personal •• little promise [part two]

We are so incredibly excited to welcome into our family, our Little Darling and the Baby Girl we were promised. Meet, our daughter. . .

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Believing even months ago that our little one was the girl we had waited for, I announced our pregnancy to Aaron with these sweet little details. He’s waited a looooong time to hold his little Daddy’s Girl and we couldn’t be more thrilled that she’s finally here!
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personal •• little promise [part one]

We had waited for months, and finally there they were: perfect, timely, rose colored lines that swept us off our feet. Leaves turned colors and our hearts melted at the thought of her. We announced her life to our nearest and dearest. Fall was in the air and she was in my belly. We were finally complete. It was a dream come true.

Then it was over in an instant. One day the bleeding started and just like that, our dream was gone. I gave birth to our daughter, 7 months early, and she was lifeless. I’ve experienced great pain in my life, as we all have. But no pain has ever been more unbearable then watching all hope leave my husbands eyes with the news of our loss. Nothing has ever hurt more then the hours that followed.

We sat there, in the sand, watching the sun set over the ocean and cried together. Why, how, GOD ARE YOU EVEN THERE? The questions burned us alive and all that was left were tears. So many tears, so much brokeness. We thought we had lost the daughter we’d dreamed of since before we even knew each other. We thought I was carrying her and she was gone. Isabella, our Beauty, our Promise. The name I picked as a child, the daughter his heart waited for.

On our drive home that night, I turned the radio on and over the speakers flooded the joyful tears of a woman telling her story. She had wished for years to have a child, just like us. She’d dreamed of a daughter, just like us. She had experienced loss, just like us. And on that day, she was crying her miracle into the silence that filled our dark night. Her daughter had finally come and she was named, Isabella. “God has made a promise. And He keeps His promises!” said the woman. Isabella. The very name means “God’s Promise”. We cried again and told no one. We named the daughter we lost, Autumn Grace. Because that was who she was and what she gave us.

Several months later, I sat in silence across from an incredible woman of God who had prayed for me. She was afraid to share what God had told her, so she wrote it down on a piece of paper and gave it to me.

“God has made a promise to you that not many people know about. He’s going to fulfill that promise in 2013.”

That’s what she wrote. I knew exactly what that promise was. And when, after months of tests, another loss, therapy and tears, we saw those rose colored lines again, with a due date only days before the end of 2013, I could only hope and wait and believe that it was the Lord. Fulfilling the promise He made to us that night, when all hope seemed lost.

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In darkness and light, brokenness and healing, when fullness and plenty are our blessing, when barrenness and loss are our burden, in joy and in the very deepest pain, He is God.

Autumn Grace 11/1/12.

personal •• 12 weeks, bitty.

Hello again, Darling Little. . .

Today is a day of miracles, just like the 83 days before this one. You are 12 weeks along and the whole world acknowledges that you have already lived through the most temperamental time of your little life. Daddy, me and Eli celebrated you, our little lionheart, this morning at our favorite beach with our favorite coffee. The boys played, climbed rocks and ran from crashing waves, giggling the whole time. I love them so very much, and you will too, little darling.

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I breathed it in, twelve weeks. I cried it out, TWELVE weeks.

There have been fleeting moments in the last year that made me wonder if you and me would ever get to see that number. But here you are. It’s twelve weeks and you’re still in my belly, by no small miracle. Your heart is beating, your tiny body growing. It seems you’re here to stay, Little. *deep sigh of relief*

personal •• 9 weeks, bitty.

Oh, Bitty.

It’s day 53ish of your life. You’re the size of an olive, you lost your tail and grew four limbs, a striking Fernandez forehead and the second most precious heartbeat momma has ever, EVER seen. As the days pass, I’m amazed at how quickly you’re growing, accomplishing new feats as the minutes fly by. According to the silly medical world, I’m supposed to congratulate you on evolving from an embryo into a fetus, but little darling you never were just a cluster of cells to begin with. From the very second your life started, you were celebrated, named, loved, waited and prayed for, you have personality and a style all your own, a lion-heart filled with faith and determination, tiny snowflake fingerprints just for you, a purpose over your life and little bitty dreams that will be yours, all yours. Things we already know about you? You’re a whirlwind like your momma and you love, love, LOVE your daddy to pieces. When you hear his voice, you kick so excitedly we can BOTH feel you wiggle. You favor ginger, warm water and ocean sounds. And carbs, of course.

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This week, you stirred up quite a commotion with all that growing. By the time Wednesday rolled around, I couldn’t keep a single thing down. Mommy lost 10 lbs, Daddy worried, Eli cuddled and all of the people that love you PRAYED. It doesn’t just take a village to raise a child, but to bring one into the world, I’m convinced. God answered all of our prayers and within a day or two the unbearable nausea and sickness was gone. You’re getting nutrition again and I can breathe. That’s the thing, little one. Prayer changes things.

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We got to SEE you for the first time on Friday evening. Insane holiday-weekend traffic, tired and cranky big brother and an ultrasound machine from the dark-ages. Even with all of those odds stacked against our first face-to-face, you still captured the show. You’re perfect, so very perfect. A giant head, nubby little arms and that beautiful little flicker in your chest: the heartbeat we’ve been aching to see for almost a year.

Bitty, you’ve turned our world upside down and every day we get to spend with you here, finally here, you grow roots deep into daddy and my heart. Welcome to the family, little darling. We’ve waited a long time for you.

josh + bekah •• orange county engagement photographer

 

 

Inseparable. Brushing each other’s hair, sleeping side-by-side for nearly 16 years, sharing everything and crying on each other’s shoulders. Best friends in every season, despite the differences, a relationship forged by the strongest of bonds. In case you’re wondering, I’m talking about me and my little sister, not her and her beau. Never have I seen two more different people love each other with so little care for what could separate us. I love that about my sissy. She has held my hand through every hard time. Every. Single. One. Barbies, boys and running away from home — we’ve done it all together. For better or worse, our sisterhood has remained strong.

So. When her Prince Charming waltzed on in, myyy oh my. Poor Josh. He had his work cut out for him. The phone call went something like this. . .

Bekah: “Yeah! Josh, you know JOSH. We are soooo in love!”
Me: “Awwwww, adORAble. So sweet. Sooooo sweeet.” *glares through the phone* “Would Josh mind meeting me for lunch tomorrow? I have a few. . . questions.”
Naive Bekah: “I’m sure he’d love that!”
Me: “Goooooooood.” *assembles torture tools and sets clock to oh-twelve-hundred-hours*

I knew that Josh wasn’t like the others. He wasn’t the boyfriend type, he was the husband type. I had to be sure that he could withstand the trials of life and come out on the other side, still madly in love with her. It took that lunch, and ohhhh, around 567 days after that for me to finally agree that yes, Josh would do. 

Even though they met as adults, I feel like Josh and Bekah have grown up together. Their relationship isn’t fickle or shiny. They have lived through trials that often draw lines in love, but every time they’ve chosen each other when the dust settles. To me, they feel like kids who have grown into each other and learned to hold hands in life, to never let go, and to laugh along the way. A lot.

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Bekah is the buttercream on a cupcake and Josh is umm, the baking soda. That is, if I was describing their personalities with pantry essentials. Yes, buttercream is a pantry essential.

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She’s his sunshine and sparkle while he is her steady, traditional, solid. Where he is weak, she is strong, and vice-versa. She can pull laughter out of just about any situation, which has made his life exceedingly brighter. I mean, he didn’t say that but I can tell. You know, sometimes you can just tell.

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They met broken, hurting, needing to know what LOVE was. Real, heart throbbing, life altering love. And over the course of almost 3 years, they have coaxed each other’s hearts into love. That love. The kind that has two elderlies still holding hands and chuckling at life, 60 years into their marriage. 

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Josh proposed to Bekah on a quiet cove in Laguna Beach, while the sun was setting just one week before Christmas. Torches and rose petals lit the way for her to find him standing there, beaming. And wearing a suit. She was shocked! And giddy with excitement. Best Christmas Gift, ever.

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Yes. It’s true. When all is said and done, these two will vow to love each other forever under Autumn leaves this Fall. They will do life together, and they will do it well. Someday down the road, beautiful TutBabies will appear, as if by magic. And someday even further down the road, they will be found walking hand-in-hand, with aged smiles and a sparkle that never faded. These two will love each other forever. I couldn’t be more happy for my favorite little sister and that she has found the one her heart desires. 

the dodson family •• orange county family portrait photographer

A lovely little family on a beautiful beach. What could be better? Being related to this adorable family, that’s what! We set aside an afternoon on our North Carolina vacation, last Summer, to do a shoot with my brother-in-law and his loves. White sand, warm water and evening light made the perfect setting for sweet interaction and sentimental memory making. Enjoy!

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personal •• my boys

Falling in love with you was easy
You were always meant to have my heart
I was broken all to pieces
You were there to be the missing part
Nothing makes sense without you
It’s like waking up in the dark
I didn’t have a song
Until you came along

•• Until You Came Along by JJ Heller ••

Today, I want to share about two of the three most important people in my world: my boys. I thought long and hard about how I wanted to introduce them as the dynamic duo they are, Big and his Mini Me. They’re crucial elements to who I am since they are the inspiration for everything I do. Who I am, planted in the home we’ve created together, is the best version of myself.

My husband. I could go on about him for days and I’m sure he’ll get a blog post all his own at some point. For now, suffice it to say, HE AMAZES ME. Aaron is someone who, from the moment we met, has inspired and challenged me. To describe him in three words would be difficult, so here’s trying hard with five: energetic, inspirational, POSITIVE, encouraging, so-incredibly-handsome. The thing that I love most about this man is that he defies all odds to accomplish what he believes is right. To be the visual artist he is today, he has had to overcome the impossible. From where he came from to how he was raised, the voices around him, the people who have tried to shut him down, failing art class as a child, heck! At times he didn’t even have access to a computer (the very thing he creates on). Yet, here he is accomplishing his dreams and growing every day into the person that he wants to be, regardless of what anyone else has said.

My son. That boy, oh that boy. He joined our family by surprise and stayed by a miracle. Knowing what I know now about the odds our precious children face to even stay alive in the womb, I can honestly say I have NO idea how that strong-headed, fireball of a boy made it except by the grace of God. He captured my heart from the moment I knew he existed and watching him grow has truly been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. He’s an adventurous soul, craving danger and always on the hunt for something new and exciting to revel in. That blonde-haired boy has his daddy’s ocean-colored eyes and well, just about every other characteristic too. He’s Aaron’s mini-me, cut from the very same cloth (ok, obviously) and pulsing with the very same passion for life and exploration. Elijah. The other boy that changed my life forever.

I decided the surest way to make you fall in love like I have, is to SHOW you in real life just how charming my boys are. So. A couple weekends ago, on an outing to our favorite Hipster Pop-Up Shops, I brought along my camera and tried my hand at filming. I’ve never played with that feature in my life and I sure-as-heck haven’t ever opened a video editing program. So, a little grace from y’all and I’ll be a pro in no time, hopefully filling these pages with fanciful films. Yay yay yay!

P.S. Turn up your volume and watch the video [LARGE] for it’s best showing.

 

michael + erika + baby noah •• orange county maternity photographer

Oh, you’re just a small bump unknown, you’ll grow into your skin.
With a smile like hers and a dimple beneath your chin.
You can wrap your fingers round my thumb and hold me tight.
And you’ll be alright.

•• Small Bump by Ed Sheeran••

Michael and Erika are the kind of parents that make you want to be a parent. I mean, Erika just glows for her bitty Noah, excitedly preparing every detail of their life for his arrival. His room is draped in baby animal cuteness and on the chalkboard his daddy made, his momma writes little love notes for him. This sweet boy has been a blessing from the moment they discovered his existence and, lucky for him, he will enter a world of love with same-age cousins, two fun and furry dog siblings, grandparents and all sorts of fun family adventures ahead.

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We chose to go this direction with Erika’s portraits for so many reasons. The first, and most obvious, being that she is just gorgeous and pregnancy looks positively lovely on her. I wanted to capture her as a momma in her real life world, in an environment that she has spent hours day dreaming of her little man in. I wanted to showcase her maternity glow with sweet sentimental details: her family pearls, the home her and her love are making their own, her fabulous fashionista wardrobe. I love that her joy shows through in every single shot!Ericka-Blog-2

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Thank you, Michael and Erika for the honor it was to document this beautiful season of your lives. I can’t waaaaait to hold that precious boy of yours, all too soon. May the blessing of parenthood continue to draw your sweet family closer together. Ohhhh, sweet sweet babies.

•••

Hair by Bekah Hair

personal •• oh, such happiness!

The long version of this post will follow in the near future. But for now, our little family has a super-fab-tastical announcement to share. . .

bitty-announcement-portraitYAY! Oh my wonderful goodness, YAY! What a sweet blessing it was for me to discover yesterday afternoon. What a beautiful memory it was to share with my amazing husband. What a serious matter this is for us. . .

I’ve always been more in the camp of waiting well into the first trimester to announce a pregnancy. I mean, you never know what may happen, right? But with the experiences we’ve had in the last few months, Aaron and I both heartily agreed that this pregnancy needed to be shouted from the rooftops as soon as we found out. Why? Because this is pregnancy number 5 for us. In the last 6 months, two of our babies have gone to be with Jesus. With each of those little ones, we didn’t share our blessing publicly, out of fear. Fear that we might miscarry, fear that our friends and family may not have grace for such a tragedy, fear that words spoken caringly but carelessly could hurt us. In the months that have followed our loss, we’ve been meeting with an incredible team of naturopathic professionals that have been guiding us through the discovery and healing process. We are grateful for the wisdom both our midwife and naturopath have used to seek out the issues and find wholesome solutions for.

This time, we are choosing to share our blessing right away, out of HOPE. Because we believe that prayer changes things and this time, we’re counting on it.

Please, dear friends and family, won’t you join us in covering this sweet baby with prayer for health and continued growth? We’ll keep everyone updated as we learn more.

••••

I made you and will take care of you.
    I will carry you and save you.

Isaiah 46:4b

personal •• c’est moi

This is me. That’s what the title means, in case you’re not fluent in French and/or don’t know how to use google translate.

It’s a strange conundrum to arrive at. What would you tell someone about yourself? Someone who, let’s just assume, doesn’t know anything except face value. How far back in the history of [YOU] would you reach to call “the beginning”? I asked myself that on Saturday morning, while sitting across the cafe table from a lovely friend I made online. (Yes, the internet made me a friend. Hello, 21st century!) We had done small talk, as Kid President says, over email. But face-to-face, I had to decide what to write on the empty slate of who she knew me to be before our introduction. . .

For me, that’s an easy answer. The beginning was the day I first saw his name. It’s not an uncommon name, but I’d never known anyone by that name before, so it stood out. I remember a quiet, steady voice in my head telling me this is it, he was made to be mine. A complete stranger and the only thing I knew we shared in common was our friends. My life started in that moment and the 18 years before that were simply the shaping of who I’d be when life finally filled my lungs. The in-betweens are for another day, but if you fast forward nearly 5 years and peel back the shutters of our life, you’d see US. And in US, you’ll find me. . .

rach-burgundy-web-1Rachel Michele Dodson. Today, I am his Mrs. standing at just (barely) over 5 feet tall, brown hair (a color that can and does change, often), dark eyes and prominent features. I live in Orange County, Southern California with the love of my life, Aaron and my (almost) 2 year old son, Elijah. I grew up here and love that I get to raise my sweet boy here too. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting so many different cities, states, countries, each with their own beauty and intrigue. But, no matter how far I go, I’ve never found a land as lovely as California. It’s a place of dreams, the big kind, and unspeakable beauty. In one day, you can enjoy waves crashing on cliffs and smooth, perfect sand and just a short drive inland, towering pines and sacred mountain escapes. This is home to us and we’ve grown heart roots here.

I’ve always been an artist, dreamer and writer. I found my niche in photography when the dearest of friends took me under her wing and let me shoot beside her. She believed in me and shared so many of those early photography firsts with me. Today, I’ve been shooting for 9 years. NINE. I feel old.

As a little girl, one of my very favorite movies was Mrs. Arris Goes to Paris. In Jr. High, I tried my very hardest to learn French. As an adult, I collect anything and everything that reminds me of France, including but not limited to tacky eiffel tower paraphernalia, notebooks with french writing on them and dreams of someday visiting. It’s true, I’ve never actually been. But my husband promises to reconcile that soon. In the mean time, I eat my fair share of French Macarons in the waiting. Ohhh, delicious.rach-burgundy-web-2

As strange as it sounds, coffee is a part of us. It’s one of the things we had in common from the get-go, it’s something we were friends around, dated around, and now that I’m writing this it sounds like a borderline weirdo obsession, but yes, we also said our vows in a coffee shop. If you know us, you know that coffee is more then just a morning beverage to Aaron and I. I couldn’t even chalk it down to a hobby. It kind of fits relationally into the place a beloved family dog would, awkwardly enough. We drink coffee passionately and seriously in this home. There are no filters or quick-brew pots here. Just old fashioned french-presses in every size and shape. We dream up entire vacations to Europe and South America, centered on good coffee tasting. Obsessed. And one of the romantic things we say after sampling a particularly smooth bold roast is, “someday when we’re old, we’ll serve this in our coffee shop”. So yes, there’s that.

The last important random fact I have to share, the last cornerstone of who I am as a person, is my love for a country other then my own. I believe passionately in a lot of good causes, but above all I have a huuuuuge heart for the entire continent of Africa. I love Africa so completely that I would move there in a heartbeat, and just prior to meeting my husband, I nearly did. I’d brave the giant bugs, scorching sun, dusty roads and third world horrors without a second thought if it meant getting to return again and share any amount of time with a people I love so truly. I don’t just want clean water, mosquito nets or schooling for them as a nation. I want it all.

Whew. So how’s that for diving right on into the deep end?! Back up to the top, and breeeeeathe. C’est moi. This is me, in a nutshell.

•••

Pictures courtesy of my husband. February 2013.