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As a couple who endured four and half years of infertility, my husband and I can attest to the strains it puts on a relationship. Having a baby is emotional anyway, but the inability to conceive when that's all you want is devastating.

When encountering setbacks or obstacles, people often react or cope differently, which can be frustrating, but completely normal. My husband and I didn't feel the same emotions at the same time, and we definitely approached our situation in different ways. Yet as a couple, we're supposed to be united, right?

Facing the real possibility of never conceiving or giving birth to biological children pushes some couples to their limits. We had to face this question head on. How did we come out of such a trying ordeal still together—and even closer?

Here are some tips that not only helped us survive infertility, but actually helped strengthen our marriage.

Do not blame each other

Even if the main problem is his slow swimmers or her PCOS, pointing the finger or assigning blame has no positive results. Chances are the one “responsible" already feels guilt or questions his masculinity or her femininity because of fertility issues. Assigning blame only makes things worse and adds self-esteem issues on top of the already emotionally stressful experience.

Inconsistent ovulation and tissue damage from a ruptured appendix labeled me as the problem in our situation. Instead of accusing me of fault, my husband talked about the fertility issues as our issues. He said, “What should we do about this?" and reassured, “We will get through this together."

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To have a chance at successful conception or making their marriage succeed in general, couples must be united in the infertility fight. Assigning blame is a surefire way to create separation.

Be supportive during times of grieving or venting

Whether the cause of the infertility is known or not, experiencing disappointment in attempt after attempt, month after month, year after year wears down any hopeful couple aching for children.

Emotions during these times can jump from grief to anger to doubt to hope, and they can jump quickly. Being partners means supporting each other. But being supportive can mean different things to different people.

Do you need someone to hug you? Do you want someone to listen quietly? Do you want to hear solutions to your problem? Do you want to be left alone?

Find out what you and your partner need when you mourn or vent, whether it's a shoulder to cry on, an occasional pint of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Therapy ice cream, or time alone. If you don't know what your partner needs, ask. If your partner doesn't know how to help you cope, tell him or her what you need. However much you might wish your partner could read your mind, it's better to explain what you need than not receive the necessary support.

Over time, we learned that when I cried after yet another failure, my husband could soothe and comfort me with reassuring words. When my husband vocalized his frustration, I needed to listen silently. Other times, he didn't talk about his feelings at all, which frustrated me at first. I expected him to share his feelings as vocally as I did, but he didn't always need to in order to heal. Eventually, I learned to simply ask if I could do anything for him.

We cope so much better now that we know each other's needs and can meet them more effectively.

Discuss options honestly and practically

When you're so emotionally invested in something, it can be hard to detach and talk about it objectively. These are your potential babies after all.

When considering fertility treatment, obviously the first important party to weigh in (beside you and your partner) should be a fertility specialist. After tests, the doctor will review treatment options, processes, and costs. As a couple, review the options and allow for open discussion.

Each partner should be honest about what they think is best and feel they can handle. Some treatments, like In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), are not for the faint of heart – or for those who literally faint at the sight of needles. Believe me, with IVF, you see a lot of needles!

Our only fertility option was IVF, and fortunately, we both felt we could handle the financial, physical, and emotional stress that comes with the procedure. But I know other couples who cannot afford IVF, or who don't want to deal with the drastic procedures. These couples have expanded their families through adoption, which is another amazing way to bring children into a family.

Understand and respect your partner's feelings and opinions

Even in marriages where spouses have similar backgrounds and beliefs, spouses may still have different feelings and opinions as infertility struggles—or any life struggles for that matter—arise.

Even if your partner expresses the same desire to press forward with fertility treatment, he or she may disagree about financing, timing, or priority of treatment over other life goals. Talk about your feelings and opinions, and try to understand your partner's viewpoint.

We both decided fertility treatment took top priority. When we experienced severe setbacks with surgeries and busy schedules, however, my husband wanted to postpone further treatment for a year. I didn't. We compromised at delaying IVF treatment for six months. Through respectful communication, we both felt heard and moved forward with a plan we both could agree on.

Make a plan, and work together toward it

Creating an action plan helps guide individual and collective decisions towards your goal. If you decide to pursue fertility treatment as a priority, but then keep smoking or your partner buys a boat with the money intended for treatment, you will likely not get any closer to success.

We made a financial plan to cover the cost of IVF. In addition, we discussed larger purchases before pulling the trigger and made cuts in our spending habits. If one or both of you seem to deviate from the plan, it may be time to reevaluate your actions, your plan, or even your goal.

Some fertility treatments, like IVF, can take a heavy physical toll on a woman's body. Her partner should be prepared to make sacrifices to give extra help during difficult times. My husband took over some of my chores on days when I felt awful during my IVF cycle.

Sticking to a plan isn't easy, but sharing the load between the two of us made it a lot lighter.

Develop a sense of humor

A sense of humor is an essential survival tool for the challenges and stresses of infertility treatment. If you can handle it, when appropriate, try making a joke about yourselves and the situation.

After a few days, we became accustomed to—dare I say experts at—doing shots every night. The sound of my shot alarm on my phone used to make me groan. So my husband tried to make me laugh by calling me his “pin cushion" and saying, “Time for me to shoot you!" Or he would playfully smack my butt before giving me the progesterone shot. We joked that if IVF worked it would be my doctor, and not my husband, who “knocked me up."

The jokes didn't necessarily make the shots any less painful or my butt any less sore the next day, but laughing reduced some of the stress and kindled more affection between us.

Try to keep the magic alive

I'll be honest: infertility is a mood killer. Sex becomes an item on a to-do list and sadly like a chore, an inconvenience. Try to keep it romantic in any way you can.

Before IVF, we were on Clomid for three months, an oral drug that hyper stimulates ovulation. We had to have sex during a specific time frame, which completely drained the fun out of love making because we knew we “had" to do it. We were so concerned about conceiving that we didn't think to put extra effort into the romantic part of the process.

My husband says that Clomid was worse than IVF. I beg to differ—he wasn't the one getting shots every night for eight weeks! But I get his point.

Get help if needed

Infertility carries so many emotions and so many struggles. Sometimes individual partners simply struggle to understand themselves, much less try to understand each other. That's where a little extra help comes in.

Marriage counseling can sound like a dirty word, probably because it implies that something is wrong with your relationship, or wrong with the two of you. But having an unbiased third party facilitate the discussions you have about infertility and your feelings can be a huge benefit.

Both marriage and individual counselors can ask the right questions to get to the root of a problem, offer advice on how to cope with loss or disappointment, and suggest techniques to try at home on your own. Think of it as preventative care for your marriage. Instead of treating the problem long after it has been festering, you can seek help early and prevent the problem from getting worse and causing deeper issues.

Although my husband and I didn't see a counselor, I can see how helpful talking about our challenges with someone would have been. There were times when I thought my husband deserved someone else—someone who didn't struggle with the most “natural" acts for a woman's body to perform.

Even though we followed this advice, my husband and I still occasionally fought and had issues. Infertility could have torn our marriage apart. Instead, my husband and I became a closer couple because we learned to accept to our situation together, meet each other's needs, adapt our family goals, work as a team to reach those goals, and laugh at ourselves.

These techniques helped us endure difficult times in the past, and will undoubtedly come in handy when life presents more challenges—as our twin toddler boys continue to grow.

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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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I can still remember bringing my first newborn baby home, even though it has been over a year now. And let me be clear—I don't remember it because it was blissful and euphoric. I actually remember it so vividly because it was close to the most anxiety-ridden, stressful, emotional day of my life.

The two previous days spent in the hospital were everything I hoped they'd be. Sure, I was getting virtually no sleep, and my body ached from all it had just been through, but I had an abundant amount of help at my fingertips. I didn't yet feel overwhelmed or inadequate and I was fully confident that I could handle this whole mama thing. Excitement was my overarching emotion.

And then we got home.

It didn't take long for the crying to start. And once it started, there was no end in sight. My sweet baby boy just kept crying, and crying, and then crying some more, and I longed to have a "call nurse" button to press for a little relief.

My amateur mama skills seemed futile as I rocked, shushed, snuggled and nursed my baby. None of it helped; my sweet son wanted nothing to do with this world and was begging to be put back in the warm and comfortable surroundings he had just emerged from.

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And so those first couple of months were a fog of diaper changes, feedings, nap time, crying (so much crying for both of us) and an endless amount of pleading prayers.

I didn't love my new role of being a mom yet. Although I had been dreaming of this calling my whole life, I decided I clearly wasn't cut out for it and figured the rest of my days were surely going to be full of hardship.

My hope and excitement for the future were at an all-time low, which could partially be thanks to those pesky postpartum hormones. This period of life was hard. All-consuming and so hard.

So I'm here to tell you, brand new mama, if you don't love being a mom yet, that's okay. Because here's what's going to happen.

One day, after weeks and weeks of having a fussy baby, that little bundle of joy is going to crack their first smile, and your heart is going to absolutely burst with happiness as you quickly grab your phone to capture a picture.

And then your sweet little one is going to start cooing and oohing and aahing, and you will feel like they're telling you all about their day, which is going to simply melt your soul. It definitely melted mine.

And then feeding the baby is going to get easier, and their nighttime sleep stretches are going to get longer, and taking them out and about isn't going to feel so overwhelming.

And then, mama, one day you're going to look at yourself in the mirror when you get a spare second. You'll see spit-up on your shirt, dark circles below your eyes that not even the best concealer could cover, unwashed hair tucked under your favorite baseball cap, and you're going to say to yourself, "I love being a mom. This is me now."

And you might no longer grieve the old life you once had. You'll stop wishing you could go back to your carefree youthful days, and you'll instead start looking forward to all the many fun family memories that will soon be made.

One day, you're going to love being a mama. I did.

Hang on tight to any little joys you can find during this in-between time and give yourself grace. A lot of grace. You're doing the best you can, and that's all you need to do for now.

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The summer season is the perfect time to get creative and enjoy fun projects around the house with your little ones. Some of the most memorable family moments can start with a piece of construction paper or end with a table covered in shaving cream.

While you're having fun, just remember that being creative is about the process, not the result. Your kids' artwork may not be museum-worthy, but that's okay! Embrace the fun of the creation and not necessarily the end result.

First thing's first, get organized.

before you can begin any project, it's important to start on a clean surface. A fresh canvas sets the stage for family activities and DIY projects so I always put away clutter and clean the surfaces to prepare for new activities.

I always recommend creating or purchasing organization bins or spaces for each activity or categories of items. For example, a container specifically for crayons, markers and colored pencils. Then when it's time to clean up, everything has a specific place. Make sure to clearly label the bins so everyone can easily determine what each container contains. This is a great way to exercise good organizational habits from an early age. As soon as they are 2-years-old, they can play a part in cleaning up and putting things away. And, if you have systems set up for them from the start, it makes it much easier for them! Kids also love to help clean counters once you've put everything away. Whether it's after you've cooked a meal together or exhausted all of the glitter glue, they love wiping down counters with wipes. Set the expectation that kids who craft are responsible for cleaning up their supplies when they're done. It's crucial to start the healthy habit of tidying up after yourself early on.


Ask your kids for their input.

Imagination runs wild, so take advantage of their creativity. Ask them what type of art project or fun family activities they want to prioritize. If you have multiple kids, create a "suggestion jar" they can continually add and pull from when they are looking for an activity to do.

It's important to embrace collaboration. You know what they say: Teamwork makes the (crafts) work. Encourage your kids to work together and call out ideas for each other's artwork.

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Here are a few of my favorite craft projects:

  • Flipbooks: Have each kid create their own flipbook full of creative crafts, poetry, or other fun moments they want to capture.
  • DIY dollhouse: Make a custom dollhouse filled with handmade mini furniture to decorate it in their own way.
  • Out-of-the-crayon-box crafting: Challenge your kids to craft with creative elements around the house—whether it be clothespin snowmen or sponge sailboats, there are endless possibilities.
Garner even more excitement by making the prep part a project itself! Have your kids help create a fun workspace for food-making, craft-building, or DIY science-slime experimenting. They can pick a color scheme, help find the right organizing bins, or decorate the wall with art projects from this past school year for inspiration.

Try DIY projects.

Kids need to get out their creativity and energy so hands-on projects are a fun way to put their growing brains to work while they do it.

Be sure to practice safe crafting. Store all scissors and other sharp objects in protected, designated places, make sure to read all directions for new craft supplies or projects, and watch out for slippery messes!

Stock up on these essentials:

1. On-the-go park bag: Parents should be ready to go to the park at a moment's notice. Have a bag pre-packed with all the essentials: a mini kite, a picnic blanket, a ball to toss around, sunscreen and more.

2. Chalk: I love bringing crafts outside whenever possible, and something as simple as colorful sidewalk chalk is an easy way to make drawings larger than life!

3. Contact paper: You can use contact paper to add temporary color and character to flower vases, glass jars or really any decorative container with a hard, smooth surface. As a first step, wipe the vases or jars down with a disinfecting wipe to make sure the surface is clean so the paper will stick properly.

4. Felt: Felt is one of my favorite kid-friendly ways to incorporate color into crafts. You can make fun flowers, finger puppets, or whatever your heart desires.

5. Bubbles: They provide instant fun for any age!

6. Instant camera: Capture all of your moments —happy, sticky, and everything in between. Let your kids get in on the action of capturing their favorite family moments and compiling them into an end of the year scrapbook!
Learn + Play

Is it too soon? I ask myself as you toddle in and chat excitedly about the baby in mommy's belly. "Where is she?" you ask. "But I don't see her," you insist when I tell you she's in there.

Will you miss our special time as a trio? I wonder, as we snuggle on your rug at night, you, Daddy and me, under a blanket too small to cover us all. But you don't realize, pulling it up over us anyway, feet popping out, giggling all the while.

Were we selfish? I worry as I rush to comfort you during the night when a fever spikes and you call out our names. "Mama!" "Daddy!" And we're both there in a minute.

How can I possibly love another child as much as I love you? I question myself, as you run into my waiting hug and beg for just a million more.

But I tell myself that we'll learn these new steps together in stride, just as we did when you found your way into the world and became all of mine. Because it was you, my sweet boy, who taught me how to be a mama.

It was you who, in those first weeks, rested your head contently on my chest, just when I thought nursing might be too hard to handle. And it was you who flashed your first smile as the washer broke, amid mounds of spit-up stained laundry.

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You were the one who settled my breathing, as it quickened and tightened during my first panic attack. And it was rocking you at night that saved me when my maternity leave came to an end.

When you brought your very first stomach virus home and we all got sick at the same time, it was the sound of your first laugh that saved us during the eleventh hour, when we were questioning what made us think we were strong enough to care for a family.

We learned together how to navigate pediatrician visits and shots, what rocks and rhythms made nighttime smoother, how to introduce foods and when to wean. After six months, it was you who gave me the signal it was okay to stop nursing. When endless pumping sessions at work had me in tears, you assured me you'd love me just as much if I picked up a bottle of formula, gulping it down with a smile, your hands resting on mine.

When I worried at work each day that you were bonding more with your daycare teachers in those long hours than we ever could at home, you shared your first word, reminding me how special our bond is in that sweet, jumbled "mama."

We did it all, together.

And even now, as I worry about transitioning you into a big boy bed, you excitedly accept the challenge and graciously tell us we can give your crib to your new baby sister–just not your blanket.

At daycare, you rock the baby dolls, and you tell everyone you pass what your baby sister's name will be. You ask to read about Daniel Tiger and Baby Margaret, making sure I know how to navigate what's on your horizon.

Because, baby boy, you've always been quicker to adapt than me. Sometimes I think it's you who is teaching us.

You see, baby boy, it was your encouragement and love all along that guided me into motherhood. And it was your hugs and kisses and "good job mama's" that told me I could do this again.

Life will change as our family grows, but we'll keep learning together.

It'll be you who marches into that Kindergarten class, head held high as you proudly wear the backpack you picked out yourself, reminding us that time stops for no one.

It'll be you who introduces us to practices and clubs, field trips and permission slips–I'm sorry in advance for the ones I'll forget to sign!

It'll be you who turns my grip white, as you tuck your permit into the glovebox and pull onto the street for the first time.

It'll be you we wait up for first, worried that you haven't called. And it'll be you who heads off to college, leaving the house that seems too small feeling much too big.

But before your baby sister comes, and time continues to carry us in its unforgiving pace, I'll soak up every undivided second of attention I can give you. I'll snuggle you close and savor our chats. And we'll follow each other's leads, continuing to figure out this whole thing called life together.

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A recent trip to the movie theater had me brimming with excitement to reunite with Woody, Buzz, and the crew of Andy's (er, Bonnie's?) toys in the Toy Story franchise's new installment. Sure enough, my family laughed at the adventures of the cast, but it was a newcomer to the gang that really stole the show: a plastic spork named Forky.

While his reluctance to accept his place was charming and sweet, Bonnie's creation of Forky, and her subsequent attachment to him as her new favorite toy, points at a bigger picture—what constitutes a toy? Likewise, what does a child really need to be entertained?

The film's inclusion of such a common, utilitarian object as a chosen plaything serves as a reminder that children's imaginations are a powerful thing, and—when left to their own devices—kids are quite capable of having fun with far less than our society typically deems necessary.

Forky is a throwback to a time when less was more, and when families' homes weren't miniature toy stores.

I remember recently being spellbound as I watched my daughter engrossed in play with a handful of rocks. Each pebble had its role—mommy rock, daddy rock, baby rock, etc—and she carried on with a captivating scene encompassing equal parts comedy and tragedy. It was a rock family saga, and frankly, I was mesmerized.

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Despite a house full of flashy, modern, (and sometimes expensive) toys, I've found that some of the most creative play comes from the most unexpected "things" that most adults would consider non-toys. Kids have a unique way of looking at things, and often the items they gravitate toward as their preferred toy may leave parents not only scratching their heads, but also howling in laughter.

Kitchen accessories seem to be a favorite for many little ones, as I remember my own niece insisting on carrying a serving spoon everywhere with her. These inanimate objects function as the perfect plaything for children, as their minds are free to create whatever story or fantasy they desire. The make-believe is endless.

Other favorites for my kiddos include shoelaces, ropes, or yarn, which have infinite aliases—stuffed animal leashes and zip-lines being their go-tos. And who can forget the magic of cardboard boxes and of course bubble wrap. We're talking hours of fun and play.

After watching the film, I looked around my house at the abundant number of toys that my own children possess. Then I turned around and watched as they chose to stack Tupperware containers and throw foam koozies at them in a competitive game of kitchen bowling.

So yeah, we're all probably a little guilty of overindulgence with it comes to our kids. To be honest, it's fun to watch their eyes light up upon receiving a new toy at their birthday or other holiday. And I'm not arguing that those practices need to change completely. Rather, let's not forget the power of minimalism and its place in our lives. Let's encourage resourcefulness and creativity.

Behind the fun and nostalgia of the Toy Story series are important lessons and messages. In today's culture where more is more, Forky is a reminder that parents don't necessarily have to break the bank in purchasing toys for the little ones in our lives. In many cases, a "spork" will do.

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