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In the words of Motherly writer Azizah Rowen, “Walking out of the hospital with a baby is a gift. Walking out with a NICU baby is a true miracle.” And behind each of those miraculous babies are incredible parents, doctors, nurses and supporters.


In honor of Neonatal Intensive Care Awareness Month, we asked the incredible members of #TeamMotherly for their most meaningful lessons + biggest pieces of advice for the NICU.

Here are a few of the messages we received:


The love, care and support is overwhelming: “My most meaningful lesson from my son's time in the NICU was gratitude. I was thankful for science and technology and modern medicine—that we lived in a time where so much is possible, and that we were lucky enough to have access to it. And thankful for the incredible doctors and nurses who cared for me son like he was their own; their knowledge and patience was invaluable.” —Jen L.

You need to take care of yourself, too: “Take it minute by minute. Just breathe. Do all the kangaroo care you are able to. Let yourself feel whatever you need to. Find supportive people that you can talk to and lean on to take care of you. Don't be afraid to speak up—you're your child's best advocate.” —Courtney M.

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It’s normal to feel overwhelmed: “It takes a few days, or weeks to start realizing just how amazing [support in the NICU] is. I was afraid of changing her nappies because of how small she was and all the monitors, but don't criticize yourslef for being afraid. NICU nurses are there to step in. Like fairy godmothers, they love and care for your baby when you can’t.” —Levana T.

Express that you want to help: “Sometimes you may have to ask nurses if you can do things. They may not think to ask you if you'd like to do certain things, like give your baby a bath or change their diaper. I was so afraid to ask because I assumed with all of her lines and tubes that it wouldn't be possible, until one nurse asked me if I wanted to change her diaper and I was so excited to because I didn't think it was even an option." —Jennifer S.

Find your people: “The nurses and doctors are on your side and will become your family while you are there. We spent 135 days in the NICU with our sweet 24 weeker and have been home for four weeks now. Our nurses were her ‘parents’ when we weren't there. They laughed and cried with us, held and prayed for our baby, and they were the only ones who truly understood what we were going through!” —Rachel L.

Celebrate every achievement: “Rejoice in the little things: The first time they suck on a binky, the first time you get to hold them and love them to bits while getting tears all over them, the first time they drink from a bottle or get their gavage taken out—rejoice in those little things. Every joy and step they take is one step closer to being home.” —Melissa D.

Don’t feel guilty about getting rest: “My daughter was born at 26 weeks and was in the NICU for 98 days... I wish I would have relaxed more while she was in the NICU. The hospital was over two hours away and I also continued working part-time and I slept at the hospital three days a week. Sometimes I look back and don't know how we got through that. It's amazing how strong you can be when you have no other choice!” —Lindsay W.

Appreciate your baby’s unique journey: “Know that every 24 hours that pass, your beautiful baby has just gotten that tiny bit stronger and what may seem like the impossible today, might be possible tomorrow. Focus on where your baby is up to and no one else's, as every baby's journey is different.” —Gabrielle L.

Allow yourself to mourn missed moments: “You will grieve everything. Not being able to hold your baby for days to not being able to hear her first cry, but the life I have with her is unlike anything I could have ever imagined. The NICU team is some of the most gifted people for both babies and parents. They walked us through the journey step-by-step and took care of us as a family.” —Amber S.

Don’t fear the future: “The best piece of advice I got from a nurse is when you leave to put all the time spent in the NICU behind you. Put all the alarms and monitors behind you, all the tubes and wires behind you and all the stress and worry behind you. Pretend as if you're leaving with a healthy baby because you are. They wouldn't discharge your baby if he or she (or you!) weren't ready. It helped me let go and not worry about my babies. Beyond a reasonable amount of course!” —Erica S.

Find a safe space to open up: “Talking will help you to process your experience and keep you out of the total depression hole. Toward the fourth week of my son being in the NICU, I found myself starting to struggle, but having family and friends to hear my struggles really helped. We are not alone, so know there is strength, prayers and resources for though of us who fought and are currently fighting for our miracles.” —Sarah C.

Document your experience: “Take pictures and journal everything! How much he ate, how long he tried to nurse, how much he was able to nipple feed, his daily weight, etc. When we came home from the NICU, we had a book made of all the pictures during that time and, to this day, we love flipping through and see the transformation from day one to 21. I choke up every time I look at it and think of what a fighter our little guy is.” —Kaitlin M.

Above all, give yourself credit: It may not feel like it during every day or every moment, but you are SO strong. ?

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There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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In America, mothers have the right to breastfeed their child in public, but what about when you're on an airplane? That's the issue one California mom, Shelby Angel, brought to light after she had a bad experience on Dutch airline KLM.

In a Facebook post that has gone viral Shelby explained:

"Before we even took off, I was approached by a flight attendant carrying a blanket. She told me (and I quote) "if you want to continue doing the breastfeeding, you need to cover yourself." I told her no, my daughter doesn't like to be covered up. That would upset her almost as much as not breastfeeding her at all. She then warned me that if anyone complained, it would be my issue to deal with (no one complained. On any of the flights I took with my daughter. Actually, no one has ever complained to me about breastfeeding in public. Except this flight attendant)."

Shelby's post gained traction but soon the conversation spread to Twitter, where another woman, Heather Yemm, asked KLM to explain its breastfeeding policy.

The airline responded, "To ensure that all our passengers of all backgrounds feel comfortable on board, we may request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this." Twitter users didn't like this response and even started asking other airlines about their breastfeeding policies.




British Airways confirmed it welcomes breastfeeding onboard and a Delta rep tweeted that the airline's policy is to "allow a breastfeeding mother to feed her child on board in a manner she feels comfortable with."

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That sounds like a good plan to us. Southwest was also questioned by Twitter users and confirmed that "Southwest does indeed welcome nursing mothers who wish to breastfeed on the aircraft and/or within our facilities".

This important online conversation underscores how vital it is for airlines to have supportive policies in place and train staff on those policies. Back in March, a Canadian mom made international headlines after an Air Canada call center representative told her to nurse in an airplane bathroom (a suggestion that is contrary to Air Canada's own policies).

It's time for every airline to recognize that breastfeeding needs to be welcomed and that all staff members need to understand this. Whether a mother uses a cover or not needs to be up to her, not a flight attendant or other passengers.

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I grew up with three brothers and yes, it was loud, crazy, chaotic, but also so much fun. We had vacations where we laughed a lot, Christmas Eves full of staying up late to listen for Santa, and inside jokes that made me feel like I had my own little secret club. What I really loved about being in a big family was that it gave me a sense of community, so when I came home and the outside world had been cruel or harsh I had my people.

People always gasped when I said I had three brothers and no sisters like they weren't sure how I survived around so many barbarians. I never felt like I was missing out. My brothers are caring people, my mom was always around, and we all got married young giving me three sisters-in-law who I call close friends.

Now we all have our own families and we live 30 minutes from each other. We still manage to get together with all 12 of the cousins (all under 12, yes it's chaos) and laugh and make memories. My oldest brother has four kids, my second oldest has three, I have three, and my youngest brother has two and we pretty much all had them at the same time. We are also a very girl heavy bunch, only four boys total in the whole mix.

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Recently we were all on a family vacation and I was sitting around with my sisters-in-law and we were talking numbers, who was done having kids. My sister-in-law with four said she was overwhelmed, my other one said they were adopting one more and my other sister-in-law and I just said, we don't know. We both have three and four feels like a big jump.

It's funny how everyone talks about how you know when to start having kids but no one tells you how hard it will be to decide when your family is done. I know that's not true for everyone, I have lots of friends that just knew. Others never had the luxury of deciding and then some are like me living life on the fence hoping the fertility fairy will drop an answer in your lap.

I have to admit, I don't know if I'm done having babies. All these questions keep popping in my head.

If I have two girls and one boy should we go for the fourth and try for a brother?

Or if we have three girls will the level of drama be too high?

Or if one kid really likes one of their siblings and not the other should we have more?

Should we factor in age?

Should they be two grades apart or three or four?

Should we give up if it's too hard or will we regret it?

Should we adopt if we can or have another biological?

Should we close up shop and enjoy the kids we have?

Will our marriage survive another newborn season?

What is the perfect number?

There are a thousand possible scenarios and the questions just eat away at my brain. They keep me up at night. I'm not even kidding. I have laid in bed and played out every scenario and the possible outcome.

I do this because my childhood in all of its loud glory was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me. My brothers, our friendship, my parents' choice to fight for close-knit relationships, all of it was what gave me the foundation I needed.

So now as a parent myself, I want to give that same gift to my own kids.

What if there is no perfect number? What if you just choose to make family a safe, secure place, where your kids can feel valued and loved? Does it matter then if you have one, two, three, four or whatever number you have? Will the effect still be the same?

I think so.

The reality is though, I want what I had. I want a family where my kids feel this sense of community they might not get anywhere else and that's not a numbers game that's a culture thing.

I have had to come to accept that I have no guarantee and that there is no perfect number. Each family comes with its own set of complications, joys and strengths. The uniqueness is actually part of the fun.

We have two girls and a boy now and I watch my girls bond as sisters and think, oh this is what people were talking about. Sure, I wish my son had a brother but he has two amazing sisters that love on him and will even dress up like superheroes sometimes.

We still don't know if we are "done" but we do know our family is already great and the number isn't as important as what we choose to make important.

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Life

My darling,

I'm not entirely sure why I do things like this to myself, but tonight, as I rocked our night-before-turning-1-year-old daughter to sleep I closed my eyes and, for about 10 minutes, I pictured what our life will look like in 10 years.

(You're probably reprimanding me for doing that in your head right now. 😂)

In 10 years, our three daughters will be almost 15, almost 13, and 11—not a single-digit in sight. We'll be dealing with high school and middle school and hormones and the start of love interests and things that aren't diaper changes and baby proofing and teething.

We won't be rocking them to sleep anymore or cutting up their food. And I'm sure we'll miss the validation of being the ones who keep their world turning because simply put—we won't be the center of their Universe anymore.

Instead of them needing us to lay with them until they fall asleep, they will need us to remind them that it's bedtime at 9 pm, 10 pm, then again at 11 pm.

Instead of tripping over dolls strewn about the floor, we will be tripping over lacrosse sticks and backpacks and bras.Instead of needing our help to break up fights over magnatiles, they'll need us to break up fights over who stole who's shirt.

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Instead of wiping tears from a meltdown over receiving the "wrong" dinner plate, we will be wiping tears from a heartache over a fight with a friend.

Instead of needing us to carry them around when they say they're too tired to walk, they will need us to pick them up from after-school activities and drive them around town.

Instead of teaching them how to tie their shoes or say "thank you," we will be teaching them how to drive and how to stay safe and be a respectful member of our community.

It will be a whole new world.

I will become the woman who looks at a baby and can almost feel her ovaries ache. We will hold new nieces and nephews and wish that we could relive that high of meeting our child for the first time again—just one more time. We'll say things like, "Wow, it seems like just yesterday our kids were this small…"

This past weekend, when we were hosting our third first birthday party, we reminisced on when each of our children were born and how it seems like they are growing up so quickly. Because they are. It seems like we blinked, and now our newborn from last year is a walking, chit-chatting, climbing, busy toddler.

I started to cry during my little torture-myself-10-years-ahead-meditation tonight. (Not totally surprising, right?) Because 10 years down the line—while I am certainly confident we will be happy and fulfilled—everything will be different. There will be new milestones to be proud of and new adventures to embark on, of course. But it won't be like it is now.

These—right now—are the good ol' days of our future.

The stories we will reminisce on are happening now... when we discover that our toddler knows how to climb on the kitchen table and laughs at us when she sees us see her… or when we watch our preschooler tie her shoes for the first time courtesy of the bunny ear method... or the million times our heart bursts when our middle kiddo busts out her signature move of sticking her hand down her shirt and asking for a pacifier when she's tired.

The moments we will never forget are happening now… the sound of the high pitched sing-song voice belting out "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid… the giggles when we're all running around the house… the way they look when they're sleeping—so peaceful and angelic—even if they were going buck wild 10 minutes prior.

The "remember whens" we will laugh about when our kids seem too grown up and the parenting challenges seem too serious—are happening now...

Like when one of our children poops in the backyard playhouse (I won't name any names)... or how another one of our children "bakes" concoctions that consist of garlic powder, chili powder, vanilla, ginger, water, baking soda and salt (and yes, also how I try them because she always asks me to and because I always feel bad not supporting her baking endeavors).

We will look back, and we won't necessarily focus on the blood, sweat and tears that we have poured into raising young children together. Sure, we will remember how hard it was—but I really think we will look back on these physically and emotionally taxing years with rose-tinted glasses.

The feeling of utter overwhelm and constant chaos will have dimmed. The sleep struggles and multiple meltdowns will pale in comparison to the relationship drama and social media worries of the pre-teen and teenage years. We will have more time for conversation and date nights instead of often feeling like ships passing in the night.

And so my hunch is this: We will faintly remember the hard times down the line. But, in 10 years, when we look back—we will let the good times shine.

In 10 years, I'll be sad—in a happy way—looking back on the beginning stages of the life we've built together.

The days when happiness was measured in how many twirls one could do before collapsing into laughter.

The days when love was measured in sloppy, peanut butter covered kisses.

The days when peace was measured in how calm bedtime could be and how quiet the house could get post-bedtime.

The days when we were their everything; their Universe.

The good 'ol days.

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Instead of needing our help to break up fights over magnatiles, they'll need us to break up fights over who stole who's shirt.

Instead of wiping tears from a meltdown over receiving the "wrong" dinner plate, we will be wiping tears from a heartache over a fight with a friend.

Instead of needing us to carry them around when they say they're too tired to walk, they will need us to pick them up from after-school activities and drive them around town.

Instead of teaching them how to tie their shoes or say "thank you," we will be teaching them how to drive and how to stay safe and be a respectful member of our community.

It will be a whole new world.

I will become the woman who looks at a baby and can almost feel her ovaries ache. We will hold new nieces and nephews and wish that we could relive that high of meeting our child for the first time again—just one more time. We'll say things like, "Wow, it seems like just yesterday our kids were this small…"

This past weekend, when we were hosting our third first birthday party, we reminisced on when each of our children were born and how it seems like they are growing up so quickly. Because they are. It seems like we blinked, and now our newborn from last year is a walking, chit-chatting, climbing, busy toddler.

I started to cry during my little torture-myself-10-years-ahead-meditation tonight. (Not totally surprising, right?) Because 10 years down the line—while I am certainly confident we will be happy and fulfilled—everything will be different. There will be new milestones to be proud of and new adventures to embark on, of course. But it won't be like it is now.

These—right now—are the good ol' days of our future.

The stories we will reminisce on are happening now... when we discover that our toddler knows how to climb on the kitchen table and laughs at us when she sees us see her… or when we watch our preschooler tie her shoes for the first time courtesy of the bunny ear method... or the million times our heart bursts when our middle kiddo busts out her signature move of sticking her hand down her shirt and asking for a pacifier when she's tired.

The moments we will never forget are happening now… the sound of the high pitched sing-song voice belting out "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid… the giggles when we're all running around the house… the way they look when they're sleeping—so peaceful and angelic—even if they were going buck wild 10 minutes prior.

The "remember whens" we will laugh about when our kids seem too grown up and the parenting challenges seem too serious—are happening now...

Like when one of our children poops in the backyard playhouse (I won't name any names)... or how another one of our children "bakes" concoctions that consist of garlic powder, chili powder, vanilla, ginger, water, baking soda and salt (and yes, also how I try them because she always asks me to and because I always feel bad not supporting her baking endeavors).

We will look back, and we won't necessarily focus on the blood, sweat and tears that we have poured into raising young children together. Sure, we will remember how hard it was—but I really think we will look back on these physically and emotionally taxing years with rose-tinted glasses.

The feeling of utter overwhelm and constant chaos will have dimmed. The sleep struggles and multiple meltdowns will pale in comparison to the relationship drama and social media worries of the pre-teen and teenage years. We will have more time for conversation and date nights instead of often feeling like ships passing in the night.

And so my hunch is this: We will faintly remember the hard times down the line. But, in 10 years, when we look back—we will let the good times shine.

In 10 years, I'll be sad—in a happy way—looking back on the beginning stages of the life we've built together.

The days when happiness was measured in how many twirls one could do before collapsing into laughter.

The days when love was measured in sloppy, peanut butter covered kisses.

The days when peace was measured in how calm bedtime could be and how quiet the house could get post-bedtime.

The days when we were their everything; their Universe.

The good 'ol days.

Life

There are a lot of points during labor when mothers do not have any control over what's going on with their body. The one thing they usually have, if giving birth vaginally, is their ability to push. But a recent report by Vice highlights the fact that in some hospital delivery rooms, women are being told to stop pushing, even when the urge is nearly irresistible. And in some cases, this may be happening for some very troubling reasons.

"If a woman's cervix is fully dilated and she has the urge, she should be allowed to push, barring some unusual complication with mother or baby," Dana Gossett, chief of gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center, told Vice.

Writer Kimberly Lawson gathered anecdotal evidence suggesting that in many situations, hospital nurses are telling women to stop pushing because the doctor or midwife isn't available to deliver the baby. In some cases, women even report nurses forcing a baby's crowning head back into the birth canal.

"I've never felt a more painful experience in my life [than] being strapped down and forced to hold a baby in," says Elaina Loveland, a mother who was told to stop pushing because there were no beds available at the hospital when she arrived. "It was almost worse than the pushing. It was horrible."

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In addition to pain, women made to resist the urge to push may experience other complications. Delayed pushing sometimes causes labor to last longer, puts women at higher risk of postpartum bleeding and infection, and puts babies at a higher risk of developing sepsis, according to a study released last year. One midwife explained in the article that holding the baby in can damage a mother's pelvic floor, which might later cause urinary incontinence.

In one extreme case, Caroline Malatesta, a mother of four in Alabama said that when a nurse forced her baby's head back in, she caused permanent damage. After four years of chronic pain from a condition called pudendal neuralgia, she won a $16 million lawsuit against the hospital.

Nurses aren't necessarily being cruel when they instruct mothers to stop pushing, by the way. They may be hoping to prevent other complications, such as problems with the umbilical cord or shoulder dystocia. A doctor or midwife is better trained to correct such situations, and can also help prevent perineal tearing.

If hospital staff are instead making these decisions because of a shortage of obstetricians or hospital beds for expectant mothers, there's a systemic problem that needs to be addressed. As people have grown increasingly aware of the high rate of maternal deaths after childbirth, issues like these could point out where there's room for improvement.

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