Every year around the beginning of September, right before my birthday, I like to take some time to reflect on the past year and look at what I’ve gone through and how I’ve grown. Last year when I wrote this type of reflection post, I said that 26 had been the hardest year of my life. Well, little did I know that 27 was going to bring me to my breaking point and force me to go through a lot in order to grow a lot.
As I sit here taking in the past year of my life, I am reminded of my birthday celebration last year and what a beautiful day it ended up being. I always wanted to share about my 27th birthday on my blog last year, but it just never happened. So, I thought I would share a little bit about that today and some photos from my birthday last year.
Last year for my birthday all I wanted to do was get dressed up and go out to lunch like things were normal. My mom, grandma, and Brendan had planned on coming out to lunch with me at one of my favorite local restaurants downtown and then afterwards I was going to have some family over for dessert and coffee that afternoon.
I picked a cute outfit, curled my hair and took a little extra time to do my makeup. Brendan was going to come home on his lunch break, pick Ellis and I up, and then we were going to meet my mom and grandma at the restaurant downtown. Well, as we were about to head out the door, my mom let me know that the restaurant was closed that day. I was so upset. I don’t do well with plans changing last minute, and while I know this was kind of out of our control, I started to lose it and I ended up having an anxiety attack.
My mom suggested that we pick a different place to eat, or that we pick up something and bring it back to the house, but I was too upset and didn’t care at that point. Brendan ended up driving us around for awhile while we decided what to do next. And I quickly started to spiral. On top of being disappointed that things weren’t working out the way I wanted them to, I then started feeling so bad that Brendan took time to leave work to spend his lunch break with me, and here I was crying and not knowing where to go to eat.
I ended up telling him to just pick a place for Ellis and him to get some food and not to worry about me. At that point I was feeling like I was so upset that I didn’t want any family to come over to my house after lunch time. I didn’t want to have to try and act happy and hide how stressed out and disappointed I was. My mom insisted that it would be okay and that everyone would still come over and it would all be fine.
I fought it for awhile, but I also didn’t want to disappoint anyone else by changing plans last minute. So, we ended up picking up some lunch for me and bringing it back home and I ate a bit while I finished tidying up the house before everyone showed up. Brendan went back to work and Ellis and I waited for everyone to come over.
While I was eating my lunch my sister texted me telling me Happy Birthday and asking if I’d like a coffee. I told her that would be so nice and then proceeded to tell her about how the day was just going as planned so far and how I was stressed. Since I knew she had class that afternoon, I figured she would be bringing me a coffee later in the day when her classes were over.
My mom and grandma were the first ones to arrive. I was still bustling around and feeling pretty frazzled and didn’t even realize that my sister was also there. She surprised me by skipping her class that afternoon so she could come over for my birthday. I don’t usually get emotional in front of other people, but I couldn’t help tearing up when I hugged her. In that moment I started feeling the love that I needed most in that moment, even though I had tried pushing everyone away and canceling the whole afternoon. I’ll never forget that moment.
My mom walked in with two big Mum plants to go in the beautiful stone planters that my dad had gotten me for my birthday, and again I felt loved. Not long after that everyone else arrived and we all just kind of gathered around in the living room to chat. I was surrounded by all of the women closest to me in my life — my mom, sister, grandma, aunt, cousin, second mama and what I consider my adopted sisters.
Ellis ended up playing upstairs with the girls almost all afternoon, so I felt like I got a much needed break from being “mom”. And the rest of us sat around and talked about motherhood, being a stay-at-home-mom, and me just kind of opening up about how I felt so defeated and how I felt like motherhood felt so overwhelming to me.
I don’t know if anyone picked up on it that afternoon, but looking back now I realize that I was caught right in the thick of postpartum depression. I just couldn’t shake the fact that motherhood felt too hard, and I thought I was just a bad mom or not meant to be a mom. Even if nobody knew how bad I was suffering in that moment, I was still grateful to have people that loved and supported me all around me that day.
We ended up opening presents and then eating a homemade vegan lemon bar dessert that I had made. We put candles on the dessert and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me, and I felt so much happier.
When Brendan got home from work all I wanted to do was to get some dinner and watch one of my all-time favorite movies, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Ellis ended up falling asleep before we could get him dinner, so the two of us ate Rivermont Pizza while watching the movie. And then I got to open up my presents from Brendan. He had also bought me some beautiful Mums.
I don’t know if many people will care to read this blog post, as it’s almost just like a journal entry for myself. But I loved these pictures from last year and wanted to share them. I’m hoping and praying that my 28th year of life will be full of growth, change, grace, and beauty. The world feels like a scary place to be in anymore, but I know there is so much life and beauty here too.
For the last four years I have started each January by doing a 30 Day Yoga challenge. There’s just something about the start of the new year that gets me motivated to try new things and incorporate movement into my everyday routine.
While I have been no stranger to the art and practice of yoga, my relationship with my own daily practice has blossomed this year like never before. I rediscovered a love for yoga in January and, as cliche as it might sound, I’d say that it has changed my life in so many ways for the better.
Nice to Meet You, Yoga!
I first dipped my toes into the world of yoga when I was about 18 years-old. I had just finished my first year of college and was feeling weighed down by some unhealthy habits that I picked up while living on campus. I was feeling frustrated in my own body and was not happy with the way I felt — overweight, sluggish, and stuck. I knew I needed to make some changes in my diet and my relationship with exercise.
So, that summer I started doing at-home pilates regularly and I threw in a couple of yoga poses here and there. I had recently switched to a vegetarian diet and was enjoying those changes in my food choices as well.
At that point in my life, I was still trying to discover who I was (who am I kidding, I still am!) and I liked the whole idea and vibe of living a more down-to-earth hippie/hipster lifestyle.
I think in a sense I was trying to fit myself into this stereotypical white washed version of a more healthful lifestyle. In my head I wanted to be like these happy, care-free people I saw online or around campus that seemed to be into healthy eating and doing yoga outside on a regular basis.
While I did find that I genuinely enjoyed yoga and being vegetarian, I think I was really trying to jump into something that made me stand out a little bit. Growing up with four other siblings, this is something I constantly found myself striving for, something that only I was good at or interested in, something to call my very own.
Anyway, that was 2012. My interest in yoga didn’t go any further than getting a yoga mat and doing a few stretches on it. It wasn’t until 2016 that I really picked up my yoga mat again.
It’s Not About the Shape
By the beginning of 2016 I had finished college and earned my undergraduate degree, I was working my first part-time job in my field of journalism for a local magazine as the editorial assistant for a short stint of a couple months, and I was also deep into planning my wedding which would be taking place at the end of May.
Since I was done with school and had more free time on my hands, I really wanted to put some healthy exercise habits into place so that I could be strong, fit, and healthy by the time my wedding rolled around.
In March I came across a week long yoga challenge that my local yoga studio was holding. The challenge consisted of posting a picture of yourself doing the yoga pose of the day on your instagram account and tagging all of the sponsors for the challenge. The winner would win a couple of passes for free yoga classes at the studio and a gift card to a local taco food truck.
I thought this sounded like fun and knew it would help me jump back into yoga.
I ended up winning that Instagram contest and that further motivated me to continue practicing yoga.
I found myself looking forward to doing the daily yoga poses and finding just the right location to take a photo. I was surprised at how well my body was able to fold into these shapes. Granted, these were easy poses for beginners, but I was feeling motivated to try and stretch myself into more challenging shapes. I remember the first time I did a tripod egg inversion, I got such a rush of excitement.
The two months leading up to my wedding day I practiced yoga frequently in my bedroom in my grandmother’s basement where I lived at the time. I didn’t have a fancy space set up and I really wasn’t doing any flows or yoga videos. What yoga looked like for me then was rolling out my mat in a little corner of my room, in front of my cheap floor length mirror, and twisting my body into certain shapes that I wanted to get “good at doing”. The tv would be on the in the background as I practiced posing in these shapes. There was no mindfulness involved and I really wasn’t feeling more connected to my body.
Fast forward a few months to after my wedding and moving to a new city with my husband. I didn’t really do anything yoga related until the month of August.
I came across an instagram account called “DoYouYoga” where they would post monthly yoga challenges. These challenges were very similar to that first one I did back in March, where you have a certain pose for the day and you post a picture of yourself in that pose.
I quickly jumped into a few of these challenges toward the end of 2016 and really enjoyed participating. While I liked the challenge of trying to get my body into certain postures, it sometimes felt forced, like my body wasn’t really ready for it. There was no gradually stretching my body, building strength, or learning the foundations of the pose. I wanted to rush into being a yogi, without actually taking the time put the work in and cultivate my own daily practice.
My First Yoga Class
In 2017 I started to get more comfortable and familiar with our city and knew that I wanted to go to my first yoga class at my local yoga studio. I kept putting it off because going new places by myself always makes me nervous, but I didn’t really have any close friends at the time to ask to accompany me. But I had a feeling that it would be a freeing experience to go to my very first class solo.
This was kind of the extent of my experience with yoga for a couple years. In all honesty, I loved the idea of being a yogi and carving out daily time for it. But my relationship with yoga never went deeper than the photos I posted on Instagram.
I went on to take a few yoga classes that spring/summer. There was one time I went with a friend who invited me to a yoga class that was held at the rock climbing gym she was a part of. We went on the evening of that Summer Solstice and it was a beautiful evening. While I enjoyed flying solo to most of the classes I took, it felt great to have a friend who was also interested in yoga and willing to go with me.
It became clear to me after those classes that there was something much deeper to be found in yoga than simply contorting my body into cool postures. These regular goers of the yoga studio seemed to have a deeper knowing about them, a wise intelligence, and they seemed to be at peace and so connected to their bodies. I knew that I hadn’t found that side of yoga yet, and didn’t know if I had the time or dedication within me to go looking for it then.
Find What Feels Good
Throughout the remainder of 2017 I did a few more yoga challenges. But it wasn’t until January of 2018 that I discovered the Yoga With Adriene community. At that point I think I had heard of Adriene Mishler and had probably even done a couple of her yoga videos when I searched for yoga videos on YouTube, but I had never heard of her 30 Day Yoga Journeys that she does every January.
So, in January of 2018 I decided to join in on the True 30 Day Yoga Journey with Adriene and thousands of others around the world. It felt like a big commitment, especially because I had just found out I was pregnant a couple of weeks prior, but I was determined to see it through.
There were definitely some mornings where I had to begrudgingly drag myself out of bed to do my yoga practice before work, and there were some days where the early pregnancy nausea and fatigue had me wanting to nap on the couch instead of getting on the mat and moving my body, but I did the 30 days and was proud of myself for showing up.
I wish I could say that after that month I was hooked and started consistently practicing yoga, but that wasn’t the case at all. For the next couple of years I went on to do those 30 Day Yoga challenges in January, and then simply let my practice fall by the wayside and let my yoga mat sit in the corner collecting dust.
It wasn’t until January of this year, 2021, that I felt a huge shift in my perspective and my desire to search for healing in many areas of my life. One way I have found healing is in how I move and take care of my body. I spent a lot of time at the gym last year, essentially physically and mentally beating myself into shape, and I knew I couldn’t keep doing that to myself.
I plan on writing a separate blog post about my yoga experience this year soon. But I really felt like sharing my beginnings with yoga and how far I’ve come! I know this is a long post, so if you’ve made it this far I just want to say thank you for being here. Namaste!
One of our big intentions for the year 2020 was to buy our first house. The lease to our apartment was supposed to end in October 2020, so I knew we had a little time to “shop around”. Even though we didn’t start actively looking at houses on realtor.com and zillow.com until the first of the year, I consider our house hunting journey to have started during the summer of 2019.
That summer Brendan and I would ride around town looking at houses that were on the market while Ellis napped in the car. It was a simple little thing, but I came to really enjoy Sunday drives looking at houses and dreaming of what our future home might look like.
Making a List
In October 2019, I felt pulled to sit down and write out a list of what I wanted in a house. I was very adamant about the qualities I was looking for, but I wanted to see God’s will manifested into our lives and I knew I couldn’t cling too tightly to the house I had dreamed up in my mind.
So, at the top of my list I wrote Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (ESV). I prayed over that list for three months and I was blown away by how God provided.
On my list was written “What I Want in a House…”
Enough yard to be able to sit outside and read, have space for Ellis to play, and to have a small garden.
Privacy — not too close to other houses, a fence, or trees and bushes.
Away from the road.
Either a finished basement or no basement at all.
Lots of natural light.
The Hunt Begins
By mid-January we had started actively looking at houses that were on the market. Our hope was that we could get out of our apartment lease early if we found a house that we liked and wanted to make an offer on it. During this time both Brendan and I were on a social media fast that our church was participating in, and so we had more time and attention to focus on house hunting and really praying about the whole process.
Brendan’s parents’ came to us and wanted to gift us some of their stock money to put towards a down payment on a house. We were so grateful! That allowed us to put in an offer sooner if the right house did come along.
On Sunday January 19th, we went to our first open house. It was an older home that had been slightly updated, but I knew it wasn’t the house for us. Our realtor was the one showing that house and that was the first time that I got to meet him. We talked to him a little bit about what qualities we were looking for in a house and he said he would keep us updated if he found any houses he thought we might like.
The First House
The very next day (January 20th), Brendan met our realtor and they went to go see two different houses that afternoon. One of the houses was an older brick house that Brendan and I had both looked at online. It was pretty nice, had the character and amount of bedrooms we were looking for, and had a fenced in backyard. The kitchen on the other hand was not to my liking at all.
Brendan tried to convince me that since the house was a bit cheaper than our budget we could afford to remodel the kitchen. I knew that I had to see the house in person myself, so that evening I bundled Ellis up and drove out to see the house.
I’m a pretty intuitive person and I’ve always felt that I would know which house was the right house for us when I walked into it.
As I walked into the house, I tried to open my mind’s eye and imagine what living in the house would look and feel like — I could see us making the front living room cozy with curtains, a big comfy couch, and our tv mounted on the wall. I could see pretty fairy lights strung in the back yard, a little garden patch near the wooden fence, and Ellis running around playing as I tended to the vegetables and herbs. But that was about as far as I got. It felt hazy, like I could see us potentially living there, but it felt forced.
As we walked through the house I started to realize that the remodel and updates would be a bit more than I was hoping for. There were enough bedrooms upstairs, but the second bathroom we hoped to have for when Brendan’s family visits was downstairs, and there was only a toilet, no shower. The main bathroom upstairs felt very open, but there was a tub in one corner of the room, the toilet in the corner next to it, and then the shower was a step up and incased in the wall.
The attic wasn’t my favorite place, but I knew it would be nice to have that extra storage place. And then there was the basement. I’ve always strongly disliked basements —- the house I grew up in didn’t have one and they’ve always creeped me out a little bit. Well, this one topped all of the creepy basements I’ve seen in my life.
It’s been a while so my mind is a bit foggy on just exactly what it looked like down there, but I know that the stairs were dusty and narrow, it was so dimly lit that I couldn’t see a whole lot, and it was unfinished. I didn’t walk very far down there because it was absolutely filthy and just felt dark and dank. There was also a very disgusting urinal in the corner that just added to the strangeness of the area. Our realtor pointed out where we would hook up a washer and dryer, and that about sealed the deal for me right there. There was no way I could see myself coming down in that basement to do laundry by myself, much less with Ellis in tow throughout the day. We talked about possibly moving the laundry upstairs, but doing that and remodeling the kitchen probably couldn’t have been done with the money we had.
Brendan thought we could make it work, I knew we could too. But I just didn’t like the feeling of not being comfortable in my own house and being creeped out by an eery basement that we might not be able to finish for years to come. And then, there was the fact that someone had already put an offer on the house and our realtor said that if we were going to make a move it would have to be that night.
My head was reeling. We told our realtor we would take a couple hours to think about it and get back to him. We grabbed a bite to eat, we prayed about it, and then we talked it over with Brendan’s parents. And by the time we had talked, his family was saying what I already knew, we had made up our minds to pass on it.
It was a little sad to pass up on it because we did like the character of it. But I let the house go and told Brendan that if the house was meant for us then maybe the other person’s offer would fall through. And so we were back to the hunt.
Found on a Whim
If I remember correctly, Brendan looked at a couple of other houses with our realtor that week. I kept searching online and sending Brendan links to any and every house that I liked that was at least somewhat within our budget.
And then I found this beautiful old brick house that stood out from all of the other houses. To me it looked like a house out of a fairytale. It had character, charm, and a bit of whimsy that I hadn’t seen yet. I was instantly drawn to this house. The inside was charming and dripping with character too, and as I flipped through the photos online I knew that this was the type of house I had been dreaming of.
However, the listed price was over our budget. My heart sank a little, but I still decided to send the link to Brendan. I told him that even though the asking price was more than we had talked about spending, I still wanted a chance to walk through the house during the open house that coming Sunday.
Open House, Open Heart
As we pulled up to the old brick house on that sunny winter afternoon, my heart skipped a bit. It was just as charming in person as it was in the photos online.
There were quite a lot of people moving about from room-to-room inside when we got there, so we didn’t get to take as much time to really look at the house as I would have liked to. But I loved everything I saw about that house — sure it was a bit older, but the character of the house had been pretty well preserved and there were also a few updated features that were nice. As we walked through the house, I started to get a glimpse of what it would be like to live in this house and raise our family here.
This house had what I was looking for — lots of windows and natural light in every room, hardwood floors, character, the right number of bedrooms and bathrooms, a finished basement, and a huge fenced in backyard. I loved it!
I told Brendan, and he said “then lets make an offer on it.”. I knew it was over our budget and I saw all of the families that were looking at the house that I assumed made a lot more money than we did. I was torn and knew we needed to think about it.
After walking through the entire house we talked to the realtor that was showing the house; she gave us the specs and she and I bonded over our dislike of creepy basements. We commented on the number of people coming through to see the house, and she told us that a lot of them had been people that lived in the neighborhood, just curious to walk through and see the house. That gave me the tiniest glimmer of hope that maybe, possibly, if everything lined up just right, this could be the house for us.
We saw one more house that afternoon, but it was so small, dark, and boxy (and there was a creepy unfinished basement) that it’s not even worth going into detail.
The Next Day
After we saw the house we sent the Zillow listing to our parents and contacted our realtor. We arranged to meet our realtor at the house the next day to do a walk through and get a better look at it and see what he had to say.
What I remember about the walk through that day is the way the house looked even prettier to me than the day before, the way Ellis ran around and around and around shrieking happily, and our realtor saying “Lets do it!” in response to the idea of us putting an offer on the house that day.
So, we put in the offer and our realtor asked to have an answer from the seller that night. I was so giddy that whole day and tried not to dwell on it too much.
That night Brendan and I stayed up late watching HGTV and dreaming about owning our own home while we waited to hear back from our realtor. At 11:45p.m. Brendan got the text from our realtor congratulating us saying that the seller accepted our offer!
From Offer to Close
From there things got moving quickly! Our accepted offer contract had us set up for closing in 30 days, and there was a lot that needed to get done within that time frame. We scheduled our house inspection for later that week (January 30th). Brendan was there for the entirety of the inspection so he could get an idea of what we were dealing with as far as what needed to be addressed and repaired before we closed. Ellis and I stopped by for a little while and met the inspector and spent more time day dreaming of making this house our home.
Overall the inspection went well. There were a lot of small things that the inspector noted, but the only things that really needed attention right away were a faulty compressor for one of the A/C units, and the hot water heater not being turned on during the time of the inspection. Neither of these were really an issue though. There were a few other little things that we would have liked the sellers to fix before we moved in, but we decided to accept a repair credit that helped us pay for the repairs ourselves after move in.
Everything seemed to be going along smoothly. I had heard horror stories of the closing process when buying a house, so it almost seemed too good to be true that we were still right on schedule for sealing the deal and getting those house keys.
And then there was the issue of the buried heating oil tank. After Brendan noticed the oil tank during the inspection he did some research to figure out how much of a risk it was to buy a house with an oil tank like this that was no longer in use. After his research, Brendan requested that the seller have the soil tested to see if the tank was leaking oil, because the cost of removing the tank and addressing any contaminated soil could be quite costly.
The soil tests came back positive and things weren’t looking so good. Brendan was concerned about this issue and started talking about the possibility of passing on this house. I was devastated at the thought of losing this house and I was angry at the thought of letting something like an oil tank get in the way of this dream house.
After talking it over with my family with clenched teeth, I knew that I was becoming too attached to this house already and that I was holding on too tightly. Instead of being upset at Brendan for possibly wanting to pass on the house, I decided to loosen my grip and place the whole situation back in God’s hands. I was trusting that if we made it past this obstacle, then that was God telling us to move forward with buying the house. I felt a bit anxious, but a lot calmer and more at peace with whatever happened.
And then we found out that the State of Virginia would pay for most, if not all, of the tank removal. For peace of mind though, the seller also offered to pay up to $2,000 towards whatever the state did not cover. This was a huge relief, as we felt that the tank was the last obstacle we had work around in order to feel comfortable purchasing the house. I could see God’s hand at work throughout this whole process.
Brendan worked with a local mortgage broker and our banks’ national mortgage division to get all of the financing figured out. The last little hiccup we faced in the purchasing process was with the bank, as the underwriting ended up not being complete in time for us to close at the end of February. This actually worked to our benefit as it delayed when our first mortgage payment was due, and since we had to exit our lease early as a result of the purchase, that was a blessing for us financially. Again, we could see God’s hand at work!
So, after some back and forth between the bank, Brendan, and our realtor, the closing documents got finalized over the weekend and we were able to reschedule our close for March 3. The actual day of closing was a breeze! We had our keys and we were ready to pack up our apartment and move in a couple weeks.
I’ll never forget the week we moved. The world started shutting down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and people were being advised to shelter in place. While the rest of the world seemed to be in chaos, I was happy that we had a new house to keep us busy. With the help of my family, we moved in on March 19, 2020, the most beautiful sunny first day of spring!
I stepped into 2020 with the intention of leaving a lot of baggage behind and inviting newness into my life.
As I sat meditating on what the past year had taught me and what I wanted to see come to fruition in this new sparkling decade, three words kept coming to mind: Abundance, Brave, and Change.
Once these words came to me, I sat and thought about what each one meant and how they could weave their way into my story this year.
I believed that I would see a lot of change in 2020, I felt that I would need to be brave and find courage to adapt to this newness, and as a result of trusting and believing things to work out for my good I believed that I would witness abundance of all kinds flowing freely into my life.
So, with this in mind I decided to place all of my hopes and dreams into God’s hands and asked that He would use me this year in ways He hadn’t before.
And just like that, on January 1st, 2020, an abundance of life, love, and happiness washed over me. It was then that I knew that this year was/is going to be a turning point in my life.
J a n u a r y B r e a k d o w n
I started this dazzling new decade by attending a beautiful home birth as a doula. I will never forget the love, power, and raw strength I witnessed in that room as new life made its way into the world. I was reminded that day that I am, without a doubt, on the right path. My fire and passion for birth was reignited in that birth room.
That birth paved the way for what the rest of my January would look like. Just like in birth, I found myself doing a lot of surrendering, praying, and stepping out of the way to let things unfold as they were meant to.
O p p o r t u n i t i e s
There have been so many moments when I have felt like my head was reeling and I was spiraling out of control this past month.
On January 10th, during a beautiful full moon, a possible job opportunity was placed before me and left me in deep thought and contemplation for the next couple weeks.
This opportunity hadn’t been on my radar, yet I couldn’t help but feel a strong pull towards it. It would be a huge shift for me and my family, and I was afraid of it.
But I kept feeling like this was something that was bigger than me and that God really wanted me to place this opportunity in His hands and surrender it.
(I might share more about this some other time.)
2 1 D a y F a s t
Right around the same time our church started a 21 day fast. I decided that I would give up social media (Facebook and Instagram) for the fast.
I know that I spend too many hours mindlessly scrolling through social media every day. It’s a waste of precious time really. I knew that this was just what I needed, but I was not thrilled about it.
After a few days of the fast, I started realizing that I didn’t miss social media that much. And it became painfully obvious that every time there was the slightest lull in my day, I would reach for my phone. Not a good sign.
I started reaching for my phone and opening up the Bible app to read — instead of mindlessly scrolling social media, I was mindfully reading God’s word. I also started reaching for a book or my journal in the evenings rather than just vegging out on the couch staring at a screen.
And most importantly, I started spending more uninterrupted time with my husband and my son. And that was so good for us!
B e a u t i f u l B e g i n n i n g s
January was an amazing month and the most beautiful start to the year! I have more I want to share that happened towards the end of the month, but that will have to wait for another blog post.
So I want to know, what are some of your goals and intentions for the year 2020? Did anything exciting happen to you in January? Let me know in the comments.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Brendan holding Ellis for the very first time.
Getting Ellis’ footprint.
I couldn’t help but cry when Brendan held Ellis for the very first time.
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.