House Hunting and Finding our Dream Home

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. 
  • Well water. 
  • Either a finished basement or no basement at all. 
  • Hardwood floors.
  • 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! 

Moving In

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!

J a n u a r y 2 0 2 0

Wow, what a month!

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.

 

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?

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.

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!

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!

About

Hey there, I’m so glad you’re here!

My name is Ashley Blair Smith and I am currently living in the beautiful city of Lynchburg, VA with my husband of almost 2 years, our fat orange tabby cat Cheetah, and our first little sunshine babe that is on the way and due in early September.

I grew up journaling about the everyday details of my mundane life in the country all while dreaming of what it would be like to move to the city. I’ve always had the need to express myself creatively, and writing has been that creative outlet for me ever since I was 11-years-old. However, it wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I started my first blog.

Throughout my college years I was hungry for travel and adventure, and I documented those experiences through photographs and writing on my previous blog. But recently I realized that I had outgrown that little space of mine and needed a fresh, new start.

I graduated from Liberty University in the fall of 2015 with a major in Digital Communication, specializing in Print Journalism, with a double minor in Writing and Photography.

Ashley Blair Smith was created as a way for me to share my thoughts in greater detail than an Instagram post will allow and as a way for you to get a glimpse into my small town-living, plant loving, coffee drinking, book obsessed life.

So what will this blog include? I like the idea of a lifestyle blog as it gives the freedom to write about so many different aspects of life, not just one topic or theme. My goal with this blog is to share the day-to-day, my travel experiences, health and wellness tips, recipes, and my pregnancy/motherhood journey.

I hope that you enjoy your time here and I pray that my words can help inspire and motivate you to live a life that is pleasing to Jesus.

Please feel free to contact me with questions, suggestions, or simply to connect!