I have to say, it feels like I was JUST sitting down to write out a birth story. So much about our life has changed in just one year. I don’t think I have fully wrapped my mind around it all. Just eight days after I gave birth to baby Graham, we celebrated what would have been Baby James’ first birthday. We remembered him and celebrated his life while holding a brand new life, and I just can’t get over that. It’s the greatest blessing, and such a beautiful and redemptive part of our story.
I gave birth to James on May 1st and we said hello and goodbye on that day. Three months later, on August 1st, I was pregnant with Graham. We had prayed about trying and realized that we had potentially one chance to get pregnant with our rainbow baby before needing to wait a significantly longer amount of time because of a crazy wedding season. Michael and I prayed about this…. it was such a risk… emotionally and physically. After everything we had just been through… every heartbreaking appointment, every disappointment, every hard detail of losing James… should we really put ourselves in a position to potentially relive something like that again? It was definitely scary, but we knew that we wouldn’t get pregnant if it wasn’t the right time, and we also knew that if we did get pregnant God would have a purpose for whatever would happen next in our story.
I have always heard of women who say they just KNEW they were pregnant from the very beginning and I have always thought that seemed impossible…. but this time around, I knew. I knew we were beginning the next season of our story immediately. Lots of tears… lots of hope… lots of anticipating. I remember being at the lake with friends and family a week or so after trying and feeling crampy out on the boat. I wanted to be hopeful but I also new it was a long shot. Michael and I came home from the lake and I told him I was going to take a test. We laid on our bed and prayed as we waited to see if two lines would appear…. and they did. Very clearly. I couldn’t believe it. Insert more happy tears. I quickly realized that this baby’s due date would be within 7 days of the one year anniversary of James’ birthday and once I realized that, I truly started to believe that this could really be our redemption story.
The months and weeks following were hard. I envisioned having to tell the world that we were pregnant, only to announce a miscarriage later on. I envisioned hearing hard things at every appointment. I could see us getting hopeful just to be devastated…. but those things never happened. Week by week, this baby continued to grow. At 8 weeks there was an umbilical cord cyst and protein in my urine that made us think that I may have had some damage from developing pre-eclampsia right after James’ delivery, but by week 12 those things were gone. We continued this pregnancy with one good appointment after another. It felt surreal to leave our doctor’s office with only good news to share with our families.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago…. I was around 38 weeks pregnant and I started believing that our easy pregnancy would turn complicated at the very end. Complicated was all that we had ever known!
If you don’t have 3 hours to read through Evy and James’ birth stories (HERE and HERE), here’s a recap of our past…. I had gestational diabetes with Evy, an aggressive tumor that almost ate through my knuckle on my index finger and had to be surgically removed when I was 9 months pregnant, and an awful OB experience being told that I could never deliver my first baby vaginally because of her size. James was our second baby. It was a surprise pregnancy when Evy was just 8 months old. At 20 weeks he was diagnosed with Down Syndrome with severe complications, including a cystic hygroma and hydrops, and was not supposed to survive past 24 weeks. He lived until 31 weeks and I delivered him the day we lost him. I developed severe pre-eclampsia immediately after his birth because of all that was wrong with his placenta and his swelling. I had to spend two extra days in the hospital and was put on magnesium in order to correct the pre-eclampsia.
See why I was so convinced that my third pregnancy would have to be complicated somehow? But it wasn’t.
Monday morning, April 22nd, I had a massage at 10am and then an OB appointment at 2:00pm where I had my membranes stripped for the third time. I then came home and told Michael that I wanted to ride on our zero-turn lawn mower… hoping that the bumps and jolts around the yard would start labor. Nothing happened throughout dinner but at 8:00pm, we hopped on a zoom call with some friends of ours, and I noticed a few contractions that were low. They weren’t Braxton Hicks… they were different.
They were 10 minutes apart and then 20 minutes apart. I had no idea if this was labor…. I hadn’t ever been in labor before! So I finished packing the hospital bag (I was 2 days from my due date… procrastination at its’ finest!) and I told Michael to sleep upstairs. I was having a hard time sleeping through the contractions and hearing him snore just made me mad! :) I got some sleep and then woke up feeling like nothing was happening. After being up and walking around for about an hour, contractions restarted and were about 4 minutes apart. They stayed that way for almost 5 hours. I called the OB office and they told me I could come into the office, but since I had the monitors to check my blood pressure and his heart rate I chose to stay home a little while longer, and I’m glad I did.
They say go to the hospital when you don’t want your picture taken anymore…. I was getting close to that point! ha!
Our good friend Jill drove into town and came to the house for lunch. Momma, Emy, Michael, Jill and the toddlers all hung out while I labored at home. I always wanted to be able to labor at home for a while before heading to the hospital. It got to the point where I didn’t want to eat anything… the only thing that sounded good was a Chick Fil A chocolate milkshake! (I mean, when doesn’t a Chick Fil A milkshake sound good?!) We decided to head to the hospital around 1:00pm and I was admitted by 2:00pm. I’m just going to put this out there…. TRIAGE is INFURIATING when you are in labor! One nurse said “Ok, we need to figure out if we’re going to keep you or not!” and I wanted to say “Oh, you’re keeping me!!! I’m not going anywhere!!!!”. Don’t get me wrong, the nurses and staff were great… we adore this hospital… I was just in PAIN!
I was 5cm, 80% effaced and he was engaged. It was a little disappointing to hear that after hours and hours of strong contractions at home I was only at 5 cm… but I was halfway there and so I needed to just focus on keeping things moving. I got to our room and met our midwife. Her name was Brenda and she had the most peaceful demeanor. She talked to us and asked why I wanted a natural birth, and so I told her our story (in between contractions of course!). I have to admit…. I didn’t go into the hospital 100% committed to a natural birth. I wanted a natural birth but I also knew that an epidural had done wonders for me in the past and I wasn’t afraid of them….. in fact, I’ve only had good experiences with them! I’ve heard that if you go into this process without fully dedicating to a natural birth no matter how painful it gets, you usually don’t end up avoiding the epidural, and I remember that statistic floating around in my head throughout the day. I really had no idea how this was going to go.
Brenda asked our nurse to move us to a room with a tub (praise the LORD for that tub! It came in handy later on). I’m so thankful that she knew that I needed this. Brenda, our nurse Steph, and Michael helped me make it down the hall to a new room through a bad contraction and once we got there…. it seemed like I couldn’t get a break. I stopped having conversations in between contractions because I needed to just rest before another wave hit. I rotated on the ball, tried standing and holding onto Michael’s shoulders for some, tried laying down for some (horrible idea), tried just leaning over on the bed for some (much better idea)…. but no matter what I did, it was intense. The pain level was HIGH and I started asking Brenda how much longer she thought it would be…. which she obviously couldn’t tell me… but I was desperate to have a gauge of how long I would have to live like this.
In my mind, I felt like I could keep going if I knew when the end would be…. but that’s not how labor works. Brenda reminded me to take it one contraction at a time… and I would… but then I would think “Um, If I have to do this for 8 more hours, I CAN’T!!!”. It was getting to the point where I would cry during the worst part of each contraction and I was starting to lose hope that I could keep going without an epidural… but then I noticed something that I had noticed with James’ and Evy’s births. The nurse started prepping the baby warmer thing. Then I noticed that Brenda never left the room like she said she was going to do. This may sound like no big deal, but it was a big deal for me. I knew what those things meant…. they could tell something was happening and they were preparing for it. Praise the Lord!!! Maybe the end was closer than I thought!!
I remember asking when I could be checked again to see if any progress was being made. In my mind, I wanted to be checked because if I was only at 6cm, I was going to ask for an epidural. It had been two hours since I had last been checked and while I know they normally want to wait longer than that, I was desperate for an update. Brenda checked me and much to my surprise (and relief!) said “Ok, you’re at 8…. this is transition… let’s get the tub ready.” I laid my head back on the bed and cried. I felt so relieved that this was IT… this was the worst part, I was progressing quickly and I knew the end was coming. I got in the tub and it felt like the closest thing to an epidural. Heavenly. The water was HOT and it was wonderful!! It was the first feeling of relief that I had had for hours. I remember Brenda somewhat sternly telling me “If you feel like you need to push, you HAVE to get out”. These were not birthing tubs, they are for relief but not for delivering babies. I stayed in the tub for about 20-25 minutes, and Jilly came back to the room around this time.
This is where it got kinda confusing and scary for me. I had no reason to be scared… but I knew the hardest part was coming and I had never been able to feel pushing 100% before. I went through a few contractions on the bed that were just awful. It hurts just to think about them. I felt like I was close to pushing but looking back, I probably could have waited another contraction or two. I hadn’t hit the “I need to push! I can’t help it!” phase, but I did feel a ton of pressure and so I started pushing. It seemed so foreign to me because it didn’t feel like the pushing I had experienced before. With Evy, I could feel the pressure but didn’t feel pain. Pushing was a relief with her and I felt like I got the hang of it quickly. James was breech but I only pushed for 15 minutes. In my head, I had planned on pushing like TWICE to get this third baby out and that was a horrible expectation to put on myself. Now that I know I was about to push out my biggest baby yet, I should have had more realistic expectations!!
I pushed and I could tell what a good push felt like and a halfway push. I felt beyond exhausted and I think I even said “I don’t think I can do this!!” and someone said “Yes you can, and ummm….you have to!!!”. I don’t know if I have ever felt more overwhelmed in my life. I just felt like nothing was happening, and I didn’t have the strength to push as hard as I knew I needed to, AND I was terrified of the pain. I remember saying “What can I do better?! Oh no, I don’t feel the ring of fire… it’s going to get worse, isn’t it!?!”. Brenda would say something encouraging and I would say “Ok, ok, ok” and then try again. The interesting thing is that while this part was painful… the actual contractions were slower and less intense. How nice of my body to give me a little break while I figured out how to get a huge baby out of me and into the world!!
Something I will never forget…. right after pushing started, our nurse from both Evy’s and James’ birth came in. Sweet Sarah. Just seeing her gave me such a sweet sense of comfort and familiarity. I just love her and so does Michael. She held my leg, and I remember that feeling so clearly from past births because she’s STRONG!! I also remember that she had counted for me during pushing and it helped me hold a push longer than I normally would. She told me that some people HATE the counting, but I asked her to count during each contraction and push, because it was really helpful to me!
About the time that I was truly feeling like I couldn’t go on…. which was probably only 18 minutes into pushing (but felt like an eternity!), I pushed one really hard push and Graham’s head stayed where I had pushed it. The nurses and Brenda praised this progress but I was still just as overwhelmed as ever. This is when Jill prayed over me, and I asked Jesus to help me because I felt beyond incapable. Maybe it was the new position of his head or maybe it was an immediate answer to prayer, but my body started pushing without me. I couldn’t help it. It’s like it just took over. Brenda told me to slow down, and I apologized and said I couldn’t! It may have been a few pushes later… I don’t really remember.. but I heard “Ok, his head is out” and I honestly couldn’t believe it. It was over. Oh my gosh, it was OVER!!!! The physical relief that flooded over me was indescribable…. and then the emotions of meeting our rainbow baby hit hard.
I heard baby Graham cry for the first time…. a sound I had longed for since May 1st of last year.
As baby Graham laid on my chest, I put my hand around his head and just closed my eyes and sobbed, and so did Michael. I remember saying right after giving birth to him…. “This is so much sweeter after you have walked through what we walked through”. I said that with tears streaming down my face and holding my chunky third baby in my arms. I don’t know of anything that could have been more redemptive to our story than what we experienced in that moment.
I know what it’s like to do all of this and then hold a baby who will never take a breath. I remember holding James for the first time feeling so in love with him and so heartbroken at the same time. That memory was etched into my brain so deeply that I had forgotten the incredible joy of what it feels like to hold a living baby for the first time. This is going to seem so sad… but I cried thinking about how warm Baby Graham was and that he wasn’t going to turn cold. I cried watching Michael cry and rejoice over this precious baby that we had prayed for. I cried seeing Michael holding and kissing a son who we would get to take home…. and I cried realizing that we were finally on the other side of the hardest year of our entire life. We finally had a healthy baby boy in our arms.
The tears subsided and the comments about how chunky he was started to come. I could tell he was big but he didn’t feel much different than Evy to me…. that’s because he was practically the same size! He was 4oz bigger than her, weighing in at 9lbs and 14ounces. Whew. I remember hearing that and then thinking “Oh my gosh…. I just did that… without any pain medication at all…. how in the world?!?!”. Needless to say, I was impressed with myself because I didn’t know if I had it in me to give birth this way. I think if you ask Michael, he would vote that I never do it that way again simply because of how hard it was to watch me be in so much pain. However, while the pain was awful, I have never recovered so fast from a birth. Just simply being able to stand up immediately and not have the weird affects of the epidural wearing off was amazing! I have a lot of thoughts about natural birth vs. an induction/epidural since experiencing both sides but that’s probably for another blog post! 🙂
(Ps. Nurses are some of the most amazing people on the planet!! Sarah and Steph, you are the best and such a blessing!!)
Brenda, our midwife, who was just as sweet as can be!
Another moment that I remember vividly was when Evy came in to meet baby Graham. We had heard that it’s best to have a sibling come in and see momma without the baby first and then introduce the baby. However, if you follow us on Instagram, you know just how OBSESSED Evy is with babies right now and so she was READY to see him!!!! She loved giving me a hug, but you could tell she was looking around for him! Michael went over to the bassinet to get him and she lit up. She hugged him and kissed him and wanted to hold him. A few minutes later, the triage nurses came in to congratulate us and Evy was a CHATTERBOX. She was telling them ALL about her new brother who she had just met 3 minutes prior. It truly melts your heart to see your first baby meet a sibling…. but just like many parts of this birth experience, I have experienced this scene before. Evy has walked in and met a sibling before…. but it was a totally different experience.
Every. single. part. of Graham’s story has been so incredibly redemptive for us…..
* Healthy ultrasounds
* No diabetes
* Perfect Maternity21 test results
* No swelling, no high BP, no signs of Pre-eclampsia
* Going into labor on my own
* Progressing quickly
* Having a natural birth with minimal damage (If you know what I mean!)
* A healthy baby
* No high blood pressure after delivery like with James
* Getting to introduce Evy to a sibling
* Having my family sit in the same waiting room they have waited in multiple times now and get to deliver good news
* Watching our families walk in to meet a healthy baby
* Having my Daddy pray over our family in the hospital room again but with such different emotions
* Going to the recovery floor with a baby in my arms
* Being discharged with a carseat in hand
* Coming home with a brand new family member
* Milk coming in that wasn’t a harsh and painful reminder of what I lost
* Not fitting into pre-pregnancy clothes but having a really cute reason why
* Even Graham failing his hearing test and us having to wait to get good results a few weeks later was redemptive in several ways
This list could go on and on. Every part of what we are experiencing now is cherished and appreciated in such a sweeter way because Baby James existed. In a sweet way, it has made me realize just how God can truly turn “mourning into dancing” and make beauty come from the ashes. If we had had a second child without our story of James, it would have been so sweet and we would have cherished that baby….but everything is different because of our story. Nothing is taken for granted. I spend many hours a day nursing baby Graham in our bedroom and my view the whole time is of James’ wall. Sometimes I’ll sit there and cry while feeding Baby Graham, not because I’m sad but because I’m so grateful. Thank you Jesus for this precious baby. He has no idea what he represents to us or how loved he is, but he will. We’ll forever share with him how his life holds so much hope and how God has used him to bring so much new joy into our lives.
I know this is long…. did you really expect anything less?? ha!…. but I’m glad it’s written down and I’ll forever have this story saved. I can’t finish this post without thanking Jill, and Ty & Ashley for documenting SO MANY SEASONS of our life. These three have spent countless hours in the Henrico Doctor’s Hospital waiting room for us. They have sacrificed trips and time with their family just to be there to capture and save parts of our story. They have walked into our hospital rooms when everything was wonderful, and when it felt like we couldn’t imagine a darker day. We are thankful for good friends who are selfless and talented!!!
Enjoy some pictures from Graham’s Birthday!!!! Ps. Does this next picture look familiar? There is a very similar one of our family’s faces when they heard how big Evy was!
Think she was excited to see her daddy?? And VERY eager to go meet her brother?! Me explaining that Baby Graham isn’t inside of my belly anymore! (We had talked about this often before bedtime!) She was so excited!!! Love at first sight! Telling the triage nurses about her brother! “Look! He has hair!!” I love this one….
Grammie gave Evy a new baby doll and it was WELL received!
Ps. I cannot WAIT to share his newborn portraits in his one-month blog post!!! Emily Gerald did the most beautiful job!!!
This session is beautiful… if I do say so myself! It’s colorful, it’s vibrant, it’s full of joy and it’s also LONG! It’s a lengthy post because I just had so many favorites and I absolutely loved my time with these two last week! Paige, like a lot of our brides, is a photographer herself! She’s talented, full of life, energetic and creative. I felt the pressure to take this location that she knows well and make it look fresh and knew to her!! Nikhil is an audio engineer for Apple (which we think is fascinating!) and despite hardly ever wearing a suit, he wore one for Paige and made all of her outfit dreams come true!
I’m so excited to share this final 2020 Wedding with you all!! It’s a special one! We photographed this beautiful wedding day on our own 10 year anniversary! Ten years ago on this day, we were celebrating in my parent’s backyard under a massive white tent too! This was my brother-in-law’s baby sister’s wedding day and celebrating with the Malizia family was such a treat! They are a family MADE for weddings!
Well, I realize this isn’t normal for KJ! I don’t shoot portraits these days but this session was my first non-wedding shoot with my new Canon R6 and I’m obsessed with how these images turned out! It was the most perfect evening for this early fall shoot and the light was incredible!
I’m so excited to share another addition of Student Spotlights from our KJ Education community! It’s so funny to us, but quite often, we find that our friends who know us in everyday life but aren’t in our industry really have no clue what we do! They think we shoot 10 weddings a year and that’s the extent of our work these days but oh… that couldn’t be further from the truth!
When we first decide if we’re a good fit with our potential KJ Couples, we’re looking for a few things…. one of those things is that this couple keeps joyful! We’ve found over the years that couples what take themselves super seriously aren’t always the best fit for us! We love it when couples let their guard down and allow us to get to know them during their engagement session.
For some photographers, bridal details seem like a fun part of the wedding day… but for many others, it’s stressful. It’s the part of the day that throws them off, makes them wonder if they’re actually artistic and leaves them feeling flustered and panicked because they never get everything done in the time they have allotted for detail shooting. In my opinion, this is a REALLY tough way to start a wedding day.