A home filled with people – my favorite!
I’ve been writing a lot about minimalism lately – how it applies to my closet, my parenting, and the holidays. I thought I’d change it up and talk about an area where I’d rather not be minimal: hospitality.

Last year, Josh and I felt called to move to a large old house where we’d have space to entertain and offer people a place to stay. Most of our regular visitors are independent musicians in touring bands (this website connects us with them) but we also host through our church for conferences and mission trips. We had one friend live with us a few months, and two foreign exchange students for their spring break.

A group of students on a missions trip – we fed them!
We’re the kind of über-practical people who like to save on heating and electric bills, home repairs and mortgages. So on the one hand it felt a bit crazy to move our small family into a 100-year-old house with 4 bedrooms. We felt that going larger only made sense if the home was going to be used as a ministry. So we each prayed about it before moving forward and God spoke to our hearts that this was the place – that if we opened wide our home, He would fill it.

Jam session with family.
We’ve been very intentional not to acquire more possessions just to fill square footage. The things we did acquire – several free beds, lots of used dishes, and a lovely old dining room set – are for the purpose of being hospitable.

Some minimalists say you don’t need more than one place setting per family member, or more than one towel per person. That brand of minimalism just won’t work for us! I believe in hosting without the use of disposable products, so that means having enough secondhand cups, plates, and silverware for a crowd. (One example of frugality and minimalism contradicting. I write about this in an upcoming post.) Some people don’t use their crock pots and can consider donating them to save space. I, on the other hand, own two large crock pots and could seriously use at least one more!

Minimalism means different things to different people and it all has to do with priorities. We have a fairly large towel collection for our family, but it’s just the right amount when there’s a band staying.

A House Show featuring our traveling musician friends. 
I have a passion for cooking for large groups of people. I don’t make fancy or expensive things. My favorite recipes are vegan and spicy, with coconut milk, veggies, beans, and rice as main ingredients. That’s the difference between “entertaining” and “hospitality” as defined by one of my favorite bloggers Kalie at Pretend to be Poor. Entertaining is about the food. Hospitality is about the people. If it’s a last-minute request from a friend who needs a place to crash, I don’t stress about running to the store and fixing a fancy three-course dinner. I throw some extra tomatoes and kale in our own dinner and say “come on over!”

You’ll likely get a bowl of veggie fare like this placed in front of you if you visit me.
I’d rather have the people in my home feel comfortable, not “entertained.” It means helping yourself to the coffee and tea, and playing with my toddler (who’s all the entertainment you’d ever need!) I’ve seen people stress about hosting because they think they need lots of fancy wine, a cheese platter, and gourmet appetizers. While these things are nice, they aren’t necessary for every gathering! Don’t let the idea that you need to spend a lot keep you from inviting folks over!

I love that being hospitable is a way for me to minister and connect with people without even leaving my home. Since I have small children it’s difficult in this season for me to get out and garden, work on houses, tutor, or serve in a homeless shelter. I think of this home as my main ministry. I try my best to be present for my children and Josh everyday, which can be difficult. Serving our families and being content in that role is sometimes the hardest of all! At the same time, we extend the invitation to anyone who needs a little community and family time. Our family has grown to include people all over the country.

More lovely touring friends. One benefit of de-cluttering is having the space to do this. I’d rather have a basement full of music than stuff!
It’s important to remember that things don’t have to be perfect before you open up your home. If you’re waiting for the perfect home or perfect setup, you’ll never actually do it. You don’t have to put it off. You might make some mistakes – we all do – but you’ll figure it out, and your setup will improve. Everyone doesn’t need their own personal bathroom. Many travelers are fine sleeping on floors, provided it’s clean! They just need to know you’re available.

Sharing our home and opening it up allows for organic relationships to form. People are less guarded in a house than they are in public. Facilitating these kinds of relationships fills me up in ways I can’t describe. As I write this, I just had eight wonderful men and women stay the night. Today I am full and blessed. No matter where I’m supposed to be in five or ten years, right now I’m supposed to be right here. In this place. With an open home.

So if you’re reading this and feeling the least bit inspired, feel free to send me a message or setup a visit! I’ll brew some tea and we can talk about ways that you too can open up your home, no matter the size.

Simple Holidays

There’s nothing simple about five pies!

I loved the holidays when I was a kid. There was something magical about the lights, the food, the gifts, the family time.
Now that I’m a boring grownup I have to strain to see the magic through the stress and lists of things I have to DO. 

Some years it’s bad enough I get anxiety and become seasonally depressed. 

I want to take back the feeling I had as a kid.

I want to figure out what made it so special. 

I want to do it without the greed, stress, and consumerism America is known for. 

I want to create family traditions that my children will look back on fondly. 

Maybe you do too. 

I definitely can’t say I’ve got it all figured out. There’s a balance between making the holidays special and avoiding the craziness. 

On one hand I want everything to be prefect, and on the other hand I sometimes wish I could opt out of the whole season.

The calendar is full of seasonal activities that feel so pressing. 

The cold weather can be dreary and it gets dark so early! 

It’s annoying when you’re trying to buy “normal” stuff and the store is crowded with holiday shoppers. (Where do they come from?)

But I must remind myself not to be cynical. I don’t want my bad attitude to ruin it for everyone – especially not my kids. 

Young Emily was not a minimalist. But young Emily did understand that one special toy was worth a lot more than lots of junky ones. Usually what I asked for was doll-related, and I vividly remember the anticipation of Christmas morning and finding a new doll or doll accessory under the tree. 

Even though I now believe in a simple lifestyle, I’m not opposed to my kids getting a few nice presents. I think it’s special to look forward to something so much. And young kids aren’t like adults. Gifts lost their appeal for me when I started making money and was able to purchase things myself. Kids, even those with allowances, depend a lot more on holidays and birthdays to get their favorite things. 

So while I’m not opposed to gifts, I do want to teach my kids to be thankful first. This can start by every year before the holiday evaluating what they have and asking them to pick a few toys to donate to the less fortunate. 

I’ve heard different minimalistic takes on gifts. There’s blogs out there with lists of non-toy presents. Experiences such as tickets to fun things and college fund donations rank high on the lists. Some families do three gifts per person. Others follow the mantra “something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.” 

In all reality, it doesn’t hurt to skip gifts every now and then, especially if they’d require going into debt. 

My husband and I stopped getting each other gifts a couple years into our marriage after realizing that neither of us really cared about it and it was too hard to surprise each other anyway! It was stressful all the pressure we put on ourselves to find the perfect gift for each other. Our love languages are quality time, words of affirmation, and acts of service…not so much gift-giving. 

It was the right thing for us, but please make sure your family is on the same page before considering skipping gifts. It is some folks’ love language! For them, homemade gifts can be frugal and thoughtful. For those trying to avoid clutter, consumable gifts are great. I’d never turn down the gift of fine craft beers or gourmet chocolates. Maybe that’s just me!

Besides the gift-giving custom, here’s a couple traditions I want to do with my family:

Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes. 

Josh and I have participated in this program several years together. Now we want to involve our children in the packing of these special boxes for kids across the world. These are done around Thanksgiving time and it’s a reminder for kids to first think of the less fortunate. You can also purge toys before Christmas as long as they are appropriate and in good condition. Here’s some good ideas for what to put in boxes.


The magical anticipation of Christmas is summed up in keeping the season of advent. As Christians, the anticipation of Jesus’ birth is meaningful and exciting. We light candles every Sunday in December representing the hope of Jesus’ arrival. This can also include a story or songs for the kids. I was maybe 11 or 12 when it finally hit me and the story became real. That poor family, homeless for the night, giving birth in a stable. And for some reason that’s how God wanted his son to be born! In humility, in a cold and isolated barn to young and frightened parents. It was incredible to me.  

Good Food

I love gathering around a table with friends and family. Nothing beats a homemade feast, candles, wine, and conversation. For me, this means everyone sitting down together and taking their time. The meal shouldn’t be rushed, rather savored and appreciated for an hour or two. I have many happy memories around the dining room table – both growing up, and as an adult! 

It’s important to note that these meals aren’t limited to just family! Adopting college students or a family from out of town can make everyone’s holiday better! I’m interested in hosting foreign exchange students for their holiday breaks. Embrace all your friendships by celebrating in new and unique ways. We look forward to our annual Friendsgiving every year at least as much as the actual holiday! 

Serving as a Family

We haven’t started doing this yet, but when our kids are a little older I want to volunteer together around the holidays. Serving at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter would be a lovely reminder that it’s about so much more than just us. Singing carols at nursing homes and hospitals is also awesome. I did this a lot growing up!

One last thought. I think it’s important to emphasize the holiday season as an entire season, not just one day. Young Emily put so much pressure on that one day that she often ended up disappointed on the day of and sad for several days afterward. 

So find a few fun seasonal things to do each year that celebrate the whole season.

Plan a fun activity in the days following the actual holiday to keep your spirits high, like go for a winter hike or have a pizza-making party. 

If you revived gift cards for the holidays, go out and treat yourself to something you might still need. 

Celebrate the freshness of the new year by writing memories and making fun resolutions. 

Eat lighter meals and get your body moving to combat depression. 

Celebrate the days lengthening and the coming of spring! 

Again, I’m just your average person who sometimes suffers from seasonal depression and anxiety. I don’t have all the answers, but I think simplifying our routines and adjusting our expectations of the holidays will lead to a more fulfilling experience for us and our families. 

Feel free to share any favorite traditions or tips for beating the winter blues! 

Frugal Grocery Month

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Last year’s glorious bounty!
Maybe I’m an oddball… Or maybe I’m a nerd… But I love doing the budget every month! Whether it was a good month or a bad month, I always come away with renewed fervor to save more and spend less. It’s exciting to see the results of my efforts (if I made them!)

Frugality can be fun, believe it or not. It’s not about denying myself as much as it is about rising to the challenge in order to achieve larger goals. It actually draws me and my husband together because it gives us something to strive for as a team! I encourage all couples to sit down and discuss their financial dreams together. It’s important to be on the same page. Yes, I agree that money can be stressful. But it’s also something that can help us achieve our dreams if we’re intentional about it.

I’m not talking about being miserly or greedy here. Saving for the sake of saving isn’t any fun. I’m naturally a saver, but even I’ll go and spend too much on silly things just because I have it. Having a larger purpose for your money will motivate you to curb your spending. Every dollar you cut out of your daily spending can be put toward greater priorities – whether it’s a large downpayment on a house, paying off debt, or donating to noteworthy causes.

I do realize there’s lots of factors that are out of our control. Some expenses aren’t our fault at all and can take a huge cut out of our finances. These aren’t the things I’m talking about. But I’ve found it helps to take charge of the money I can control: my own spending. No matter how much or how little we have, a little frugality can go a long way.

Finance blogger Blonde on a Budget issued a challenge to her readers to not buy anything in the month of October other than gas and groceries. I rose to the challenge and am happy to say that I (mostly) did it! As a household the only non-gas and non-food purchases were small necessities: a $4 part to fix our sink, reflective tape for my hubby’s bike (safety first!) and a light for our garage. I guess we could have put these purchases off a month to really win the challenge fair and square, but home maintenance and bike safety are pretty big priorities around here. If we didn’t buy them in October, we would have bought them in November anyway. 

It was so satisfying to set a goal at the beginning of the month, and see how I did a the end of the month! Anything to make frugal more fun, right? So I got the idea to do a different challenge for the month of November: see how little we can spend on groceries. I realized this was kinda crazy considering Thanksgiving food and hosting guests, but I thought I’d give it a shot! (And we don’t skimp when we host guests. I write about that in an upcoming post.)

The Goal

Our budgeted grocery amount each week is $100, but it tends to fluctuate a lot. Some weeks are higher and some weeks are lower. I feel like we’re doing really well so far. I’m hoping for an average of $75 or less. We do our budget at the end of the month by putting all our totals into spreadsheets. The goal throughout the month is to spend as little as possible, not “stick to the budget.” If I did that I would probably never come under-budget, I would just look at it as more to spend. 

The Strategy 

Basically, this is a short-term way to spend less on some of our more luxurious purchases. We didn’t stop buying the main staples of our diet, or suddenly start eating only mac and cheese. Some of the pricier food items we choose to buy, like grass-fed butter and pumpkin seeds and walnuts, I usually count as worth it because of their health benefits. And I happen to like them too. But anything is possible for a month. So this month I’m choosing to give up some of the fancier groceries, even if I like them and even if they’re healthy, and sticking to the staples that are filling and inexpensive. Next month I’ll get to add those delectable delicacies back into my diet. I’ll have saved a little money, and I’ll enjoy them more.

We already save money by not buying meat. We get our protein through mostly whole grains, greens, legumes, some dairy, and a small amount of fish. I first looked in the pantry and freezer and made lists of all the meals I could make with what I already had. The list was surprisingly long! I then added a few economical ingredients to the shopping list like carrots and potatoes to further extend my meal plan. In the end, I had more than enough dinners for the whole month and only had to purchase a couple key ingredients.

We still need to do our Thanksgiving shopping, and we still need to buy the daily staples for breakfast and lunch, so we’ll see where that brings us.

Join In?

I know the month has already started, but it’s not too late to join the frugal November grocery challenge if you’d like. Maybe start by using up what’s in your house right now. Get creative and see what you can make. When you finally do need to go to the store, make a detailed list. Figure out which items you buy are necessities and which are luxuries. I’m doing this challenge in addition to my year-long clothes shopping ban that goes until June. Feel free to join for the remainder of this challenge as well! Consider making it a New Years Resolution.

I’ll update in December with the results and a new challenge if I decide to do another.

Bon Appétit!

The Minimalist Child

Brand new baby, and a brand new parent, right here!
A brand new baby, and a brand new parent!

When I had Malachi in 2013, I wasn’t a minimalist by any means, but I knew I didn’t need a lot of baby stuff. I had a friend with a child make a list of things she thought I really needed. It was short and concise- much unlike suggested registry lists at Target or Buy Buy Baby.

Go figure.

Now that my second child is here, I’ve actually purged more than I’ve acquired. I find it upsetting that manufacturers go after new parents, playing off their inexperience and their desire to do a good job. Yes, all new parents are insecure to some extent. No, it isn’t okay to tell them that having a Diaper Genie and matching wipe warmer will make them better parents.

I personally loved the 2010 film Babies. French documentarian Thomas Balmes shows real life examples of babies born in Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo, and San Francisco. These 4 children represent a wide range of culture, environment, technology, and parenting. It doesn’t matter that the Namibian baby plays mostly with sticks and dirt – she learns how to dance and make her own fun. The Mongolian baby who doesn’t have a crib, car seat, or even a real pacifier, learns to play with the animals who live in and around his yurt. Spoiler alert: all of the babies grow into beautiful and thriving toddlers as the credits roll.

I’m not out to judge anyone whose child has a lot of things. I’m simply trying to reevaluate. I’m asking is it necessary for happy, well-developed children.

As far as frugality goes, the big secrets are buying used, and sharing with other parents. I love that so much of my kids clothes are passed down. I love that my friend and I can share large items like a swing, bassinet, and certain toys back and forth so they’re always being used and I don’t have to store them in my basement.

Borrowing is a lost art in my opinion, at least in the US. People feel they need to own everything in order for it to be theirs. My family is different. We would much rather walk to the park than have a large yard. We would much rather frequent the library every week than own a ton of kid books. (This was actually Malachi’s idea. Josh was going to the library anyway and Malachi sweetly asked “Can you pick out some books for me?” Melted our hearts!)

Cloth diapers are also a real money saver and eco-friendly as a bonus! I would recommend everyone give it a try. It might take some trial and error to figure out the best soap and wash cycle for your washer, but I think most people would truly surprised at how easy it is! Startup costs are nothing compared to years and years of disposables.

Okay, time for the nitty gritty details of my two boys rooms.

Shiloh’s room is simple: Just a crib, changing table (that also holds his clothes) diaper pail, and a guest bed that I currently use for late night feedings.
Eventually we want the boys to share a room and this will be a guest room again.

Chilling on the guest bed after a diaper change.
Chilling on the bed after a diaper change.
What a happy guy!
What a happy guy!
All the furniture in both rooms is gifted via friends or Freecycle. When we found out I was pregnant with Shiloh, we transitioned Malachi to a twin mattress on the floor. He still loves it at 2.5 years of age and won’t outgrow it. When he decides he wants off the floor we can build a platform for it.
Malachi also has a dresser and kid-sized table and chairs.

Sheets were one of the few things in the room I bought new. The curtains we bought at a music festival before we ever had kids.
Sheets were one of the few things in the room I bought new. The curtains we bought at a music festival before we ever had kids.
The dresser is from a friend. I keep all current outfits in the dresser, and out of season or too big in the closet.
The dresser is from a friend. I keep all current outfits in the dresser, and out of season or too big in the closet.
Mini table and chairs. Hooks for toddler at his level. Baby hooks at parent level.
Mini table and chairs. Hooks for toddler at his level. Baby hooks at parent level.
All the toys are gifted or borrowed! Literally the only toy Josh and I bought is a set of stainless steel pots and pans for Christmas last year. $10.
Besides that, we have:
Lincoln Logs
Good quality instruments
Kitchen / wooden food
Action figures / animals
Art supplies
A couple stuffed animals and a baby doll
Legos / wooden blocks
The only electronic toy is a Leap Frog alphabet game that has taught Malachi all his letters -upper and lower case- and he’s currently learning the sounds they make. It came to us via Freecycle and I love it. All other electronic toys have moved on to other homes. I find them annoying, don’t like replacing batteries, and they usually aren’t as versatile as those that require imagination.

Malachi is also learning to play a few games. He loves Uno and Chutes and Ladders.

All the toys fit right here except for one basket downstairs. Books are on the other shelf.
All the toys fit right here except for one basket downstairs. Books are on the other shelf.
Art supplies and reading area.
Having family and friends who understand the journey is incredibly helpful! I’m really grateful for grandparents who respect our desire for simplicity and ask before purchasing gifts. Both sets of grandparents live close and have different toys at their homes. This is an added bonus for Malachi, as it gives him one more reason to enjoy visiting them. Again, there’s no need for us to “own” a lot; he has access to different toys lots of different places. I think this concept might have helped him be less possessive. As of now, Malachi is great at sharing, doesn’t beg for things when we’re out, and is totally fine leaving other peoples’ toys at other peoples’ houses.

I’m also a big fan of active play. We go for a lot of walks and spend as much time outside as we possibly can. We have bubbles and a couple balls for backyard play. This summer I let Malachi play with plastic dishes in a tub of water outside, which was a huge hit and cost me nothing!

The bottom line is kids don’t need much. They are resilient, creative, imaginative little people, and all we truly need to surround them with is love and tools for learning. A book that really inspired me on this topic is Their Name is Today by Johann Christof Arnold. If you’re feeling discouraged or burnt-out on parenting, this book might just re-kindle something deep inside of you. It did that for me, at a time last year when I was in a dry spell.

Happy simple parenting!

The Clothing Experiment

This June I started a personal shopping ban. The challenge was to buy no clothes or accessories for myself for a year. The reason was trifold.

I wanted to save the money I would spend on clothes.
I wanted to save the time I would waste clothes shopping and looking for bargains.
I wanted to minimize my wardrobe.

I never spent a ton on fashion before, but I was addicted to thrift stores. I loved the thrill of the hunt and feeling like I got a bargain every time I checked out. I always found things at Goodwill, whether I needed them or not. It wasn’t until Josh and I got married and started budgeting that I saw how much those innocent thrifting sprees added up. (And every now and then I would go a little crazy and purchase something new at the mall or off the internet!)
I felt like I deserved it.
I felt like I needed it.
Everyone else bought these kinds of things. I never even questioned it.

Not only did they add a significant amount to my annual expenses, all this clothing also cost a lot in time. Time spent shopping, time spent organizing, putting together outfits, doing laundry, and rotating seasons (because, not-surprisingly, my clothes didn’t all fit in my closet!)

Then I started getting into some frugal and minimalist blogs. (My favorites are Frugalwoods and Zero Waste Home.) It’s normal among these folks to participate in self-imposed shopping bans. And they made it look easy too! The money I saved could be funneled into more important things, like paying off debt and saving for our kids’ future.
I also read The Life-Changing Magic of Tiding Up, and realized that I had waaay too many clothes already. For one, they should all fit in my closet. Secondly, they should all bring me joy when I see them and make me feel good when I wear them. The 80/20 rule applied here. I already wore my favorite 20% of items 80% of the time. What if the whole closet was just my favorites? 

So I overhauled my closet for fall and came out with two giant trash bags filled with cast-offs.
Things I didn’t love.
Things I only wore out of guilt.
Things that were no longer my style.
Things that were too scratchy or felt awkward on me.
Things that were difficult to match so they got pushed to the back where they never saw the light of day.

Then I invited some friends to do the same and we had a party where we all brought our garbage bags over to rummage through.
Everyone, myself included, came with cast-offs they didn’t enjoy and left with a couple items they really liked.
There was coffee stout and ice cream. It was a good night.

IMG_5737 The next day my family and I donated all the unclaimed clothing to Oasis International. They have a free store in the basement where refugees from all over the world can come and pick out clothing.
So not only was my closet leaner and filled with only things I loved, Oasis would be able to use this overabundance to bless others who needed it.
I left with an even greater fervor to de-clutter in order to help others. (Oasis also accepts kitchen wares, household items, and furniture.)

It is now late October and I have purchased 0 clothing items since June.
No socks, shoes, purses, jewelry, hats, scarves, or underwear.
I honestly needed nothing when I started, in spite of the fact that I was 8 months pregnant. I already had plenty of pre-pregnancy and transitional items in my wardrobe.

It hasn’t been difficult but I’ve had to be intentional about it.
I had to remind myself a couple times that browsing the clothes rack at the store was pointless because I wasn’t allowed to buy anything.
The best and simplest defense is to avoid temptation entirely. I don’t go to the store just to kill time anymore. In fact, my whole attitude toward shopping has changed.
I now wait until I absolutely need something, and even then I try to put it off as long as possible. Once I can no longer put it off, I buy what I need on Amazon or send Josh to bike to the store for it. That way nothing else jumps into my cart…a fringe benefit is that it saves gas money. (We only place our Amazon orders once they qualify for free shipping.)

Thanks to the generosity of others, I also haven’t had to purchase any clothing for either of my boys this year either! (I take it back – we did buy Malachi a pack of boxers, but for good reason! He’s newly potty trained!) I’m going to try to ride this wave out for the rest of the year also. Shiloh has all Malachi’s outgrown clothes and then some. Malachi has all the way up to 4T in his closet thanks to other mommy friends! And it’s all really cute stuff too!

If anyone is feeling inspired and wants to join me, there’s never a bad time to start your own shopping ban.
We all had so much fun at my first clothing swap, I think I’m going to make it a semi-regular thing and do it again in the spring. So let’s do some spring cleaning together in a few months!

Just for kicks I looked up how much I spent on clothing in previous years so I’d have an idea of the savings. And let me point out – none of this was even work-related! My company provides employees with uniforms.

  • In 2012 I spent $555.67 (And what’s awful is I have absolutely no idea what I bought! Running shoes were in there but still…the rest may have just disappeared.)
  • In 2013 I spent $256.27
  • In 2014 I spent $101.53
  • In 2015 I spent $27.00 before I started the shopping ban.

I’m honestly surprised to see how my frugality has emerged slowly over time. Maybe I finally realized that I didn’t need all that stuff. Maybe having my first child in that time ate up all my free time.

Whatever it was, right now I’m enjoying spending $0 for as long as I possibly can. I haven’t felt the least bit deprived…at least not yet! The ability to take control of my own spending isn’t limiting as much as it is an empowering. The ability to step back and be okay with what I already have breeds joy and contentment.


Birth Story Follow-Up


 When I posted Shiloh’s birth story earlier this week, I wasn’t expecting so many views and feedback. Thank you! To date it’s my second-most-popular post. (Here’s my most popular post if you’re curious.)

I think sharing birth stories is a big part of healing and adjustment for mothers. Columnist Millie Hill, founder of The Positive Birth Movement, says it best in this article.

“All that matters is a healthy baby.” This phrase is repeated so often it has almost become a cliché. New mothers hear it over and over, usually the moment they begin to open up and say that having their baby was difficult or even traumatic. Sometimes they even find they are saying it themselves: “Giving birth was awful, but at least I got my healthy baby, that’s all that matters.”

Yes, a healthy baby is the most important thing by far. BUT, Millie says, it is not the only thing that matters.

Women matter too. When we tell women that a healthy baby is all that matters we often silence them. We say, or at least we very strongly imply, that their feelings do not matter, and that even though the birth may have left them feeling hurt, shocked or even violated, they should not complain because their baby is healthy and this is the only important thing.

So now that I’ve shared my story with all of you, I’d like to take it a step further. I’m opening up an invitation to all mothers who’d like to share their stories with me.

Maybe you had an empowering birth, or a disappointing birth.

Maybe you had a hospital birth, or a home birth, or a car birth.

Maybe you gave birth yesterday, or maybe it was 20 years ago.

Maybe you got your healthy baby, or maybe you had a stillbirth that not everyone knows about.

I’m here to listen. I’m here to laugh and cry with you. (Literally, I have all the hormones right now.)

You can post links to blogs you’ve already published. Or you can message me on Facebook. Or you can email me right here:

I won’t share anything without your permission. I really just want to open up a conversation where your story can be heard.

I’m all ears.

The Birth of Shiloh Mathias

I always really admired women who birthed naturally. I just didn’t see myself doing it. It seemed scary and painful and, to me, unattainable. Malachi’s hospital birth was an awesome experience. We got the spontaneous labor, natural progression, five-star treatment, and luxurious pain relief that we wanted. In retrospect, I realize we were quite blessed it went so perfectly because unfortunately a lot of modern-day hospital births don’t.

I started this birth out just wanting to replicate my first experience. Around the 7th month of my pregnancy with Shiloh it became apparent that wouldn’t happen. I had a different OB than last time and I liked his easygoing nature and hands-off approach to my low-risk pregnancy. It wasn’t until the week 27 visit that he mentioned birth itself. He said based on the size of the baby and the fact that my placenta needed to move up half a centimeter, it would likely be a C-section. “I know that’s not what you want,” he said. I asked if there was anything I could do to prevent a C-section. “Pray the placenta moves,” he said. Of course I would do that, and I trusted that it would. “And if the placenta does move?” “I’ll still want to keep an eye on his weight. I’m not delivering a 10 pound baby vaginally.” This really was a possibility. I was a 10 pound baby. My mom delivered me without a C-section. I knew it could be done. The doctor did a quick ultrasound right there in his office. “If you went into labor today, it would be a C-section. He’s currently breech.” Okay, this was getting ridiculous. I knew as well as the doctor did that I was not at risk for going into labor at 27 weeks, and there was still PLENTY of time for him to flip. In fact, he was head down at our last appointment. Clearly he still liked acrobatics at this point. I went home and cried.

I posted on Natural Mamas, an awesome Facebook group, about my experience that day and got an overwhelming amount of support. Many of the women encouraged me that I had other options. It wasn’t too late to seek out another doctor or midwife. The Birth and Wellness Center in O’Fallon was the most recommended and I had other friends who delivered with them. I decided to call and see if a transfer was possible. Once I did that it was out of my hands, and all up to God.

After some logistics and sharing of medical records I got the call that the midwives could take me. I was so happy – it felt like I had won the birth lottery! It took a fear of my doctor and a fear of medically unnecessary C-section to make me unafraid of the natural route. Josh was supportive and excited. I think he always admired natural births as well, but left the decision in my hands since I was the one who had to do it. We went to meet the midwives thinking we’d still give birth at the hospital. However, after getting ultrasound confirmation that the placenta had moved into safe territory, and Shiloh had flipped into a favorable position, I toured the birth center and saw how beautiful and relaxing it was. “I could deliver here,” I thought. I knew I’d be more likely to accomplish my natural birth goal outside of the hospital. That’s when I started seriously considering a home birth. It was ultimately no different than the birth center, just more convenient. I consulted a couple friends who had birthed at home and they had nothing but great things to say. I liked the idea of everyone coming to me and not having to pack a bag or get in a car. We were close to the hospital if a transfer was needed, and I’d even have access to the food in my own fridge! Once I got over the no epidural thing, home birth started sounding more and more appealing. I prayed about it and felt that once again God was giving me the green light.

Making all these last-minute decisions was kind of crazy for me. I’m a planner by nature. But I’m learning to enjoy spontaneity more and more, especially as it relates to God’s perfect timing. I don’t think I made a huge mistake going to the first doctor. I honestly think things were meant to happen in this order, and that it was all for the best. How perfect that he and I had the pivotal conversation when we did, with just enough time for the midwives to take me. Then we decided on a home birth with just enough time for the necessary preparations and home visit. God is good.

Our due date was the 15th. Sunday the 16th we walked to church and then met with our “Wolfpack” family that afternoon. I was getting discouraged because it felt like spontaneous labor would never happen. I was having contractions every night for at least a week but they weren’t leading to anything. At Wolfpack I got to meet our friend Lisa’s new baby and hear about her birth center experience. It was very encouraging. Then I lost my mucus plug! With Malachi I lost it the day I went into labor. This was a good sign of progress. I gave my family the heads up that it might happen soon. Mimi generously offered to take Malachi that night, even though she’d already watched him the whole weekend. I said yes, please! I missed him a lot, but felt that this was best considering how tired I was, the fact that the mucus plug might mean something, and I didn’t want to catch his runny nose before labor.

We tried to nap that afternoon but were too excited I guess. That night the contractions started like they always did. This time they were a little stronger. They didn’t stop when I tried to go to bed, so Josh and I walked around the house in circles to see if they would go anywhere. We talked about all sorts of things and made each other laugh. It was fun. We wondered how many other babies had been born in our 1908 house. We joked about how this compared to walking the hospital halls last time, past the nurses’ station and the strangers in the waiting room.

At 10:30pm I called the midwife number and Jessica was on call. I wanted to give her a heads-up that I might have to wake her tonight. (She later admitted the mucus plug was often a false alarm for people, so she didn’t take my first call too seriously…but I knew my body!) She said to try to go to sleep and to call again if contractions stayed strong and 6 min apart.

I tried to lie down, but the contractions still didn’t stop like Braxton Hicks. So we walked some more loops around the house…and ate ice cream to celebrate the fact that labor was finally happening!


I called my mom and she came over soon after to keep us company. About 11:30 I called Jessica back and said the contractions were averaging less than 6 min apart and staying strong. She was there within the hour, freshly showered and ready for action. “I don’t trust second babies,” she said. We were all under the impression that labor would be shorter than Malachi’s…but anything could happen.


A little while later the nurse Peggy showed up also. She took my blood pressure, checked heart rates, temps, etc. Then we settled down. Jessica had already had a long day, so she went upstairs to nap until things progressed a little. My mom tried to sleep too but was a little too excited. We all hung out in the dining room talking between contractions and having a good time. I was so thankful to be in labor! So in awe of how my body knew it was time and did this on its own. I rocked on the birth ball (thanks Mom for letting us borrow it!) and breathed through contractions. I was familiar with coping during this part of labor because I had done it with Malachi up to this point. My rhythm was good. We were all very chatty and a little slap-happy. Every now and then Peggy checked my temp and the baby’s heart rate. Hours passed, but if there hadn’t been a clock in the room I would have lost track entirely. My mom laughed about how easily I drifted in and out of contractions. I would be in the middle of a story, then pause if I needed to, and pick right back up. “They say if you can talk through contractions they aren’t that strong,” my mom said. “They don’t know how good I am at talking,” I said.


Jessica came down after a while. She had caught a nap and was ready for the next part. It was fun talking with her and learning that she’d delivered SO many of our friends’ babies. Apparently we were a little late to the natural midwifery bandwagon! Josh and I were quite honored to have Jessica in our home and talk about her passion for helping mothers. I’m in awe of the hours she and the other midwives keep, delivering babies all night and taking appointments all day! So unlike the hospital, with nurses working several rooms, and the doctor appearing at the end to catch (in low-risk cases), here we had the attention of these women for our entire birth. What luxury!

We were thankful we didn’t have to decide when to go to the hospital or birth center. Peggy had set everything up to deliver upstairs in our bedroom. We joked about when to go upstairs, hoping we wouldn’t hit rush hour or have traffic on the way upstairs. We consulted Google and learned that sunrise would be around 6 am. Things were progressing alright, but not terribly quickly. I thought it would be cool to deliver at sunrise because our room has a great panoramic morning view. We finally made the trek upstairs around 5 am. Things were strengthening. We thought my water might break soon and we’d be pushing.


I did a lot of kneeling on the bed with support from the birth ball or pillows. I was having to make more noise to cope with the contractions when they came. I didn’t want to know how far dilated I was, and the midwives don’t perform many checks, but it definitely felt like we were getting there. The windows were open and I was a little self-conscious about the neighbors hearing me during a contraction. The sun rose and it was beautiful. But Shiloh still wasn’t here.


We ate some snacks and hung out as the sun rose in the sky. It got warmer in the room and we turned on the air conditioning (which is a big deal for us!) Jessica made some tea and relaxed in the corner of the room. The hostess inside of me was so glad she made herself at home! She mentioned her favorite midwifery quote is about having the experience to know when to sit back and be hands off.


We started to plan ahead. Jessica’s shift ended at 8:30. She really didn’t want to leave us without delivering, but she also had a good friend in labor that day and wasn’t yet caught up on sleep from the last delivery. She said she was itching to know my dilation at this point and make an informed decision about calling the next midwife. I let her check me, but I still didn’t want to know the number. She told me just enough information. “You’re not at a five or anything. You’re moving right along and you’re very soft. But you’re not at a 10. I’m going to call Lisa.”


Lisa, my other favorite midwife, had just gotten back from vacation and wasn’t even on call that night. She came anyway. She was energetic and well-rested from visiting her grandson out of town. She and Jessica debriefed in the hallway and traded off. Jessica really did hate to leave, but in retrospect it worked out perfectly having a fresh midwife for the intense pushing ahead. Jessica said goodbye and wished us luck and asked to be kept updated. Josh, Lisa, Peggy and I kept laboring as the intensity grew. We created a circuit of different positions that worked for me and allowed my body some variation. The contractions really did hurt if I wasn’t in the right position and able to move, but as long as I had movement and breathing I was able to cope just fine. “Pain without suffering,” like we read about in The Birth Partner.


At a certain point I got quieter and the room changed a little. I started to want to be done, and my mind wandered off. I had little mini-dreams between contractions. I knew I must be in transition. That meant the end was near. Good. But it was also a part of birth I thought would be dreadful. This was a point where it really helped to be informed. “I feel discouraged but this is normal. This is transition and transition is progress.”

Lisa asked to check my dilation after a few moments. I really tried not to think about the time, but it was no longer morning…it was probably lunchtime by now. I complied and she accidently broke my water. Warmth gushed down my legs. She apologized several times, but I was thankful things were moving along. She and Peggy cleaned everything up somehow…I wasn’t really paying attention at this point. It was almost time to push. Lisa said Shiloh had rotated during descent and was no longer in such a favorable position. He was lodged in such a way that I couldn’t dilate the last half-centimeter. When I started getting the urge to push she had to use her fingers to push the rest of the cervix away until his head cleared. It was a bit uncomfortable.


It took me several pushes to learn how to correctly channel my energy. At first I yelled a little too much. It helped with coping, but was really a waste of energy. Based on Peggy and Lisa’s feedback it was much more productive for me to close my mouth, hold my breath, and grunt. Pushing never felt involuntary for me, but it felt like the effort of pushing out a giant, hard poop. It was work, not “reverse vomiting” like I’d read. It didn’t hurt as much as I anticipated though. It just took so much effort, and I had to wait till a contraction hit for my pushes to have any power. In between I tried to slow my breathing and gain some strength. My body, especially my legs, were so tired and heavy at this point. Someone suggested we try a shower, which I refused. I was nauseous, but Lisa insisted I eat a banana and drink water in between so I’d have more energy. Everything they suggested, even chocolate, sounded awful.

With great effort, I tried several different pushing positions suggested by Lisa. Squatting. Toilet. On the bed. On the bed with one leg up. My body felt like it weighed a million pounds and my energy was definitely fading. I just wanted to be done. I knew we were close, but had no idea how I would find the energy to finish. Josh and I prayed for strength between every contraction. I was covered in sweat. Lisa and Peggy made comments about Shiloh’s position. I half listened. His heart rate was good, but his head wasn’t coming easy. They were optimistic and urged me on, but we kept having to try different things and it was taking altogether too long. My strength and my own optimism was waning. Thoughts started to creep in my mind of other ways to get out of this. Which was worse – trying to leave this far into things, or having to finish without the strength? Every push took all my energy. Every push received encouraging words of affirmation, but still no baby. They mentioned feeling the head, then seeing the head. Lisa tried to describe Shiloh’s hair to me. She said his head was molding into an interesting shape trying to get through. I just told myself that every contraction wave and series of pushes could be the last one. That, and having Josh there holding my hands and praying, carried me though. I know that Josh wasn’t just a passive observer. He was right there with me, sweating and feeling my pain, possibly even stronger than I did. I prayed too. I prayed for perspective. I prayed that I could fast forward the time and that it could all be over. “I need to be done,” I said several times.


It took about two hours I guess, but finally there was a contraction wave large enough and a push big enough. I saw stars. I felt a head. It was halfway out.  It didn’t feel huge. About the size of a potato. I had to wait in discomfort for the next contraction wave to dislodge. When the contraction came and felt strong enough, I pushed and heard rejoicing in the room. His head was out. I pushed again and his body was out. I was done. There was no greater satisfaction. “I’m done. It’s over.” I was a little more interested in being done than the baby at first. Then they handed me Shiloh, all large and slippery and perfect. We were still attached. I turned around on the bed to hold him and get a better look at him. “Hi baby. You do have a weird head.” Those were my epic first words to him.



We laid back on the bed and cuddled and started to nurse a little bit. Lisa waited for the cord to stop pulsing and Josh clipped it. A little while later she said the placenta was ready to deliver. One easy push and it was out. She and Peggy informed me it was probably the biggest, healthiest placenta they’d ever seen. Quite the compliment! They also remarked that his cord was thick and healthy. I guess my improved dietary habits with this pregnancy were worth something. He could have been nourished for quite a bit longer in there if he’d wanted to. Things were cleaned up around us. I leaned against Josh for support and cuddled Shiloh for a good long time. Mom put some pizzas in the oven and brought them up. Josh and I devoured it quickly. Shiloh figured out nursing like a rock-star.


Shiloh was born August 17, 2015 at 2:53 pm after approximately 16 hours of labor. He weighed 9 lbs 6 oz and was 22 inches long. I did need to get some stitches, but I felt better and recovered quicker than I did with Malachi, in spite of Shiloh being nearly one-and-a-half pounds larger. Shiloh’s Apgar scores were great. Two 9 out of 10s. His head assumed a perfect, round shape after about 24 hours. He is now four days old and so well-adjusted to the world. He is really living up to his name, which represents peace and abundance.

Yet again, God has shown me his perfect timing. It is not always the same as my timing. I went into labor the day after my due date. That’s not bad at all, but waiting for a baby is REALLY hard! While I would have liked for him to come a bit earlier, I now realize that if I’d gone into labor even a day earlier Lisa would have still been on vacation. As it was, I got to birth with two very special women who I admire tremendously and wanted to be a part of it.


The birth definitely confirmed that switching had been the way to go. My OB probably would have wanted to perform surgery as soon as Shiloh’s head got tilted and my cervix stopped opening. At the very least it would have been episiotomy and forceps delivery. But the midwives had even more confidence in my body than I did! I learned that trusting our bodies coincides with trusting our Maker. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, not cursed. Even without drugs, my body’s natural pain relief and flood of hormones did an amazing job! When labor was over, I felt so chipper and awake. I was shaking all over with adrenaline. I looked around and wondered why everyone else seemed so drained. While it took a lot of endurance, I have never felt so relieved and empowered and fulfilled. It more than made up for it! Anytime we come to the end of ourselves, I believe that’s when we see God the clearest. I’m so incredibly thankful for this experience, that required me reaching my endpoint. We persevered and achieved the amazing natural birth I had dreamed of.


Birth photo credits – Sharon Curry