet with the battery powered light-up mobile. I think if it were me on the first night bringing the baby home, I would have turned around and went back to the hospital, like "We're checking back in. K? Thanks."


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