Autumn in New York City — The Upper West Side

This past Monday Brendan and I took the train from Wilmington, Delaware into New York City for a day trip. We try to visit NYC every year and we usually end up going in May to celebrate our anniversary. I was excited that we got to visit my favorite city in October this year. It’s always been a dream of mine to visit the city in Autumn and I was not disappointed by the golden foliage and festive decorations we found.

I have so many photos from our trip that I want to share. But for this post I want to focus on the photos I took on the Upper West Side. We wanted to visit different locations this trip and I had read that the Upper West Side knows how to do Halloween. So we wandered the streets and admired the creepy crawly festive houses all decked out for All Hallows’ Eve.

What’s your favorite time of year to visit NYC?

My Cozy Autumn Home

October is undoubtedly one of my very favorite months of the year. It’s when autumn really nestles in and the wind begins to whisper that it’s time to slow down and turn inward.

Something I love to do when autumn arrives is decorate my home to reflect the changing season. This year, I started to unpack my autumn and Halloween decorations at the start of September. I felt like the season passed me by last year, so I wanted to take the time to savor it this year.

Nothing warms my heart quite like plugging in my cozy lights in the evening, lighting a couple of candles, seeing velvet pumpkins lying around, as I curl up on the couch with a good book.

So here’s a look at some of the festive decor I’ve gathered over the years. I adore my little home and my family that I share it with.

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Living room — Fabric pumpkin, ceramic pumpkin, Edgar Allan Poe painting, Wuthering Heights painting, “Never More” tomb stone, and cozy orange lights on top of my bookshelf.
Living room — My bookshelf.
Living Room — Glass pumpkin candy jar I thrifted in Charleston, SC 2 years ago w/ cozy lights inside.
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Entryway — Vintage jack-o-lantern my dad bought for me at an auction.
Entryway — Vintage ghost my dad got for me at an auction.
Living Room — Happy Halloween banner that I bought at Target for $0.10 a few years ago.
Living Room — Wooden “Happy Halloween” tomb stone, ceramic light up jack-o-lantern, and crow all from Target
Living room — This little shelf hangs above my yellow reading chair in the living room. The little planter pot is from Anthropologie and has dried magnolia leaves in it, the ceramic witch boots and pumpkins are from Target. And the letter board was a Christmas gift.
Living room — This adorable witch used to have lotion inside, I believe it’s from Avon. My Maw got it for me when I was little and I’ve had it ever since. It’s currently sitting on my bookshelf. Ellis loves to play with it. 
Living Room — Velvet pumpkins as a center piece on the coffee table.
Living room — I always have some sort of Cavallini poster in this frame on top of the entertainment set. I switched it from Dandelions to these mushrooms to go along with my autumn theme.
Living room — A beautiful Halloween card I received from a friend last year, ghost tea light holder from Walmart, and my thrifted pumpkin jar again on top of the entertainment set. 
Living room — My very favorite yellow velvet reading chair I thrifted in Charleston, SC for $12! This chair is here year-round, but I made it more festive by adding the orange velvet pillow from World Market and the pumpkin blanket I got from Target the other week.
Living Room — This is Ichabod! He’s one of the few Halloween items I bought last year.
Dining area — These signs hang above my coffee cart. I swapped one of my normal signs for the witch one which was gifted to me.
Dining area — I wanted to make my coffee cart more festive, so I found this little organizer in the dollar spot at Target. In it I have a Black Cat brew sign, a ceramic pumpkin, a couple of pumpkin candles, my coffee mugs for guests, and a cute jack-o-lantern figurine from Michale’s.
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Dining area — I have a few autumn mugs hanging on this wooden mug tree. I bought this adorable vintage inspired Halloween mug at World Market back on my birthday.
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Dining area — Vintage inspired trick-or-treating black cat figurine from Michale’s.
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Dining area — Pumpkin drinking glass and witch’s broom stir sticks that I keep on my coffee cart. Both are from Target.
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Dining area — Vintage trick-or-treaters candy jar that my parents bought at an auction and gave to me for my birthday last year. I plan to fill it up all the way with acorns that I gather on walks outside.
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Kitchen — Some of my cute Halloween plates, bowls, and mason jars.
Kitchen — Just a couple of the Halloween dish towels I own.
Kitchen — My mom cross-stitched this adorable little Halloween hanging for my dorm room back in 2012.
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Kitchen — This agent hangs on my fridge. My mom and I have matching ones haha.
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Kitchen — Center piece for the island. Ceramic pumpkins and lantern from Target.
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Kitchen — My mom crocheted this adorable little hanging for me a few years ago. I have it hanging on my fridge right now.
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Guest Bathroom — Had to add a little touch of autumn magic in each room.
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Ellis’ Bedroom — I bought this little ceramic jack-o-lantern for Ellis to keep in his room.
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Sunroom — Boo garland hanging in the sunroom. I’m pretty sure my mom got this for me to put in my dorm room years ago. I used to go all out and decorate my dorm room too!
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Sunroom — Cute little owl my mom gave me for my birthday.
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Sunroom — My dad got me a bunch of random Halloween knick-knacks a couple years ago from an auction. I have them placed here and there on my book shelves and I like the little touch of spook it gives.
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Sunroom — I also have a a few velvet pumpkins placed here and there on my bookshelf.
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Sunroom — Another random knick-knack on my book shelf.
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Sunroom — And of course, more ceramic pumpkins from Target. I buy some every year and can never seem to have enough. I have a problem.
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Sunroom — Vintage Halloween toy my dad bought at an auction. This lives in the sunroom for the most part, but Ellis like to play with it and move it around.
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Sunroom — Crow Halloween pillow my brother gave to me for my birthday a few years ago. My birthday is in September, and as you can tell my family likes to get me Halloween things as gifts. I love it!
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Sunroom — Another random knick-knack that sits on the window ledge in the sunroom.
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Entryway — I haven’t really finished this little space in the entryway, but for now I have the ghost and jack-o-lantern, a little wooden crow, and these vintage inspired wall hangings my dad bought for me last year.
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Bedroom — A have a couple of these velvet pumpkins in our bedroom. I put the darker ones with the glittery stems in the bedroom because they compliment the jewel tones in our room.
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Bedroom — Adorable handmade “Boo” garland that my mom made for my dorm room years ago. I have this hanging on my bookshelf in our bedroom.

I have some other random decorations here and there that I either didn’t post photos of or I haven’t put up yet. As you can tell, I love getting decorations as birthday gifts and displaying them all throughout our apartment. I like a mix of cozy autumn decor that is warm and rich in color, and spooky vintage Halloween this and that’s.

What’s your style of decorating for this season? Do you stick to the more traditional fall decor of pumpkins and candles? Do you like to go all out with scary ghosts and witches? Or a combination of the two?

Autumnal Beauty

Today was the first day of the season that truly felt like autumn. The sky was gray and overcast and there was a damp feeling in the air. One of the first things I do in the mornings is take Ellis to open up the sunroom. We say good morning to the plants that live in there and give our kitty Cheetah some pets. With the temperatures in the low 60s today, we decided to open up all of the windows to start the day with some fresh energy. I love to open the windows to let the stale air out, it always puts me in great spirits and gives me motivation for my day.

I hav been ready for autumn for quite a while now. I felt the shift in seasons tugging at me back at the end of August. Instead of fighting the change and holding onto summer like I have done in the past, I gladly surrendered and welcomed autumn.

This time of year has always been one of my very favorites. It’s a time for us to slow down and ready ourselves for the cold months ahead, to savor the rich colors of nature, and enjoy the bright sunny days and the crisp evenings. I feel elated at the thought of the cozy holiday season ahead and doing some real soul searching and thinking about how I want to spend my time during the last three months of 2019.

Last year I felt such a disconnect from myself, nature, and the seasons changing. Since I gave birth to Ellis at the beginning of September in 2018, summer seemed to come to a screeching halt. I felt that time was standing still within the four walls of my apartment. I nearly spent the first two weeks postpartum huddled up inside getting to know my little Sunshine Babe. And then by the time I stepped back out into the world, fully expecting to pick right back up where I left off, fall kind of slapped me in the face and left me feeling stunned and confused.

It’s hard to describe last autumn. I still have many fond memories from the last three months of 2018, but it was probably the hardest months of my life. Raising a newborn, feeling like a completely different person than the one I was before giving birth, and dealing with a lot of heavy emotional trauma just had me beaten down and feeling like I was gasping for air.

I was a little anxious about the emotions that might be stirred up during this time of year, but I think I am in a much better place now. Instead of the hurt and confusion I thought would resurface, I’ve felt immense healing, peace, and clarity.

How does the shift in seasons make you feel? Do you feel excited and hopeful for what’s to come? Or do you dread the colder, darker days of the autumn months?

One of my intentions for the last three months of 2019 is to be more involved and invested in writing in this little space of mine. I’ve missed blogging and sharing little bits and pieces of my thoughts and feelings, and I really want to ease back into it.

The Day Before I Met You

It’s almost been a year since I gave birth to my Sunshine Babe. It feels like it was just a few short weeks ago when I realized that I was going into labor with him. I’ve shared Ellis’ birth story on my blog, but I wanted to do something a little different and write about the day before I had him. It might not be something that everyone cares to read, but I felt it was special to reminisce and document.

Sunday September 2, 2018

Sunday morning was like any other day. We got up and got ready to go to church at 11 a.m. I wore my leopard print dress with the sash around the waist because it felt nice and silky and looked good on my curvy pregnant body. I curled my hair and was feeling pretty good about the day ahead.

One of the very last photos of Sunshine Babe in my belly.

The night before I had a very vivid dream about giving birth to my Sunshine Babe. I had dreamed of giving birth twice earlier on in my pregnancy, but the dreams were always a bit fuzzy and hard to remember. Both times I had dreamed of giving birth before, I dreamed that labor kind of started abruptly and went very fast. Some of my family members were usually there, but Brendan was never around. One time I dreamed I gave birth to a boy, the other time a girl. In both dreams the labor was fast and painless. It was as if the labor was a blur. And in both dreams I asked to see the baby afterwards, but the baby was no where to be found, just my family surrounding me.

But this dream was different. In this dream labor happened fast just like in the earlier dreams, but this time I got to see my baby. I remember somebody telling me to look over to the side, and as I did my gaze met my baby’s. He had big, dark eyes and was looking right at me, into my soul. I woke up feeling a little more calm and ready to meet my baby, whenever he would decide to come.

Up until this point, I had been feeling a little anxious and nervous about my baby coming. I wasn’t scared of giving birth, I actually felt very prepared for that. But I was so nervous to become a parent. I was mentally preparing myself to make it to 42 weeks, in fact I wanted my baby to come later. But I had this little flicker of a feeling that he was coming early.

So we went to church that day, and I honestly can’t tell you anything about the worship service or the sermon. I remember that my brother and his girlfriend were there and they sat behind me and my husband Brendan. I remember my brother picked a piece of trash out of my hair at one point during the service.

After church we all went over to my grandma’s house for one more lunch with her before Sunshine Babe arrived. My grandma, brother, my brother’s girlfriend, Mom, my sister, Brendan, and I all ate pizza together for lunch. I don’t really remember what we talked about at the table and I don’t remember what the weather was like. I know I changed into black drawstring shorts and a loose gray t-shirt with daisies in the shape of a heart on it that Mom had bought me from Goodwill back in 2015. I used to wear it when I worked at my school’s campus farm.

My brother kept saying that I was going to have the baby the next day because it was Labor Day. I told him I really didn’t think that was likely since I wasn’t feeling any signs of labor and it was already Sunday afternoon. Everyone laughed at the thought anyway. As we were about to leave, I hugged everyone and then I told my grandma and my sister to feel my belly because it might be the very last time that they were able to. I had no idea how foreshadowing all of this would be.

Brendan and I went out to run a few errands after lunch. We went to Target and Walmart. I just had this nagging feeling that I needed to buy a few more towels and a mirror to have to be prepared for the birth. I went to Target because my sister had found a really cool Harry Potter Hogwarts t-shirt on sale at Target for about $3 and I wanted to see if I could find one before they were gone. Target was busy and I was getting annoyed with all of the women pushing shopping carts and blocking the sale racks. Luckily I was able to find one shirt left that was a Small. So I snagged that and I also bought the cutest little pair of baby moccasins that I had been wanting to buy for Sunshine Babe, and I got the heck out of there.

Next up was Walmart. I despise going to Walmart, and it was really the last place I wanted to go. But I needed some contact solution and I wanted to pick up those cheap towels and a hand mirror for the birth, so we got what we needed and got out.

On the way back home I started feeling a bit emotional and overwhelmed and I had no idea why. I remember when Brendan and I were almost home the song “Control” by Tenth Avenue North came on the radio and I started to tear up. I think I knew that I needed to release the pregnancy, labor, birth, and planning over to God. That moment really stands out to me.

I really don’t remember what we did once we got home. I think we just kind of hung around. I know I kept thinking I needed to go get groceries so we had food to eat and that we would have the fridge somewhat stocked for whenever I did go into labor.

We ended up getting McDonalds and Taco Bell for dinner. Lovely, I know. When we got home we decided to watch the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows while we ate our dinner on the couch. We had started watching the Harry Potter series back at the end of July in honor of Harry Potter’s birthday and we were still making our way through them. As I went to go bite into my crunch wrap supreme form Taco Bell I realized that they put meat in it even though I asked for beans instead. There was no picking it out or eating around it either. I was so annoyed and grumpy. Brendan asked me if I wanted to take it back, and I didn’t even want to fool with it.

So after we finished dinner and our movie, we decided that we would drive to Liberty University to walk around on campus. I was on instagram posting about my dream I had the night before for a long while, and Brendan was frustrated by that. But I just felt the need to get that post written. It was dark, and muggy outside while we walked. We ended up walking about 2 miles around campus. We even walked up all the stairs next to the Freedom Tower. I’m pretty sure we stopped to go to the bathrooms while we were there and I remember the curls in my hair had fallen flat from the humidity, and I was sweaty and felt fat and tired.

Since my dinner was a bust we were going to make it up by stopping by Wendy’s to get a $0.50 Frosty on the way home. Well, we went through the drive-thru at the Wendy’s nearest to us and they told us that they only had vanilla frosty’s and it would take about 30 minutes to make the chocolate ones. So we decided to drive to the next one, and to our dismay they said they were out. We made one more drive through to the one on nearest our place and they still didn’t have any. It was about 10pm at this point and I was so irritated and just wanted to go home and watch TV.

And this is where I pick up and start the birth story of my Sunshine Babe.

Looking back now, I see the subtle hints my body was sending to me to settle down, take it easy, and prepare to meet my baby. But I didn’t know because it was my first time and I had no idea what to expect really.

A Touch of Spring

Spring this year has been so refreshing and revitalizing for me. The flowers in bloom seem extra vibrant and lively, as if God knew I needed a bit more happiness after the emotionally hard winter.

I’ve enjoyed capturing little glimpses of the spring time beauty and wanted to share a few photos with you guys. I hope this season is treating you well.

Mother Blessing Ceremony

Last week I was invited to photograph a Mother Blessing ceremony. This was the first time I had attended a Mother Blessing and it was absolutely beautiful. I love the idea of women coming together to nurture and love on the expecting mama and her baby.

A Mother Blessing is a time to put the focus on nurturing the expecting mama rather than simply giving her gifts. The ceremony may include gathering around the mother to pray over her or offer her a blessing, giving her a foot soak or massage, or painting her belly with henna.

Here are a few photos I captured at the blessing last week. To respect the privacy of the women at the ceremony, I am only sharing photos that do not reveal their faces.

Have you attended a Mother Blessing Ceremony? If so, what were some of the elements that  helped make the event special? 

Downtown Lynchburg

This past Saturday Brendan and I went on our first date of 2019. Back when we were dating one of our favorite activities to do together was take photos.

Sadly, my camera has been collecting dust for the past year or so. But I’ve recently been inspired to pull it out of its case and get creative again.

Since the weather was so nice on Saturday, Brendan and I spent the day outside on a photo walk downtown. It was so nice and felt great to connect with each other and use our creativity and talents again.

Here’s a little glimpse of the photos I took!

Postpartum Healing

I’ve wanted to take the time to sit down and write an entire blog post devoted to postpartum healing and recovery since I gave birth back in September. My body continues to amaze me every day with all that it has been through over the last 15 months and all it continues to do to help feed and nurture my son all while healing itself.

Birth is such a magical experience, but it does take a toll on our bodies. Not only do we need to recover physically, we also need to make sure we are mentally and emotionally recovering. I wanted to share a few of the steps I took to let my body heal itself naturally during the first few weeks postpartum.

Thanks to some wonderful advice from my amazing midwife and doula, I think my body healed very nicely.  I do want to point out that I am not a medical professional and it’s important for you to talk with your doctor or midwife to find what your body needs. What works for me might not work for, or even be healthy, for you!

Healing Physically

While my birth was an all-natural, non-medicated home birth, I did end up having a few set-backs that were not in my birth plan. I ended up having to be catheterized and I had an episiotomy that required suturing (I talk more about that in Ellis’ birth story). Due to these things my body was more prone to infection after birth, so my midwife suggested a lot of natural supplements I could take to make sure my body stayed healthy and healed properly.

As soon as my baby was born and in my arms, my midwife wanted me to eat something. I wasn’t hungry, but did as she said and ate a little something right away. Next thing I knew my husband and my birth team were taking turns getting me to sip various different drinks and take tinctures.

The first thing I was offered to drink was a homemade labor aid I had made ahead of time mixed with liquid chlorophyll. I was also given blue cohosh tea and cotton root bark right after Ellis was born. One was in the form of tea, the other a tincture.

Here’s a quick look at everything I’ve been taking to help my body heal naturally:

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  • Liquid Chlorophyll — My midwife recommended I have a 16oz bottle of liquid chlorophyll on hand for after the birth. Liquid Chlorophyll is known to build red blood cells and can help speed the healing of wounds. I lost a lot of blood during labor (half a quart is normal for a vaginal birth, I lost at least twice that much) and my midwife said I handled it very well. She recommended that I drink the whole bottle by the end of the week. Brendan mixed it into orange juice for me, and I drank that three times a day.

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  • Arnica — To help with the pain of cramps and bruising, I took 3 small tablets of Arnica every 4 hours. I had a bit of internal bruising and had some slight cramping of the uterus while nursing, so the Arnica was a homeopathic medicine to relieve that.
  • Motherwort Tincture — A Motherwort tincture by the brand Wish Garden was included in our home birth kit. I took this tincture to help with the cramping of my uterus, and it also helped with mood swings due to hormone imbalance. I took half a dropper full of this tincture a couple of times a day. I simply held the tincture under my tongue for 30 seconds and then swallowed. After I finished this tincture I started taking a Baby Blues tincture by Wish Garden, which has Motherwort and St. John’s Wort.
  • Vitamin C — There’s a lot that goes on in the body right after birth, that’s for sure. To make sure my immune system stayed strong and healthy, my midwife recommended I take 3,000mg of vitamin C a day. This was especially supposed to help keep my immune system functioning properly so I didn’t catch any illnesses.
  • Garlic — Garlic has natural antiviral properties and helps to strengthen the immune system to keep illness at bay. My midwife told me that I could eat foods cooked with garlic cloves, but I knew that I wouldn’t be in the kitchen with a newborn, so I opted for the garlic in supplement form and took that 3 times a day.
  • Goldenseal Root — Goldenseal Root is used for internal bleeding, bleeding after childbirth, and vaginal pain and swelling. My midwife had me take this 2 times a day.
  • Echinacea — My midwife told me to take an Echinacea supplement 3x a day for 5 days. This was to help strengthen my immune system so that I didn’t get sick.
  • Phytolacca Decandra — My milk came in 3 days after I had Ellis. My breasts were so swollen and engorged during those first few days and it was very uncomfortable. I have a lymph node on my underarm that is very sensitive to hormone imbalance and will become swollen when things aren’t right in my body. When my milk came in my lymph node became swollen right along with my breasts. My midwife recommended that I use a warm compress on it and also for me to take Phytolacca Decandra to help with the swelling and draining of the lymph node. Thankfully my local health food store had it on hand!

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  • Herbal Sitz Bath — An afterbirth herbal sitz bath from the brand Lucy’s Garden was included in our home birth kit. My midwife recommended that I get a sitz bath that I could put on the toilet and use. I took a sitz bath 2x a day for 15 minutes.

Aside from the above, I did lots of resting, iced my perineum using frozen maxi pads that had aloe vera and witch hazel or raw coconut oil on them, and I used a natural cooling perineum spray by Earth Mama Organics.

The only non-natural things I used for my healing were an over-counter numbing agent my midwife used when she did my sutures, and then I think I took 2 ibuprofen within the first couple days of giving birth for the swelling. And that’s it. No epidural, no IVs, no numbing perineum spray, etc.

Brendan took such good care of me in the first two weeks after having Ellis. He cooked for me, did laundry, changed so many diapers, brewed my herbal sitz baths every day, made sure I was keeping up with all of my supplements, fixed my chlorophyll orange juice, and made sure I was eating and drinking enough water.

I think we mamas underestimate how important it is to simply rest and let our bodies heal after giving birth. I followed my midwife’s advice and stayed inside and didn’t drive for 2 weeks. If you are able to stay home and have someone care for you during the first 2 weeks (or the first month) after giving birth please do so! In doing so you’ll be able to give your baby the attention they need while also giving your body time to recover. Take this time to focus on healing and getting to know and bond with your baby.

 

 

 

Ellis’ Birth Story — Welcome Ellis Everett Smith

At around 11:36 p.m. on Sunday September 2, 2018 I realized that my life was about to change forever. I was feeling tired after a long 2 mile walk on Liberty University’s campus with Brendan. It was a different kind of tired — a tired that sank deep in my bones. We came back home after that and got ready to settle in for a cozy night on the couch together.

Once we were back home Brendan settled in on the couch and got the next episode of “Jack Ryan” ready on Amazon Prime. I started watching with him but I just wasn’t feeling right. I got up and went to the bathroom after awhile and was a little surprised when I sat down on the toilet and saw blood. I was pretty sure that this was the start of labor since I had never had any bleeding throughout my entire pregnancy. I took my time in the bathroom before I went back out to the living room because I needed a minute to process what was about to happen. I looked at myself in the mirror, saw my swollen belly, and knew that I was about to meet my son. 

I told Brendan that I was spot bleeding and I thought that I might be in the very beginning stages of pre-labor. At this point there was no need to rush around or call our midwife, so Brendan finished watching his show while I pulled out my Hypnobirthing book and handouts my midwife had given me about the onset of labor. In that moment, I felt my mind had gone blank and I was second guessing myself on everything I had learned.

At around midnight my nesting instinct kicked in hard! I could no longer sit still and think about the fact that I was going into labor — doing that made me anxious. So I started busying around the apartment, tidying up and getting all of our birth supplies ready to go. Thankfully we had just been to Walmart earlier that day to buy more towels. 

As I was bustling around the apartment and folding a load of laundry my waters started to release. I kept waiting for that big gush that everyone talks about, but it was just a slow trickle. It was 12:45 a.m. now and I knew that what I needed to do was go lie down and get some rest. But I just couldn’t settle down until I knew everything was taken care of and in place. 

Brendan and I both went and took showers around 1a.m., and I even took the time to shave my legs and remove my chipped nail polish. Then around 1:20 a.m. we finally settled down and got in the bed to get some sleep. We didn’t call our midwife before going to bed even though my waters had released because I wasn’t having surges yet. Our midwife had told us that if my waters released in the middle of the night that we should go back to bed and get some rest and call in the morning. So we put on the Hypnobirthing rainbow relaxation script from our class and went to sleep. 

About two hours later, at 3:28 a.m., I woke straight up to my first surge. It was intense and I had to wake Brendan up so he could help me sit up and get out of the bed and into a comfortable position. Once the surge had passed I went to the bathroom, collected myself and then went back to bed and dozed off. But it wasn’t long before I woke up again to another intense surge around 3:50 a.m..  

And from then on things start to get a little blurry for me. I’ve asked Brendan to help me with my timeline and sequence of events because I just can’t piece everything together now. 

By 4 a.m. my surges started to come in waves and I was doing my best to ride out those waves. I stayed in the bed for awhile on my knees leaning over some pillows because that’s what felt best to me at the moment. Eventually, Brendan and I went out into the living room where I continued to breathe through each surge. Brendan had downloaded an app to his phone where he could keep track of and time each of my surges. They were very sporadic at this point and there was no set pattern to them. 

I was still concerned that we hadn’t been out to get groceries and we didn’t have snacks and drinks for our birth team. So Brendan offered to run to the grocery store to pick up some food. We live in walking distance of the grocery store and it takes about 2 minutes to get there. Looking back now it seems crazy that I sent Brendan out when labor was starting to pick up and become more active. It was about 5:15 a.m. when Brendan went out and he didn’t get back until around 5:45 a.m.

When Brendan left to go to the grocery store, I retreated to the bedroom where I continued to ride out my surges and use my phone to track them. The calm atmosphere of our bedroom brought me comfort and peace. I wanted to create a very calm birthing atmosphere, so the only light on in the room was the soft glow from my pink Himalayan salt lamp and my diffuser. I had my birth affirmation cards set up on my nightstand and my book shelf where I could read them and I also had a couple of visual birth affirmations from Hypnobirthing class hung next to my bed.

Originally, I had imagined I would labor out in the living room area of our apartment because there was so much open space, but the bedroom felt so much more safe and intimate. Which is exactly how I wanted my birthing sanctuary to be. 

I remember feeling glad that I had a few minutes to labor alone in the bedroom while Brendan was gone, but at the same time I was a little scared to be all by myself. My cat Cheetah came into the bedroom at one point, resting on the foot of the bed while watching over me as if to make sure I was alright. 

There was one point during an intense surge that I remember feeling a bit anxious and wondered how long my labor would last and if I could make it through. Then a birth affirmation that I had read popped into my mind that said “Women all over the world are doing this with me”, and I thought to myself ‘if other women are doing this with me, and if my mom did this 5 times, then so can I’. And that gave me courage. 

Another thought popped into my mind, this time it was something I had heard on a TV show. There are a lot of things in life that seem impossible to accomplish — but if we focus on doing that impossible task in 10 second increments it suddenly becomes doable. So I told myself that if other women were doing this with me, and if I just focused on getting through each surge just 10 seconds at a time, then I most certainly could get through this labor and birth. 

When Brendan got home from the grocery store my surges were more intense and frequent. Brendan was in the kitchen putting the groceries away when I started feeling nauseous. One intense surge later and I was on my hands and knees in the bathroom getting sick. I had read that vomiting during labor can be a good thing because it’s the body’s way of ridding itself of toxins. I had also read that vomiting can be a sign that you are entering transition, which means baby is coming soon. 

Brendan was right there by my side helping me up and cleaning up after me. After that we decided that it was time to call our midwife and text our doula. 

Our midwife suggested that I try eating something to help with the nausea and to make sure I was drinking plenty of fluids. Brendan updated her on how far along my surges were and she advised that we keep doing what we were doing and report back to her in about 20-30 minutes. 

After I got cleaned up I moved out into the living room and headed for the couch where I continued to ride the waves of my surges. Brendan fixed me a labor aid slushy and spoon fed it to me in between surges. I remember not wanting to eat it, but knowing that it was good for me and would keep me moving forward. It was actually quite cold and refreshing and just what I needed. Brendan also brought me some saltine crackers to nibble on. 

The next thing I remember is being back in the bed, lying on my left side with pillows in between my legs to keep my pelvis open. I had my eyes closed, listening to the rainbow relaxation while I was riding the waves. I vaguely remember hearing Brendan bustling around in the kitchen getting the birthing tub ready. Then our doula came in and I heard her getting her stuff set up out in the kitchen area near the tub. 

At this point I was in my zone and I didn’t feel like seeing anyone or talking to them. So I kept my eyes closed and continued to put all of my focus and energy on the rainbow relaxation. I eventually opened my eyes and greeted my doula. 

It was around 7:45a.m. when my doula arrived. Our midwife lives an hour away, so she didn’t arrive until about 8:40 a.m. A little later our midwife’s assistant and another a girl that was shadowing our doula arrived at our apartment.

From the time my birth team arrived things just seemed to move so quickly.  

The memories that I have from the time I was in active labor come back to me in vivid fragments. I recall lying out on the bed and having my doula on one side of me and Brendan on the other side massaging my legs with essential oils (I think it was Clary Sage). The oils smelled lovely and were very calming. Next, I remember my doula helping me up off the bed and having me change positions. She moved me to stand over the edge of the bed and had me lean on a peanut ball. I had no concept of time and really had no idea how far along I was at that point. 

I’m not quite sure when it was, but I remember I was back in the bed lying on my side and my midwife came over and asked if she could check my blood pressure and my temperature —that was the first time I had opened my eyes to see and greet her. I remember her voice being very calm and gentle and it made me feel safe. 

I don’t remember hearing the midwife’s assistant or the shadowing doula come in at all, one moment I opened my eyes and there they were. My birth team was amazing! Everyone respected the calm atmosphere we wanted to have and talked in hushed voices. The lights were low and there was no frantic shouting. Everyone just got right to work! There was always somebody by my side to give me a sip of water or labor aid, to place a cool or warm wash cloth on my head, and to offer me words of love and encouragement. 

I honestly would have been lost without Brendan and my doula by my side. When my surges got really intense, Brendan was right there to hold my hand and whisper words of encouragement into my ear. When I would tense up and forget to do my surge breathing, Brendan and my doula would remind me to relax my forehead. And one thing that really helped me through the most rigorous part of my labor was my doula telling me to go to my favorite spot in nature (part of our Hypnobirthing exercises we learned in class) —every time she said that to me I immediately went to that spot and felt safe. 

Since my midwife respected my wishes and didn’t check me to see how dilated I was, I didn’t know just how far along I was. But it was somewhere between 9:30-10 a.m. that active labor started. My surges felt intense from the start, but things really started to pick up around then. 

At about 10 a.m. my midwife told me that my bladder was very full and it was keeping labor from progressing more quickly. She told me that I needed to try going to the bathroom to urinate or else she would have to catheterize me. I understood, so with the help of Brendan and my doula I waddled to the bathroom. They had me sit backwards on the toilet, used peppermint essential oils, and tried to help me to relax so I could pee. My doula was so sweet and encouraging and I tried so hard, but there was so much pressure from the baby’s head and I just couldn’t go. 

As I was walking back to the bed I had the most powerful surge and could actually feel the baby moving down! I also felt the intense pressure of his head and in that moment I realized I was further along than I thought. I was expecting hours of labor ahead of me, but I was wrong! 

As I got back in the bed my doula told me to let my body do the pushing and for me to just focus on my breathing. Up until this point, I had been doing the surge breathing we learned in Hypnobirthing, but my doula told me I could start the “J breath”, or “birth breathing”. I hadn’t felt any pain during labor, just a lot of pressure. During my next surge I did the J breath and I was amazed at the immense relief I felt! I had held off on the pushing and just focused on breathing the baby down through the birth canal and letting my body’s Natural Expulsive Reflex (NER) take over. 

I was a bit upset that I had to be catheterized, but I tried not to let that get in the way of the work I had ahead of me. While it was uncomfortable, the catheter wasn’t really painful like I thought it would be. As I mentioned earlier, I really didn’t know how far along I was, so I was shocked when I heard someone comment on seeing the baby’s head and his head full of hair. The baby was crowning and I couldn’t believe I was that far along! But I tried not to dwell on that thought because I knew very well that I could still have quite a ways to go. 

During all of this, my midwife had been checking the baby’s heart rate on and off with the doppler. As labor intensified, the baby’s heart rate was dropping and my midwife decided that he needed to make his appearance sooner than later. I was still tight and had some softening to do, but we would have been playing a dangerous game waiting around while baby’s heart rate was bouncing up and down. 

And then I heard my midwife say what I didn’t want to hear, “Episiotomy”. For a brief moment I felt a bit defeated. I so badly wanted to give my body time to open and soften naturally, to get in the tub and let the warm water swirl around my body until it was time to blossom. I wanted to be up, not lying down while I gave birth. I knew that everyone on my birth team had faith in me and knew that my body could do that. But, I heard the urgency in my midwife’s voice, and I knew what needed to be done. So I let all thoughts of failure leave me, collected myself, and re-focused on my body and my baby. 

My sweet midwife could not have been more amazing. She looked me in the eyes, told me what needed to be done, and asked for my permission to perform the episiotomy. In that vulnerable moment, I felt so loved and respected. And I trusted her judgement and knew that she wouldn’t do an episiotomy unless it was absolutely necessary. 

So I held Brendan’s hand and took a deep breath while she cut me. That was the only moment I recall feeling pain during labor. But the pain was no where near what I imagined it would be like. Everyone in the room told me what a beautiful job I was doing and how well I was handling everything. 

Looking back, it seemed like a lot of time passed between the episiotomy and meeting my baby. I felt as if I was just floating along, not having any expectations on how long I may have to go. 

I’ll never forget the moment my midwife looked me in the eyes and said, “We need to get this baby out. Now.”. I heard the seriousness in her voice, and I knew what needed to be done. But in that moment I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t think I was far enough along to breathe my baby down and out the rest of the way just yet. 

That was the only time I felt scared. I lost focus and let the doubt and negativity seep in. I’ve heard that when you get to the point where you think you can’t do it, when you think you can’t go on any longer, that’s when you are about to meet your baby. 

Thank goodness for Brendan and my birth team! They all encouraged me and told me I could do it. Hearing the confidence in my midwife’s voice was just what I needed to push through. 

My doula fed me two honey sticks for a quick burst of natural energy. Brendan was on my left side, and my doula was on my right side helping to prop me up and hold my legs up. Having them so close to me made me feel loved, protected, and safe. 

On the next surge, my midwife told me to push. And I breathed and pushed with every ounce of energy I had. And I felt the power of my baby boy bursting into this world. That feeling will be etched into my body, mind, and heart forever. 

My midwife brought him up to my belly and I remember feeling how warm and slippery he felt. So foreign, yet familiar at the same time. I heard Brendan’s voice saying “He’s here! He’s here! You did it!”. I started to tear up and cry a little bit. They weren’t tears of love at that point, they were tears of disbelief and relief. I couldn’t believe that it was over, that I did it, that my son was here! 

He came so quickly, so intensely! And I did it. I gave birth, at home, with absolutely no medication. I felt so empowered.  

It took me a few minutes to collect myself and look into my son’s eyes. Early Sunday morning, the day before I gave birth, I had dreamt that I gave birth and looked over at my son and saw these big, dark eyes staring at me. And when my son looked at me for the first time, it was with those same big eyes I had seen in my dream. 

He was born at 11:10 a.m. on September 3, 2018. Labor Day, the perfect day for a beautiful labor and birth. Once he was here with us, there was no question as to what his name would be. Ellis Everett Smith. Ellis was the only name I had ever really liked for a boy, and Brendan liked it too. Even though we wanted to see him first before sticking with the name, deep down I knew, he had always been Ellis.

I delivered my placenta a little less than half an hour after Ellis was born, and he stayed attached to the cord for about an hour and a half. 

Seeing Brendan cut the umbilical cord and hold Ellis for the first time was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I cried as I watched him cradling our tiny son in his big, strong arms. Everyone stopped for a moment, and a hush came over the room. I felt so much love. 

Our birth team was so amazing, I just can’t say it enough. My doula and her friend got right to work after the birth and fixed us lunch, did laundry, and took the trash out for us. By the time they left later that afternoon our apartment was much cleaner than it had been before. 

I find myself at a loss for words to describe just how incredible Brendan was during the entire labor and birth. He held me, massaged me, spoke words of love and encouragement over me, and watched the whole time. He was my rock, and I’m so blessed to call him my birth partner, my husband, and the father of my son. 

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Our doula snapped this photo just minutes after Ellis was born, and it’s my favorite photo from the birth. Brendan was saying “He’s here! You did it!”.

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Almost 6 months later I’m finally finishing writing Ellis’ birth story. As I wrote, I tried to let the words flow from my heart. I tried not to compare my birth story with others I had read. At one point I worried it was too long, but these are the words and the depth at which I felt led to share. The day Ellis was born still plays over and over again in my mind, and I’m so overjoyed, so empowered, and so filled with love every time I think back on it. That day wasn’t just the day my son was born, it was the day the mother within me was born. 

End of Year Reflection 2018

And Just like that another year has come and gone. It seems like just the other day I was writing 2017’s reflection post on my previous blog, Novel Ideas. I’m pretty sure 2018 has been the biggest year of my life, full of so much growth and transformation.

I haven’t blogged since Ellis was born, so I wanted to write a reflection post as a way to catch everyone up on my life. I’m hoping now that Ellis is a bit older I’ll have more time to blog in the new year. I’m so thankful for this space and being able to share my thoughts, feelings, and my experiences throughout motherhood.  

Here are some questions of reflection from 2018:

  1. What is something I accomplished this year that I am proud of? That’s a hard one. The only thing that really comes to mind is that I had the unmedicated home birth that I wanted, despite the doubts of others. I’m pretty freaking proud of all my body is capable of! Birth is amazing.
  2. What is something that happened this year that I think I will remember for the rest of my life? Giving birth to my first son at home on Labor Day! I had the most beautiful home birth with the most amazing birth team. I’ve been writing Ellis’ birth story and hope to have it posted soon. I never get tired of talking about his birth and I love sitting down and reliving that day with anyone that is willing to listen! If you haven’t heard the full story let’s grab a cup of coffee some time and I’ll tell you all about it.
  3. What was the most challenging part of this year for me? By far, parenthood has been the most challenging part of this year. My pregnancy and labor were fairly easy and I loved it, but I was anxious about becoming a parent and it really is hard. I’ve sacrificed sleep, warm meals, one-on-one time with my husband, and on some days my happiness. I know that sounds awful, but I’m trying to be really honest here. Becoming a mother is one of the best things that has happened to me and it’s been such a beautiful journey. But, I’ve been struggling with Postpartum Anxiety and there have been some dark days where everything is messy and I feel so lonely. Thankfully, I’m doing a lot better now and I’m in a much better place than I was a couple months ago.
  4. If I could change one thing that happened this year what would it be? I’m not going to go into detail about it on here, but even though I wish I could change what happened I know that God let it happen for a reason. I had some dark days where I felt numb and broken but I’ve come out on the other side and can see that I’m stronger now. 2018 was an amazing year, but I’m not going to lie you guys, I had some awful days, probably the hardest days I’ve ever had to face. There really wasn’t anyone I felt like I could truly open up to. I’m hoping that I’ll find that person that I can talk to soon.
  5. What are the three most important things I learned this year? 1). It takes a lot of work to keep a marriage happy and healthy, but it’s always worth the fight, 2). You’re stronger than you think you are, 3). Nothing changes if nothing changes.
  6. What was the nicest thing someone did for me this year? There are so many times people have reached out to show me kindness this year!! After I had Ellis people stepped in and helped me out when I couldn’t help myself. Brendan was so amazing at taking care of me after Ellis was born. He did laundry, cooked me food, made sure I was taking my herbal supplements for postpartum healing, fixed me a sitz bath, and loved and encouraged me. I would have been lost without him. My mom was my hero and came over about once a week to help out with Ellis so that I could shower, get chores done around the apartment, and go shopping with some extra help. And then there was one Monday in particular I remember where Brendan had gone out of town for work and I had been up all night with Ellis and was exhausted. My doula (who had moved across the country at that point) knew that I was having a rough day and sent her doula friend to my apartment with coffee and breakfast from Starbucks! Dani held Ellis and played with him while I ate my breakfast. It was awesome and really lifted my spirits.
  7. What was something that was hard for me at the start of the year that is easy now? Breastfeeding! Obviously, I didn’t start until I gave birth to Ellis in September, so I didn’t struggle the whole year. I had absolutely no problems with my milk coming in or my supply, but it took Ellis and I awhile to get a good latch. And then once he did latch it hurt and I was raw and sore. Giving up wasn’t an option for me, and I knew I’d push through, but there were some days that I didn’t look forward to feeding Ellis because of the pain. I felt like I was missing out on the bonding aspect of breastfeeding because I was so sore. Honestly, it was more painful for me than labor was. I know some women don’t experience any discomfort and that’s so awesome! I had read different women say that it takes about 3 months for breastfeeding to get better, and that was so true for Ellis and me. Now I absolutely love it! Don’t give up, Mamas.
  8. Of the books I read this year, which was my favorite and why? While I definitely didn’t meet my reading goal for the year, I did read some amazing books. Most of the books I read were about natural birth and my very favorite book was Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method by Marie F. Mongan. Brendan and I took Hypnobirthing classes during the summer that were taught by my doula and it was such a positive and empowering experience. I ended up having a beautiful home Hypnobirth and I’m so grateful for this method. If you’re at all interested in a natural birth, I highly recommend this book (and classes).
  9. Which person has made the biggest impact on my life this year? Why? My son. Ellis has been changing and molding me into a new woman ever since I found out I was pregnant with him. But he truly impacted my life on the day he was born. That day I became a mother and all of my priorities shifted. Caring for Ellis has been the best and hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. He’s taught me a lot about selfless love and he’s helped me grow closer to God.
  10. What could I have done to make this year better? Spent more time with my friends.
  11. What three words best describe this year? Change, Birth, and Strength.
  12. Knowing what I know now, if I would travel back in time to the start of 2018, what advice would I give myself? Stay in God’s Word, no matter what.
  13. What are my most important goals for 2019? I would have to say spending more time with my husband, serving him more, loving him better, and working on our marriage.
  14. How am I planning on achieving them? Spending more one-on-one time together, serving him and helping him have time to himself, reading a few books on marriage, etc.
  15. What should I do differently next year? Be more open to letting people into my life.  

I’m excited to see what 2019 has in store for me!