Walker: A Birth Story

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We have a baby! I can barely believe it. We made it. We made him. It's been a little over a week and we're getting used to this brand new life with our little one. We are exhausted (duh) but so, so, SO in love. I have his childhood journal on its way but I wanted to document his birth story here too, while the details are still fresh in my mind. 

I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions for weeks but shit started getting real on Friday. After experiencing some pretty strong ones all morning, I really wanted to know if I'd dilated past the half-centimeter I'd been stuck at for two weeks. We decided to go into Labor & Delivery to check. I was at a 2 but they really wanted me to be to at least a 3 before admitting me so they sent us home, told us to eat some lunch, take a walk and come back in 2 hours to see if I'd made any progress. So we did. We ate at Red Rabbit in midtown (I had a bomb taco salad that I need to go back and actually enjoy) and then decided to walk to our favorite Peet's Coffee shop about a mile and a half away. On the walk back, my contractions had really begun to ramp up. I had to stop about every block and brace myself against Joel or a wall to get through each one. There were some concerned onlookers as I'm sure it's a bit jarring to see a pregnant lady stopped in the middle of the sidewalk clutching a brick wall.

We made it back to the car and drove back to Kaiser. This time I was at 2.5. SO CLOSE. But still, not enough for an admission so we decided to go down the street to my mom's house so Joel could get a nap in and I could labor in my mom's jacuzzi soaking tub. The bath felt amazing and really did make dealing with the contractions (which were growing stronger and closer together) more bearable. My mom suggested we take a walk around the block and start timing the contractions. After just walking up and down the street my contractions were 3 minutes apart, lasting a minute and taking my breath away. I knew it was time.

The three of us piled into the packed car and headed to the hospital. We were almost to the entrance when I felt a strong one coming on. I gripped the car's "oh shit" bar and prepared to breathe through it when all of a sudden I heard and felt a POP! My water had broken! I remember thinking GREAT, my seat is ruined but when we parked and I got up my seat was dry. I don't exactly understand how but it's like my water broke and the seat acted like some sort of seal--I don't know. Joel rushed inside to grab a wheelchair while my mom gathered our bags. The nurses in Labor & Delivery exclaimed, "you're back!" and knew by the look on my face and the trail of amniotic fluid I was leaving on the floor (ew) that I was here to stay for the main event. Sure enough, they admitted me and we got settled into my room.

Y'all. No amount of reading, research, advice or stories told could prepare me for active labor contractions. They are unlike any pain I've ever experienced--I almost have to just respect it. I threw up twice and couldn't stop shaking which freaked me out but was told is normal during this stage. I knew breathing was the key to getting through them so I did my best to control my breath and find a focal point in the room to get through each one. The pain would build and build and build and just when I thought I was going to die, it'd subside. I found myself moaning through each one and Joel (later) told me I was making sounds he'd never heard before haha. I labored lying down. I labored on my side. I labored on the exercise ball. Finally, I labored in the shower with Joel passing the hand-held pressurized water showerhead over my lower back and stomach. My original birth plan was to labor in one of the tubs they had but the feeling of being buoyant coupled with the strong contractions didn't feel too great so I stuck to the shower which felt awesome...for a while at least. I wanted to labor as long as I could without meds but was not opposed to getting the epidural if I felt like it. I made it to 6cm before I felt like it. First, I tried  Fentanyl. My nurse said it would feel like the equivalent of taking 6 shots of alcohol. Let me tell you, it DID. It was glorious but only lasted a short while. It was only a matter of time before I asked for the epidural. The anesthesiologist was probably my favorite person (I wonder why) on our hospital team. Immediately after getting it I felt a trillion times better. I could still wiggle my toes and feel the pressure of the contractions but I was no longer in barf + tremor-inducing pain and could sit up in bed and chat with my family while things progressed.

My in-room support system consisted of Joel, my mom, mother in-law and sister Emma. I got checked a short while after getting the epidural and was at a 7. Success! We all tried to take a nap, myself included. I didn't actually fall ASLEEP-asleep but I did get some rest in which I knew would do me well since the hard part was yet to come. After a couple more hours I started feeling an immense pressure start to build that almost felt like I needed to use the bathroom. I was told this was a good thing and meant I was ready to push. Sure enough, I got checked and was at a 9.5! FINALLY! It was go time. Or so I thought...my trusty anesthesiologist popped his head into my room and asked if I wanted one last round of medicine--a bolus epidural--before pushing. I was like, hell yes I do. Well, that shit ended up numbing my lower half COMPLETELY, so I could no longer feel below the waist (at one point I asked Joel to adjust my pillow which was actually my ass HAHA). The monitor was still showing my contractions but I could no longer feel them or the pressure or urge to push anymore so unfortunately, I had to wait another three hours for the meds to scale back enough to feel that again.

I suppose it was meant to be because by the time I was ready to push for real, my midwife we'd been seeing the entire time clocked on to her shift and would be helping deliver my baby! I was stoked. They started bringing in all the delivery tools, turned on the warmer above the baby station and re-positioned me on the bed. With Joel holding one leg and my mom holding the other, I was instructed to take a big breath on the next contraction, curl over my abdomen and push my baby out. I was expecting this to be the worst part--to feel like I was being split in half but honestly, I felt no pain, just pressure. I pushed and pushed and pushed with all of my might and all of a sudden I saw my mom and Joel's face start to get weepy. Baby's head was crowning and there was so much hair! On the next set of pushes I gritted my teeth and bore down, but he wouldn't come out and his heart rate started to dip so they brought in another doctor and the vacuum to assist (I later learned the reason I couldn't push him out on my own was because the cord was wrappd around his neck so each time I pushed, the cord was pulling him back in). That sped things up and on the next set of pushes I was determined to meet my son. I'll never forget the immediate feeling of relief, both physical and emotional as they pulled him out and up and placed his warm, wet body on my chest. I cried and looked up at Joel who was also crying as he leaned down to kiss me and whispered, "you did it." I'd never felt more proud of anything in my entire life.

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Walker Hudson Kaul was born on his due date, September 16th, 2017 at 9:20 am. He weighed 7lbs 14oz and was 21 inches long. He was perfect and most importantly, he was ours.

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We spent the next day + night in the mother + baby unit (post-delivery private room) where we got to quietly enjoy each other for awhile just the three of us and our closest friends + family flitted in and out to visit us and meet our newest blessing. Walker passed all of his newborn tests with flying colors and we got discharged in the early afternoon. Since then, the days have been a blur of diaper changes, sleepless nights (and days), tons of photos/videos of otherwise simple things like my baby staring off into the distance and just getting used to caring for an adorable af human life.

It's true what they say, you quickly forget the pain of childbirth, which must be some elaborate ploy by nature to make you want to do something crazy like pro-create again. It works. We already know we want another one (in a couple of years) but for now we're going to soak up this crazy, beautiful, sometimes paranoid life of ours as first-time parents. I'm so excited for what our future holds and every day is another page in our story. If you made it this far, thank you for being a part of it!

Grow Your Brand / Tips + Tricks

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Since my return to blogging and designing earlier this year, I've really started paying attention to things like analytics, insights and ways to maximize my brand, in general. I am by no means an expert or consider myself one, but I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately and after polling some of you on my Instagram stories this week, I received a lot of interest in having me share some of what I consider best practices for growing a brand and what I've found has been working for me, personally.


I N S T A G R A M

We'll start with the most popular platform: Instagram. I recently made the switch from the default personal profile to a business profile, labeling myself as a blogger. The greatest benefit to doing this is being able to utilize the (free!) real-time metrics/analytics that comes with the territory. I have found these to be SO helpful, for a couple of reasons, the first being that it breaks down who your followers are, where they come from, what their gender + ages are and most importantly: what time of day they are most engaged and likely to see your content.

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The reason this is such a big deal is because as many of you know, once IG sold out to Facebook, there was a major change to the algorithm. Gone are the days of seeing your feed in chronological order--now you're served posts based on who and what you're engaging with the most. This has understandably pissed a lot of people off (me included) and has left brands scrambling to find ways new ways to work around the new algorithm to recapture their audience. Knowing what time of day down to the hour that your followers are online, allows you to better plan when to post for maximum exposure. For example, the image above shows that on Tuesdays the best times for me are in the afternoon between 1-2pm or between 6-7pm in the evening. I've tested this out and I have found that I do in fact, have a much better rate of engagement when I post within those timeframes.

To take it a step further I've begun utilizing an Instagram planning app to get a better handle on my feed in terms of visualizing my grid, scheduling posts and organizing hashtags. Thanks to Vanessa over at Noirvé I discovered Planoly and have absolutely loved it so far. Not only is the UI on both the app and desktop gorgeous (what can I say, I'm a sucker for good design) but it's really easy to use and since I'm a total visual person it's nice that I can see the whole big picture at a glance. Seriously, I highly recommend it!

I've also started using a Linktree URL instead of just my actual website domain, in my Instagram bio and here's why: as a blogger, I'm constantly sharing new blog posts via my IG Stories and until I hit 10K followers (someday! ha) and am able to use the coveted "swipe up" linked feature, my only live link recourse is what's in my bio. With Linktree, I can create and share a link to virtually any URL. So, even if someone is not interested in the specific blog post I'm trying to promote they still end up on my blog since the link redirects to a page on my site. Other ways I'm thinking I can utilize this feature is linking to items I'm wearing/are in my home or even affiliate links that are featured in my Instagram photo. The possibilities are endless! Speaking of affiliates...


A F F I L I A T E  S I T E S

By signing up with affiliate sites you can begin to make some extra cash and monetize your brand. The way this works is that you stand to make a percentage of the sale when someone clicks through to a specifically generated link and makes a purchase of an item. Popular sites include rewardStyle, ShopStyle Collective and Amazon's Affiliate program. rewardStyle is a little exclusive (it's application-based) but they do offer the biggest selection of available retailers to choose from. However, one of the biggest reasons I prefer ShopStyle Collective is because I still earn a percentage (albeit small) if someone merely clicks the link and doesn't necessarily make a purchase. It goes without saying Amazon is just plain awesome and also comes with a high click-rate because who doesn't love Amazon?!

You can also generate shoppable widgets with these sites and embed them into pages on your site (see mine here) or even blog posts as well. 


C O L L A B O R A T E

The last thing I wanted to talk about is the importance of collaborating with other like-minded people/brands in your community. Since graduating to being a "mommy blogger" I've discovered and met so many amazing fellow mama bloggers, designers and entrepreneurs out there. I absolutely love when we get to combine our talents and work together whether it be via a guest post, giveaway or review in exchange for neat new products to try. The main thing I want to stress here is don't be afraid to be the one to reach out. Sure, you might get pegged as an *influencer* the bigger the following you have but there's also no harm in trying your hand at asking to work with certain brands that spark your interest, especially if they're local. There have been many times I've DM'd or emailed a brand I want to work with and asked if they would be interested in a partnership and they've said yes. So, don't be shy! The worst they can say is no thanks but at least you put yourself out there. Sometimes taking a risk can pay off!


So, there you have it! My two cents on my personal experience with ways I've learned to really engage with my desired audience and promote myself, my blog, my business and make new friends along the way. It sure didn't happen overnight (I've been blogging--in some form--on the internet for half my life) but I figure maybe someone out there who is trying to grow their online presence will read this and walk away with a tip or two they can use.

I'd love to hear your feedback on if you found this helpful at all and if this is a topic you'd like to hear more about around here? Let me know! xx

Friday Favorites

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ONE / Phone charger hack
Not the best quality video but this DIY phone charging hack is pretty genius. It can potentially come in handy during stormy weather/when the power is out/if you randomly have a battery + pen lying around. 

TWO / Wayfair
I've totally been loving shopping Wayfair for home decor/furniture, lately. It's where I got our nightstands (sold out now but here's some similar ones), side table for the nursery and I just picked up this area rug for under our new dining table.

THREE / Vegan recipes
Joel started eating vegan which in turn has led to me eating a lot healthier too (don't worry, I for one, still love cheese + bacon) so we've been trying new recipes in the kitchen that fit his new diet. I can't wait to try this dessert! If you have any favorite vegan recipes please share!

FOUR / Rockabye Baby!
I've shared about this on my Instagram Stories but for those of you who don't follow me there, I had to share my latest Spotify discovery: Rockabye Baby! They're lullaby renditions of popular artists/albums and they're SO good, guys. I was like, "oh these will be great to play for Walker" but I find myself listening to it a lot by myself haha. My favorites so far include Bowie's "Life on Mars" and Justin Timberlake songs.

FIVE /  Millenials + plants
I found this Washington Post article about millennials and their house plants amusing and well-written. It also links to an Instagram account called "Boys with Plants" which Joel needs to be on ASAP since I always joke about him being my #botanicalboyfriend with his house plant obsession.

 

Homestretch

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People were NOT kidding when they told me the last month of pregnancy would be the hardest.

Time has slowed to a crawl. I can't see my feet but if I could they'd be swollen af and my plantar fasciitis has made it nearly impossible to walk for long periods of time which creates a cruel catch 22, since long walks are a well-known way to jumpstart labor. It feels like everyone except me is having their baby--I'll see yet another newborn announcement post in my social media feed and I feel a pang of jealousy. Of course I'm happy for them but I want my baby. 

The other night I just sat in the bath tub and cried. Everything hurt and felt overwhelming. Joel came in and asked me what was wrong. I'm just tired of being pregnant I said. He knelt down next to me, looked me in the eyes and told me, you're so close. We're almost there. I thank my lucky stars for him. That was exactly what I needed to hear in that moment.

My due date is next week (9/16) and it's crazy to think it's FINALLY going to happen. Nine months of excitement, planning, dreaming--soon it will all be reality and I'll have a son in my arms. All of his little clothes are folded and put away, ready to be worn. Hospital bags are packed and by the door. I'm sure there are things I'm forgetting but the important stuff is all set and now we wait. And wait. And wait some more.

I'll be the first to admit I am not a patient person. It is something I strive to be better at but this is by far the hardest lesson in that. I've tried all the *tricks* to try and get him to come out in order to avoid induction because Pitocin scares the shit out of me and is something I'd like to avoid at all costs if I can. The Prego Pizza, walking, sex, red raspberry leaf tea, evening primrose oil, bouncing on an exercise ball, etc. But this little guy is being stubborn (I wonder who he gets that from) and seems to want to stay put for the time being. 

We had a small scare at our last check up, which really put things into perspective. While my midwife was routinely checking his heart rate she mentioned it was a little lower than usual and that she was sure it's nothing but wanted me to head over to Labor and Delivery just as a precaution to rule anything out. Internally I was fuh-reaking out but somehow I held it together while getting admitted to L&D for fetal monitoring so they could establish a baseline for his heart rate, do an ultrasound and check my amniotic fluid levels. It turned out everything is fine and they must have just caught him in a rare, chill moment during the initial heart rate check. I was told I'm still only half a centimeter dilated but basically almost fully effaced and baby is nice and low (she could feel his head!) Oh, at the moment he's also posterior aka head down but "sunny side up" so that's fun...he better turn the other way once labor starts! The baseline chart apparently also monitors  contractions and the nurse pointed to a bunch of squiggly lines and asked if I'd felt the little ones that showed up (I didn't). I joked with Joel that maybe I'll be a world anomaly and I don't feel contractions. Hahahaha YEAH RIGHT!

So that's where we're at. I'll be 39 weeks on Saturday which means one way or another he'll be here in basically less than 14 days, give or take. Wild. This may be the last "bumpdate" before the big day! Fingers crossed. We can't wait (obviously).

Ps; sidenote - I've created a  Facebook Page for my blog/website/design business so go ahead and give us a "Like" if you're into that sort of thing. It's linked to my Instagram so I'll be sharing updates related to the site there as well. Cheers!

What's In My Hospital Bag

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The fact that I'm going to have to give birth to a tiny human basically any day now is not lost on me, so naturally, I'm in turbo freak-out mode trying to get as much done as I can before baby arrives and that includes packing a bag of essentials for the hospital before we even bring him home.

I've read a bunch of blogs + lists by many of my favorite mamas and I think I've compiled a pretty good comprehensive bag of essentials to bring along. Here's what's inside my hospital bag:

F O R   M E
A robe, slippers and socks are all things I've been told will make a world of difference to have and make me feel comfortable in our home away from home. I'm also bringing my own pillow since the ones I spotted during our hospital tour looked pretty lame. I packed a couple changes of clothes too in case I end up needing a c-section (plz no) and we need to stay longer.

My hospital has an in-room laboring tub I plan on using--it doesn't make sense to wear a swim suit but I don't want to be butt-ass naked either so I'm thinking a sports bra/undies set that I can easily remove will be a happy medium. These have been my go-to's my entire pregnancy.

Extra long iPhone charger in case the outlets are far af from my bed.

Snacks! I'm allowed to eat and we've been informed there's a pantry available to us that we can use to store stuff so you best believe I'm bringing some of my favorite crackers, chips, etc. to munch on. Honey sticks also come highly recommended for a quick energy boost.

I also grabbed a nursing bra, nursing tank, my nursing pillow (I'm conflicted about the pillow--I hear it's like 50/50 that I will actually use it?) and lanolin to assist with feeding that little baby beluga of mine.

I'm getting my placenta encapsulated (you can read more about that here) so I've also packed a mini-cooler to bring along for that process.

Dry shampoo, chapstick, mascaramakeup wipes, hair ties and other basic toiletries like my tooth + hairbrush are all coming along for the ride too. This isn't a fashion show but I know I will feel better if I'm able to maintain a somewhat pleasant appearance. 

F O R   D A D
A change of clothes, comfy sweats and swim trunks for helping me labor in the tub and/or shower.

His own pillow + iphone charger.

We joke about sneaking beer in the placenta cooler (L O L) but on the real, we're bringing a celebratory bottle of champagne to pop for after Walker makes his grand debut.

F O R   B A B Y
Going home outfits in a couple different sizes just in case my suspicions are correct and he's a little fatso, plus a swaddle blanket, diapers, wipes and pacifier. I know the hospital will have stuff for us to use (and take home) but it doesn't hurt to have the diaper bag packed in advance just in case. You never know--he could have his first diaper blowout on the car ride home!

Our car seat is ready to go. It's so weird seeing it in my backseat!


That's it! Is there anything I'm missing? Let me know in the comments. xx