A Letter to 2016

Dear 2016,

I am at a loss for words. At first I think back upon you with such disdain. You claimed so many lives, brought so much tragedy, and destroyed so many hearts. You've shaken HOPE and threatened LOVE with a vengeance. But, that wasn't all. You spared a couple lives very close to my heart, AND made a mother out of me. So I can't hate you too much after all. However, I will have no trouble letting you go gently into that good night.

And so, I find myself once again going through this year's mountains of photographs and memories. This seems to be my way of processing the last 365 days, as well as opening up my heart to the next 365 days to come -- whatever they may bring.

You've been... the worst of times & the best of times.
I bid you farewell.

Considerably,
Sarah

Okay. So. When 2016 took it's first breath, I was 6 months pregnant.
Sick as a dog, throwing up every morning, and SO OVER IT.
But, you would never know it from these photos because they're GORGEOUS.
{sun drenched photos below by my work-wife, Lindsey Gomes . H&MU by Amanda Olson}

{cozy lifestyle preggers photos by darling, Sabrina Klomp . H&MU by Amanda Olson}

And then came the baby showers. There is nothing like women from every time and space of your life gathering in one living room just to love on you and your unborn baby.
My heart was overwhelmed and my belly was full of this ADORABLE funfetti birch-tree cake my best friends made (I don't care for cake. unless it's funfetti. obviously).

these four women pulled off the baby shower of my dreams. I can't even.

One week later, my darling Sabrina hosted a second, Alice in Wonderland themed shower for my wedding industry tribe. once again, I was floored by the number of women that showed up to celebrate this insane transition into motherhood with me.

P.S. this next photo 100% sums up the awkward duo that IS Sarah & Sabrina, or "Sabrarah".

Next on 2016's agenda was the number one reason that I will forever look back on this year with epic amounts of heartache. On February 8th, this world lost it's brightest light -- my mom's brother, my Nanna's son, my cousins' father, my Uncle Steve. Being 30 weeks pregnant at the time, I instantly put up emotional guards around my heart -- not letting myself feel it too deeply, to protect my baby bird. And so, little by little, since she's been born, his absence from the world has hit me; harder and harder with each emotional wall I allow to fall. My Uncle Steve was perhaps the kindest, most playful, wholesome person I will ever know. He wrote music and sang at the top of his lungs until his dying day. He taught me how to snowboard and showed me what it means to live a life of adventure. I don't think a loss like this ever fades. Not a day goes by that my entire family doesn't miss him. Everything he ever did was done in love. Everything he ever touched felt kindness ripple through it's being. And I wish with all of my heart that he was still here, that he could have met my Phoenix. That ache will never go away. Ever.

One of the times I took Phoenix to visit my Nanna, we were sitting in a chair in her bedroom with a photo of my uncle sitting on the side table. Phoenix kept reaching for the frame, so I finally handed it to her. She took it into her hands with such purpose, staring right at him and placing her fingers on his face. In that moment, I knew he was no stranger to her. I like to imagine her final moments in heaven before she came into this world were spent with him, where he told her everything would be okay and to give his love to his family as he sent her on her way.

And sent her on her way, he did.
At 9pm on March 24th, my water broke, sending us into the tailspin that would be Phoenix's drug-free entrance into this world (the full story of which can be read in this other blog post).
{B&W birth story photos by, who else, Lindsey Gomes}

after 2 nights in the hospital, we headed home.

... where Lindsey took MORE photos :)

In June, my dad and I celebrated our 10th Live Oak Music Festival together,
this time with a baby clad in the ceremonial garb.

In July, we took Phoenix on the annual Fagan Family Vacation to Squaw Valley,
a place I've been exploring since I was 5 years old.

My wedding season started in May, when Phoenix was just 2 months old. Josiah had just started an outage at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, working 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week. not only was I learning how to be a mom for the first time, but a mom who worked from home, with a baby who wouldn't take a bottle. Phoenix attended 20 weddings in her 8 months, because the alternative of "if she gets hungry enough, she'll take the bottle" didn't sit well with me. it was anything but easy - simultaneously being mother and documenter of the most important day of a couple's life. I have never been more exhausted, nor more blessed. I now know intimately the meaning of the phrase "it takes a village" -- I couldn't have survived this wedding season without a team of INCREDIBLE 2nd shooters who had my back, a collection of couples that were ceaselessly accommodating and never once made me feel like less of a business-person even though my baby was crashing their wedding, and most of all my mom and Josiah who would care for Phoenix during wedding days (10-12 hour days, sometimes traveling out of town, all the time having to entertain and pacify an infant without the comforts of home).


(these next family shots are from a wedding I 2nd shot for my dear friend, Ely Roberts)

From the beginning I have been hell bent on not losing myself entirely to motherhood. I was determined to find a way for Phoenix to fit into the beautiful life we had already made, instead of building a new life that revolved around her. Obviously, a baby changes your life in a BIG WAY. It would actually be a lot easier to just drop the life I had before her and just BE HERS (in truth, some days that's all I want), but in order to best love and serve my daughter I must also love and serve myself. Which to me means keeping my business running strong, traveling wherever that business takes me, hosting photography workshops, singing at wineries, and the list goes on. Phoenix is along for the ride, which may not be easy all the time, but I believe we'll both be better because of it.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Josiah has been without work since May. At first, we were stressing balls wondering how the heck our bills would get paid. But now I see things in new light -- I couldn't have done ANY OF ^ THAT ^ without Josiah's constant support. The relationship this man has with his daughter is because of the time he's gotten with her. Being a stay at home dad is far from being "jobless." While I've busted my butt shooting and editing between naps and nursing, this man has busted his butt doing dishes, vacuuming, changing diapers, folding laundry, making homemade applesauce (because it's her favorite), and the list goes on. It is a privilege to witness this man becoming a father, and an honor to do parenthood with him.

Phoenix also has the unending love of not one but TWO great-grandmothers:
her Nanny-Granny (83 years old) & Great-Grammy (93 years old).

MOTHERHOOD has been no frickin joke. And no one can prepare you for it (try as they might). It's equal parts heaven and hell. Okay, maybe not equal -- heaven always wins -- but the "hell" parts are the stuff of nightmares. For the first 3ish months, I experienced postpartum depression. I cried for hours every day, over every little thing, sometimes uncontrollably. I would find myself staring blankly at the air in front of me, while my mind wandered back to the life I used to have. With the help of my midwife, yoga, Josiah, and Zoloft -- I slowly found my way out of that dark place and began to see the beauty in the chaos. This new life is indescribable. I may be sleep deprived most days, but the way this girl lights up when she sees me walk into a room is everything.

{mama & baby Magnolia Session by my lovely friend Tina Loveridge}

a few things about the little family we've come to be:
1) we communicate primary by ogre-speak or song
2) our two dogs, Griffin & Ruby, may knock Phoenix around a bit, but they've accepted her into the pack and fiercely love her
3) we like morning cuddles, tea parties, cooking together, going on walks, breakfast dates, swings, and watching the ocean

{amazeballs family photos also by Tina Loveridge}

October brought Phoenix's first Halloween: Dragon Baby.

November brought the latest and greatest Linden Clover Workshop (Lindsey's and my lovechild).
For six months, we planned and dreamed this creativity retreat into life. For 3 days and 2 nights, we hosted 8 photographers in boutique trailers on a vineyard in Paso Robles, feasted on the best food my tastebuds will ever experience, and fostered relationships with fellow creatives that will last a lifetime. My heart has never felt such fullness as this.

and then there was Phoenix's first Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday).

and my family took their first-ever family photo. GO US.

In December, we celebrated my belated-birthday at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with my two brothers and their girlfriends (who I adore). I never wanted to leave.

Then came Christmas. I will never grow tired of watching Phoenix experience things for the first time -- such wonder & magic is lost to so many, and she brings it back to life.

And thus 2016 has fatefully departed us -- a year full of tragedy as well as new life, sorrow as well as joy.
With bated breath, I wonder what this new year will bring. But as long as I have my tribe, my village, my people, I know it will be beautiful.

Happy New Year, from me and mine to you and yours <3

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The Unexpected Adventure

Phoenix Eileen - The Unexpected Adventure

Phoenix’s story starts long before it ever began, back when Josiah and I first started dreaming of what it might be like to be more than just the two of us.

The year was 2012. We made the decision to throw out the birth control and “see what happens.” Never in a million years would I have imagined that a year and a half later, we would be sitting in doctor’s office being told Josiah has a sperm count of ZERO. The doctor was baffled and sent us to a fertility specialist, who basically boiled it down to a theory that Josiah had been born with the equivalent of a vasectomy and that we had two options: IVF or adoption.

WHAT THE HECK.

You never think it’s going to happen to you. Until it does. And you are sitting in an uncomfortable chair in front of a man in a white coat, feeling like you just got sucker punched in the gut. All your dreams and plans laid to waste in one heartbreaking swoop. No one can prepare you for news like that. For two years, we faced and battled with our grief. Josiah and I travelled very different paths to process the blow we had suffered, which took a toll on both of us individually as well as our marriage. Conversations regarding how we might actually have a family someday always ended in tears, so eventually those conversations disappeared all together. It wasn’t until our 7th wedding anniversary in July of 2015 that we were sitting at a dinner table watching the sun set into the Pacific Ocean through a restaurant window that we revisited that conversation only to discover our separate journeys of acceptance had landed us in the same boat, with an entirely new outlook on life: despite the hardship we had faced over the previous couple years, we realized we didn’t need the stereotypical “American Dream” to be happy. In fact, we were quite stoked on our life with just fur-children and each other. With that, we agreed to let go of our dream of a child entirely and just enjoy the life we were given.

Unbeknownst to either of us, I was already 4 weeks pregnant sitting at that table.

Two days after that night, Josiah went under the knife for a small procedure to officially find out his prognosis -- were there even sperm in there? Or was he actually sperm-less? 10 days later, we were sitting in that first doctor’s office staring at an X-ray of Josiah’s nether-regions that showed a blockage in his business keeping the sperm trapped. But sperm THERE WAS. This was good news. This meant that if and when we changed our minds on the whole “kids or no kids?” issue, the doctor could swoop in there and let the spermies free!

I was now 6 weeks pregnant staring at that X-ray.
In fact, I had thrown up that morning.

3 days later, I threw up again.
And my best friend forced me to take a pregnancy test.
So I took 5.
The results were in.
I was knocked up.

The next 9 months were a roller coaster of feels.

I can officially say I am NOT A FAN of being pregnant. I was unlucky enough to throw up every single day of my pregnancy and suffered heartburn that would make a grown man cry. Growing a human being is HARD. But hey, at least I looked damn good doing it.

{photos below by Lindsey Gomes}

{photos below by Sabrina Klomp, One Another Photography}

Fast forward to the night of March 24th (because, let’s face it, no one wants to hear someone complain about being pregnant) -- 4 days past my estimated due date (and the longest 4 days of my life). I’m lying on the couch binge-watching Pretty Little Liars, when my water breaks. (GROSS). One hour later, the bags are in the car and we are off to the hospital.

The time is now 10pm. We arrive to French Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, where I am loaded up into a wheelchair and wheeled back to the room we would call home for the next 3 nights.

{birth story photos by Lindsey Gomes}

My contractions were clocked at 5 minutes apart, although I wasn’t quite feeling them that often. The wonderful nurse informed me that would change. And it did. Fast. For the next 16 hours, I labored all over our room: sitting on the edge of the bed, leaning over a birth ball, cross legged on the bed, lying on my side, hanging onto Josiah, and even in the shower (where we battled contractions and fought nodding off to sleep for 2 hours). No matter where I was, Josiah was always there for me to fall into. It was just him and me (oh, and Lindsey of course -- these pictures didn’t take themselves!!!) -- riding each wave of pain and doing everything in our power to just stay afloat. Josiah could tell by a shift in my breathing when another contraction was starting. Not once did he say, “Are you SURE you don’t want the drugs?” He supported me in everything, coached me through each rush, and reminded me to never stop breathing (you’d be surprised how colossal a relief something simple as breath can be). Even when I started having “rolling contractions” (picture of set of waves -- crashing one after the other with no time to breathe in between) and my resolve started fading, Josiah answered my cries of “I don’t think I can do this” with a resounding, “You’re so close. You’re so strong. You can absolutely do this.”

Now, when they tell you in your birthing class “You’ll feel an overwhelming urge to push” -- they aren’t frickin kidding. That urge is INTENSE. And you can’t hold back any longer. That baby is on it’s way out, and there is no stopping it. And I was there.

Just before I arrived to that place, I heard Josiah say, “Your mom is outside the door. Do you want her to come in?” (I had previously told my mom I wanted her at the hospital, on call, just in case I felt I needed her. After all, she had birthed 3 children naturally herself, and who doesn’t want a badass mama like that in her corner?). I quickly nodded, and before I knew it my mom’s hands were on my shoulder while I was saying, “Tell me I can do this, Mom. I don’t feel like I can do this.” My mom put her face right next to mine and declared into my ear, “Oh honey, you’ve already done it.” She kissed me on the head, and walked away. It was that final nudge from my mom that gave me the confidence to bear down and DO THIS THING. And so I did. I channeled the mama bear in me, moaning and roaring and quite possibly terrifying every single person in the birthing wing.

I pushed for a little under an hour. Each push, though harder than the last, brought my little bird closer and closer to my arms. On that final push, I heard our midwife, Christy, say, “Take your baby, Sarah! She’s here! Just reach down and take her!” And just like that, the gooey little darling was on my chest and over my heart. Josiah, who had held my hand through it all, reached over and watched as his daughter instantly grabbed onto his index finger and wouldn’t let go. I’ve seen my husband cry a number of times in our 10 years together, but the way he cried during this moment is a memory I will treasure for a lifetime. We had done it. He had seen me through one of the most daunting and intense events of my life.

Birth is an incredibly empowering experience. Not only had my body grown and housed a tiny human for the past 41 weeks, but it had naturally found a way to bring that tiny human out of my womb and into my world. My body did that. All on it’s own. I didn’t need pain medication or induction tools, I was created strong and capable to naturally give birth to the most beautiful creature I have ever laid eyes on. It was the best gift I could have given my daughter - to bring her into the world so alert and awake she rooted and crawled all by herself to my breast to eat for the first time.

But MAN did it hurt like a MOFO.

We stayed two more nights in the hospital and were given the kindest, supportive treatment. Each nurse had nothing but the most positive and encouraging things to say about Josiah and myself and the way we supported one another as our delivery unfolded. The lactation consultant had even said, “I loved hearing you sing your daughter out.”

And thus, at 12:52pm on Good Friday March 25th, Phoenix Eileen Leader was born -- weighing in at 7 pounds 7 ounces and measuring 21 inches long. Her head smells like new life and happy dances and is so damn kissable. I’m obsessed with her pouty lips and her long fingers and toes. Her smile makes my heart melt, her voice makes my world bright, and her snuggles make even the worst of days good again.

as you can no doubt see, I am blessed with some INCREDIBLE photographers as friends who have documented this epic shift in our life.

my session with Sabrina made me feel beautiful in a way that felt impossible being pregnant. during a time when I felt a stranger to my own body, she made me feel like a pregnancy unicorn. you cannot put a price on that kind of "feel good".

Josiah and I are no strangers to Lindsey's lens. she never fails to capture the true us - awkward moments and all.
so we were (and still are) beyond honored and blessed that she spent all 16 of those gruesome hours in that hospital room with us in order to document the birth of our daughter. not once did I feel weird with her being there. in fact, she served as another calming voice reminding me that each contraction brought me one breath closer to meeting my baby girl. Lindsey, you are such a shining light in my life. I've said it a million times, and I'll say it again -- I am so lucky to count you as one of my best friends. And I am over the moon to know that I will always have you to capture our crazy life, wherever it may lead next.

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Creatures : Phoenix

Phoenix : a mythical bird that never dies, but is reborn time and time again from it's own ashes. the phoenix flies far ahead to the front, always scanning the landscape and distant space. it represents a capacity for vision, for collecting sensory information about our world and the events unfolding within it.

Creatures . Part THREE

>> Phoenix <<

{hair & makeup: Jamie Clark | feather headdress: Lilies of the Field | dress: Free People}

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Creatures : Siren

Siren : a beautiful, yet dangerous creature who lures nearby sailors with her enchanting voice to shipwreck on the rocky coast of her island.

Creatures . PART TWO

>> Siren <<

{hair & makeup: Rhyan Townsend | mermaid fin: FinFun}

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#3mamasgobabygirl

sometimes, you just have to run away to Sonoma with two of your best friends.
I definitely planned on taking more photos. but as it turned out, I got too busy LIVING.

p.s. don't worry about the hashtag. it will never make sense.
p.p.s. if you ever want a cozy place to stay in Sonoma, this AirBnB is the only way to go.

{I stole the photo above from my photographer-counterpart, Lindsey Gomes}

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