Welcoming Zelie James

Now that Zel Belle is 8 weeks old, I figured I should write down her birth story, huh? It was beautiful and hard and redemptive and nothing at all like I expected or planned. Are births EVER what you expect or plan?!

My duedate was June 13th. If you follow me on instagram, you might recall that Matt had been at the law enforcement academy since March 6th, and wasn't due to graduate until June 16th. He was able to have his phone on him during the day once I hit 36 weeks, but I was still really nervous about the timing of everything - the academy is about 90 minutes from our house. The hospital is actually on the way from the academy to our house, so he could meet me there if need be, but I really wanted him to be home with me and for us to go to the hospital together. All in all, there were a LOT of moving pieces and unknowns about who would drive me/who would watch Xavier/when Matt would get there, etc. I was trying to pray hard for peace and that I would trust that it would all work out okay, but I'm not going to lie - it was HARD. There was a lot of anxiety surrounding her arrival and how it was all going to work. Xavier was born on his duedate, and Matt happened to have that day off work, so he was with me for every single minute of Xavier's labor, every single contraction. I was really scared to go into labor with Matt at the academy, and have to do it solo. We had a wonderful doula and I knew my mom would come over if I needed her, but it's just different than having your husband, you know? My only experience of labor was Matt by my side for every second, so I was just scared of not having him there this time.

As it turns out, God always knows best and I should never worry about anything, ever.

I was actually pretty convinced I was going to go into labor early, since the duedate I had calculated for myself was May 28th - a full two weeks earlier than the duedate the doctor gave me at our first ultrasound. May 28th was based on my last cycle, but the June 13th duedate was based on how she measured at that first scan. But in my mind, May 28th was the date all along. I just had a feeling she'd come around then. Also, I had 5 or 6 friends who were all pregnant with their second babies with duedates close to mine, and ALL of them went into labor early (like a couple weeks early) and ALL of them had crazy fast, barely-made-it-to-the-hospital-in-time births. So of course I was assuming the same would be true for me.

Long story short: the same was NOT true for me.

May 28th came and went, and no baby. My duedate inched closer and I was so discouraged. I really wanted to attend Matt's graduation on the 16th, but knew it would only be possible if I went into labor early enough that I would be healed a bit and could go, or if I was still pregnant (aka overdue, since my duedate was a few days before his graduation.) I was so annoyed that I was still pregnant when it seemed like all my friends had their babies in the arms. I was over it.

On Sunday, June 4th, I was having steady, timeable and strong contractions for several hours. They were close together and regular, but nothing too painful - I could walk and talk through them. And after several hours, they stopped. The same thing happened on Monday. All day long, I had steady, strong, regular contractions, only to have them fizzle out around bedtime. And again on Tuesday. I woke up around 4am with the exact same feeling I had when I went into labor with Xavier. Strong, crampy feeling contractions. I woke up in labor with Xav, too, and he was here by that night. I texted Matt and told him that he should tell his supervisor that today was probably the day, and expect to leave at some point. But then they never really increased. They were steady and strong for hours, then they'd stop. I kept texting him updates, although there wasn't much to report. They fizzled out completely for a few hours and I was SO MAD. I thought for sure today was the day! But in the early evening, they picked up again, and I called my doula to ask what she thought. She said I still sounded good (aka could talk, laugh, etc.) but that it sounded like the real deal and could turn a corner at any moment and go pretty quickly, it being a second baby and all. I asked if it would be dumb to have Matt come home? She said if that was an option, I should call him. So I did, and Matt was able to come home from the academy to spend the night. I figured that if it was nothing and they died down again, he could just go back at 5am the next morning and tell them "false alarm." But if it WAS the real deal and picked up overnight, he would already be home to drive me to the hospital. 

Which is exactly what happened. I fell asleep around 10pm on Tuesday night, still contracting, and woke up around midnight because they had increased significantly and I couldn't sleep through them anymore. I woke Matt up and he talked to Brandie, our doula. Even though it was early - I could still comfortably walk and sort of talk through them - I decided to go to the hospital. I just wanted to know if this was real labor that was progressing, or a false alarm. The starting/stopping was SO taxing mentally and emotionally, and since Matt was home, I just decided we'd go ahead and go in. If it wasn't real labor or I wasn't far enough along, I'd just go back home (my water hadn't broken or anything.) We called my mom and she came over to stay with Xavier, and we headed to the hospital around 2am. I was convinced it was a false alarm and they'd send us home. Or maybe I was just preparing myself to be disappointed, so I wasn't too attached to the idea of having a baby today.

Before we left, I tiptoed into Xavier's room to hug him and tell him I loved him. It hit me so forcefully that we might be coming home forever changed, a new baby sister, no longer a family of three but a family of four, him no longer my only baby. I got super emotional and cried as I held him in his dark room and swayed side to side, just telling him over and over that I loved him, that he'd always be my baby. Getting teary-eyed now just thinking about it.

The drive to the hospital was uneventful. Speeding down empty roads in the dark, holding Matt's hand. There's just no way to describe that twilight zone when you think you might be finally meeting your child after months of knowing them but not seeing them. Loving them without ever seeing their face. It's truly indescribable. The excitement, the nervousness, the fear, the joy.

We got checked into triage and they checked me - I was 3cm. Considering the fact that I was "barely a 1" when I got to the hospital in labor with Xavier, I was pretty happy about that fact. The contractions were doing something, after all! They said I could stay for a couple hours and walk around to see if labor progressed. We walked up and down the halls, pausing as contractions intensified. After two hours, I was 4cm, so they decided to admit me, since labor was clearly progressing.

I should have mentioned in the beginning - my goal was an intervention-free birth, but I had much more open hands than I had with Xavier. My biggest desire was to cling to Jesus and glorify God. No matter what Zelie's birth looked like, I wanted to cling to Jesus and glorify God through it. I also really wanted to offer up the pain and difficulty of labor for special intentions. I'd heard of offering up suffering before, but never really understood it or experienced it, and I wanted to. I had a list of intentions with me and hoped to offer up contractions for those special intentions. Early labor ended up being one of the most beautiful, spiritual experiences of my life. As we sat in the tiny triage room, I would picture the person I wanted to pray for as the contraction would start, holding their image in my mind as I breathed through each wave. It's hard to put into words...but I don't know that I've ever prayed as fervently as I did during those hours, those contractions. It was a beautiful way to labor...to unite the pain with an intention...to offer up my discomfort for a cause.

We got settled into a room and I continued to labor naturally. The essential oils diffuser was going constantly with lavender and peace and calming...hymns playing from my Spotify playlist, Matt and I occasionally singing along. I would have Matt apply essential oils here and there...lavender for relaxation...valor for courage...deep relief on my low back for back labor. And then....everything stopped.

Around 8am, my contractions totally fizzled out. Just stopped. I could not believe it...I was SO mad. I thought this was the real deal! There was nothing for about two hours. The nurse said the monitor was picking up little contractions, but nothing I could feel. I wanted to throw something. After all that, after thinking this baby was coming, after believing it would go quickly, here we were again. I asked if the doctor could come check me and we could talk about my options. I was 4-5cm dilated, and I asked if they could break my water, wanting to try that before starting pitocin. Breaking my water wasn't an option, though, so Matt, Brandie and I had a quick conversation about what we could do. I could go home, since my water hadn't broken and I was less than 6cm, and come back when and if labor picked back up. Or we could start pitocin at a low dose and see if that helped. I couldn't even imagine going home after all that and having MORE waiting, MORE wondering. So we decided to go with the pitocin at 2 units and see if that helped jumpstart things. Our amazing nurse said it usually took about an hour for the pitocin to kick in, and that sometimes mamas just need "a whiff" as she called it. Well, within five minutes, contractions had MAJORLY started again, and in between them I was moaning, "I thought she said this would take an hour!"

Turns out a "whiff" is all my body needed, and I was back on my way. I continued to labor without an epidural for almost two hours, through intense contractions. I remember crying at one point (also cried in labor with Xavier) and wanting my mom (again, happened in labor with Xavier. Maybe for a future baby I'll have my mom there with me!) And I also remember clutching my rosary tightly in my hand, and specifically hanging onto the crucifix. With each contraction, I ran my fingers over the metal crucifix and pictured Jesus hanging on the cross, the physical suffering he endured for our sake. I tried to pray for specific intentions, but it was tough at that point. But just holding onto the cross, knowing that Jesus had also felt intense physical pain and was right there with me, was so helpful.

As the contractions intensified, I got checked and was 6cm. Oh, and my water had broken after getting pitocin, so they contractions were pretttttty intense at that point. The idea of having to go 4 more cm, not even being in transition yet, and being in more and more pain was too much. I hadn't slept in two nights, hadn't eaten in almost 24 hours, and was so exhausted. Labor was, by all standards, going fine, but it was taking so much longer than I thought, and I was spent. "I can't do it." I told Matt. He and Brandie were quick to reassure me that I could. "Okay...I don't WANT to do it." I clarified. Matt encouraged me that I could keep going, but getting an epidural was okay, too. Just knowing that he supported me whatever I decided was so helpful. I considered it...and knew that an epidural was the best route for me in that moment. We asked the nurse to call the anesthesiologist and within a half hour, the epidural was placed and the pain was gone.

And you know, it's funny....getting an epidural with Xavier was such a hard decision for me, one I re-played over and over again in the months after he was born. I felt such shame and regret about it. I felt like I failed him from the get-go, didn't try hard enough, let him down. Everyone had said "my body was made for this" and I felt like I must be broken, that I was somehow less-woman, because I'd needed an epidural to bring my baby into the world. There were a lot of emotions I had to work through and process around his birth, and it took a long time to make my peace with it. And this time...there just wasn't. Praise God. As I thought about it, after the epidural was placed and I was capable of coherent thought again, I realized that when it comes down to it, I do. not. care about getting an epidural. There are things in our life we value - buying ethical clothing, buying organic food, etc. But an unmedicated birth is just not something that makes that list. It would for some people, and that's awesome! We're all different, and that's a beautiful thing. I think if circumstances align - you're well-rested, well-fed, haven't been in off/on labor for weeks and are in a better mental state, a completely unmedicated birth is totally possible and totally awesome. But for both of my births, an epidural was 100% the right decision for ME in that moment. I can say that now with total confidence. And it does not make me less-than. There is nothing to feel guilty about, or regret. An epidural allowed me to get some much-needed sleep, so I was better prepared to meet our daughter. It allowed my body to relax, and go from 6cm to 10cm pretty quickly. An epidural (or c-section, or whatever) is not the lesser option. It's simply an option, just the same as an unmedicated birth, or a home birth, or a water birth, and that's that. Birth is birth is birth is birth. It's ALL heroic. It's ALL sacred. It's ALL beautiful, regardless of what route you choose.

So, I napped, laughed and joked with Matt and Brandie, snuck as much food as I could when the nurses weren't looking. And pretty soon I was at 10cm, and they were calling the doctor. She took one look and went ahead and scrubbed up, because Zelie was READY. I pushed for 6 minutes - maybe 4 pushes total? - and she was here. Crying her perfect loud cry, covered head to toe in that weird vernix stuff, and being put on my chest, absolutely perfect.

All told, it was 17 hours of labor from when I woke up at midnight to when she was born at 5pm. It was not at all the quick, lets-hope-we-get-to-the-hospital-in-time labor I was hoping for and expecting, but it was exactly the birth I needed and that God intended for me to have. It was beautiful. It was meaningful. It was prayerful and sacred. It was redemptive, and healing. It is a day that will be forever etched in my memory as a shining example of God's goodness and love.

So that was her birth day! And now it's been eight sweet weeks of getting to know this darling girl. Our eyes are tired, our hearts are full. We love you to the moon, Zelie James. 

A baby, a bulletproof vest and a long blog hiatus

Friends! Good morning! I feel like finding some kind of GIF that says "I'm BAAAAAAACK" but to be honest, I have NO idea where/how people find GIFs (what does GIF even stand for!?) so pretend there's one here:

For a long time (like, several years) I've been going back and forth on blogging. When I had my photography business, I struggled with whether or not I should have a business blog for all my photo stuff, and a personal blog for everything else I wanted to post. In high school and college, I loved keeping a personal blog for more personal, long form writing - almost an online journal. Then it seemed like overnight, there was an explosion of professional blogs and sponsored posts and blogging for money. I decided that I wanted to go that route, so suddenly it felt like my blog couldn't be a space for personal rambling - it needed to be and look legit. Long story short, there's been a lot of pressure as to how this space should look. All self-imposed, of course. And it lead me to wanting to quit altogether. But I've realized over the last several months that a) I really miss blogging and b) I'm done with the pressure. So, I'm back! And I'm really excited about it.

The last few months have been FULL. Crazy, hard, amazing, so sweet. Matt is a full-blown police officer now! I mean, he's still in training until November, but he gets dressed in his very official uniform and goes to work in his very official police car so it feels very official to me :) I was SO hoping that I'd be able to attend Matt's graduation from the law enforcement academy and the stars aligned to make my dream come true...Zelie, Xavier and I were able to go (thanks to my mom, Matt's parents and our friend Christine who were also all there to help, as I was just 10 days postpartum!) and it was so incredible to watch Matt walk across that stage and graduate after 15 long weeks. The police academy was so challenging for our whole family, but also a season that bore so much fruit for me individually and also for our marriage. I'm grateful :)

So now we live in the world of bulletproof vests, Matt having to sit facing the door every time we go out to eat, missing him while he works nights and trying to get out of the house with the kids while he sleeps during the day. It has been a truly hard transition to be honest, but we are figuring it out more each day with LOTS of help from our village and LOTS of conversations about what is and isn't working.

And...we had a baby! Of course she's been introduced on instagram and I hope to have her birth story up here soon. Sweet Zelie James is an absolute dream and we are smitten. Xavier loves to say "hi" to her in the mornings, put toys on her while she's sleeping aaaaaand rip her pacifier out of her mouth as soon as she falls asleep. Life with two under two is crazytown, as expected, but also incredibly more fun than I could have ever imagined. Don't get me wrong...there are a LOT of tears on all parts (especially mine) and a lot of me just stopping amidst the crazy to yell "WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING RIGHT NOW" (yep, true story) and a lotttttttttt of prayers of "Jesus...I can't. Please help!" And of course, He always does.

All in all, I am so grateful for this season and all the lessons and gifts it's brought and continues to bring. I wouldn't trade this wild life with my three sweet humans for the entire world. Hoping you're all having the loveliest summer and so excited to be hanging out with you again, here. xo!


As I mentioned before, now that my annual whole-house purge is done, I've moved onto the "make everything more efficient and functional" phase. You might call it nesting, I just call it being Valerie ;) I've noted a few things we do that make our lives just a littttttle bit easier and thought I'd share them with you all here! Because after all, every little bit helps, right? If you have others, I'd love to hear! Pop some ideas into the comments so we can all get in on the making-life-easier action :) XO!

1. Write giftcard balances directly on the giftcard. If I think I'll use the card more than once to use up the remainder (for example, a $20 balance on a Chipotle card will likely get me two meals), I write the balance on a piece of washi tape stuck to the back of the card. I just replace the washi tape with a new piece and write the new balance every time I use the card. If I think I'll use up the card on my next visit (i.e., an $8 balance on a Chipotle card), I just write the balance in sharpie right on the back! I keep all the giftcards in a little cloth pouch in my purse so they're always together and less likely to get lost.

2. Keep a box of notecards (blank, thank you, whatever you prefer) pre-stamped and with your return address already written on them. Keep another box without stamps or address, for slipping into gifts. I also keep a package of thank-you notes, a package of blank notes and a sheet of stamps in my car, for writing and sending quick notes while on the go.

3. Collect hair ties with book rings to keep them from disappearing. I got a package of book rings at the grocery store (office supply aisle) for $2. I think they'll last my entire lifetime - there were like 100 in the package. I hang the hairtie ring on a tiny command hook stuck to the inside of my bathroom medicine cabinet so they're easily accessible.

4. Keep a notepad stuck to the fridge for groceries, and store a pen in the utensil drawer so there's always one handy. Whenever you run out of something or think of something you need to pick up, you can easily jot it down! There are probably apps out there that do this, but I'm a hardcore pen-and-paper gal :)

5. Label your bed pillows. We use all white cases, but certain pillows go beneath the comforter (the ones we actually sleep on) and certain ones go above the comforter, and we were always getting them confused, along with which ones belonged to me and my husband. I used a sharpie and labeled them with "M - T" for "Matt, top" or "V - B" for "Val, bottom." Now when we wash the sheets and replace the cases, it's easy to know which pillow goes where!

6. Make a "loan list" on the notes app on your phone. Jot down anytime you loan someone an item with the date, item, and who borrowed it. Nothing is worse than going to grab something, vaguely remembering you loaned it out, but having no idea who has it or when you gave it away.

7. Keep track of books you want to read in sectioned Amazon lists. I got this idea from Val Woerner I think, and it's worked great for me. I personally dislike the user interface of GoodReads, and never really utilized it because I don't find the site to be very user-friendly. Instead, I made several categorized lists on my Amazon account and keep track of the books I want to read that way. The lists are all private so no one can see them but me, but every year around my birthday and Christmas, I'll add a few I want to own to my public wishlist. I have the Amazon app on my phone, so I can easily browse my list when visiting the library, and I can also easily add titles I see while scrolling Instagram or blogs on my phone. Keeping the lists separated by category helps me if I know I'm in the mood to read non-fiction, or a parenting book, or a marriage book. To keep track of books I read each year, I use a simple Google Doc. I can access it on my phone and easily add the title as soon as I finish!

8. Delete all the social media accounts you don't actually like or use. For me, that meant everything except Facebook (which I use solely for accountability groups and sharing photos of Xavier with my family - I only have family as friends) and Instagram. Oh, and Pinterest, but for some reason I never count that. I deleted Twitter, LinkedIn, GoodReads, SnapChat, all of them. I can view any Twitter feed I ever care about without an account (mostly news accounts if there are major events going on) and I realized that during this season of my life, having a LinkedIn account was completely pointless. If I ever need one, I can start over. Not getting emails - even occasionally - from all the different social media channels has been SO great.