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It's been a little over two months since I lost my mom to cancer. When I say the words “I lost my mom" out loud, they don't seem right, because a lost sock can be found again. This isn't just a missing sock. This is a huge hole in my gut, which will never, ever go away.

Losing a parent means you've joined a club with people who understand that just walking out the front door with your shoes on and your hair washed can be a challenge. It means that grocery shopping and picking up brussels sprouts, and remembering how much your mom loved to eat them once she realized she could cook them in the oven rather than boiling them, and they actually tasted good, makes your eyes start to burn.

It's wanting to go for a run to create endorphins to stop the screaming of, “Your mom died!" that keeps running in your head over and over, but you can't because you also want to curl up in a ball and cry while watching “Gilmore Girls" on Netflix because it was “your thing" growing up with her.

There are a million things that change and take on new meanings and shapes. There are a million words that suddenly don't seem so nice anymore. There are a million faces that don't bring comfort like they used to.

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I know time will help. This isn't my first loss, but it is the hardest.

So here are a few things that happen when your mom dies, in case you wanted to know where my head has been lately, or if you're trying to figure out why your friend who lost her own mom smells like a garbage can half the time, or cries at a simple Pampers commercial.

You cry a lot, and at random times. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've seen a cute commercial and started sobbing hysterically. Maybe the character's mom was cheering them on at a soccer game, or maybe she was just giving them a hug. Literally anything that shows another mom in it will have you crying.

Don't even get me started on walking around in public and seeing another mom with their child. I'm planning a wedding right now and almost started weeping when I was at a wedding show and they asked for mother/daughter duos to come on stage and win a prize. Sure, it wasn't meant to hurt me, but it burned.

You may get closer to your dad. This isn't really a negative. When you lose your mom, you suddenly realize that you need your dad's support and strength more than ever. While he's grieving as well, there's something special about sharing this together and being able to reminisce as a pair. You realize that you start telling your dad about your day in the same way you used to tell your mom, in hopes that maybe things will feel normal. It doesn't, but it does help a little to know that someone still has your back, and you're not going into every situation alone.

Life seems like you're permanently wearing sunglasses, never the same brightness it was before. I don't know how to explain this to someone who hasn't lost a parent. Just trust me, nothing will have the same brightness after you lose your mom. Those cute shoes at the store you were eyeing suddenly just seem like a stupid idea. That new casserole you wanted to make? Its ingredients are still at the back of the pantry collecting dust. You'll get back in the routine someday, but it won't be today.

You've joined a club with supportive people—one you never wanted to be in. No one ever wants to join the “I lost a parent" club. Fortunately when you do, you'll find that these are the people you needed in your life and they came at the perfect time. These are the people who will set their cell phone to a different ringer for you so they absolutely won't miss your call at 2am. These are the people who let you cuss like a sailor every other word because life is just not fair anymore. These are the people who will let you still be upset a month, a year, even 10 years from now. That brings me to my next point…

People seem to expect you to be okay after about a week or two. If they aren't a part of the “I lost a parent" club, people expect you to be okay pretty fast. Once the shock of the funeral (if you had one—we didn't) wears off, people will slowly start to forget about your pain and expect you to be normal again. It's okay to avoid people for a little while. It's okay to still be grieving. Remind those you love how hard this is. Sometimes people are so focused on themselves, they forget how to be a real friend.

You can never fully grieve because something new hits you every day. When my mom passed away, I was on my second day of a three-week trip overseas. I had to push my grieving back because I wasn't home and I had school and places to see. There was no funeral, so no reason to go home. My mom had wanted it this way.

I tried to push through and be okay, I really did. But grief would slip out of me and I would find myself hysterically crying in the middle of a street in Dublin. When I got home, I still felt like I should be okay, at least for my son and my dad. I didn't want them to think I was falling apart. So I held a lot of my sadness inside. It's hard to fully grieve, especially when you're a parent. When I'm trying to remember what ingredients my mom used in her special lasagna, I find myself grieving all over again. It never really stops, you just learn to accept it.

Your child's curious words will make your heart hurt. My son is four so death is not something he's used to. Trying to explain to a four-year-old the idea of someone being gone is pretty impossible. We tried the “Mom-Mom is in heaven and she's an angel and always looking down on you" stuff. And for the most part it works, but then there are the days where he's reminding me, “Mommy, you don't have a mom anymore," where my heart breaks all over again. He doesn't know it's mean, he just says it like a statement. Because it's true, I don't. But man do those words hurt.

You'll experience a whole new kind of pain when you start to see how much it's affected your children. On the flip side to him being curious, he's also very sad. When my mom began receiving Hospice care, my son regressed and started wetting the bed at night again. We've tried everything to make him stop.

When I'm tucking him in and his tiny voice says things like, “I miss Mom-Mom," or, “Why does Mom-Mom have to die?" my heart aches. He constantly brings her up and while he might not always sound sad, I can tell that this is harder on him than he lets on. I just wish I could hold all his broken pieces together so he doesn't have to experience this kind of pain.

You may try to scour their phone, Facebook account, Netflix account, etc. searching for one last message, and it'll likely drive you bonkers. My mom and I shared a Netflix account which I now feel so thankful for. It's weird, but all I want to do is know my mom better. I searched through her phone looking for advice. I check Netflix to see what shows she was obsessed with. I went on her Facebook account looking for answers to questions I didn't even know I had.

I try to find notebooks with her handwriting, hoping maybe she left a note for me somewhere. It will frustrate you to do this, but you can't help it. You just need one more piece of her, however tiny it is.

You'll be jealous of everyone else who still has a mom. (Especially when they take her for granted.) From this point forward, you shall never complain about your parent in front of me again. Because darling, you have no idea how lucky you are and how much I want to be in your shoes. Cherish them. Love them. Be thankful you have one more day with them.

Hug your babies tight. Tell your mom you love her. Seek her advice and wisdom. Don't take these moments for granted. You only have one mom, and when she's gone you'll wish you'd never said an ugly word to her your whole life.

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I honestly can't remember how I used to organize and share baby photos before I started using FamilyAlbum. (What am I saying? I could never keep all those pictures organized!) Like most mamas, I often found myself with a smartphone full of photos and videos I didn't know what to do with. My husband and I live states away from our respective families, and we worried about the safety of posting our children's photos on other platforms.

Then we found FamilyAlbum.

FamilyAlbum is the only family-first photo sharing app that safely files photos and videos by date taken in easy-to-navigate digital albums. From documenting a pregnancy to capturing the magical moments of childhood, the app makes sharing memories with your family simple and safe. And it provides free, unlimited storage—meaning you can snap and snap and snap to your heart's delight without ever being forced to choose which close-up of your newborn's tiny little nose you want to keep.

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And, truly, the app is a much-needed solution for mamas with out-of-state family. Parents can share all their favorite memories with friends and relatives safely within the app without worrying about spamming acquaintances with every adorable baby yawn the way you might on a social network or a long text thread. (Did I mention I have a thing for baby yawn videos? I regret nothing 😍) It's safe because your album is only visible to the people you share it with. The app will even notify album members when new photos have been posted so they can comment on their favorite moments and we can preserve their reactions forever. It's also easy for my husband and I to share our photos and videos. All of our memories are organized in one place, and we never have to miss out on seeing each other's best shots.

And because #mombrain is real, I especially appreciate how much work FamilyAlbum takes off my plate. From automatically organizing photos and videos by month and labeling them by age (so I can skip doing the math in my head to figure out if my daughter was five or six months when she started sitting up) to remembering what I upload and preventing me from uploading the same photo four times, the app makes it easy to keep all my memories tidy—even when life feels anything but.

FamilyAlbum will quickly become your family's solution for sharing moments, like when you're sending a video to the grandma across the country. Grandparents need only tap open the app to get a peek into what is going on with our girls every day. When my sister sends her nieces a present, the app has become where I can share photos and video of the girls opening their gifts so she never feels like she's missing a thing. The app will even automatically create paper photo books of your favorite shots that you can purchase every month so you can hold on to the memories forever (or to share with the great-grandma who has trouble with her smartphone 😉). Plus, you can update the books with favorite photos or create your own from scratch. No matter what, the app keeps your photos and videos safe, even if your phone is lost or damaged.

But what I love most about FamilyAlbum is that it's family-first. Unlike other photo sharing platforms, it was designed with mamas (and their relatives!) in mind, creating a safe, simple space to share our favorite moments with our favorite people. And that not only helps us keep in touch—it helps us all feel a little bit closer.

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This year marks FamilyAlbum's 4th anniversary! Click here to celebrate and learn more about their "Share your #FamilyAlbumTime" special promotion running until March 31, 2019.

No pregnancy and birth are exactly the same. Each of us has a unique story, and so do our babies. As Hilary Duff proves, a mother's second birth story isn't a just a rerun of her first.

Motherhood changes people, and for Duff welcoming her second child, daughter Banks, at age 31 was a very different experience than birthing her son, Luka, when she was 24.

Luka was born in a hospital, while Banks was born at home, and Duff recently shared a video of that amazing day on Instagram.

Sharing this video clip isn't the first time Duff has opened up about her home birth. In a two-part interview for the Informed Pregnancy podcast released last fall, Duff admitted that at some points in her home birth she was scared and asked herself why she wasn't in a hospital "with all the drugs," but she says she's so glad she did it this way and would totally do it again.

During her first pregnancy, Duff says she started out wanting an elective C-section (although she did not end up having surgery). She was 23 when she and ex-husband Mike Comrie found out they were expecting, and she didn't have a lot of peers who were having kids. She was really scared.

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More than five years later, during her pregnancy with Banks, Duff was way more confident as a woman and a mom. She watched Ricki Lake's 2008 documentary "The Business of Being Born" and started considering a different kind of birth plan the second time around.

"I'm older now. I love motherhood more than anything—I never thought I would be this way, I never thought I could be so happy and so fulfilled. It's not easy, because being a parent is not easy, but it's just a joy. And I thought to myself that I want to like fully get the full experience of what it is like to bring a baby into the world," Duff tells the host of Informed Pregnancy, prenatal chiropractor, childbirth educator and labor doula Dr. Elliot Berlin.

Having support from Matt, Haylie and her mom

When Duff brought the idea up with her partner, Matthew Koma, he "was amazing," she explains. He had some questions, but was down to support Duff in her birthing choices.

Duff says she thinks her mom Susan and sister Haylie were "nervous to think about not being in a hospital" at first, but once Duff explained things a bit and got to talk to them about her doula and midwives, Haylie got really pumped about the idea.

"She was so supportive and amazing. I think my mom was a little more worried but she got behind me," Duff recalls, adding that because her mom had C-sections herself, even seeing Duff deliver Luka vaginally in a hospital was a bit of a different experience for her, so being there for the home birth was taking things to an unfamiliar level.

"The first time she saw me having a contraction in the house she was cooking bacon for Luka," Duff explains, adding that she had to pause the conversation she was having and squat down during the contraction.

With the family around and the TV on, Duff's labor progressed a little slower than she'd imagined.

"When I pictured my birth I didn't picture watching Guardians of the Galaxy on TV. Luka was like explaining the characters to me," she explains.

The birth

Duff says when she was moved to the birthing tub, her brain really let her body take over. After the birth she estimated she was in the tub for about 30 minutes, but Koma told her it was really more like 90. "My brain disconnected," she says. "I remember telling myself that I don't need to be here for all of this."

At one point, she looked at one of her midwives and said, 'I'm really scared right now." Exhausted and unable to hold her body up as she channeled all her energy into pushing, Duff let her team hold her legs and arms while she pushed.

When Banks' head emerged, it didn't feel quite like the birth videos Duff has seen.

"Honestly, when I got her head out I was shocked by the feelings," she told Dr. Berlin. "I've seen women reach down and pull their baby out, and I couldn't do that…I was like, okay I'm there, I'm there, I've got to finish this job, but it was like really intense. It wasn't pleasant at that point. I think I wasn't fully in my headspace, my body was doing what it needed to do. It wasn't until her body came out that I could like want to grab onto her and bring her up out of the water."

Baby Banks needed some breaths from a midwife when she was first pulled from the water, but because her son Luka was also born looking a little blue, Duff says she wasn't freaked out. Once she figured out how to breathe, little Banks did "the most amazing thing," her mama recalls.

"They hand her to me, and I'm looking at her—and you know, babies are like floppy little worms, they just don't have any control—and she reaches up both of her arms right at my neck as to give me a hug. It was so clearly a hug."

Duff says the hug made her feel like baby Banks was saying something: "Like, good [teamwork] mom, we did it."

To hear the whole interview, check out the Informed Pregnancy podcast.

[This article was originally published November 14, 2018. It has been updated.]

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Several years ago, when I was a high school teacher and not a mom, my ninth grade students took a values assessment in class. The point was to determine what motivated them in life: money, family, success, a moral compass, education, relationships, religion, care for the environment, etc. I thought, what the heck, I'll take it, too.

When I got the results, I was shocked.

My number one value was beauty. Not family or morality, not relationships or religion. Beauty. I had never felt so shallow in my entire life. The description said something to the effect of: "You need to be in a place that is aesthetically pleasing to feel at peace," and went onto say that I would value the arts more than others and prioritize making a space beautiful.

And the truth is: It was absolutely 100% accurate.

Before I became a mom, I spent a lot of time beautifying our space. I would tidy up a pile of books, vacuum streaks into the carpet several days a week. I couldn't stand the sight of piles of dishes on the counter, nor a pile of clothes on the floor. I would change decor seasonally. I would cut fresh flowers and put them around the house, light candles, dim lights, put on quiet music when company came. It wasn't completely because I was trying to impress—it was because I liked it that way.

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And then came kids.

Every pile of books I've tidied has been pulled onto the floor. The vacuum chokes down crumbs and bits of paper maybe once a week. For three years straight, I've had a breakdown on Christmas-decorating day. We pick fresh flowers together, but I somehow always forget to notice when their vibrant petals turn to spindly black stalks. Now, when company comes, my children greet them with big grins in dirty clothes, and I yell from my kitchen, complete with stacks of unclean dishes, "Sorry, my house is a wreck!"

I had to choose, as we all have to: Do I prioritize housekeeping or parenting?

I remember trying to lay my son down as a newborn. I expected him to sleep peacefully in his woodland-themed room, the room I had put together with great care. But moments after I would fill the sink with sudsy water, I'd hear him cry. I'd run upstairs and pick him up, soothe him to sleep, and lay him back down, only to have it happen again. I felt anxious.What about the dishes? What about the 100 other things on my to-do list?

But when I looked down at that little face, and I saw the most beautiful thing I'd yet to encounter. My values system didn't entirely shift, but my perception did.

This morning, as I sit in the warm morning glow, my baby girl is asleep on my chest. I can see the sunlight dancing across the floor, illuminating the dust and crumbs. From my vantage point, I see little lopsided piles of laundry on my dining room table that is still doubling as a fort for my toddler. And beyond the dining room is the kitchen, and in that kitchen is a sink filled with unclean dishes. The dishes will always be there.

But my baby, with rose-petal lips and a perfect fan of lashes, with skin as flawless as a cloudless sky, she won't be this small ever again.

My house is a mess, but it's a beautiful mess andI wouldn't have it any other way.

Originally posted on With Quiet Hands.

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My dear daughters,
Tomorrow I go back to work, and it's going to be really hard. All I can do is hope that it's harder for me than it is for you. Twelve weeks have come and gone faster than I could've imagined. I thought that going back to work after my second child would be easier, but I actually think it might be harder.

Baby Girl #2, not only have I enjoyed your newborn snuggles every day but Baby Girl #1, I've had special time with you that I'd been missing so much. Because this is my second child, I realize even more how quickly this time goes by—and that I'll never get back these sweet moments.

Tomorrow I go back to work, and I keep thinking about all of the things that people say to me to try to make it better.

People say you'll look up to me and learn to value hard work.

People say it'll be nice to have time away and that it will make our time together more special.

People say that most moms need to work nowadays.

People say you won't remember this and that you'll be fine while I'm away.

Maybe those things are true, but it doesn't make it any easier. Of course, I want you to look up to me and to see the passion and love I have for my job, but I hope you never feel like I'm choosing my job over you.

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As a high school assistant principal, I have 600 other "kids" that I get to take care of, and I love that, but I worry about what I'll lose, what I'll miss out on while I'm away from you. Could your dad I and I make it work on one income? Maybe. But that would come at costs, too.

Tomorrow I go back to work, and I realize I'm luckier than most.

I'm lucky that because of his shift you'll get to spend a few days during the week with your dad and get to have special time with him. I'm lucky that he's such a wonderful father and partner who is supportive of my career.

I'm lucky to have a daycare provider that I trust. I'm lucky to have family members who help out whenever needed.

I'm lucky that I love my job and work at a school where you're not only allowed to come in but where my boss and co-workers love you, too and understand that family comes first.

You are both blessed to have so many people who care about you, so I know that when I can't be with you, you are well taken care of, but I still wish it could be me.

Tomorrow I go back to work, and there are a few things I want to promise you.

I want to promise you that for the time we do get to spend together, you will have my attention. I will do my best to turn work off, put my phone down and focus on you two. We will find fun things to do or we will just relax in our jammies and watch movies. But whatever we decide to do during our time together, I will do my best to be present. You both deserve that.

Tomorrow I go back to work, and I keep hoping that by the time you have children, if you choose, that our country realizes that 12 weeks just isn't enough.

I'm sorry that I can't have more time with you, but please know that in our time apart, I'm loving you still. Please know that I'm working hard to provide for you. Please know that when I come home, I will take off all of my other hats and just be Mama because no matter what, that will always be my number one job.

Love,
Mama

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We hear a lot about the wage gap between men and women in the workplace, but the wage gap between mothers and fathers is even wider. Women make just over 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, but if we look at the paychecks of parents only, the gulf widens.

According to the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) analysis of U.S, Census data, mothers only make about 71 cents to a dad's dollar, resulting in a loss of $16,000 in earnings annually.

This, despite the fact that millennial women are getting college degrees at higher rates than men, proving that we can't educate ourselves out of the motherhood penalty.

"Families depend on women's incomes, yet mothers, regardless of their education level, their age, where they live, or their occupation, are paid less than fathers. When mothers are shortchanged, children suffer and poverty rises. Families are counting on us to close the maternal wage gap," says Emily Martin, NWLC General Counsel and Vice President for Education and Workplace Justice.

Why the motherhood penalty (and fatherhood bonus) exist

The gap in the pay between mothers and fathers is due to how parents are perceived in our culture. A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Sociology found working mothers are penalized in the form of "lower perceived competence and commitment, higher professional expectations, lower likelihood of hiring and promotion, and lower recommended salaries."

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And as CNBC reports, a more recent study by childcare provider Bright Horizons found that 41% of American workers perceive working moms as being less devoted to their careers.

But becoming a dad doesn't put dads at a disadvantage, or make them appear less committed. It actually often results in a so-called "fatherhood bonus." A recent study published in the journal Work, Employment and Society, found having kids often results in men earning more, even when they aren't particularly hard workers.

According to the study's lead author, Sylvia Fuller, this suggests that our preconceived cultural ideas about fatherhood are impacting employers thinking and parents' paychecks. "They think dads are working hard, they have positive stereotypes about them, or maybe they just think, you know, dads deserve more because they're thinking of their family responsibilities," Fuller told Global News.

Moms are still the default parent

While parenthood dulls a woman's CV, it gives fathers' a shine because mothers are still seen as the default parent in our culture. Not only do men make more after becoming dads, but researchers have also found that men's leisure time increased after parenthood, while mothers see their workload at home increase. And because the wider society knows that women carry heavier loads at home and spend more work more hours doing unpaid labor, employers see us as distracted by our other responsibilities.

Basically, employers see fathers as people who have big-picture responsibilities to their families and a lot of support in raising their kids. They see moms as the managers of the small stuff and know that many of us don't have a lot of support in managing that load.

Closing the gap by changing the way we view fathers

We can't close this gap by only changing the way employers think about mothers. We also have to change the way our society thinks about dads. Today's dads want to be more involved in their children's lives and have pretty egalitarian beliefs about dividing household responsibilities between partners, but many find they can't live up to those beliefs. Most fathers in America can't take paternity leave and those that have the option of doing so only take about a third of what is available for fear of being seen as uncommitted.

"Fathers repeatedly tell researchers they want to be more involved parents, yet public policy and social institutions often prevent them from being the dads they want to be – hurting moms, dads and children alike," writes Kevin Shafer, an associate professor of sociology at Brigham Young University.

An investment needs to be made

That extra $16,000 that mothers are missing isn't going to come without investment from society. The United States is the only member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) without paid parental leave and also spends less on early childhood education than most other developed countries.

Investing in paid family leave and affordable, quality childcare would level the playing field for mothers, but that's just the first part of change that needs to happen. We need employers and lawmakers to implement parental leave policies, but we also need our peers to embrace and encourage their use for all parents.

When fathers are expected and respected as caregivers, mothers are no longer seen as the default parent at home or at work. When the parenting responsibilities equalize, so will the paychecks.

Pay inequality happens all over the world, but the country that has come the closest to closing the gap, Iceland, the majority of fathers take parental leave. That isn't a coincidence, it's a recipe for change.

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