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On the day our foster care license went live two years ago, my husband and I were asked to pick up a newborn baby boy from our county's Human Services building. At our respective jobs, we clutched our phones and talked about what this would mean for us. For me, it would mean accessing DC Government's new parental leave policy and becoming the primary caretaker for an infant—for as long or as little as needed. For my husband, it would mean juggling his busy job with parenting.

With about an hour to make our decision and little to no information about this little boy's family, we said yes. And immediately, we were in love.

This sweet boy was everything we could have imagined he would be. He was tiny. He was beautiful beyond words. He kept us up every two hours. As first-time parents, we relished in the everyday with him. We color-coordinated his outfits. We held him on our chests as he napped. He was a planet unto himself and we were thrilled to be in his orbit.

Almost as immediately, we were introduced to his parents, and our hearts broke.

They broke because it was obvious his parents loved him—deeply—and were struggling with the loss of their precious baby to another mother's arms.

They broke because our foster son stood to lose at least one set of parents, the ones who created him and welcomed him lovingly into the world, despite their challenges, or the ones who were tasked with bonding with him, with giving him a normal infancy despite the upheaval in his life.

And yes, our hearts broke for us. Because we loved him. Because having been his parents for a moment, we wanted to have that privilege for life.

A moment turned into 18 months. Every joyful experience with him and his family was tinged with grief. When he laughed or smiled, we wondered exactly how many more times we would get to snuggle him, tickle him, play peek-a-boo with him.

As his parents gained confidence and skill with him, we rejoiced in their progress while struggling to accept our dwindling days with him.

Then, one day last summer, we dropped him off at his mother's house for good. Typing out those words still remains painful. We grieved—hard.

In empty moments, we wandered into his room, everything still in its place and cried. For some time, his parents invited us to spend time with him a couple times a month. We cleared our schedules. We held off making plans with friends and family members, just in case we might have the chance to see him.

After each visit, we collapsed—the grief returning in waves that we felt might overtake us entirely. We tiptoed around each other, trying to be strong for the other. And when one of us gave the other the opportunity to unload tears, to reverse the feeling of drowning for a moment, it seemed the other would then be subsumed.

Our visits with him became less frequent, but so did the tears and the feeling that we might never again experience the joy he brought to our lives.

Slowly, we began to fill our calendar with activities we had once enjoyed. We vacationed with family members. Friends came over to eat dinner and keep us company. When we came home from a visit with him and his family, we were no longer undone and could continue the day's activities. We began to hope that they could truly trust us to be in their lives for good.

One evening, we were able to arrange for his family to come to our home for dinner. We welcomed them into his room and showed them where he had slept, where we had kept his little clothes. For all of us, it was an opportunity for healing. Eventually, we also saw the bigger picture of what had been accomplished by two families who were willing to work together, despite their unique grief.

Here's what two sets of "parents" did together: we took on the grief that this little boy would have had to carry for his entire life had we failed, the grief of losing his first family, the parents who gave him his beautiful name and his luminous smile. For some children, that grief is inevitable. But for many more whose parents, while not abusive, have struggled with mental illness, addiction or poverty, that life-altering heartbreak is preventable.

And in the end, like many foster parents before me, I can tell this story. I can share this experience with nearly universal responses of acceptance and praise, whether deserved or undeserved.

But this little boy's mother and father? Like most parents who have struggled to keep their family together and afloat, they won't receive many expressions of admiration for their hard work, for their tenacity when all seemed hopeless, for saving their son the grief of losing them.

We don't regret our choice to be foster parents and plan to foster again in the future. For now, we are regaining our strength. But there are children who will enter foster care today who deserve foster parents that will fight for the right outcomes to their stories, to their parents' stories, the stories you won't read online or in the newspaper.

Perhaps, rather than only trying to recruit lifelong foster parents, local governments should also begin welcoming families who may be willing to foster just once or twice and become lifelong supporters of fragile families who deserve the chance to be together.

It's difficult to take something on that will break your heart. But once you love a child, you'll gladly do so for the chance to help heal theirs.

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Student loan debt is a major problem for many mamas and their families―but it doesn't have to be. Refinancing companies like Laurel Road help families every year by offering better rates, making payments more manageable or helping them shorten their loan term.

If you're ready to start taking control of your student loan debt, here are five steps that could help you conquer your student loan debt and get a loan that works for you.

1. Understand your refinancing options.

Like motherhood, managing student loan debt is a journey made much easier by experience. If your eyes start to cross when you hear variable and fixed rates or annual percentage rate, start your process with a little education. Laurel Road offers a user-friendly resource hub with student loan refinancing guides and articles that can help explain your options and get you started on a more informed foot.

2. Potentially improve your credit score.

Your credit score is important because it provides an objective measure of your credit risk to lenders. It also has an impact on many aspects of your finances, so it's a good idea to understand and track your score regularly. To try and improve your score, pay your bills on time—your payment history is one of the most important factors in determining your credit score. Having a long history of on-time payments is best, while missing a payment may hurt your score. Another action to improve your credit score would be to keep the amount you owe low—keeping your balances low on credit cards and other types of revolving debt, such as a home equity lines of credit, may help boost your score. Remember, good credit scores don't just happen overnight, but taking positive financial steps now can lead to more positive outcomes in the future.

3. Get a better understanding of your current loan benefits.

Different loan types have different benefits and you want to make sure you don't lose any valuable benefits by refinancing your current loan. Before you're ready to apply for a better option, you need to know what you have. Determine your loan terms (how long you have to pay off your loan and how much you're required to pay each month) and find out your current interest rate.

When you took out your original loan, especially if it was a federal loan, everyone who applies is given the same rate regardless of their personal credit. When you look to refinance, companies like Laurel Road look at your credit score and other attributes to give you a personalized pricing option―one that's often more competitive than your original terms. However, it is important to know that federal loans offer several benefits and protections, including income based repayment and forgiveness options, that you may lose when refinancing with private lenders (learn more at https://studentloans.gov). Try Laurel Road's Student Loan Calculator to get a bigger picture perspective of what it will take to pay off your loan and the options available to you.

4. Pick the terms that fit your lifestyle.

Your long-term financial goals will determine what refinancing terms are right for you. For example, a 3- or 5-year loan means faster payoff times, but it will mean a higher monthly payment―which might not be possible if you're planning to purchase a home or looking to move your toddler to a more expensive school. A loan with a longer term will have lower payments, but more interest over the duration of the loan.

Want to see what your options are? Check your rates on Laurel Road. They'll perform a "soft credit pull" using some basic information (meaning initially checking your rates won't affect your credit score ) so you can make an informed decision. If you do proceed with the application Laurel Road will ask for your consent on a hard credit pull.

5. Don't miss out on discounts.

With a little research, many people can find opportunities for lower rates or discounts when refinancing their loans. For example, if your credit isn't the best, look into the possibility of adding a cosigner who may help boost your rate. There are also many associations and employers who offer student loan benefits. Laurel Road partners with a number of groups and employers who offer discounts on rates―so check with your professional associations or HR to see if any options are available to you. Finally, talk to your financial institution, especially if you're planning to take out another major loan like a mortgage. In some cases, having another product with an institution can get you a preferred customer rate.

This article is sponsored by Laurel Road. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Dear second child,

I see you. In the background, laying on your activity mat. I am frantically peeling a banana to appease your big sister's demands while cleaning milk off the floor.

You reach over and grab your toy and I am SO proud of you. I see you.

You smile and coo to yourself and tears threaten to spill from my sleep-deprived blood-shot eyes.

You are 4 months old and I have so many things I've been meaning to do. I want to cuddle you on the couch while reading all the books I loved reading to your sister.

I want to help you explore sensory bins, feeling the rice that I dyed various vibrant colors between your sweet little fingers.

I want to lay with you in the grass, gazing at clouds and soaking in the feeling of you discovering your world.

But your sister just disappeared with a red crayon and has been quiet for far too long. So I dash to her, disappearing from your sight.

I am so sorry.

I want to sit and stare at you and memorize every smile and giggle.

I want lazy days in bed like I had with your sister.

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I want to spend hours just laying in the sun at the beach with you while you nap out in the fresh air.

But there are no quiet, cuddly nursing sessions. There are no cozy, carefree days. It's all business and I'm operating on survival mode right now—and barely keeping it together.

You are so sweet. So happy. You fill our days with laughter and joy. But right now, you are in your activity center while I make dinner.

The guilt overwhelms me as I watch you out of the corner of my eye during another negotiation with your sister over what we will eat tonight.

I want so badly to slow down, sing to you, dance with you in the kitchen, babble with you while I prepare dinner. But I am so distracted. So exhausted.

I feel like I am failing as your mother and I am sorry.

The rush of dinner, bath time, stories and bedtime is a blur. You love bath time and I make sure we spend an extra few minutes together, laughing as you splash and kick in the water.

I love these few moments we have. We read stories in your sister's room before shutting her door and saying goodnight.

This is our time now. Our last nursing session of the day. I snuggle into the chair with you, kiss your head, and breathe you in.

I stare into your eyes and memorize every inch of you. I tell you how much I love you and how wonderful you are. I say I love you before laying you down in bed and sneaking out of your room, the door closing gently behind me.

I did it. I survived another day. A wave of delight and gratitude washes over me, taking the guilt away with it.

You, my second child, are so incredibly special. I love you so fiercely and I am so proud of you. You learn and grow every day and I admire you endlessly. I am in awe of you. I am thankful for your easygoing nature, your abundance of giggles and infectious smiles (seriously, you are the happiest baby I've ever met).

I love our small moments together—when I catch a glimpse of you in your car seat mirror and am overcome with love. When you fall asleep on me while we're at the park pushing your sister on the swing. Our middle-of-the night feedings where I can take all of you in and snuggle you peacefully in the 3am silence only a mother knows.

I don't remember life without you and you complete me in a way I didn't know was possible. And you deserve my very best.

I try, little one, I really do.

I try to make sure and slow down. To dance with you in the kitchen. To give you those extra minutes of bath time. To rock you in that chair a little longer.

I want to sing to you. I want to read you an extra book. I want to pause. To stop. And see you.

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Life

Many mothers-to-be find comfort and confidence in the idea that our bodies are built for birth. It's a mantra that has helped many through labor, but too often this idea is tossed around not to help mothers get through birth, but to discount its difficulty.

Our bodies are incredibly powerful, but so is the myth surrounding their ability to recover after birth. Yes, birth is natural and normal, but it is also really, really hard on us. Society needs to acknowledge that so mothers can get the support and time they need to heal.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances found pregnant people and extreme distance distance runners have something in common: Both groups push their bodies to the limit of human endurance and potential. It turns out energy expenditure among extreme athletes pushing their limits is only slightly higher than that of pregnant people.

Simply put: Science proves It's no wonder you're tired mama, being pregnant takes so much energy.

Science also suggests that giving birth is harder on a person's body than running a marathon, and while athletes are resting and getting treatment for their injuries, too many mothers are trying to walk theirs off.

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In a lot of ways, running a marathon and giving birth are very similar experiences. Researchers note that in both cases, we tend to forget how painful the event actually was, and in both cases our bodies are pushed to extremes. Researchers suggest childbirth is as traumatic as many endurance sports.

But runners step up to the starting line well rested. When women step into the birthing suite, they're already exhausted.

According to Holly Dunsworth, an associate professor of anthropology at of the University of Rhode Island, mothers in the last weeks and months of pregnancy are "pushing right against the possible sustainable metabolic rates in humans."

"We max out toward the end of pregnancy," Dunsworth told the BBC. "Those last weeks and months of pregnancy are tiring." We are starting our race feeling as depleted as runners feel when theirs is over.

To energize for labor, "moms should remain hydrated, and ensure that they are getting enough iron and protein", says Diana Spalding, a midwife, pediatric nurse and Motherly's Digital Education Editor.

And when runners get hurt, they get help. Moms often don't.

A 2015 study out of the University of Michigan found that 25% of postpartum mothers have "fluid in the pubic bone marrow or sustained fractures similar to a sports-related stress fracture." Two-thirds of the women had injuries similar to a severe muscle strain. The research suggests up to 15% of moms sustain pelvic injuries that don't heal, and we're just walking around with them.

According to Janis Miller, the lead author on the study, when an athlete gets one of the these injuries, they end up in an MRI machine getting checked out. When a postpartum mom has the same issue, it's downplayed and often undiagnosed. This leaves women confused and concerned about symptoms, and unchecked physical problems can put a strain on maternal mental health.

"We have this thing where we tell women, 'Well, you're six weeks postpartum and now we don't need to see you—you'll be fine.' But not all women feel fine after six weeks nor are [they] ready to go back to work, and they aren't crazy," Miller said in a media release.

As Miller recently told the BBC, mothers often don't even know when they've torn a muscle like the levator ani. A tear in that muscle can cause pelvic floor problems and even prolapse, and it's the kind of thing kegels aren't going to fix, but many moms are told that with kegels and time they'll feel better, when the injury is more serious than that.

"In the extreme, we're asking for some women to strengthen a muscle they might not even have anymore," Miller told the BBC. "What is often observed as weakness is actually torn muscle."

The science shows that childbirth can be as hard on the body as running a marathon, and can even result in similar injuries. But even when injuries are not a factor, anecdotal evidence suggests giving birth is harder than running a marathon.

Just ask Amber Miller, who once ran a six-hour marathon and then gave birth all on the same day. "Giving birth is definitely harder than running a marathon," Miller told The Guardian. "Give me a marathon any day."

[A version of this post was originally published on February 5, 2019. It has been updated.]

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News

It's Father's Day and dads around the world are getting some love from their loved ones, and we are loving all the adorable posts on Instagram today.

Celebrity dads are getting (and dishing out) a lot of love today, and these 10 Instagram posts, in particular, are melting our hearts.


James Van Der Beek 

James Van Der Beek will always be Dawson to many millennial mamas, but to his five kids he's just "Daddy." His wife Kimberly posted the cutest pic of James with their kiddos, Olivia, Emilia, Annabel Leah, Joshua and baby Gwendolyn.

James posted the same photo to his own account, with a caption that may make you cry.

He wrote: "For me, being a father means having that quiet little voice inside of you that says 'Be a better man,' get louder and more consistent... to the point where you can't really remember where that voice ends and where you begin. It means being tired beyond what is probably healthy, and patient beyond what you previously thought possible. And even though you know you're far from perfect... being a father also comes with an unshakable awareness that all your actions have consequences - context that reaches far beyond your own self-interest. It's scary to feel that interconnected with the rest of the world - especially with your heart now walking around outside your body - because it demands more personal responsibility... but it will make you a better man. Of at least that I'm sure. #HappyFathersDay to all the imperfect dads out there, trying their best and learning on the job.👊#fatherhood"

That post gives us more feels than any episode of Dawson's Creek ever did.


Today, our Istagram and Facebook feeds are filled with evidence that today's dads are doing more than any other generation of fathers. Congrats guys, you really deserve a Happy Father's Day!

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The bond between sisters is special, but Jill Noe and Whitney Bliesner have a unique bond that goes beyond just being siblings. As twins, Jill and Whitney shared a lot throughout their lives, and when Jill became Whitney's surrogate they even shared a pregnancy.

As first reported by Today, Whitney has a rare disease called NF2 (Neurofibromatosis type 2). Because of NF2 she lost the vision in her left eye and hearing in her right ear, along with partial hearing loss in her left ear. The condition makes pregnancy risky, and the disease is hereditary.

Whitney and her husband, Pete, wanted to start a family, but adoption and surrogacy fees seemed to be putting parenthood out of their reach. Until Jill stepped in as their surrogate.

"We have always had a strong connection, I do think this experience made our connection stronger, for sure," Whitney tells Motherly, adding that she's sure that when Jill eventuallu has kids of her own the sisters will likely bond over motherhood, too.

Through IVF, Jill carried donor eggs fertilized with Pete's sperm to make her twin sister's family, and on June 7 Jill delivered Whitney and Pete's son and daughter, little Rhett and Rhenley.

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"Going through this with Jill was so easy," Whitney tells Motherly. "We both had no idea what was going to happen or how we would deal with stuff during this journey. We had our ups and downs, but I think that's life, and in any situation you would experience that. But with my sister, there was a sense of everything was going to be ok, like always. We always get over our annoyance and disagreements with each other very fast with no hard feelings. It was just a great experience to have with my best friend, my twin sister."

Rhett and Rhenley are keeping Whitney super busy these days (with twins, someone is always hungry!) but she's making time to share her story because she wants other people who can't physically be pregnant to not give up on their dream of being a mom.

"It's not about blood or biologically carrying a kid that makes you a mom, it's the unconditional love, care, and security you give a child that makes you a mom," she explains.

Whitney continues: "Even though you aren't carrying or blood-related, you still have those feelings of babies being yours!"

Whitney calls Jill her best friend and Jill says the feeling is mutual, telling Today that she knows Whitney would have done the same for her if the roles where reversed.

"She's always wanted to be a mom and her disease has already taken so much from her. I wasn't going to allow (NF2) to take this opportunity from her, too," Jill said. "It just felt like the right thing to do. Our family is so strong and so supportive of one another, especially since Whit's diagnosis in 8th grade."

Thanks to Jill, Whitney is now living her dream, taking care of her two adorable babies.

Jill is an amazing sister, and Whitney is already an amazing mom.

[A version of this post was originally published June 14, 2019. It has been updated.]

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