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In the absence of ‘the village,’ mothers struggle most

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Dear mothers,

I'm writing you today because I can no longer contain the ache in my gut and fire in my heart over an injustice that you and I are bearing the brunt of.

Though this injustice is affecting everyone, mothers not only feel its burden more than most, but we also feel disproportionately responsible for alleviating its pervasive and deeply damaging symptoms, which is adding hugely to the weight of the world we're already wired to carry.

The injustice is this:

It takes a village, but there are no villages.

By village I don't simply mean "a group of houses and associated buildings, larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town, situated in a rural area." I'm referring to the way of life inherent to relatively small, relatively contained multigenerational communities. Communities within which individuals know one another well, share the joys, burdens, and sorrows of everyday life, nurture one another in times of need, mind the well-being of each other's ever-roaming children and increasingly dependent elderly, and feel fed by their clearly essential contribution to the group that securely holds them.

I'm talking about the most natural environment for children to grow up in.

I'm talking about a way of life we are biologically wired for, but that is nearly impossible to find in developed nations.

I'm talking about the primary unmet need driving the frustration that most every village-less mother is feeling. Though the proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" has become cliché, the impact of our village-less realities is anything but insignificant. It's wreaking havoc on our quality of life in countless ways.

In the absence of the village…

—Enormous pressure is put on parents as we try to make up for what entire communities used to provide.

—Our priorities become distorted and unclear as we attempt to meet so many conflicting needs at once.

—We feel less safe and more anxious without the known boundaries, expectations and support of a well-known group of people with whom to grow.

—We're forced to create our tribes during seasons of our life when we have the least time and energy to do so.

—We tend to hold tight to our ideals and parenting paradigms, even when doing so divides us, in an attempt to feel safer and less overwhelmed by so many ways and options.

—Our children's natural way of being is compromised, as most neighborhoods and communities no longer contain packs of roaming children with whom they can explore, create and nurture their curiosity.

—We run around like crazy trying to make up for the interaction, stimulation and learning opportunities that were once within walking distance.

—We forget what "normal" looks and feels like, which leaves us feeling as if we're not doing enough, or enough of the "right" things.

—Depression and anxiety skyrocket, particularly during seasons of our lives when we instinctively know we need more support than ever but don't have the energy to find it.

—We feel disempowered by the many responsibilities and pressures we're trying so hard to keep up with.

—We spend money we don't have on things we don't need in an attempt to fill the voids we feel.

—We rely heavily on social media for a sense of connection, which often leads us to feel even more isolated and inadequate.

—We feel lonely and unseen, even when we're surrounded by people.

—Our partnerships are heavily burdened by the needs that used to be spread among communities, and our expectations of loved ones increase to unrealistic levels.

—We feel frequently judged and misunderstood.

—We feel guilty for just about everything: not wanting or having time to be our children's primary playmates, not working enough, working too much, allowing too much screen time in order to keep up with our million perceived responsibilities, etc.

—Joy, lightness and fun feel hard to access.

—We think we're supposed to be independent, and feel ashamed of our need for others.

—We make decisions that don't reflect our values but our deeply unmet needs.

Perhaps most tragically of all, the absence of the village is distorting many mothers' sense of self. It's causing us to feel that our inadequacies are to blame for our struggles, which further perpetuates the feeling that we must do even more to make up for them.

It's a trap. A self-perpetuating cycle. A distorted reality that derives its strength from the oppressive mindsets still in place despite our freedoms.

Here's a new mindset to try on for size.

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.

No, we're not oppressed in the same ways that we used to be (nor in the ways other women around the world still are), but make no mistake about it:

In the absence of the village, we're disadvantaged like never before. We may have more freedoms than our foremothers, but our burden remains disproportionately, oppressively heavy.

Since the beginning of time (and until very recently), mothers have borne life's burdens together. We scrubbed our clothes in the streams while laughing at splashing toddlers and mourning the latest loss of love or life. We wove, sewed, picked, tidied or mended while swapping stories and minding our aging grandmothers. We tended one another's wounds (both physical and emotional), relied on one another for strength when times were tough, and sought counsel from our community's wise, experienced and cherished elders.

Village life fostered a sense of safety, inclusivity, purpose, acceptance and importance. These essential elements of thriving were built in.

Now? We're being forced to create all of that for ourselves within a society that has physically and energetically restructured itself around a whole new set of priorities. It's a profits before people model that threatens the well-being of nearly everything we mothers are wired to protect.

Though I'm optimistic and hopeful by nature, this dilemma has left me discouraged many times over the years. How does an entire nation of mothers shift a storyline this massive while individually and collectively weakened by the absence of the very thing we so desperately need?

Major cultural shifts in prioritization, structure and power are clearly in order (and I do believe they're happening, however chaotically). In the meantime, each of us has a choice to make:

We can buy into, make peace with, and conform to the way things are, or exercise the freedoms our foremothers and fathers won for us and commit to doing our unique and essential part in creating change, starting within us and working our way out.

You and I aren't likely to experience what it's like to raise children in an actual village, but that's okay. That's not what this generation is about. This generation is about waking up to who we really are and what we really want, and resetting society's sails accordingly.

Playing your part in the re-villaging of our culture starts with being wholly, unapologetically, courageously YOU.

Here are a few tangible steps you can take whenever you're ready:

1. Get really clear on one thing.

The fact that you're struggling is not a reflection of your inadequacies, but the unnatural cultural circumstances you're living within.

2. Own + honor your needs.

Most mothers are walking around with several deeply unmet needs of their own while focusing almost exclusively on the needs of others. This is precisely the thing that keeps us from gaining traction and improving our circumstances, both individually and collectively.

3. Practice vulnerability.

Rich, safe, authentic connection is essential for thriving. Cultivating this quality of connection takes courage and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. What you want most exists on the other side of that initial awkward conversation or embarrassing introduction.

4. Own your strengths.

What makes you feel strong and fully alive? What lights you up and gives you energy just thinking about it? Who would you be to your village if you had one? Tapping into your strengths and engaging them is one of the greatest ways to attract the kinds of people you want into your life, bless and inspire others, and build a sense of community in ways that fill rather than drain you.

5. Become an integral part of something.

Whether it's a knitting group, dance troupe, church, kayaking club or homeschool collective, commit to growing community around one area of your life that enlivens you or fills a need. Use the connections you cultivate within this community to practice showing up bravely and authentically and asking for what you need, whether that's support, resources or encouragement.

6. Do your part + ONLY your part.

Though it's tempting to fill our lives to the brim with commitments that make a difference, doing so only further disempowers us. Read Essentialism by Greg McKeown if you struggle with this one.

7. Learn self-love + self-compassion.

In a culture of "never enough" it is essential that we forge healthy relationships with ourselves in order to be able to fend off the many messages hitting us about who we're meant to be and what makes us worthy of happiness and love. In fact, I see self-love in action as the greatest gift our generation of mothers could possibly give to the mothers of tomorrow.

8. Speak your truth.

Even when you're terrified. Even if it makes you the bravest one in the room.

9. Imagine a new way.

Where we're headed looks nothing like where we've come from. Creating the kind of future we want requires envisioning that future and believing a new way to be possible. Get specific and think big. What do you want?

I've tasted village life.

—During college, when my tribe of idealists and dreamers were all within walking distance, and we'd yet to subscribe to "adult" social rules that told us what what was most important.

—When my young adult cousins lived with us for several months at a time. I've never enjoyed motherhood more than those days when I knew that the needs of the children, home and its individuals were joyfully shared among eager, loving souls.

—On retreat with other women, when each of us was reminded how very similar our struggles were and how very desperate we all feel for consistent support, everyday interaction, healing, lightness and ease.

—At outdoor festivals, when the village is re-created, if only for a weekend of camping, and everyone settles into a communal way, cooperative rhythm and lighter state of being.

—During the time I spent with Mayan mothers in impoverished rural Mexico. There I witnessed the blessings made possible by the presence of a tribe, however disadvantaged.

My soul was fed deeply during those time periods. Every time I get a taste of what we're missing, I become strengthened and hopeful again. THAT is the energy needed to create change. THAT is what the powers that be don't want us to feel.

I have no idea what the future holds, but I do know this:

We're supposed to be crying, celebrating, falling down and rising together.

We're supposed to have grandmothers and aunts and neighbors and cousins sharing the everyday moments, guiding us and helping us see the sacredness in the insanity.

We're supposed to be nurtured for months postpartum, cared for when we're sick, held while we mourn, and supported during challenging transitions.

And our children are supposed to cradled and allowed to grow within the social structures WE deem best for them.

Find yourself, then find your people. Or do it the other way around. Just don't settle. Don't ever settle for a way of life created by those who don't honor your soul and cherish your babies.

Change-making right alongside you,

Beth

A version of this article was originally published on Revolution from Home.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


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


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Learn + Play

Mother's Day is almost here, and whether you're shopping for a favorite mama in your life, dropping some hints to your partner, or planning on treating yourself (you deserve it, mama!), we've got just the right gift to help you enjoy your special day this year.

From family portraits to flowers, we've rounded up 16 of our favorite Mother's Day gifts that are sure to put a smile on any mama's face. Happy shopping!

1. Custom family portrait, Etsy, $74.99 and up

Cue the tears—we could not be swooning more over these heartwarming custom family portraits. We love the artist's attention to detail + simple, modern aesthetic, and we think any mama would be overjoyed to show off her family with one of these handmade portraits.

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2. This is Motherhood: A Motherly Collection of Reflections + Practices, Amazon, $16.34

This is motherhood

This collection was written by—and for—mamas. You'll find reflections on each phase of "the wild ride of motherhood," including the soaring highs of meeting your new baby, the ground-shaking lows that make you doubt everything you've ever known, and all the beauty and pain in between. Each chapter closes with practices from Motherly's team of wellness experts to help you define, clarify, process, and celebrate your journey.

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3. Mama necklace, Tiny Tags, $105.00

mother's day gift ideas

There's no sweeter name than 'mama.' This handwritten pendant is a sweet, beautiful way to tell mom just how much she's loved.

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4. Classic tote, Cuyana, $175.00

mothers day gift ideas

This tote is truly a timeless classic. Made from genuine Italian pebbled leather, it's simple + sophisticated in all the right ways and will last mama for years to come.

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5. Breakfast in bed set, Target, $24.99

mother's day gift ideas

Breakfast in bed paired with the incredible style of Joanna Gaines? Let's make every day Mother's Day, okay?

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6. Tassel earrings, Baublebar at Nordstrom, $38.00

mothers day gift ideas

These tassel earrings are a fun addition to any look, and just right for mama's night out (or any night out, really!).

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7. Heart bowl, The Little Market, $10 and up

mothers day gift ideas heart bowls

These hand-carved bowls are perfect for anything from serving snacks to storing jewelry—and each purchase supports the Wood Carvers of Kenya artisans.

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8. Promptly Journal, Amazon, $34.99

promptly journal mothers day gift

These beautifully bound journals are a great gift for the mama who wants to chronicle all of life's important moments but doesn't think she has the time. Each journal is filled with short, easy prompts, making it easy to document all the little moments she'll never want to forget.

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9. Leather band vase, Mark & Graham, $29.00

mothers day gifts mark and graham

With a rustic twist on a classic, this vase is the perfect place to show off your Mother's Day flowers (hint, hint). Monogramming available.

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10. Fresh, ethically grown flowers, Farmgirl Flowers, prices vary

mothers day gifts flowers

She has the vase, so now she'll need the flowers to fill it! We not only love these natural, beautiful arrangements (they come wrapped in burlap, a detail we think is genius!) but we love that they're ethically sourced and grown, as well.

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11. Mama T-Shirt, The Bee and the Fox, $33.00

mothers day gifts t shirtsthe bee & the fox

This statement tee is a great way to remind mama just how awesome she is.

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12. Diaper Bag Upgrade, Mini Bae, $178.00

mini bae diaper bag mothers day gift

Upgrade mama's diaper bag with a chic backpack. This one has multiple pockets on the inside and outside and coverts to a crossbody.

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13. iRobot Braava Jet, Amazon, $169.99

We know what you're thinking—a mop for Mother's Day? BUT WAIT. It's a robot mop! (And a damp sweeper, and a dry sweeper.) It cleans all by itself! It gets rid of all those crusty ground-in kid stains while mom sits back and relaxes! YES!

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14. Photo display box, Artifact Uprising, $55.00

artifact uprising photo box mothers day

Every mama loves to show off photos of her family + her little ones—and this brass and wood display box makes it effortless and stylish. We love how it doubles as a storage box and a beautiful frame-like display.

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15. Limited edition apron, Rifle Paper Co x Bennett

mothers day apron

If you know a mama who loves to cook, this stunning (and sturdy) apron may become her new best friend. It's a limited edition collab with an LA based chef-quality apron maker and crafted from gorgeous Rifle Paper Co. fabric, and it's truly an heirloom piece. There's even a matching mini-me style!

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16. Ceramic styling brush, Amazon, $58.99

In styler styling brush mothers day gift

If there's one thing all mamas need more of, it's time—and this cult favorite ceramic styling brush provides just that. It instantly delivers shiny, straight and smooth styles with just one single pass, or the perfect blowout look.

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

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Shop

As a young adult, I lived in fear of pregnancy. In the small town where I'm from, enough girls became pregnant in high school that the saying “It's in the water" wasn't just a funny joke. Way before I became sexually active I knew having a baby young changed your life choices.

I wanted to go to college. I wanted to travel the world. I also believed I could have children later in life. My father had a friend who had a baby at 40. Her success left quite an impression on my 12-year-old self. If she could do it, so could I.

My infertility journey began after a miscarriage in my late 30s. I took the loss hard but thought becoming pregnant again would be easy. When getting pregnant didn't happen right away, I became obsessed. Each day that passed I became even more determined, yet alone.

It seemed that everyone around me was darting down the path of parenthood without a glitch. When someone I knew became pregnant, I would casually ask how long it took to conceive. The answer was always, “We got pregnant on our first try."

These conversations made me feel as if I was the only one deficient, old and barren. I remember interviewing for a promotion at work and not getting the job. The co-worker who got the promotion was pregnant. The heaviness of failure consumed me.

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One year after the miscarriage, I found myself in my doctor's office. She explained that the tests indicated a low ovarian reserve—a fancy way of saying that the number of eggs I had left had diminished. She went on to say that due to my advanced maternal age (a term for anyone over 35) the remaining eggs might be at a lower quality. Having a baby wasn't impossible, it was just highly unlikely. I was devastated.

The biggest toll of infertility is the silence

I couldn't talk about my infertility. My struggle was somehow my fault and confiding in others would be highlighting my imperfection. Instead, I attended baby showers, lived through Facebook birth announcements and baby pictures, and listened to mothers complain about their children. All of it seemed unfair and hurtful. Every new baby born was a personal attack against me. It wasn't logical.

I even stopped talking to a good friend of mine when she became pregnant. Staying connected seemed too hard. I couldn't even talk about my feelings of shame and frustration with my husband. He kept telling me to relax and be patient. His biological clock wasn't ticking as hard as mine. Our different perspectives only further highlighted how alone I was.

Infertility is not only silent, it's physically draining

Each month that passed, my obsession increased. I woke up early each morning and popped a basal thermometer in my mouth to check for ovulation. I rubbed progesterone on my wrists in the first half of my cycle to extend the luteal phase (giving the fertilized egg more time to plant itself in my uterus).

I went to acupuncture three times a week to increase the quality of my eggs. I popped an organic, raw-food multi-vitamin that gave me heartburn. I decided to complete 30 days straight of Bikram yoga to cleanse my reproductive system.

I stopped sleeping. Once I was up for 36 hours straight. I saw a psychologist and a doctor to get a prescription for Ambien. I bought a juicer and grew wheat grass. The smell eventually made me gag every time I drank the green goo. There wasn't anything I wasn't willing to do or try in order to increase my fertility. I was physically drained, yet I couldn't stop.

Infertility is also expensive

Most insurance policies don't cover infertility. Not even diagnostic tests to determine the problem are covered, let alone a more costly procedure such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Vitamins, supplements, and diagnostic tests add up fast.

Once I learned that my problem was a low ovarian reserve, I knew that IVF was the best choice. I researched clinics in the San Diego area where I lived, and the minimum amount was $15,000. The cost didn't even include medication, which could be anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000. On average the procedure is $20,000 to $30,000.

The worst part is that there's no guarantee. For someone with my problem and age, I had about a 20% success rate. Flip that around and that's an 80% chance of failure. Most people go through IVF multiple times before the procedure results in a live birth.

I read stories of women getting second mortgages on their houses or borrowing thousands of dollars and being unsuccessful multiple times. Eventually, they had to come to terms with living in debt, childless.

Infertility causes you to lose spirit

I had this sense that whatever I was doing didn't matter or wasn't worth my time. I would be out with friends and the moment seemed lifeless and bland. I was stuck and couldn't move forward. When I saw a mother with her child, tears would spring to my eyes.

I would think why couldn't I have a child? Why was something so easy for her, so hard for me? I began to lose my drive and my spirit, and I stopped making plans. The future looked bleak.

A good friend of mine told me about a friend who struggled with infertility. Her friend decided after many years of trying to live life childless. In this decision, she also promised herself that she would make it the best life possible; otherwise, the choice would be too hard. Her words stuck with me. Perhaps, the time had come to give up. I began the process of letting go of becoming a mother.

But something stopped me.

I stumbled across the book, Inconceivable: A Woman's Triumph Over Despair and Statistics by Julia Indichova. It was being discussed in an online forum for infertility. I devoured the book. The author, like me, was older, had Czech roots, and had a low ovarian reserve. Her personal account of her infertility journey inspired me to look past the science and into my emotional blockage.

I began to practice visualizations like she did. I discovered that despite all my best efforts to conceive, a deeper part of me believed that I would never have a child. I thought I didn't deserve a baby.

I learned to break through this certainty through visualizations. I imagined myself holding a child to my chest. I imagined one beautiful egg dropping down and being fertilized. I watched myself stand in a river with all my fears washing through me.

I then started to sense a shift. I was sleeping better. I began to make plans. I researched IVF treatments in Tijuana, Mexico. Three months later I underwent the procedure. I decided that if this didn't work, I would live my life childless. Not only childless but to the fullest.

I waited two weeks for the IVF results. When the call came, I had my husband answer because I couldn't bear to hear the news. I watched his face for any sign of whether or not my life would include a child. No sign.

Then, he smiled.

I was pregnant. I couldn't believe the results. Joy streamed through me. Nine months later I delivered a healthy baby boy.

Recently, a friend of mine struggling with infertility asked me for advice. My first thought was to say, “Relax, it will happen." Then I remembered how advice like this would have brought me little comfort on my infertility journey. Instead, I told her to be patient, be kind to herself, and to confide in trusted friends.

What I didn't say to her was that the scar of infertility, despite finally being a mother, is never quite forgotten. I look at those years as the dark years. The true cost of infertility can't be measured.

But after the darkness has passed, when you hold your baby in your arms, the struggle is worth the pain. Perhaps, that's what I should have said: The journey to your child is worth it. Don't give up.

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Life

We're not only at the beginning of a new year, but the start of a new life for those due in 2019. If you're expecting a baby this year you've got plenty of celebrity company, mama.

Here are some fellow parents-to-be expecting in 2019:

Jenna Bush Hager is pregnant with baby no. 3! 🎉

There's going to be a lot of new parent talk happening backstage at the Today show this year! A week ago Today co-host Hoda Kotb announced she's just adopted her second child, and now, Kotb's co-host Jenna Bush Hager has announced her third pregnancy!

On Easter Monday, Bush Hager told co-host Craig Melvin (and America) while chatting about what her family got up to over Easter. Apparently, once her girls (6-year-old Mila and 3-year-old Poppy) found out there was no more keeping it a secret.

"Yes, I'm pregnant!" Jenna said. "And I'm only telling because Mila and Poppy found out yesterday in their Easter baskets. (Then) they told the man behind me on the airplane; they told the people at church. So ..."

Congrats to Jenna (and to Poppy and Mila, we're sure they'll be great big sisters)! 🎉

[A version of this post was originally published October 21, 2018. It has been updated. ]

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News

The first time my daughter told me someone named Ashley painted her nails at Daddy's house I thought I was going to implode. Another woman was loving on my daughter in the family I built. I texted my ex, "Who is Ashley and how long have you known her and why is she painting my daughter's nails?"

What should have come next was, I feel replaced. I am jealous. I am competitive. I am angry. I am heartbroken.

Instead, I told myself it was my "mama lion" coming out; the woman who wanted to protect her child from a string of girlfriends and hold her little heart safely in my hands. It was partly true, but the hysteria and anger I felt signaled that much deeper hurt was bubbling its way to the surface and using "it's for our daughter" as an excuse to play out my pain.

It took a full 24 hours of deep anger, soul searching, crying and finally surrender, to realize that my daughter would have other women in her life and I had no say in how they entered, behaved or left.

I had to give up my desire to control what happened at Daddy's house. My only power lied in my influence over my daughter and on that day I chose to believe that she would be a much healthier human being if she was raised by strong women who came together to support her in life.

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Women have been programmed to compete for jobs, security and partners in our patriarchal society. It is understandable that we feel competitive when another woman falls in love with the man we once did, and tucks the children that came from our bodies into beds that aren't made by us.

It is programming, but that doesn't mean it is permanent. It also doesn't mean there isn't pain to be felt, processed and released. You have to heal your wounds so you can approach the new members of your child's life with grace and forge new relationships.

It requires a shift in mindset and a retooling of your previous relationship, a lot of confidence and respect on all parts, and a focus on the child first. You have to recognize the influence a stepparent will have on your child and that it is better to be teamed up and kid-centered, as opposed to stewing over past issues, sitting in blame, regret or jealousy. I had to discover who I was as a newly single woman and co-parenting mother without old stories.

Ashley only painted Olivia's nails for a year or so, and her dad and I had great conversations about how and when we would bring people into our daughter's life. When he met Jessica he called me, "I've met someone and I'd like to introduce her to Olivia, but wanted to talk to you about it."

My only question has ever been, "Is she a good person?" We talked about Jessica, his feelings and certainty, and over time they met and we did too. I sent him a text after a brief and completely casual encounter, "I like her. Don't mess it up."

Jessica and I ran into one another at a yoga studio shortly after they all moved in together. She asked how I felt Olivia was handling the change and very sweetly offered, "You are always the mom!" I smiled, appreciative of the unnecessary gesture, and told her that Olivia loves feminine energy and that she'd thrive having Jessica in the same house.

Several years later I not only love Jessica, I love their son, Luke, as well. Our entire little blended family lucked out. Jessica treats Olivia as her own but is so conscientious about my role in Olivia's life that I've never felt threatened. I am thrilled my daughter is supported by a strong, confident woman and that she sees us getting along as a village, as opposed to competitors.

Jessica recently called me concerned that Olivia was receiving poor messages at school about the importance of pretty as opposed to smart. We came up with a plan, laid down a few rules for messaging in both houses and in no time we had a little feminist running around with t-shirts announcing "Girls Are Smart, Strong and Brave." We spend Christmas mornings together, Halloween trick or treating, and have deep respect for one another and our passions, relationships and careers.

When I recently vacationed in Tanzania I had to update my estate plan and asked Jessica if, in the extreme unlikelihood that both of Olivia's parents were to pass while she was a minor, would she become Olivia's guardian? It's important to me that Olivia grows up with the brother she adores and a woman who loves her (almost) as much as I do.

There wasn't a missed beat, "Absolutely. I want them to stay together." While Luke doesn't care for me as much since I keep Olivia away from him every other week, "Sissy mommy, go home," we work.

We are blessed that each one of us, at some point, made a choice to let fears, ego, jealousy, blame and hurt go for the sake of one little girl and our collective family.

Excerpt from LORE: Harnessing Your Past to Create Your Future with permission from Balboa Press.

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