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Two and a half years ago on a warm Friday night in October, my husband and I sped down the freeway from Sacramento to Davis at approximately 80 miles per hour. The clock on the dashboard flashed 12:13 a.m. I was 60% sure I was not in labor.


I had signed the VBAC consent form a few weeks earlier as a formality, and remember practically smirking as I did so. Just in case I go into labor early, yeah right.

Turns out, the joke was on me as I winced in the passenger seat. The possibility that I was, indeed, in labor, grew with each contraction and each mile of freeway passing underneath our car.

We left the house a mess. No food in the fridge. I’m almost positive we were down to one roll of toilet paper, because “buy toilet paper” remained on my Costco shopping list. You know, the errand I had planned to complete one week before the scheduled C-section? Yes, that one. I cannot remember if we had purchased newborn diapers. I think those were also on the Costco list.

But that’s not the worst part.

We left the house in such a hurry that we never said goodbye to Everett, our 2.5-year-old.

My friend Christina, who was also eight months pregnant at the time, waddled through our front door at 11:50 p.m. to sleep on our couch while Everett slept in his room.

A flurry of texts, a five-minute shower, a handful of items thrown haphazardly in a bag, and we were gone. We didn’t even have a car seat installed in the car, a fact that would later be funny (in a pathetic sort of way). We said goodbye to Christina, but we never said goodbye to Everett.

I did not even think to tiptoe into his room to kiss his forehead in the dark, a fact that would torture me for the remainder of the drive.

I always knew I wanted more than one child, in the same way I knew I wanted to be a mother. That desire was mostly selfish.

Sure, I wanted a sibling for Everett, in the same way I wanted more grandchildren for our parents. But those desires were secondary to my own.

I wanted to experience motherhood more than once. I wanted to feel more kicks in my belly, to hold another newborn against my chest, to feel the earth moving under my feet as I bore the immense privilege of becoming a mother all over again. I, I, I. Me, me, me.

Sure, I wanted a sibling for Everett, but that desire was more of a side benefit, a bonus, the cherry casually dropped on an already-sweet ice cream sundae.

The most miraculous part of adding a person to your family is somehow finding more love within yourself that you weren’t sure existed in the first place. When we got pregnant five years into marriage, I remember fearing that I might love my husband less as a result.

As if a new baby could use up the love meant for my marriage, as if my love had limits, as if it could run out, like water contained in a pitcher. There’s only so much love to go around, I thought to myself. Only so much water here. Only so many glasses on the table.

How will I make sure there's enough for everyone?

The exact same panic set in when I became pregnant with my second. How will I ever love another baby as much as the first one? How will I love my husband, this child, and that baby, all at once?

I felt guilty for everything our first child would lose: The constant attention, the full capacity of our love and energy and financial resources. I felt guilty for the second child in my belly because he would only know a life sharing all of those things; he would never know what it’s like to have his parents all to himself.

It wasn’t until I was home in the grey rocking chair with two children in my arms that I realized my love does not have limits at all.

As it turns out: My heart is a well, not a pitcher. As it turns out—so are theirs.

“Shhhh, she’s coming!”

I walk down the hall to the sound of giggles and see Carson, our youngest, diving into the bottom bunk. He closes his eyes and pretends to be asleep. I pretend to not know he’s pretending.

The second my silhouette flashes past the door frame, they are at it again: telling knock-knock jokes, playing with their stuffed animals, giggling incessantly—anything but sleeping. It is 8:30 p.m., and they’ve been playing in the dark for over an hour.

I don’t mind, though.

The first 18 months after our second was born, my kids lived on different planets: Baby Planet and Big Boy Planet. Every day they orbited around me until I got dizzy.

Their needs were different, their interests were different, their diets were different—I was pulled in half on a daily basis, breastfeeding here, potty training there. While Everett was always kind and gentle with his baby brother, there was no real connection between them, no friendship.

How could there be? The baby only slept and cried, an alien if Everett had ever seen one.

But then, around the 18-month mark, something incredible happened. Those two little planets started orbiting around each other instead of orbiting around me. Carson started walking and talking, and a friendship bloomed right before my eyes.

Everett started asking if we could wake Carson up from his nap. (Never.)

Carson started asking if we could pick Everett up from preschool. (Not yet.)

Fast forward another year, to today, and they want to be together 24/7. They look out for one another in the way that brothers do; if one falls down, the other helps him get up.

I remember a few months back the kids were climbing a treehouse ladder. It seemed a bit too high for Carson. But Everett scaled the top and yelled, “You can do it, Car Car!!!” and sure enough, my tiny, not-even-on-the-growth-chart toddler made it all the way to the top.

I would give anything to have that moment on video, because I have never seen Everett beam with pride for someone else’s achievements like he did that day. He jumped up and down, clapped his hands, hugged his brother, and exclaimed, “Carson! I am SO proud of you!” (I almost cried.)

They’ve created their own precious world together—one of dinosaurs and train tracks and toy cars and trampoline games. They are playmates, brothers and best friends, never sitting more than two inches apart on the couch while they watch Paw Patrol with matching snack cups in their laps.

Their lives have intertwined like a soft pretzel, so much so, that it’s hard for Everett to even remember his own life before he had a brother.

If I’m honest, it’s getting harder for me to remember, too.

I know their relationship will not always be this sweet, this easy, this simple. They hardly ever fight, and I fully expect that to change as they get older. There will be seasons when they don’t get along, possible punches thrown when no adults are looking, harsh words spoken late at night. I am not so naive to believe we can live in this Daniel Tiger-esque bubble forever.

But no matter what ebbs and flows from here, I can’t help but feel like I spent nine months worrying for nothing. I was so concerned about everything that everyone would give up; I couldn’t see forward, to the future, to this moment and this friendship, to everything that each of us would gain.

And if I could go back to that Friday night in the car, 35 weeks pregnant barreling down the freeway with a heap of guilt on my shoulders, that’s what I’d tell myself. (Also: yeah girl, you really are in labor, and this is about to hurt like hell.)

I’d tell myself to keep my eyes on the road in front of us, not the rearview mirror. I’d tell myself this is the end of a chapter, but it’s not something to mourn. The next chapter is going to be 100x better. Just you wait. Give it 18 months.

I had it all wrong back then. I had everything backwards.

Because as much as having a second baby was a gift to me, make no mistake—it was a far greater gift to each of them.

This story was originally published on Coffee + Crumbs. Check out their book, The Magic of Motherhood, for more heartwarming essays about motherhood, love, and the good kind of heartache.

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Between the sleepless nights, endless worries, and persistent temper tantrums, parenting can feel like a fast track to gray hairs and wrinkles.

Now, researchers at Northwestern University have proven what we've suspected all along: having children does, in fact, speed up the aging process. A new study, which was published last month in Scientific Reports, found that each pregnancy can age a mother's cells by up to two years.

Each baby ages a mother’s cells

Researchers studied 821 women in the Philippines between the ages of 20 and 22, with various reproductive histories. They examined two separate markers of cellular aging—telomere length and epigenetic age—to measure the toll pregnancy takes on the body.

"Telomere length and epigenetic age are cellular markers that independently predict mortality, and both appeared 'older' in women who had more pregnancies in their reproductive histories," Calen Ryan, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in biological anthropology at Northwestern, said in a statement. "Even after accounting for other factors that affect cellular aging, the number of pregnancies still came out on top."

The researchers were surprised to find that cellular aging increased between about six months and two years for each additional pregnancy—a figure much higher than what they originally anticipated. Meanwhile, women who were currently pregnant had cells that looked significantly younger than predicted for their biological age."

It's an interesting situation in which pregnancy makes someone look temporarily 'young,' but there appears to be some lasting, cumulative relationship between the number of pregnancies and more accelerated biological age," noted Christopher Kuzawa, PhD, senior author of the study and a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University.

Our telomeres shorten and our epigenetic age increases

Telomeres, which are stretches of DNA at the end of chromosomes, protect our DNA and make it possible for our cells to divide. Longer telomeres are associated with longer lives and better health. As people age and as cells divide and replicate, those telomeres shorten.

Given that there is hyper cell production during pregnancy, it makes sense that those telomeres would shorten and, therefore, appear to age dramatically.

"During pregnancy, more cells need to be produced for carrying and nurturing the fetus, such as in red blood cells, placental cells, and more," said Dr. Kim Langdon, an Ohio-based retired OB-GYN who writes at Parenting Pod. "In addition, the cells in all organs such as the heart and uterus enlarge. This is known as hypertrophy—and when cells hypotrophy, their telomeres shorten."

Meanwhile, the epigenetic age begins to climb. This is an estimate of a person's biological age based on changes in the DNA that are caused by environmental factors, such as toxins and stress.

In other words, pregnancy puts a lot of pressure on the body. "I'm not really surprised," Langdon told Healthline about the findings. "Every OB-GYN knows the extreme stress to the system that pregnancy causes."

Throughout pregnancy, the blood volume increases by 50% as does the cardiac output, which puts strain on the heart. The kidney function increases and the lungs have reduced capacity, which causes breathlessness.

Why, then, did the pregnant women seem so much better off?

It may all come down to the immunological, hormonal, and physiological changes that take place during pregnancy to support development of the baby.

For example, pregnant women experience elevated estrogen levels, which can lower oxidative stress and prevent damage to telomere length and epigenetic age. Once the baby is born, though, those shifts are no longer necessary.

The findings may not be permanent

The study supports previous evidence that women who have had more pregnancies are more susceptible to certain illnesses and have slightly shorter life spans. Earlier this year, researchers from George Mason University found that childbirth could age a woman by as many as 11 years.

While it may be nerve-racking to learn that having children can accelerate the aging process, scientists still don't fully understand why this happens and don't want women to worry.

According to Langdon, we are far away from understanding if these findings could impact family planning or the longevity or long-term health of the mother.

"We don't know if these findings are permanent," Langdon said. "More longitudinal studies need to be done over many years, even decades, to see if this is reversible or if it really can predict when you will die."

The researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Washington have already started they working on a follow-up study that will examine the same group of women 13 years after their cellular measurements were first taken. Eventually, we'll be able to see if the women's cells continue to appear older throughout their life.

Until then, though, you can keep blaming your kids for those fine lines and dark circles.

Originally posted on Healthline.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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I always thought I'd have babies. As in, multiple babies. Maybe three or four? I knew it would be hard. I knew pregnancy was tough and childbirth was no walk in the park.

I just didn't know how tough. And I also had no idea how hard my recovery would be.

It's been nearly four months, and I'm still taking pain medicine. I'm still using the witch hazel pads and haven't touched toilet paper. I'm still struggling with issues from my labor and delivery that just won't go away.

I'm still dealing with the emotional guilt that comes from feeling like I failed my daughter because I don't remember her first moments of life due to the trauma of what my body went through.

My birth story was traumatic and terrifying—and rare.

At 38 weeks pregnant, I had been in what we thought was labor for almost two days—but was actually a kidney stone. I was in constant, terrible pain for nearly 48 hours straight, and morphine didn't take the pain away—it only took the edge off. I watched out the hospital window as the world went by outside, and the hours dragged on.

I didn't sleep because of the pain. My body was completely drained and had gone into survival mode because of what felt like endless torture. Eventually, I was induced because of a small leak of amniotic fluid and had to give birth in an exhausted physical state and a completely anxious mental state.

I was in no way ready to have my baby—the baby I had been so ready for just weeks earlier.

This lead to all the things I had hoped to avoid for my birth—inducement, more inducement because I wasn't progressing fast enough, having to lie flat on my back, epidural, episiotomy and forceps.

By the time my sweet daughter finally entered the world, and they placed her in my arms—all I could do was immediately fall back onto the bed and close my eyes. My body was shutting down from sheer exhaustion. I wasn't even able to look at my brand new baby, let alone admire her or watch her take her first breaths. This part of my birth story still breaks my heart.

After they moved me to my recovery room, I asked my husband what our delivery room number was—because I never wanted to go in that room again. I didn't want to see it. I didn't want to walk down the hallway past it. And I really didn't want to think about what happened in there. My mind was scarred by the fear and anxiety I experienced.

The hardest part of all of this is that now, the thought of getting pregnant again terrifies me. My heart longs to have a house full of little feet running down the halls, yet my body says "closed for business." It's a confusing tension.

I know of women who have suffered through experiences much worse than I have. I know there are stories out there that are almost unbelievable. I don't know if or when or how I will ever feel ready for another baby again.

Yet, I have been realizing a few things.

It's okay that I'm scared. It's okay that I didn't feel as strong as I hoped to be. It's okay that I didn't power through childbirth without assistance. It's okay that I wasn't like the moms who can give birth in their sleep.

And it's okay that I wasn't physically able to witness my daughter's first moments of life. It doesn't make me a bad mother. It won't ruin my daughter's life. She doesn't even know what happened—only I do. I'm the one whose heart is broken because of this—not hers. She was in mama's arms and that's all she knew.

So I'm giving myself grace. I'm letting my mind and body heal for however long it takes. I'm not going to feel the guilt of failure—because I didn't fail.

So, mama with the traumatic birth story, please give yourself grace too. You're a good mom. You're a strong and powerful woman who has done something amazing.

You brought life into this world.

Your body didn't fail—you survived, and you're a mother now. And it's absolutely, 100% okay if you change your mind about having another baby. You have permission to feel exactly how you feel, right now at this moment.

Don't feel like less of a woman because of a story that was ultimately out of your control. You did it. You really did it. That is what makes you a strong, powerful woman. You are amazing, and you are a rockstar for going through what you did.

And you know what? You're killing this whole motherhood thing, too—just so you know.

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First responders do a lot of heroic things on the job. We're used to seeing police officers on TV pulling victims to safety or chasing down the bad guys, but sometimes, heroism looks a lot different. Sometimes, it looks like breastfeeding.

A Facebook photo of a police officer breastfeeding a hungry baby in an Argentinian hospital has now gone viral for very good reason. It's a simple act, but to that hungry baby, Officer Celeste Ayala is certainly a hero.

The photo was posted to Facebook by Marcos Heredia, who says he witnessed the police officer comfort and breastfeed a hungry baby while on duty at the Sister Maria Ludovica Children's Hospital in Buenos Aires.

According to Heredia, who tagged the officer in the Facebook post, Officer Ayala was attending the busy hospital on August 14 when she noticed the baby, a patient, needing care and comfort, and took it upon herself to give it.

"I want to make public this great gesture of love that you had today with that little baby, who without knowing you didn't hesitate, and for a moment you fulfilled [as if] you were their mother," reads a loose translation of Heredia's post.

Multiple Spanish-language websites report the 6-month-old baby Ayala breastfed is the youngest of six siblings who were in the process of being placed into foster care because their mother did not have the resources to feed them. The children were at the hospital for the medical exams they needed before being moved into foster care when Ayala came into contact with the baby, who was desperately hungry while waiting, according to reports.

Metro reports Ayala spoke to local media in Buenos Aires, explaining that she noticed hospital staff were overwhelmed so she, a mother of two, asked if she could comfort and feed the baby. "I noticed that he was hungry, as he was putting his hand into his mouth, so I asked to hug him and breastfeed him. It was a sad moment, it broke my soul seeing him like this, society should be sensitive to the issues affecting children, it cannot keep happening," Ayala reportedly said.

Not only is Ayala a mother and a police officer, but she is also apparently a volunteer firefighter as well. Her fellow firefighters joined in the chorus of people supporting Ayala's simple heroism on social media.

'We want to congratulate the voluntary firefighting cadet Celeste Ayala who yesterday in her job as police officer whilst she was on guard duty at the hospital, breastfed a young child who arrived crying."

Sometimes, first responders pull people from a burning building or save people from a hostage taking. And sometimes they feed babies.


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