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“The emotional labor pains of becoming a mother are far greater than the physical pangs of birth; these are the growing surges of your heart as it pushes out selfishness and fear and makes room for sacrifice and love. It is a private and silent birth of the soul, but it is no less holy than the event of childbirthperhaps even more sacred.”
—Joy Kusek


A dear friend shared this quote with me about two weeks after I came home with my newborn baby.

My heart was grasping for something, anything, that could help me define what the heck was going on with everything around and within me. This woman’s words defined this sweet and difficult season so perfectly. I became a mother by title when the test turned up positive. I looked like a mother-to-be for the better part of nine months. But I wasn’t a mother in my core—yet.

The fourth trimester (giving birth and the few first months afterward) is a crash course, sink-or-swim, best thing ever but ohmygosh-it’s-hard introduction to motherhood.

Everything explodes: your heart with love, your mind with this new reality, and your body with, well, a baby. As daunting as that sounds, let me reassure you: You will pass the course. You will swim. You won’t sink. And you would not give up this season for the world, even if it comes with tears, hormones and hemorrhoids.


Here’s what you can expect in the 4th trimester. Know you’re not alone in this, mama!

Body

This is pretty straightforward: You are sore. Whether your baby came down the standard exit chute or he was air-lifted from your tummy in a recon-style C-section, there is a large part of you that is very, very sore.

Your stomach collapses a little bit but it is no longer a firm, busting-with-baby tummy. It’s squishy. Maybe even wrinkly. Your boobs start bursting with milk and, if you are small-chested like I am, you found yourself thinking, “Ooh, this is why my friend with huge boobs wears two sport bras—this hurts!”

You are also swollen. Your face, your feet, your hands. You will look at photos of yourself at the hospital and wonder why everything about you looks so round. You will look at yourself in the mirror and fight back tears because sexy is not being brought back any time soon.

Oh, so much about you is different. But hear this—you probably won’t notice any of it all that much.

Before baby, you had plenty of time to look in the mirror and identify all the ways you weren’t perfect.

But with a baby, you just intrinsically know that your time is better spent soaking in all that’s perfect about them: their tiny toes, sweet, gummy smiles and unbelievably soft skin. Plus, that squishy belly makes a perfect place to rest your dear one.

Mind

A few days after we got home from the hospital, my husband found me bawling my eyes out over our baby as I was changing her. “What’s wrong!?” he asked, new-daddy panic creeping into his voice. “What are we going to do if our daughter is bullied in school?” I sobbed. “Or if she’s the bully? And oh my gosh—what are we going to do when she starts driving?!” I cried, convinced that I had to solve each of these problems at that very second or I would fail as a mother.

He was really quiet for a moment and then gently responded, “Babe, I know we’ll handle all of those things when we get there. Could we tackle this diaper rash first?”

All of a sudden, you get why your own mother freaked out when she saw you bolt near a busy street. Or why she turned off the TV when the subject matter got dicey. If you were the type to laugh at friends who insisted on eating farm-fresh non-GMO, organic, practically-still-covered-in-dirt veggies, now you are the type giving the side-eye to anything not from Whole Foods.

Anxiety and fear can paralyze you as you consider all the ways this world is big, bad and scary—and how your sweet, precious baby is about to grow up within it. This can feel absolutely overwhelming.

I promise you that your mind quiets down and you will eventually feel that you can conquer the shadows that feel so dark and colossal.

Heart

Mama, your heart will hurt. And it hurts because a large part of you is dying.

It’s the part that was able to put you first. The you before you had a baby.

You will feel selfish when the baby is crying but all you want to do is stay in bed. You will feel pangs of sadness when you see a group of girlfriends getting brunch or a couple with no kids taking an impromptu vacation. The things we hold so dear—our own time, our own bodies, our desires—will be sacrificed for the sake of another.

It is such a worthy sacrifice. But it’s not easy.

A mother’s heart-change doesn’t happen like a light switch. It is forged in the sleepless nights, in the sweet coos, in the colicky crying, in the moments where this crazy instinct kicks in and you know exactly what to do. It happens when you make sure your baby is okay and you think about yourself later. It happens when the baby needs to nurse again and you act on his need rather than your desire to keep your shirt on. It happens when your heart bursts with pride as you introduce your daughter to your family and friends (even though she just spit up on your shirt). It happens when you experience FOMO as you scroll your Instagram feed but then drop your phone and forget about all of it when you see that your baby needs you.

And slowly, especially during this fourth trimester, you find that the core of who you are has been redefined and restructured. And you love it more than you could possibly imagine. You would never go back, even if you could.

You learn to give yourself grace in the hard moments and how to soak in the sweet ones.

Can I give you some advice? Soak it all in while you can. The rest of us mamas are sorta-kinda jealous of you right now (although you are having moments of “When does chaos this end?!”), and we’re thinking about having another one just to go back to that time.

Welcome to your new normal, dear friend. I promise that it will begin to just feel normal (rather than new) very, very soon.

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The temperatures are dropping and that can only mean one thing. Whether we like it or not, winter's cold chilly months are upon us. As a born-and-raised Alaskan, and mama of three, I've got a lot of cold weather experience under my belt, and staying inside half the year just isn't an option for us. As my husband likes to say, "There's no bad weather, just bad gear."

Here are some of my favorite picks to keep your family toasty warm this winter.


1. Bear bunting

This sherpa bear bunting wins winter wear MVP for being a comfy snowsuit for your littlest babe, or base-layer under another snowsuit for the chilliest of winter outings. Bonus: your baby bear will never look cuter!

Sherpa Hooded Bunting, Carter's, $15.20

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2. Patagonia Capilene base-layers

Speaking of base-layers, for any prolonged winter activity outside in the cold, it's best to layer up to create air pockets of warmth. These moisture wicking base-layers are a family favorite.

Baby Capilene Bottoms, Back Country, $29.00

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3. Arctix Kids limitless overall bib

These adjustable snow pants keep kids warm and the bib style keeps snow from going down the back of their pants. Bonus: the price is excellent for the quality and they can grow with your child. The Velcro strap also makes bathroom breaks for kids so much easier.

Arctix Kids Limitless Overall Bib, Amazon, $14.99-$49.99

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4. Hooded frost-free long jacket

Keep your little one warm and stylish in this long puffer jacket. Great for everyday outings.

Hooded Frost-Free Long Jacket, Old Navy, $35.00

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5. Patagonia reversible jacket

This jacket is windproof, waterproof and the built-in hood means one less piece of gear to worry about (or one more layer for your little one's head). It's a best buy if you live with cold winter temperatures for many months of the year and still love to get outside to play. It also stays in great condition for hand-me-downs to your next kid.

Reversible Down Sweater Hoodie, Nordstrom, $119.00

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6. Under Armour Decatur water repellent jacket

Made of waterproof fabric and lined with great insulation, kids will no doubt stay warm—and dry—in this. It features plenty of pockets, too, so mama doesn't always have to hold onto their items. We love that the UGrow system allows sleeves to grow a couple inches.

UA Decatur Water Repellent Jacket, Nordstrom, $155.00

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7. Stonz mittens

Ever tried to keep gloves on a 1-year-old? It's a tough task, but these gloves make it a breeze with a wide opening and two adjustable toggles for a snug fit they can't pull off! Warm and waterproof, and come in sizes from infant to big kids.

Stonz Mittz, Amazon, $39.99

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8. Sorel toot pack boot

Keep their little toes warm with these cozy boots from Sorel. With insulated uppers and waterproof bottoms their feet are sure to stay warm. They're well constructed and hold up over time, making them a great hand-me-down option for your family.

Sorel Kids' Yoot Boot, Amazon, $48.73-$175.63

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9. Stonz baby boots

These Stonz stay-on-baby booties do just as their name says and stay on their feet. No more searching for one boot in the grocery store parking lot!

Stonz Three Season Stay-On Baby Booties, Amazon, $29.99-$50.29

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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We make a lot of things this time of year. Gingerbread houses. Christmas cards. New traditions. Babies.

Yes, December is peak baby making season. It's a month filled with togetherness and all the love felt in December is what makes September the most statistically popular month for American birthdays.

According to data journalist Matt Stiles, mid-September is the most popular time to give birth in America. He did a deep dive into the birth stats from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Social Security Administration collected between 1994 and 2014 and found that the most common American birthdays fall on September 9, 19 and 12. In fact, 9 of the 10 most popular days to give birth fall in September.

If we turn the calendar back, we're looking at Christmas time conceptions. Stiles illustrated his findings via a heat map, which presents the data in a visual form. The darker the square, the more common the birthday.

The square for August 30 is pretty dark as it is the 34th most common birthday in America. It's also 40 weeks after November 23, and the unofficial beginning of the United States' seasonal baby boom.


And while the Christmas holidays are common times to conceive, they're not common days to give birth, for obvious reasons. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and the fourth of July are all represented by light squares on Stiles's data map, meaning they're among the least popular days to welcome a little one into the world (Boxing Day is just a smidge darker, still a pretty rare birthday).

OB-GYNs are not likely to schedule C-sections on major holidays, so that might point to the low birth rates on these special days.

As for the September baby boom, it probably has less to do with the magic of the holiday season and more to do with the fact that many Americans take time off work during the holiday season. It's not that mistletoe is some magic aphrodisiac, but just that making babies takes time, and at this time of year we have some to spare.

This Christmas be thankful for the time you have with your loved ones and your partner. That time could give you a gift come September.

[A version of this article was originally posted November 21, 2018]

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When I gave birth the first time, I had two doulas—one for me, and one for my husband. (I wasn't messing around!) They worked hard to support me in what ended up being a long labor. About 20 hours in, I remember hearing my doulas whisper to my exhausted, hard-working husband, “Go lie down. We can take care of her."

This was absolutely true. They were more than capable of helping me through contractions, which up to this point I'd been handling really well. So upon their urging, my husband walked about three feet away and lay down on the daybed in the labor and delivery room. And then the strangest thing happened—

I completely lost my rhythm and my ability to breathe through contractions. It was as though I'd lost my way. The next handful of contractions were unbearable and caused me to cry out in anguish. My husband hurried to my side and held my hand once more.

And then, just as quickly, I found my rhythm, my breathing returned, and I was able to to handle my contractions until I gave birth several hours later.

In a recent study published in Nature, it was discovered that when a partner held the hand of a woman during labor, the couple would begin to synchronize their breathing and heart rate patterns, otherwise known as physiological coupling.

In addition, the women reported that their pain lessened while holding hands with their partners. If they were just sitting next to one another, but not holding hands, their pain levels weren't affected.

This study has obvious implications for the families I teach in my Childbirth Preparation classes, and it's important to share this news far and wide:

Everything you do for your partner while she's in labor makes a difference. Even if all you do is hold her hand.

Labor is not just something that a birthing woman experiences. Her partner experiences labor too, just in a very different way. For far too long, we've either diminished or ignored the partner's experience of labor—to everyone's detriment.

I realize that it makes sense to pay close attention to how a woman moves through her pregnancy, labor and birth. But if we're not paying equal attention to her partner's experience, we're not setting this new family up for success. In fact, we might be doing the exact opposite.

If partners don't realize the importance their words, actions and touch can have on the laboring woman's experience, many may freeze up and feel helpless as they witness the power and intensity of labor and birth. They may end up feeling as though all of their efforts and suggestions for comfort measures are without any effect. But this couldn't be further from the truth!

Every little thing a partner does to make the laboring woman more comfortable matters immensely. Every sip of water offered, every new position suggested, every word of encouragement, every reminder to breathe, every single touch, provides comfort to the laboring woman. And partners need to know this and believe in the power that their undivided attention and connection can bring to the laboring woman.

Here's why I think the findings from this latest study are so important—it's that feeling of shared empathy between the laboring woman and her partner that causes the physiological coupling and pain relieving effects that help a woman when she's experiencing pain.

That's why I've always told the partners in my classes that even if they hired an army of the world's greatest labor doulas, their unwavering, focused and empathetic attention during birth, is the reason why she'll tell everyone that she couldn't have made it through labor without her partner! Even if all they did was hold her hand.

It's a conundrum many parents wrestle with: We don't want to lie to our kids, but when it comes to Santa, sometimes we're not exactly giving them the full truth either.

For Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, lying to daughters Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 3 just isn't an option, so everyone in the Bell-Shepard household knows the truth about Santa.

"This is going to be very controversial," Shepard told Us Weekly earlier this month. "I have a fundamental rule that I will never lie to them, which is challenging at times. Our 5-year-old started asking questions like, 'Well, this doesn't make sense, and that doesn't make sense.' I'm like, 'You know what? This is just a fun thing we pretend while it's Christmas.'"

According to Shepard, this has not diminished the magic of Christmas in their home. "They love watching movies about Santa, they love talking about Santa," Shepard told Us. "They don't think he exists, but they're super happy and everything's fine."

Research indicates that Shepard is right—kids can be totally happy and into Christmas even after figuring out the truth and that most kids do start to untangle the Santa myth on their own, as Lincoln did.

Studies suggest that for many kids, the myth fades around age seven, but for some kids, it's sooner, and that's okay.


Writing for The Conversation, Kristen Dunfield, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Concordia University, suggests that when kids come to parents with the hard questions about Santa, parents may feel a bit sad, but can take some comfort in "recognizing these challenging questions for what they are—cognitive development in action."

Kids aren't usually the ones who are upset when they figure it out, researchers note. Typically, kids are kind of proud of themselves for being such great detectives. It's the parents who feel sadness.

Some parents may not choose to be as blunt as Shepard, and that's okay, too. According to Dunfield, if you don't want to answer questions about Santa with 100% truth, you can answer a question with a question.

"If instead you want to let your child take the lead, you can simply direct the question back to them, allowing your child to come up with explanations for themselves: "I don't know, how do you think the sleigh flies?" Dunfield writes.

While Dax Shepard acknowledges that telling a 3-year-old that Santa is pretend might be controversial, he's hardly the first parent to present Santa this way. There are plenty of healthy, happy adults whose parents told them the truth.

LeAnne Shepard is one of them. Now a mother herself, LeAnne's parents clued her into the Santa myth early, for religious reasons that were common in her community.

"In the small Texas town where I grew up, I wasn't alone in my disbelief. Many parents, including mine, presented Santa Claus as a game that other families played," she previously wrote. "That approach allowed us to get a picture on Santa's lap, watch the Christmas classics, and enjoy all the holiday festivities so long as we remembered the actual reason for the season. It was much like when I visited Disney World and met Minnie Mouse; I was both over the moon excited and somewhat aware that she was not actually real."

No matter why you want to tell your children the truth about Santa, know that it's okay to let the kids know that he's pretend. Kristen Bell's kids prove that knowing the truth about Santa doesn't have to make Christmas any less exciting. Pretending can be magical, too.

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