American mothers are trying harder than ever–so why do we feel like we’re failing?

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Mama, you deserve more support and way less judgment. Because the truth is American mothers are carrying heavy burdens that are so ubiquitous and yet so secretive we can only assume we are alone in our struggles.

But, mama, it's society that's failing, not you.

Motherhood is way harder than it should be because the deck is stacked against women. We live in a culture that gives lip service to the importance of family, but sees investment in children and parents as an "entitlement" too far. We operate in a business climate that prizes consumption and profitability above all—leaving families, and especially women, behind in its wake. We're citizens in a country where "women's issues" are seen as side issues, rather than foundational challenges of our society.

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We, as mothers, are all too often left to figure out the biggest transformation of our lives—one rife with physical, mental, financial and relationship stress—in the midst of a radically individualistic society that at times almost blames us for having children. Can't afford childcare? It's your fault for not making more money. Struggle to breastfeed? You're not trying hard enough. Coping with undiagnosed postpartum depression? Pull it together.

The finger pointing is everywhere except where it should be: at a society and structures that haven't evolved to support women, children and families.

In order for change to begin we have to first understand the problem:

Motherhood isn't supported: In generations past, adult children typically used to settle near their parents and raise their own offspring in highly-connected, intergenerational settings. That meant grandma would watch the baby while mama recovered from childbirth or that sisters traded childcare duties to allow time for housekeeping. While multigenerational living is actually at a high point in recent American history for largely financial reasons, the elements that define our vision of a village have been overridden by demands that cause people to work longer.

We now stand in a time where the villages that used to define the experience of parenthood have largely gone away—yet no other support has been put in their place. Grandparents are busy working long into retirement. A transient generation often doesn't have support next door. People cannot rely on "traditional" sources of backup—or relief.

With such a dearth of support and a struggling economy, the American birthrate—once a fertile outlier in the Western world—in recent years has dramatically declined. Women are choosing to wait longer to have children, and then have fewer kids overall. In many cases, they're having fewer children than they would ideally want to have because motherhood is just that hard. Even before they have children, women sense a lack of support that makes motherhood overwhelming—it's this anxiety that sells books and fuels a never-ending debate over whether women can ever "have it all."

The lack of resources is only compounded by the abundance of pressure. From over-engineering children's activities to an abiding sense of guilt for not doing "enough," American mothers often place their self-worth on the degree of their involvement in the minutiae of their children's lives.

Giving birth in America is shockingly dangerous: Discrimination against women, and women of color in particular, has led to an appalling maternal health crisis—where women's voices are not heard, women's needs are not met, and they, as well as their children and families, suffer.

Statistics prove American mothers die in childbirth more than in any other country in the developed world—and the death rates are actually getting worse, not better. According to research in the New York Times, "Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts," with racism playing a direct role.

Sexism also plays a role with 26% of maternal deaths attributable to heart conditions, which may not display themselves with the same symptoms as among male patients. "Doctors may be more likely to attribute those symptoms to anxiety than heart disease," said Kim Lavoie, a professor of psychology at the University of Quebec at Montreal and co-author of a 2016 study on the topic. "So, in other words, a diagnostic bias may occur."

Postpartum women are left to fend for themselves: While newborns are typically seen at least four times in their first two months of life, their mothers routinely have no postpartum care from 48 hours after birth until six weeks. During these critical weeks of physical recovery and a psychological transition to parenthood, women are left to figure out the transition alone while navigating an exhausting, achy haze of postpartum bleeding, milk supply issues and financial stress.

The irony is this is perhaps one of the most vulnerable periods for mothers when support is often most needed. Case and point: Learning how to breastfeed, critical to keeping her baby healthy and alive for mothers who opt to exclusively breastfeed, is a learned skill. But, after her baby is born, a woman might see a lactation counselor right away, or might have to wait days to learn how to nurse — if she ever sees a consultant at all. Private lactation consultants often cost hundreds of dollars, an expense that is often out of reach during this financially stressful time in life.

No relief for working mothers: One in four new mothers returns to work out of economic necessity within two weeks of giving birth. Federally, American mothers are not guaranteed paid leave, making the United States an appaling exception in the global sphere. Recent statistics from the U.S. Labor Bureau indicate that only 12% of American workers have access to paid leave—the rest are left to fend for themselves.

The one piece of federal legislation that could make a difference, The Family Medical Leave Act, only guarantees that a new parent's job will be held for 12 weeks—but doesn't require any compensation during one of the most vulnerable times in their life. And that's only if the employee meets certain eligibility conditions to begin with, which include having worked on a nearly full-time basis for at least one year and the company having 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius.

After the initial adjustment, working women face the motherhood penalty—which amounts to a decrease in 4% of her earnings for every child that she has. That stands in stark contrast to the fatherhood bonus, which describes a 6% income boost the average father experiences for the birth of each child.

Motherly's 2018 State of Motherhood survey revealed that the majority of women scaled down their careers after the birth of a baby, while their partners often scaled up—a split that sometimes happens by choice, but other times happens by default, thanks to issues such as the incredibly high cost of childcare, which is not subsidized or covered fully as a tax credit, unlike in other countries.

The victims blame themselves: The worst part? Research shows American mothers largely blame themselves, experiencing waves of guilt and self-criticism for struggling to manage the inordinate task of working, raising children and maintaining a household. As it is, the burden is on these mothers in already vulnerable, challenging positions to ask for help—rather than how it should be done by offering resources and support in the first place. It's as if we're wading through a fog and cannot see that we're not doing it wrong, it's that modern American motherhood is just that hard.

But it is NOT our fault.

As Beth Berry wrote in a telling Motherly essay that has become our anthem, "It takes a village, but there are no villages. . . [mama,] you and I are not the problem at all. WE ARE DOING PLENTY. We may feel inadequate, but that's because we're on the front lines of the problem, which means we're the ones being hardest hit. We absorb the impact of a broken, still-oppressive social structure so that our children won't have to. That makes us heroes, not failures."

That bears repeating: It makes us heroes, mama.

Originally posted on Medium.

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Perhaps because I've been an entrepreneur since the age of 25, or maybe because I'm now a mom and I work grueling hours, I've been asked this loaded question more times than I can count:

"How do you manage it all?"

The good news is, I have an emphatic answer. It's a rule I've been inadvertently testing for two decades throughout every phase of my life and career. I've watched it hold true for my friends who have big, high-pressure careers, as well as my friends who are incredible, wildly busy full-time mothers. And yes, even for men (not that anyone's asking them).

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The not-so-good: It isn't something people always want to hear.

Because, truthfully, I "manage it all" by ruthlessly editing my life into what I call three baskets. And stopping myself when I'm tempted to see what happens when I try carrying four.

Here's how the theory works: Everyone has a set of priorities, or baskets, that require our time and energy. The first catch? There are four major basket categories—Work, Relationship, Kids, and Self—but if we want to operate at the highest level, we cannot carry more than three of these baskets at once.

Your baskets may be different from mine, except for one: We all have a Self basket. This contains anything that fuels your mind, body and soul. It's the first and easiest one to put down when we have too many baskets, but it's actually non-negotiable. We have to care for ourselves—whether it's with sleep, exercise, meditation, worship, or dinner with friends—or we will eventually, inevitably burn out.

And that's the other catch. Because if you accept that you must put the oxygen mask on yourself, at regular intervals, you're really only left with two baskets. This means that if you have a basket for Self, Work, and Kids…then you may not be able to be the perfect partner, all of the time. If you have baskets for Relationship, Kids, and Self…you may not be able to go full-throttle in your career, right now.

Skeptical? Think about the periods in your life when you've felt the most frazzled or out of control. For me, it's always when I'm sneaking an extra basket—trying to go all in at work, and as a mom, and as a partner, and to somehow also look the part of a CEO in the fashion business and consistently get enough sleep to function.

The hard (and also freeing) truth is that we simply cannot do all of these things, all of the time. But we can pace ourselves and deliberately and strategically carry different baskets throughout different phases of life.

For example, you might decide that for the window while your kids are young, going big as a mom is your top priority, and another basket may have to wait. Or you might be like me, who for many, many years, was deep in the throes of building a business, and has relied on a small village of Amazon, Postmates nannies, and housekeepers so I could devote two whole baskets to Work. Or you may decide that just for the summer, you'll dial it back at the office to be fully present with your partner and on family vacations and know that come fall, you'll shift into high gear again.

Choosing just three baskets isn't easy. In fact, it's really hard. And It's blatantly counterintuitive to a culture that tells women, especially, that we should be the picture of perfection in every domain.

But there are a million ways to arrange your baskets, and a million ways to define success. For me, accepting the limitations of my time and energy forces me to get incredibly clear about what I value most.

Which, if you ask me, is a much better question to ask women we admire.

[This article was previously published on 'Mother.']

Work + Money

Here I go again, wearing my troubles on my brow. Troubles and worries this furrow cannot hide—at least not from you, my love.

You know me all too well.

You know the one thing I need when I'm sad isn't a girl's night out, but instead, a good hard cry in your arms and for you to tell me I'm enough. Not enough because of my motherhood, my job, or my cooking, but simply because I'm enough.

You know that even though you've told me I'm sexy a million times in one evening, I'll need to hear it again in a few days when I'm in my sweat pants, no makeup on, eating a tub of freezer burnt ice cream, feeling real grumpy from PMS.

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You know that when I get anxious and afraid, I don't need you to coddle me or become a codependent accomplice to my fears, but instead I need you to give me a gentle nudge back to reality.

You know me all too well.

You know how embarrassed I was about you witnessing me poop myself during labor, so you still deny that you saw it to this day.

You know that when I say, "I'm fine," it really means "No, I'm not fine, but I'm too stubborn to say so."

You know that me not wanting sexy time after the kids have gone to bed has nothing to do with motherhood fatigue, but rather how much I hated my body today.

You know that when you tell me to do something, I won't do it out of pure rebellion, but if we're honest, that's one of the reasons you love me so much.

You know that when I get all dolled up, ready to hit the town, the more makeup I put on, the more insecure I'm feeling about myself.

You know how guilty I felt after yelling at our 8-year-old for being an 8-year-old, so you made sure you told me what an amazing mother I was for the mere fact of feeling guilty and apologizing for it.

You know that when I'm feeling off, you need to fill in the gaps in household work, so I don't completely get overwhelmed with tasks.

You know that me dieting is never a good idea, so you tell me even more times than usual that I'm beautiful and perfect just the way I am.

You know that my laughter comes out most when it's ignited by you—you never stop trying to be funny, just so you can hear me laugh again.

You know that when you look at me that way, it still gives me butterflies, so you make sure you do it at least once a day.

You know that loving me is a choice, but it's never felt like a choice—more so like the reason you live.

You know that after a fight, it's harder for me to forget than for you, so you hold me extra tight for as long as it takes to get back to us.

You know that I wished I had more friends, but hesitate to make an effort because I'm afraid of rejection.

You know me enough to know that I never want you to stop knowing me more deeply, so you keep discovering and learning more about who I am, even after 10 years together.

You know me all too well, my love.

So much so, that I can no longer hide my sorrows, my laughter, my insecurities, my flaws or failures. You've seen it all; you know it all. And despite it all—despite knowing everything about me, you still love me.

Thank you for loving even the darkest parts of me.

Thank you for being loyal to even the worst of me.

Thank you for being exactly who you are. I love you.

Life

Dear past me,

This is future you writing. The one who has been through the full nine months of pregnancy. The one who gave birth and breastfed and stayed up all night with a baby full of gas and sore gums. This isn't you, yet.

But it will be.

It's hard for you to fathom that you will become me. You look at other mothers, mothers with squirming 1-year-olds or rampaging toddlers, but all that seems so far away. You can't marry it together, your bump with those giggling, giddy kids. It seems miraculous that one will become the other. It's too hard to believe.

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But it will happen.

Right now you hold the baby inside of you. You are the only one who feels every kick as he wiggles and wriggles around. How can you begin to imagine how it will feel to pass that baby, that baby that inhabits you, that lives because you live, to someone else?

Sometimes it will be hard, to watch your precious little one getting passed around. He'll seem so vulnerable out there without your stretched skin protecting him inside the cocoon of your stomach. But it will also be wonderful.

Just wait. Just wait until your mother meets him for the first time, the little quiver in her voice as she tells you he's beautiful. It will remind you of the first time you brought your husband home to meet her, your boyfriend as he was then, and you knew that she knew that this man was special.

I know you dream of it, your husband holding his child, the child you brought into the world, for the first time. You imagine how it will feel to see them together. Will there be pride? Or worry? Will you feel happy? Will you feel put out?

Let me tell you.

You will feel all of those things, like watching a film in 3D high resolution with surround sound. Every emotion is more intense than ever before, so intense it is overwhelming. You'll apologize to your husband for taking the baby back because he's screaming and he probably needs feeding. You'll feel like your intruding on their life-affirming moment, when you ask your husband to pass him to you so you can try, again, to get him to latch on. The midwife will tell you not to apologize, that it's your responsibility to feed him and that's the priority. She's so sure and confident, even in the way she handles your precious newborn. That doesn't live inside you yet.

But it will.

Time will race away from you and, before you know it, you'll be spoon-feeding puréed vegetables from little Tupperware pots. You'll be tired. More tired than you are now when the baby kicks every time you get comfortable enough to fall asleep.

But time flies by.

And someday soon you will be me, the mother of a 2-year-old. It's the same baby you carried in your stomach, that made your belly wobble when he hiccupped and that kicked you when you drank orange juice. It's the same one you gave birth to, the one you brought home from the hospital and placed in the crib next to your bed on that first night in the house.

Yet, he's different now. He's more whole somehow, a proper little person. He doesn't know all the names for the parts of a face so when you call him a cheeky monkey, he strokes his chin and giggles. He loves wearing hats—bobble hats, summer hats, it doesn't matter which—and he pulls them off better than you ever could.

He's so perfect and wonderful and some days you'll feel like you're not good enough for him. You'll be utterly convinced that any moment he'll figure you out. "Mommy," you imagine him saying, "you're not that funny after all. And the activities you do with us aren't very exciting, no matter how hard you try and make buying bananas fun. Can I get a different mommy?" Of course, he'll never actually say this.

Because he loves you.

It was obvious from the start, in the way he used to look for you when someone else was holding him, searching you out in the room, making sure you were close by. He loved you when he gave you his first smile, his first giggle, his first step. I know you're worried you'll miss it because you have to go back to work, but he'll save it for you, the stumbling toddle across the room from mommy to daddy and back again. It will be your reward for making it through the first year of parenting. By the time he's two he'll treat you by telling you he loves you, stroking your face and smiling because that's what you do to him. He knows it means love.

All of this will come. Take my word for it; I'm the future you and I've lived it. But right now, enjoy these precious pregnancy moments because, even though it feels like it will never end, you won't be pregnant forever. Breathe every second of it in.

But also know this: the best is yet to come.



Love,

The future you

Life

I don't think anyone told me I was "glowing" either time I was pregnant. I'm not sure that is the word I would have used to describe me in the early months, either—nauseated is more like it, or tired. Add to that some extra-dry skin and acne like I hadn't had since middle school, and let's just say I wasn't feeling my most beautiful. Apparently I wasn't alone.

"Hormonal changes, and, of course, all the ways your life is changing, can lead to some unpleasant skin changes during pregnancy," says Diana Spalding, Motherly's Digital Education Editor, midwife and writer of The Mother Guide to Becoming Mama. "It's so easy to get dehydrated during pregnancy, which can lead to issues like dryness and itchiness. And nights spent tossing and turning (because how is anyone supposed to sleep with all those sweet baby kicks?!) can lead to dark circles."

If you're suffering from any of the common pregnancy skin issues, but you don't want to pile chemicals on your skin, there are natural, healthy pregnancy-safe makeup and skin care products out there for you. Some even contain treatment ingredients that could help alleviate your skin symptoms, all while covering them up in the meantime. It's also worth noting that the FDA maintains an updated list and categorization of ingredients used in beauty and cosmetic products women should avoid if they are pregnant. A few include: retin-a, hydroquinone, formaldehyde, dihydroxyacetone, benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acids.

Just remember that sometimes itching skin can be a sign of a "serious complication known as cholestasis, so definitely check in with your midwife or OB before trying to treat the issue on your own," says Spalding.

The bottom line is, whatever your pregnancy skin care issues are, we've got you covered.

Here is what you need to fix eight common pregnancy skin problems:

For oily skin: RMS Beauty 'Un' Powder

Un Powder RMS BEAUTY

Sweaty? Oily? Yup, you can thank those pregnancy hormones for that! The RMS "un" powder can help! This ultra-fine, super-silky powder has only two ingredients (mica and silica—not to be confused with silicone) and will never give you a white cast. It's so sheer but so effective. We promise no one will know you're wearing powder.

$34

For dull skin: Plant Makeup Pink Rose Shimmer Balm

Plant Makeup\u2019s Pink Rose Shimmer Balm

Pregnancy can make a lady tired, and along with fatigue comes dull skin. Plant Makeup's Pink Rose Shimmer Balm to the rescue! Made by hand with French pink clay and pure natural mica, this very subtle balm moisturizes, highlights and adds a little sparkle. We love that it's not glittery, but rather reflects light for a hint of highlighting.

$3

For breakouts: Juice Beauty Photo Pigments Perfecting Concealer

Juice Beauty Phyto-pigments Perfecting Concealer

Oh, hello, pimples. We meet again. Juice Beauty's Photo Pigments Perfecting Concealer will mask your blemishes while healing them with organic coconut oil, known for its antibacterial, anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties.

Editor tip: For best results, warm formula with finger or brush before application.

$25

​ For dry + itchy skin: Suntegrity 5 in 1 Tinted Face Suncsreen

Suntegrity 5 in 1 Tinted Face Sunscreen

Winter months can take a toll on your skin, and with low temps come flakes, bumps and cracks. And if you're pregnant, dry skin can during this time can be even worse. So how about a multitasking product that moisturizes, soothes and protects while providing a light tint for that no-makeup look? If you suffer from parched and dry skin during pregnancy, Suntegrity 5-in-1 Natural Moisturizing face sunscreen is the product for you.

$45

For dark circles under eyes: W3ll People Bio Correcting Multi-Action Concealer

W3LL PEOPLE Bio Correct Multi-Action Concealer

Tossing and turning at night because you cannot get comfortable? You know what that means. Dark circles and puffy eyes are sure to appear. We love W3LL PEOPLE Bio Correct Multi-Action Concealer because it contains caffeine, so while the gorgeous mineral pigments cover those circles, the caffeine also depuffs your under-eye area.

$22.99

For capillaries + visible veins: Gressa Minimalist Corrective Serum Foundation

Gressa Skin Minimalist Corrective Serum Foundation

During pregnancy, your veins may make your body look like a country map. Nothing to worry about, your network of veins is actually here to carry your increasing blood supply and provide a support system to your growing baby. Unfortunately, you may also experience spider veins (also spider angiomas or spider nevi) on your face, which is also due to increased blood circulation. Gressa Skin Minimalist Corrective Serum Foundation is a serum-to-powder formula, almost like a multi-vitamin for your skin and provides seamless coverage.

$62

For dark brown spots: 14e Aloe Nourish Foundation

Aloe Nourish Foundation

Are you noticing, dark, blotchy brown spots on your cheeks and forehead? Blame it on an estrogen surge stimulating melanin production. Aloe Nourish Foundation by 14e Cosmetics provides medium, buildable coverage while leaving you feeling weightless with a satin semi-matte finish. It has only a few ingredients, and its base is aloe, which means it soothes as it covers.

$38

For tired eyes: Alima Pure Natural Definition Mascara

Alima Pure mascara

In my opinion, nothing wakes up a face like a good mascara. Alima Pure's Natural Definition Mascara makes one that's super-subtle, if you're not much of a makeup wearer and don't want to look like you suddenly went all-out.

$22

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