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  • Welcome to AOH Photography's BLOG!!

    I'm so excited that you've chosen to stop by. I hope you'll find some time to sit back, relax, and step into my world for a few minutes..it's pretty fun, if I do say so myself! Here you'll get a glimpse into everything...from my photography, to my incredible family & friends; from my passion for life, to the amazing God that created it all. It's all here...and it's all ME.

    Please click on any of those pretty little tabs above to find out more regarding session info, pricing, etc. If you have questions or just want to shoot me a line, please click on the contact link above. Thanks for stopping by...God Bless!!

Dear Dad…

It’s been one year. Part of me feels like it’s flown by, part of me feels like it’s been forever.

But every part of me misses you. SO much.

It’s been one year since I got the phone call, since I jumped out of bed and drove to be by your side. I remember it like it was yesterday, Daniel calling me, telling me to hurry. We were about 5 miles away when he called again. I needed to get there. Fast.

I thought I’d have more time. Turns out, Daniel had been keeping you alive the entire time, rubbing your chest, telling you to hang on until I got there. If he hadn’t done that, I would have never gotten to say goodbye to you.

Instead, I got your last moments. I ran in, grabbed your hand, and told you I loved you. That I was there, that I made it. That it would be ok.

And with two more breaths, you were gone.

My heart literally aches when I think back to that moment. It all happened so fast, I didn’t know how to feel. I remember running to the bathroom and throwing up. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t talk, I just felt sick. My head was spinning. How were we going to make it without you? How we were going to go on? How was mom going to live without the love of her life? How was Daniel going to live without his best friend? How was I going to live without my hero…my dad?

But we had no choice. We could only take it…one minute, one hour, one day at a time.

As I sit here today, nearly one year later, to the hour…I know you are enjoying paradise. I am certain of it. I can only imagine the pure joy you are experiencing at this very moment. Yet my heart still aches at the thought of you missing out on the legacy you have worked so hard to build. The family you had worked so hard to see grow. The memories you had worked so hard to be a part of.

But nonetheless…I have to believe, I just have to believe…that you see glimpses of our lives. That you are here with us, still.

Take mom for example. You’d be so proud of her, dad. Within weeks after you were gone, she was here in KC with us. She gave up all that she’d known to be here. To mourn with us, to grieve with us, and to continue on with us. She wasn’t going to let one moment go by without her kids knowing she was there for them. That’s the kind of woman she is…but I know that doesn’t surprise you.

She is so brave. So courageous. But she misses you. So deeply. She shows up at my door, every once in awhile, just crying. Just needing to be held. You were her everything, dad. She still remembers your last words to her…”You did a good job, dear.” And she did, didn’t she? Yet, it’s so hard to see her alone. I used to wave when I would leave the house…until we turned the corner, watching you two holding each other, waving good bye. Now I look back and it’s just her. And it hits me deep inside. She’s alone. While D and I have our families, she has no one. She goes to bed alone, she wakes up alone. Yet she keeps fighting. She keeps going on. Because of you.

She’s opening up that beautiful heart again, dad. She just got back from Haiti. While she was there, she spent her time ministering to the women and children there. She let down her guard and let God work through her in a mighty way. Yet her greatest fear? Coming back. Walking off the plane and not seeing you there. You’ve always been there…and this time, you weren’t. But she did it, dad. We picked her up at the airport and she was glowing. She is finding herself again. After all, she doesn’t know exactly who she is without you.

It’s a slow process, but she’s doing it.

And she does it with such grace. Such strength. She’s amazing. Amazing.

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And then there’s my strong, stubborn, yet incredibly loyal brother. You’d be so proud of D, dad. He’s had a rough road since you’ve been gone. His faith has been tested, but he’s stood firm. He’s stepped up and taken care of our family, just as you’d want him to. He’s carrying on your legacy through his two boys, too. You should hear them talk about you. They even watch imaginary Redskins football in honor of their papa. They have the best parts of you in them…Levi is so smart and kind, Silas is so cute and ornery. And boy, do they love their daddy.

I’ve always been close to D, but since you’ve been gone, I think we’ve gotten closer. There is just an understanding between us…something that we don’t even have to express. There is no one else on earth that knows how I miss you like he does. I used to call you for everything…but he’s the one I call now, when I need advice. He’s so much like you, dad. I don’t have to say much for him to know exactly how I feel. I trust him, I need him. And he’s always there.

But what’s most impressive is how he’s taking care of mom. He is there in a moment’s notice whenever she needs him.

He’s honoring you, dad. In a big way.

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I know you’ve been here with me, too. And I hope I’ve made you proud. To me, it’s not the bad times that make me miss you the most…it’s the good times. I’ll be honest, it’s been  absolutely excruciating to see my sweet baby grow up without her papa. I think back so often to that night, just a few day before you passed away, when we were able to do an ultrasound of the baby in your room. How badly I wanted to find out what it was, so that you could share in our joy. But you wouldn’t have it. You wanted it to be a surprise. I think, somehow, you knew. You knew you’d get a glimpse of her beautiful life far before I ever would.

The dream I had about you a few weeks before she was born confirmed what I had wondered all along. You already knew her. You knew our Zoey. Because she was YOUR Zoey, too.  And you were there when I welcomed your beautiful granddaughter into the world. You were with me, dad…the whole time. It was such an incredible day, but it was so hard.  I made it through because of the strength you taught me to have. The strength that can only come from God. And the reward was better than I ever could have ever imagined.

I lost so much joy when you died…but I have gotten pieces of that back in Zoey. Oh, how you would have loved her. She has your smile and your crazy, unruly hair. She has my spunk and Brandon’s sweetness.

She is just perfect.

I’ve always admired you so much, dad. Everything about you. And your advice? I didn’t take it lightly. This past spring, Brandon and I accomplished the dream you’ve always had for us…we paid off our debt. I wish I could have called you and told you the good news, because I know you would have been so proud. But I had a peace in my heart, knowing we fulfilled something you wanted so desperately for us. We did it, dad. We did it. Thanks to you.

If there’s one thing I could always count on, it’s how  much you believed in me, how much you loved me.

You always have, right from the start.

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It’s been a long, hard year. But a few weeks ago, as we gathered together, we bowed our heads to pray. As we raised them, Mom told us it was time. Time to pick ourselves up and be the family that we were when you were here.

Time to carry on your legacy.

Time to make you proud.

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I miss you.

I miss your laugh, your smile, your advice. I miss your strong hugs. I miss your kind eyes.

I miss everything.

dadFDBut dad, we are making it.

And you’d be proud of us…we are even having a few laughs along the way.

familyphotoboothI love you…and I will see you again someday.

Of that I’m sure.

 

 

 

 

 

Brave & Beautiful…Nella Evangeline

If there is something I’ve learned the past few years, it’s that life is hard.

It’s tough.

It’s not fair.

Bad things happen to great people. And while we try to make sense of it all, the simple truth is…we can’t.

Some things just can’t be explained…they can’t be understood. But even in the midst of these trials, hope can always be found, blessings can always be discovered. With faith, we can face the heartaches of this life. We can persevere. We can trust.

This family is proof of that.

Two months ago, Baron & Grace Grutter learned that their precious baby girl had a rare but progressive disease called SMA (Spinal Muscular Distrophy).  In an instant, the precious dreams that they held for their daughter’s life were ripped from them, shattered right before their eyes. Doctors told them that their beautiful daughter would likely not see her first birthday.

Now while many people would let this destroy them…they didn’t. They went home, and they held out hope. They turned the lower level of their home into a beautiful nursery for Nella, and continued to give her the life she so desperately deserved. They shared their story, they opened their hearts, and they continued on.  Yes, they had a lot to lose…but they also had a lot to live for.  A lot.

After all, they knew Nella was special. She was a gift. She was born to change the world. And she’s done just that. Nearly two months after her diagnosis, she has over 5000 prayer warriors who follow her story on facebook.

5000 lives that have been changed.

5000 hearts that have been touched.

Her sweet face reminds us that every day is a blessing, every day is a gift. And that no matter what, no matter what…we never lose hope.

After all, sometimes the things we can’t change…are meant to change us.

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For more information on SMA, please visit www.fsma.org
For more information on the Grutter family & Nella Evangeline, please visit  http://the-shining-light.com/
Eva - January 14, 2014 - 10:36 pm

Beautiful post and pictures of this amazing family. Everything you said about them is absolutely true.

Leslie Rogers - January 14, 2014 - 11:23 pm

Thank-you for sharing these absolutely beautiful family photos. My heart is touched!

Christine Costello - January 15, 2014 - 12:45 am

These are simply the most beautiful pictures in the world. My heart is devoted to this very special family. Little Nella is our family’s champion!

Laurie Oppriecht - January 15, 2014 - 1:03 am

Absolutely beautiful.

Gina Fenger - January 15, 2014 - 1:05 am

Wow! I love how the pictures captured the love between parents & their children.

Sherri - January 15, 2014 - 1:28 am

I look so forward to seeing each new picture of beautiful baby Nella. She and this family are such an inspiration. I do keep them all in my prayers. Thank you so much for sharing…

Joyce - January 15, 2014 - 2:15 am

So very beautiful.. God Bless all of you.

Sally Keena - January 15, 2014 - 2:19 am

I am one of Nella’s prayer warriors , I found her page on Facebook through her Grandpa Bill Grutter a high school class mate. I just love all of her beautiful smiling photos I see everyday in my news feed. These photos posted here are just so touching and amazing of Nella with her family, and as a fellow photographer I really appreciate all of the detail shots that give us a glimpse into her sweet life… love those precious little painted piggies :)
Thank you so much for sharing

Deb Grutter - January 15, 2014 - 3:58 am

Thank you for truly capturing the essence of this family. Amazing.

j. Puskas - January 30, 2014 - 11:29 pm

hello—I am a patient of Dr. Grutter. Over the past 2 years I have seen a most Wonderful, young man at work. Also I have seen a man who shares his life with me. In small ways he makes me feel like a friend as well as a patient. He and his Wife are made of special material indeed. I was very taken by their problems with their new baby girl. One just wants to hold her and pray that there is a glimmer of hope that some power above will bless her and heal her body. I can tell they give out great Love to this child—that Love will come back to them, I am sure of that. Giving out love, somehow, builds an inner strength a strength that is needed when times are not so good.
We should all pray for this small child and her family. After all, what is left when a cure is not to be had. Praying is Loving indeed. Build your inner strength now. give out Love to baby Nella many times over!

Back Behind the Lens Again

Well, life has been pretty darn crazy the past two years. I started this blog with the intention of keeping people updated on my photography…and somehow, it turned into a blog that kept people updated on my life instead. Nonetheless, it’s been a beautiful outlet for me. One that’s allowed me to express the deep heartache of losing my dad, and the deep joy of gaining my daughter. What a journey. But today, I’m ready to get back in the swing of things. Get back to “normal”…if that even exists.

So…come along. Won’t you?

Many of you have asked if I will continue to do photography now that I have a baby and have started a family. The answer…a resounding YES! In fact, I have left my career as a school guidance counselor and am now a stay at home mom. I LOVE it…it’s the best, yet absolute hardest job I’ve ever done. I obviously owe it all to God that I even have the opportunity to stay home and raise my little girl. But I also owe it to photography. It not only is something I deeply love, but it’s something that is helping provide for my family, allowing me to work, while still spending precious time with my daughter. I know many moms that don’t have a desire to stay home. I also know many moms who do..and can’t. So, believe me, I don’t take it for granted.

So in between diaper changes and midnight feedings, now seemed like as good of a time as any to try to get back in the swing of things and begin blogging about this job that I love so much.

First off…we have precious Harper. She is only 7 days old in these pictures. And she’s an absolute gem. Her mommy and daddy drove through Kansas City on their way to Chicago, their new home. At first, we were worried…Harper was bright eyed and not at all interested in going to sleep as we started her shoot. However, after a little cuddling from daddy, and a full tummy, we were well on our way to some pretty darn cute little photos. It was crazy to think that my sweet Zoey was this size just a few weeks ago.

Man, time flies.


This next family shoot was for my friend Katie and her amazing family. Katie and I went to college together, good ‘ole Bearcats. She and her husband have been overseas, stationed in Japan for years, and are just now returning to the states. They have a beautiful daughter, Ellie, and a pretty precious family pet, Maddie. We laughed about old times, and had so much fun reminiscing about the way things used to be. But we both agreed that as much fun as we had back then, we like things the way they are now. Today. In this moment.

It was so much fun to spend time with her sweet family.

And…don’t you think her husband is a Jim Caviezel look alike? I do.

Next up…my friend Amy and her family. Amy works with my husband Brandon as a fifth grade teacher. She’s not only an incredible teacher, but she’s an even more incredible mom. Her sweet son Brandon (not named after my husband…haha) is too cute for words. I seriously think he’s one of the most adorable kids I’ve ever seen. Those eyes melted my heart, and after spending just a few minutes with him, I was hooked on his precious little personality.

I’d like to say that I’m solely responsible for the amazing-ness of the photographs below. But when you have a family as good looking as theirs, they pretty much do the job themselves.

I love this boy. I love this family. I love my job.

Last but not least…the Lee family. This family has been coming to me for years. While I LOVE new clients, it’s so fun to have repeats..people & families that come back year after year. I get the privilege of not only seeing their two amazing kids grow up, but I get to see them go through life together, documenting the unique-ness that each year brings.

This family is so special to me. Darin and Jenn have an incredible marriage, and because of that, incredible kids. Love just radiates off of them, and they are some of the kindest people I know. Time with them hardly feels like work.

If I have a family half as great as theirs, I’m doing something right.

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Wow. It sure does feel good to be behind the camera again. Thanks for taking some time to come along with me…

If you have questions or want to set up an appointment, please visit my website for 2014 pricing updates as well as information on photo shoots! www.aohphotography.com

God bless you!

A Movie, A Mommy, & A Miracle.

My birth story. It all began with a Netflix subscription.

Curious?

Let’s rewind…pun intended.

It was a little over a year ago. We didn’t tell many people we were going to start trying for a family; after all, we had no guarantees. We wanted to believe that God would bless us with a child, but we knew dozens of incredible couples who wanted to have children, and just couldn’t. Without knowing what the future held, we decided to jump in with hopeful hearts, pray our way through it, and trust in God’s timing. Although we didn’t share it with many people, we did ask a few close friends to pray for our journey. We continued on, hoping that God had it in His plan for us to be parents.

When we shared our prayer request with a specific couple from our small group at church, they recommended we watch a documentary, a short film that presented various options on childbirth, specifically…natural childbirth. No interventions. Zilch. Nada. At first I thought it was a little comical; and a little CRAZY. After all, we weren’t even pregnant yet! And I definitely, DEFINITELY wasn’t going push this thing out without pain medicine.

Truth be told…I didn’t know much about birth. But I knew a lot about ME. And I did not like pain.

At all.

While I contemplated what they shared with me, I have to admit that I didn’t take it incredibly seriously. It faded to the back of my mind and I forgot about it…until one evening, a few weeks later, when I was visiting my parents in Hannibal. Mom and dad had gone to bed, and I found myself up late. Alone. And bored. I decided to give it a shot. I logged on to my Netflix account and looked it up: The Business of Being Born…by Ricki Lake.

YEP, the crazy talk show lady…this ought to be good.

My mom couldn’t sleep, and discovered I was still up, so she walked downstairs to check on me. Before I knew it, we were both glued to the screen. We stayed up like two little girls at a slumber party, munching on our Cheetos, totally engrossed. We were still talking about it the next morning at the breakfast table, which I’m sure absolutely thrilled my dad. The more I talked about it, the more it sounded like something I wanted to experience. When I told my parents I wouldn’t mind looking into it, they were incredibly supportive. I wasn’t surprised. While most people would think I was crazy, I knew they wouldn’t. I probably could have said I wanted to bungee jump while having a baby and they would have supported me.

And that’s why I love them.

A few weeks later, my husband Brandon and I watched it together. It was empowering. It was intriguing. And in the weirdest of ways, it actually made me excited to give birth. Even though we knew the documentary was one sided, as most are, it prompted us to began to research the options we had when it came to bringing our child into the world.

We immediately started praying and seeking God’s wisdom on the path He would have us to take. The more we entertained the idea, the more we both felt an extreme peace about trying to do a natural birth.We started doing some research; we decided that we wanted a middle ground. We appreciated the hospital setting, but didn’t think it was for us. We thought a home birth was cool, but weren’t quite brave enough to try it. That’s when we discovered New Birth Company, a free-standing birth center in Overland Park.

After going on a tour of the facility, we agreed that this was the place for us. It was peaceful. It was relaxing. It was personal. We fell in love with the laid-back, yet professional and qualified care that the midwives and nurses provided. We were hooked.

(Before I go on any further, and tell the remainder of my birth story, let me give you this disclaimer. One…there are pics of naked bellies below. Two…just because Brandon and I chose this path to bring our baby into the world, doesn’t mean we think other paths aren’t right or good enough. For us, it was perfect; but it may not be for everyone. Bottom line…birth is a beautiful and empowering experience. No matter where or how it occurs.)

Ok..Fast forward.

June 2013…39 weeks pregnant.

I could tell you about the many days of false labor I had, but I’ll spare you the details. The real stuff happened on the morning of Tuesday, June 11th. The contractions were very sporadic, so I decided I’d head in to the chiropractor to see if he could help move things along. After leaving the office, I anticipated they would start getting closer together. Instead, my body stalled for about 3 hours…with not one single contraction. I was bummed. I was tired. I was convinced that I was in for another sleepless night of the fake stuff.

However, later that afternoon, to my surprise, literally minutes after Brandon got home from teaching summer school, my contractions picked back up. This time, they didn’t let up, happening about every 5-10 minutes. We started getting excited. I knew we probably still had a ways to go, so I made a huge pan of my famous chicken enchiladas, and we settled in for our weekly Tuesday night routine…So You Think You Can Dance.

As soon as it was over, we headed out for a walk. Every night prior, my contractions had slowed down when we had started walking. Now, they were picking up speed; happening about every 5-7 minutes. I called my mom and updated her. I also called my sister in law, my brother, and my best friend. They were in charge of the ultra-organized phone tree I had so proudly created. I told them that tonight might be the night…and asked them to keep their phones close by. We walked to Cody’s, our favorite little guilty pleasure, (you Liberty people know what I’m talking about) and enjoyed a huge bowl of ice cream.

Turns out, it would be my last cold treat as a pregnant momma.

I went to bed that night, full of anticipation. I knew I needed to force myself to get some sleep, but it was oh-so-hard to let my body relax. I did end up falling asleep, only to wake up a few hours later to a very strong contraction. Another one followed nearly four minutes later. I wasn’t sure if this was the real deal, but I knew they felt different.

I woke up Brandon and told him that I thought this time, maybe really this time, these puppies were REAL. He was so excited. He called the birthing center, letting them know what the status was, and hopped in the shower.

Believe me. He’s not a morning person. But on this morning, he definitely was.

The nursery was prepped and ready. Because we didn’t know what we were having, and because we live in a rather small little bungalow, we chose to simply revamp the current office into a “nursery”.  This basically meant that we turned the dresser into a changing table, and bought a glider. While it wasn’t anything fancy, it worked for us…and we knew we would have time to personalize it to be more gender specific after he or she arrived.

FYI…The painting on the wall is a painting of the church we got married in, done by a close friend of mine. The Bible verse print is one of our favorite verses, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. The bulletin board is filled with ultrasound photos, cards from family, birth predictions (my brother had everything right but the weight), and little reminders of this child’s sweet papa….cards from his funeral/visitation, and a very special playing card, one that we used to tell my him we were pregnant a few months prior. 

We knew early in our pregnancy that we wanted to hire a doula. A doula is like a labor coach. They aren’t qualified to deliver your baby, but they are there all day with you, helping in any way they can, supporting you throughout your birth. They also help to keep you as calm and collected as possible by providing various positions and techniques to help you through labor. Our doula, Sarah Smith Young was AMAZING. Couldn’t have done it without her. She was already an acquaintance of ours, and she taught our childbirth classes, so by the time our labor came, we had developed a pretty strong relationship with her. I would highly recommend a doula if you’re experiencing your first pregnancy and birth, especially if you’re wanting to do it naturally. It was so calming to have her there throughout the day. She was an absolute godsend.

Sarah arrived at the house around 4:00 that morning. She encouraged me to continue to go through contractions at home until they were one minute long, 3-4 minutes apart, for around an hour. The birthing center agreed, and told us to come in when we got to that point.

Because we simply had to wait it out, and let my body work at its own speed, I tried to stay as relaxed as possible.  We sat, we watched Friends DVDs, and we ate pineapple. Ok, I ate pineapple. (and apparently hid under a Raider’s blanket)

I had never expected to go early. After all, it was still 5 days before my due date. Although I had secretly hoped to have a baby on Father’s Day, I was thrilled to not be overdue. I’d been on summer break for almost two weeks, so I’d had lots of time to relax. I was surprised at how great I felt as I entered the final week of my pregnancy. I was content…but I was also ready.

We started to get things together for our trip to the birthing center. Brandon began to cut strawberries as well as pack some blueberries, so I would have nutritious snacks to eat throughout the day. I watched him work, while snacking on some yummy orange “juice-cicles”. Sarah had suggested I make them, so when the time came where I couldn’t eat anything or keep anything down, I could chew on these rather than ice chips…and still get the essential nutrients. Genius. I loved them. I munched down a few in between contractions, and called my mom to let her know it was time.

Today we were going to have a baby.

It’s funny the things that seem “important” when you’re in labor.

Like calling my doula at 3:30 that morning to see if she had any waterproof mascara. After all, I had hired a birth photographer…and I wanted to look pretty for pictures. In order to do that, I needed to have mascara that would last all day…especially if I decided to have a water birth. It made perfect sense. To me, anyway.

Bless her heart…she brought me mascara. So I spent the final moments in my house, putting on makeup in between contractions. Classy.

This is one of the first shots of many that exemplify what an incredible husband I have. He was there for me all day long, providing love, support, and encouragement. Our first year of marriage was so tough, as we endured extremely painful losses as a couple. We had learned to rely on each other in ways that many couples never experience.

But it wasn’t until this day that I realized just how much I needed him.

needed him.

And he was there.

We made the choice around 6:00 a.m. to start getting things together in preparation for our drive to the birthing center.  I remember this moment so vividly…looking out my front window at the sun rising.

I remember thinking about how great God was to allow us this blessing, this joy.  I remember thinking about my daddy and how deeply I wished he were a part of this.  And I remember realizing that the next time the sun rose, I’d have a baby.

It was such a surreal, beautiful moment.

It was 6:38 a.m.

We packed up the car, and walked out of our house for the final time, just the “two” of us. It was such a weird feeling, knowing we’d come home with another family member, another life to add to our cozy little home. We sat together on the steps and prayed. Prayed a prayer of thankfulness over how God had taken care of our sweet baby up to this point. Prayers of safety for the 40 minute drive to the birthing center. And prayers of provision and mercy as we walked into the day ahead of us, a day that would change our lives forever.

We praised Him for the miracle of this new life, and for the opportunity to welcome this baby into our family.

Then we took one final family photo…and we were on our way.

We arrived at the birthing center around 7:30 a.m. My mom was there to meet us. Many of you know what a special relationship we have. It was so great to see her. She had driven there earlier that morning, hoping to beat the Kansas City rush hour traffic. I greeted her with an excited hug and we made our way in. We opened the door to an entire team of midwives and nurses, whooping and hollering, cheering us on.  They were so welcoming, right from the start. They all believed in me. I could feel it.

I was ready. I was rejuvenated. I could do this.

I knew right then and there that we had made the right decision about where to give birth. I felt like we were walking into a party thrown just for us, like we were being welcomed by people who loved and cherished us. I felt such a peace…God had meant for this place and for these people to be part of my birth story. I was so thankful.

I went in to be checked. I was 4 cm dilated and 90% effaced. She suggested that I take a walk outside on the grounds for about two hours and then return to be checked once more. The goal was to get to a 5 or 6 before they admitted me. It was also at this point that she realized that the baby was a little crooked. The head wasn’t positioned straight down into my pelvis, but rather a little sideways. She suggested that I go through contractions while leaning back on either Brandon or my doula as they applied pressure to help my hips open up for the baby to move down.

One of my favorite things about this place…they absolutely spoiled me. Before we went outside, they whipped me up a YUMMY berry smoothie to help get some necessary nutrients into my body. It was delicious.

I laugh at these next photos. I told Brandon I seem like the snooty Hollywood girl who has to wear her sunglasses and have her smoothie delivered to her throughout her contractions.

I have to admit. It wasn’t bad being treated so good.

We spent the next two hours walking around the grounds surrounding the birthing center. It was a beautiful day, and I felt fortunate to be able to go outside, getting some much needed fresh air.

At this point, it was around 8:00 a.m. New Birth Company is located in Overland Park, Kansas, in an area with several small businesses…yet it feels remote, as it’s completely surrounded by trees. Because it was prime time to head to work, there were lots of people driving by; we got quite a few interesting looks.

I’m sure they didn’t expect to see a woman in labor walking down the street, drinking a smoothie.

Hey, there’s a first time for everything.

Things were getting increasingly more painful and intense as more time passed. I knew I needed to continue eating and drinking as much as possible, in order to keep my strength up, so I worked on drinking my smoothie…and lots of water. Briana, my birth photographer, decided to go get bagels for breakfast, knowing that the more we got into the day, the less I would feel like eating. I took a few bites, but at this point, I was starting to feel pretty nauseas and didn’t know how much would stay down. I kept going through the contractions until around 9:30 a.m. when we made our way back to the birthing center.

When we arrived, they checked me again and I was between 5 & 6 cm dilated. They admitted me and led me to my birthing suite. As you can see in the photos below, the room was absolutely beautiful. It was like giving birth in a hotel room…only without the cable.

We unpacked the car and got settled in.

There are various things that the birthing center does differently than a hospital. For one, they don’t do continual fetal monitoring. They do monitor the heartbeat often to make sure the baby is doing well, but you’re not hooked up to monitors continually, which allows you to move more freely during labor.

Each time she would monitor me, I’d smile at the sound of that sweet heartbeat. It would take me back to my 10 week appointment, when I experienced it for the very first time. It was the most incredible sound.

Truth is, I never got tired of hearing it.

Around 11:30 a.m., I was checked again by my midwife, Kelly. I was 7 cm dilated! I was so excited. I knew that meant a few things.

One: I only had 3 more centimeters until I was ready to push.

Two: I was entering the transition phase of labor, the toughest, yet shortest, phase.

In transition labor, the contractions are only a minute or two apart, and they can double peak, or overlap. It usually lasts around 2 hours at most, and when you get through this phase, it’s time to push. While the pain was beginning to become pretty unbearable, I knew this was a good sign. I was getting close. I was excited. It would only be a matter of hours before I got to meet my sweet baby.

There were other people that were excited to meet the baby, too. My wonderful father in law was flying in that day from California. His plane was scheduled to land at 2:30 that afternoon. I remember thinking that for sure, for sure, we’d have a baby by then.

But my little darling had other plans.

While the labor was progressing really smoothly, it was much harder than I had expected it would be. Sarah, my doula, could sense that I needed to change it up, do something different. She suggested I get in the water and go through a few contractions in the tub. It can ease the intensity of labor, and at this point, I was willing to try anything to help take the edge off. Kelly monitored the baby, Sarah began to run the water, and I got into my little purple bikini, ready to jump in.

Note to self: Next time you buy a swimsuit to labor in, buy a medium.

Boy, did I relish that time in between contractions. Oh, the feeling of sweet relief.

Even if it was only for a minute.

I was only in the tub for about fifteen minutes. I was surprised that it wasn’t something I enjoyed more, but I found myself having a difficult time getting comfortable. Darn those long legs, I kept feeling squished in there. Combine that with the pain of contractions and I just couldn’t make it work.

So, much to my disappointment, I decided to get out.

I got out of the tub and got ready to dry off. They immediately offered me a robe to wear. Brandon said that this moment made him smile…because he knew I didn’t want their robe. I quickly declined and informed them that I had brought my own robe. My dad’s robe…and I wouldn’t be wearing some silly white one.

My robe had super powers. After all, it belonged to the only super hero I ever knew.

I put the robe on. I remember closing my eyes and envisioning my daddy wrapping his arms around me. He loved that robe. And he loved me. And at that moment, I knew that he was there. I could feel him.

And all I could do was cry.

Every time I cried, every time I winced, every time I breathed, my husband was there.

I have always loved him…but my love for him multiplied as each hour passed. We were a team. A pretty darn good one, too.

He was my rock. My strength. I leaned on him, literally…all day long.

This is the point in the day where I remember there being a clear shift in the amount of pain that I was in. The contractions prior had been very intense, but I breathed through each one, and was able to relax for a minute or two in between. Once I got out of the tub, it seemed that they were stronger and much closer together, and my ability to cope with them seemed to be diminishing. It was the first time that I remember thinking I didn’t know if I could do it.

A few months prior to our birth, we had taken Bradley Classes to help educate us about natural birth. While we loved our classes, we often poked fun of the women on the dvds we’d watch. In many instances, they’d be half nude (or all the way) and would go through labor making low moaning sounds. They said it helped keep them centered and relaxed. However, I just thought it looked silly. And I swore I’d never do that.

Well…shortly after getting out of the tub, the shirt was gone. Too uncomfortable.

And not long after that, my breathing turned into slow, low moans.

Moral of the story? Don’t judge the 1980′s women giving birth until you’ve been in their shoes.

The littlest things become the biggest annoyances when you are in extreme pain. Like chapped lips.

This is my sweet mom trying to put chapstick on me in between contractions. Half ended up on my mouth, half ended up in my mouth. Notice everyone laughing at me. Not cool.

At this point in the afternoon, contractions were coming about every one to two minutes. Although they varied in length, they were incredibly intense. I started to feel weak and tired. After experiencing two nights of false labor, followed by a night of real labor, I was heading into my third day with no sleep. I was exhuasted. My body was feeling so worn down, and mentally, I was starting to fade as well.

This is really where Sarah and Brandon stepped up. They were there for me on so many levels, encouraging me and keeping me sane. I couldn’t have done it without them.

It was almost 2:00 p.m. Since I was 7 cm dilated at 11:00 a.m. that morning, I had thought the baby would be here by early afternoon. Many of my family members had made their way to the birthing center, and were sitting, waiting patiently for news on the arrival of our sweet baby. Because Brandon and my mom were such active parts of my labor, they didn’t have as much time to update people as much as they would have liked. Therefore,  many of them were starting to get worried, after hours of no news. My brother and I are very close. He was working that day and hadn’t heard from my mom in awhile. He had stopped getting texts from her, so he called her to see if I was ok.

He asked if he could bring me anything.

I said…an epidural.

I was starting to feel extremely light headed, like I was going to faint. I hadn’t had much rest up to that point, so Kelly, my midwife, asked me to lay down on the bed and try to go through a few contractions there, taking time to rest in between. I remember being shocked at how much more excruciating the pain was when I was laying on my back. It literally took my breath away. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to rest in between them because I was so anxious about the next one coming.

I don’t remember how long I laid there. But I remember that it hurt. A LOT.

I’m so incredibly glad that we decided to hire a doula. I never anticipated I’d need her as much as I did, but I was so thankful to have such a kind, godly woman there with me to guide me through the day with such love. Having two kids at home and one on the way, I knew she understood…and that was oh-so comforting.

Because the pain was so intense, I had my eyes closed, to focus, for nearly the last four to five hours of my labor. I had to keep myself centered, otherwise I felt like the pain would overtake me. She was incredible…she gave me so much strength. Whether it was wiping sweat from my brow, or holding my hand, she was there. I remember continually hearing her sweet voice in my ear, whispering encouragement throughout the entire afternoon. I’d hear her pray over me, pray for God’s mercy and grace, for His protection. I’d hear her praying over the baby. I’d hear her gently guiding me, telling me that I could do it. That I was strong. That God made my body to do this.

Most of all, she kept reminding me that every contraction, every breath, every ounce of pain brought me even one minute closer to meeting my baby.

I moved to a new position every 15-30 minutes. This time, they moved me to the side of the bed and had me squat, to help push the baby down during contractions. The pressure was incredibly overwhelming. My mom was holding my hands, and my poor husband was pinned to the wall behind me, supporting my back.  The first contraction started, and peaked. When I say “peaked”, that means that it reached the most painful, most intense part. Usually each contraction peaks, like a mountain. Starts, builds up, and then releases. As the first contraction was letting go, I suddenly felt it rise again. In labor and delivery terms, they call that “double peaking”. They are unbearably painful.

Look at the clock. This contraction lasted almost 4 minutes.

I thought I was going to die.

While this was a difficult day for me, it was a difficult day for my mom as well. Only in a completely different way. She told me later that seeing me like that was one of the hardest things she’s ever been through. I was getting so weary, so worn out. I remember looking at her, begging her to make it stop, to help me, to take away the pain. I know she felt helpless…because all she could do was hold me, comfort me, and remind me that she was there for me.

But it was exactly what I needed.

At this point, I was incredibly tired. I didn’t think the baby would ever come. It seemed that people kept telling me it would be soon, that we would be pushing before we knew it…yet nothing progressed. I remember feeling like everyone in the room was lying to me. Like maybe this baby would never actually come out and no one wanted to tell me. I told Kelly, my midwife, that I didn’t think this was going to happen. I asked her if she thought that I really had the strength to have this baby. If I didn’t, I wanted to tranfer to the hospital. I wanted to get this baby out. And I wanted to go now.

I felt stuck, mentally and physically. I had vomited, losing precious nutrients and energy. It was after 4:00 p.m., and I’d been in transition labor for almost 5 hours. 

Kelly was an amazing midwife. I absolutely loved her. She was so good at pinpointing exactly what I needed, when I needed it. As I started to fade, she sensed that I needed some pumping up, some fresh energy in the room. She called in for another midwife, Cathy, to join us. From the moment she entered the room, I could feel her presence. She didn’t just encourage me to keep going, she demanded it. She knew what I was capable of, and she knew that I needed to be told once more, just one more time, that I could do it. She was incredible. They made a great team.

About 20 minutes after she arrived, Sarah suggested that I move to the bathroom, and labor on the toilet for a little bit. The sitting position can help to open up the pelvis and help the baby descend. I was willing to try anything. We went in, turned off the lights, and got away from the world for awhile. I endured through another few contractions with my sweet husband and doula by my side.

This is where things really picked up. When I got out of the bathroom, I went directly to the bed. They checked me and I was almost fully dilated, so they stretched me the final half centimeter until I was at a 10.

Did you hear that folks? A TEN.

Finally.

It was 4:28 p.m. One of my favorite moments of the day. The moment they told me I could push. I could push! I was thrilled.

Normally, they would have had me push in a standing or sitting position, because the pressure would often help the baby descend and could potentially cut the pushing time in half. However, because I was so weak, they suggested that I lay on my back on the bed, so that I could rest in between contractions. It took me awhile to get the hang of it, but it felt good to be doing something. It felt good to be one step closer to meeting my baby.

Anything felt better than those contractions.

5:24 p.m.

One hour of pushing down. Little did I know at the time, I had over an hour to go.

Much to my surprise, I have to tell you…I loved pushing. It was the part, prior to the birth, that I was the most scared about. But looking back now, it was the part that I loved the most. The energy that I used to push somehow diminished the pain of the contractions.

Oh…they were still there. But it was almost like I was controlling them, rather than letting them control me. It was empowering.

In our childbirth classes, we had learned many various strategies to help ease the pain by relaxing our bodies during labor. Up until this point, I’d done a fairly good job at maintaining a low moan, breathing as I made slow and steady sounds during the contractions. But about an hour and a half into the pushing…I lost it. I felt it. The dreaded “ring of fire”. Without going into too much detail, this is the fiery, burning feeling that happens when “things” begin to stretch past their capacity…usually when the baby’s head is crowning for the first time.

So much for the low moans.

I let out a high pitched scream. It hurt.

Although I’d been in a lot of pain throughout the day, I’d never been scared…until now. Kelly was amazing. When we reached a break between contractions, she looked me right in the eyes and gently spoke these words over me… “Sweetie, this is going to hurt. But you have come too far to stop now. You can do this…you have to do this. Because when you do, it will all be over. Push through the pain and you get to meet your baby. C’mon sweetie. You can do this.”

I love reading birth stories. In fact, before I even gave birth I was excited to write mine. I would spend hours searching the internet, reading birth stories, about all kinds of births. I was a little addicted. A few months before my due date, my sweet friend Megan would email me each day with a new birth story. She had given birth at the birthing center as well, and she knew it would inspire me to continue down this path. I remember crying through them, hanging on to every word. I would get so excited as I would near the end of the story, knowing that soon, very soon, I would get to read that it was all worth it…that every ounce of pain had vanished the instant they laid eyes on their sweet miracle.

I had no idea how true that was.

It was 6:30 p.m. The room was filled with people…two midwives, three nurses, my mom, my birth photographer, my doula, and my husband. I never thought I’d be the type of person to have that many people watch me give birth…until I actually did it. And as the day went on, I learned to rely on each person in a very real and beautiful way. We were a team. I realized each person was there for a reason…placed in my life for this moment. And I was so thankful.

My husband stood next to me, watching me push, holding my hand. Over and over and over I heard him say, “Good job sweetie, you can do it sweetie. I know you can. Good job sweetie, you’re almost there.”

Then, all of a sudden I saw him bouncing up and down. A huge smile spread across his face.

Tears welled up on his eyes. The bouncing intensified.

Then he froze.

And cried.

At 6:32 p.m. on June 12, 2013, our sweet baby was born. Eyes wide open, staring straight at her daddy.

And they were right. Every ounce, every single, solitary ounce of pain was gone.

In an instant.

I remember feeling the most amazing, intense, and immediate love. I remember wondering how in the heck she fit inside of me. I remember the feeling of her tiny hand as it landed on my chest. And I remember my first words…

“I did it!”

But most of all, I remember the moment that we found out we had a daughter.

I was a mom. And I had a precious, beautiful, healthy baby girl.

I also had an absolutely incredible husband. I don’t know what I would have done without him that day.

Every time I look at these pictures, I am reminded of the amazing love that I felt in those moments, both for my husband and for my daughter. It’s so hard to even put into words. Oh, how I wish I could relive it…over and over and over.

I’ve always felt loved and cherished by him. But the way he looked at me in those moments after our daughter was born changed everything. The pride in his eyes absolutely melted my heart. We were a family now. This life that lay in my arms was something we had created…together.

And she was perfect.

About three weeks before our baby was born, I had a dream that I was at the birthing center, and I gave birth to a sweet baby girl. She had dark brown hair that was combed to the side, and long, beautiful lashes.  Everyone was there. Including my dad. He had on his favorite cap and a red St. Louis Cardinals sweatshirt.

The nurses wrapped her up and put her in my arms. I held her for awhile, and then handed her to him. He smiled. He scooped her up in his strong arms and just stared at her, tears welling up in his eyes. Then he asked me what her name was.

“It’s Zoey”, I told him.

He told me that he loved the name. That she was beautiful. Just like me.

After her birth, we spent some time alone, just the three of us, before letting the rest of the family in. It was such a sweet and priceless time. We knew we needed to make the final decision on what her name would be.  It didn’t take long. Brandon looked over at me, with tears in his eyes, and smiled.

Zoey. It needed to be Zoey.

After all, my daddy was there that day. I knew it. I felt it. And if what I believe about heaven is true, he met her far before we ever did.

We chose the middle name, Christine, after my mom. In a way, we felt like the name honored both my mom and my dad. After all, in the months since my dad had passed away, my mom has been the rock of our family. She moved from our home three hours away to be here with my brother and I, to walk through life with us, to allow us to experience the ups and downs of life together. I know that my dad would have loved to see his first granddaughter named after his beautiful, selfless wife….my incredible, godly, servant-hearted mom.

She is the most incredible woman I know. And on that day, the day her first granddaughter was born, I wouldn’t have wanted her anywhere else than by my side. She was there for me when I needed assurance that I could do it.  She was there for me when I needed strength and comfort. She was there for me when I needed someone to truly understand how much I missed my daddy.

I held such confidence in my mom’s love for me…it was solid, unwavering. Yet up to this point, I’d have to say that I never fully understood how powerful those feelings truly were.

Until the moment I laid eyes on my daughter.

I knew.

knew how much she loved me.

My Dearest Jeni,

I am sitting here in the waiting area of New Birth. Sitting here wondering how time has passed so quickly. My baby having a baby, still seems so unreal.

I know I have told you this before, but I want you to hear it again. You have brought me joy from your very first breath. God used you to bring so many blessings into my life. My walk with Jesus, my marriage to your dad, even Daniel’s birth began because of how God used you in my life.

I am so proud of the woman you are. I know you were created to be a mom. I’ve known that since you were very young. As I am writing this, you are enduring the pain that will produce the most amazing miracle. And I am telling God, as I have a thousand times before, “Take care of my precious baby girl.” 

That’s as far as I got. I had expected to have hours in the waiting room, hours to write my thoughts to you. But you called me into the room and gave me the most amazing blessing. So here I am, over a week later, finishing what I began.

The words seem even harder now. How do I tell you how much it meant for you to include me in Zoey’s birth? I didn’t expect it. Even after you called me back into the room, I never dreamed I would be given the chance to share the entire labor and birth with you. To witness your amazing strength and the miracle of Zoey’s entrance into the world.

At the start of this letter, I sat in the waiting room, telling you how proud I was of you. And now I sit at my desk in my apartment feeling that pride magnified. My beautiful daughter, you were so strong. You bravely gave your daugther your best and all that were in the room were in awe of you.

I also saw something else that was beautiful. I saw you and Brandon work as a team. You told him what you needed and he had your back. And together you shared the miracle that the two of you created. It was awesome to watch. It shows me what you two are capable of together. It shows me how blessed little Zoey is. She truly has two parents commited to her and to one another.

It seems like ages ago that Dad and I were holding you. I will never forget how he first held you. He looked at you like he had never seen anthing so beautiful in his entire life. And he kept looking at you that way. Jeni, he would have been so very proud of you, too. I believe he would say, Jeni, she’s beautiful. Just like her mom.

It’s so hard without him here in the flesh. But Jeni, a huge part of him is here. You have so much of your daddy in you. I see him so often when I look at you. And Zoey will get to know him, too, by knowing you.

You have over a week behind you. I marvel at how much you’ve learned so quickly. But it doesn’t surprise me. Like I said before, I’ve always known you would be an amazing mom. I feel so blessed to get to share these priceless moments with you. To get to encourage you. To give you a hand when I can. I love you so very much.

Your eyes were often fixed on your daddy, so you might not know it; but your mom has always believed you were beautiful, too.

I am so very proud of you,

Mom

Well, there it is…my birth story.

My love story.

As I sit here, sipping my coffee, I glance up from my screen to see my precious daughter, sleeping peacefully in the arms of her daddy. He is not only the amazing man that God has created for me, but the man that God has created just for her, too. He is my incredible husband. She is my beautiful daughter. They are my family.

My eyes slowly move to the other side of the room. I see the picture of her papa on the nightstand. My heart swells with pride. After all, I already see him in her. She has my smile.

And I have his.

My sweet Zoey. Her name means “life”.

So fitting. Because, thanks to her…mine will never be the same.

 

 

New Birth Company    www.newbirthcompany.com

Sarah Young, doula     http://ohbabynaturalchildbirth.weebly.com

Briana Gray, birth photographer    www.shadesofgraykc.com

The Business of Being Born     www.thebusinessofbeingborn.com

 

 

 

 

Julie McCubbins - August 9, 2013 - 2:12 am

Your story is a wonderful gift for so many, but especially for Zoey. .

Jaelle - August 9, 2013 - 2:41 am

Jeni… this is so beautiful. I cried thru the whole thing… I love everything about birth and labor.. I want with all my heart to be a doula… and I loved reading your words and seeing the photographs..you can tell by your stomach how the baby is moving down and your body is working so hard! The memories and sweet feelings of your dad being there. The way your husband and you worked together as a team. Your loving mom there by your side. Such a beautiful story. I love birth stories! Yours is a gorgeous story! Congratulations, God Speed, and your beautiful Zoey is so blessed to have you and Brandon as her parents! Love, JL ~

Allison French - August 9, 2013 - 11:30 am

I found your birth story this morning and am almost in tears reading it. I photographed my first birth ever at New Birth this week and hearing your side of it makes what was a beautiful experience for me even more precious. Thank you for sharing, congratulations, and blessings to your sweet family!

Beth @ The Goad Abode - August 9, 2013 - 2:03 pm

Jeni, this is amazing! What a long and beautiful experience you and Brandon had. I loved reading it and hearing about Zoey’s arrival! She is just precious. Putting the experience of childbirth into words is so difficult, isn’t it?

Blessings to you three! I can’t wait to meet her next time we pass through Liberty :)

Allison Fox - August 9, 2013 - 2:28 pm

Wow! I am bawling as I read your story. I don’t know you, but I found your story through Briana’s Facebook post this morning. Your story is amazing and really touch my soul. I am preparing for the birth of our first child, a little boy! Your strength, faith, and love has really made me realize how much I want a birth story like yours. I knew I wanted to do it naturally, but convincing my husband of the doula has been tough. I’m sending him your story to hopefully open his mind to the option and have a peaceful natural delivery. Thank you sooooo much for your openness and love. I can see you are already an amazing person and wish the best for your family!

Christine. Cole - August 9, 2013 - 7:17 pm

Thank you for sharing this amazing treasure. God makes beautiful families and yours is one of the most beautiful I have known. Many blessings to you and your wonderful family. Love you, Christine.

Pam Davis - August 13, 2013 - 5:02 am

LOVE this…..

Dana Alley - August 14, 2013 - 2:17 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful story! I’m due February 2014. A friend of mine told me about The Business of Being Born, and it has influenced my decision to choose The New Birth Company as the place to have our baby. Your experience is so beautiful and inspiring. God Bless!

Therese - August 22, 2013 - 2:01 pm

I’m not even a crier and I was teary-eyed by the end of this. Thank you for sharing. It’s just perfect!

My Dad’s Legacy. One Moment, One Day at a Time.

This morning I traveled to watch my sweet nephew play his very first game of soccer. We weren’t going to miss this for the world. Uncle Bibi and Aunt Jeni arrived, camera in tow, sporting a small blue thermos to give to Levi in honor of his first game. After all, that’s how all the big boys do it, right?

He couldn’t have looked any cuter in his mini shin guards, tall socks, and soccer shorts. As if I’m not already so proud of who he is growing up to be, my heart suddenly swelled so big. I just LOVE being his aunt.

My sweet nephew. Born at almost 9 pounds, he’s always been a bit on the “sturdier side”, a pretty solid little guy. But as we’ve watched him grow, we’ve realized that his rough & tumble exterior houses a super-sweet, sensitive little boy with a huge, tender heart. Oftentimes people mistake him as the kind of kid that will just run over anyone in his way; but he’s been perfectly created to have the best of both worlds. A tough exterior with a soft heart.

About a half hour into practice, a routine game of chase went a little awry, and Levi became scared and upset. Tears running down his face, he immediately ran to the sidelines to his daddy. Daniel scooped him up, took him away from everyone, and sat down on the sidewalk next to him, making sure he was ok. I sat there and watched as my brother comforted my nephew, consoling & protecting him, yet pushing him to continue to do what he knew he could do.

I kind of got lost in the moment. Because all I could think about was my dad.

I watched as my brother carried on my dad’s legacy…right in front of my eyes. And when they were done talking, he took his son’s little hand in his, walked him back to the field, and encouraged him to get right back in the game. And guess what? He did. Not because he wasn’t scared any more, but because he knew his daddy was there. His daddy believed in him…and that was all he needed to know.

The rest of the game continued on without a hitch. Levi followed the mob of three year olds as they chased the ball around the field, and we stood on the sidelines, just as proud as we could be, cheering on his every move. But I knew that while this was just an everyday moment for many others, for me it was bittersweet.

After all, I thought about my dad the entire time. I thought about how much he would have loved to see this, to be a part of all of this. How proud he would have been, not only of Levi, but of Daniel as well. How rewarding it would have been for him to see the lessons he had taught his own son, being passed down to the next generation. He would have stood on the sidelines with a huge smile on his face. He would have hugged us and told us he loved us. He would have been one proud Papa.

The last few weeks, rather than get easier, it’s gotten harder somehow. I’ve found myself struggling to remember the man he used to be. I lay awake at night, haunted by the images of his final days and hours. Although we were blessed with many special moments, it seems that lately, all I can remember is the quick & painful fade of one of the strongest and most vibrant men I knew.

But today, as bittersweet as it was, I also got to see his legacy live on, one small moment at a time. I saw it in the gentle way my brother comforted Levi…I know exactly who he learned that from. I saw it in Levi’s eyes, when he would scan the sidelines to make sure his daddy was watching. I saw it in the protection that my brother provided my nephew, the same protection and that dad always provided to us.

While my heart literally aches to think of the days ahead and what he will miss, I cling to days like today, where I see him live on in those most precious to me. I know that he will live on in brave mother, my amazing brother, my incredible nephews, and even my own child some day soon.

His life, his legacy, makes mine more beautiful. And he will live on in me, too. I’ll make sure of it.

Linda Thompson - March 31, 2013 - 3:35 am

Jeni,
What a beautiful post, and amazing pictures. You are so gifted in
you talents. Keeping your Dads memories alive in words and pictures. Thank you so much for sharing…
Linda Thompson