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By N’tima Preusser


It is four in the morning and the sun is starting to turn the sky pink. My bladder is full, again, and I use all of the energy I do not have to kick my legs forward to roll onto my side. I get high centered on the bed, and then roll onto the floor and practically crawl to the bathroom. It's pathetic, really.

My stomach now towers, horizontally, disproportionally, away from the rest of my swollen body. My stretchy clothes are tight, and I feel fancy on the rare occasion when I talk myself into changing out of my leggings, and into my slightly less spandex-y jeggings. My legs are, essentially, a pair of a broken can of biscuits. When I belly laugh, I go into full-on Santa with asthma mode, and my bladder control is about as in tact as what I would imagine Santa's is like. I carry my toddler ten feet and I am breathless. I feel tiny legs and feet tap dancing behind my ribs, arms flailing beneath my belly button. Swift, ninja like punches are thrown at my husband's hand as he runs his finger tips across my tight stomach. My pelvis feels crushed. I ache to the bone.

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Even when I finally put my feet up at night, and the false contractions are tightening my stomach, inhale, exhale—it is still somewhat of a surprise to remember that I am nine months pregnant.

Though I am tired, and big, and full to the very brim. I often forget that a human being is inside of me. A new life will be here in a matter of weeks. And that she's been with me since November.

And so it goes the second time. A pregnancy that was unplanned, unlike the first that we waited and prayed for. Chromosomes and molecules, limbs and organs being intimately hand sewn inside of me with power and gentleness for the second time. My body taking shape into a form that it recognizes. Muscle memory turns its gears as it carries this life, and my body stretches in response. This figure, these scars, these curves, are no stranger to me. I've supported this weight before. The hard is easy because it has visited these spaces before.

This body houses two of us right now, and I am so thankful to be able to share it.

For the second time.

This wouldn't be motherhood without a good dose of guilt, though.

This pregnancy is progressing nearly identical to the first, but everything feels so different. The first time, I had page lengths of questions at each appointment, I was acutely aware of every symptom, and I worried almost constantly. I was impatient. I was preparing every facet of my life for my daughter, oblivious as to what to expect. I noticed every single flip. I grew her on two minute mug cakes, and 14 hours of sleep a day. I was obsessed with each milestone, documenting each week like it was my job. And finishing the nursery months before her arrival.

Don't get me wrong, this time has its fair share of sleep and chocolate, too. And I document quite regularly, but it is with 10-second self destructing Snapchat images. Snapchat might as well be this poor baby's scrapbook. I do not have the time or the brain capacity to just sit and savor and marvel over the wonder of somersaults, begging to be noticed, beneath my skin.

My feelings this go around very much resemble the truth that I have two hearts beating inside of me. Yin and yang. The emotions are inconsistent and fleeting and hard to catch up with before they're gone again. The eager anticipation and sheer terror, fluctuates about as much as the water weight in my ankles. I count the days as they pass, and even with the knowledge that time will escape me, it slips right through my fingers. I blink, and here we are thirty-seven weeks later. I nearly happy sob at the idea of my daughter having her sister beside her, and then I feel incredibly sad to think that this special time with just us two is almost over. My stomach turns at the thought of the loss she will feel, and my inability to know exactly how to assure her that I will still be hers. How do I prepare her to give up the only life she has ever known?

The thought of two babies in my arms seems life giving and impossible all at once. My ribcage has expanded for what I can only imagine is to make room for the ways in which my heart will grow. I know that I will have the ability to carry it, but how will I distribute out that love equally for the rest of my days? Giving 100 percent to her and her and him and me? Will I have the energy to show them? Will they feel it? Will they understand that I am exhausting every last ounce of my being for them?

***

People always ask me how I am feeling, but I never know the answer. I feel exhausted and thankful to the very deepest parts of me. I am sore and stretched and more rested than I will probably ever be again. I feel so lucky and so scared and so full of joy I feel I might just burst. I feel guilty and organized and so unprepared.

I am soaring and I am sinking.


I feel everything.

I carry this bigness and this discomfort, and I know when it comes down to it, this journey is nothing but an honor. A privilege. My body is power and love personified. I walk (waddle) down the hallway and see two rooms crafted together for two little girls. Two perfect, loved, and wanted little girls; masterfully designed for me and the person I love most—and it hits me. This chaos, these growing pains, this inconsistent and fleeting season with small children, it is what being alive is all about.

Yes, things are terrifying right before we take this leap. However, this time, I understand the way that peace will find a way to saturate even the dark moments, and I am so ready to live it, but because this is the second time, I know I am not ready at all.

This story was originally published on Coffee + Crumbs. Check out their book, The Magic of Motherhood, for more heartwarming essays about motherhood, love, and the good kind of heartache.

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Sometimes it can feel like toys are a mama's frenemy. While we love the idea of entertaining our children and want to give them items that make them happy, toys can end up taking the joy out of our own motherhood experience. For every child begging for another plastic figurine, there's a mama who spends her post-bedtime hours digging toys out from under the couch, dining room table and probably her own bed.

Like so many other moms, I've often found myself between this rock and hard place in parenting. I want to encourage toys that help with developmental milestones, but struggle to control the mess. Is there a middle ground between clutter and creative play?

Enter: Lovevery.

lovevery toys

Lovevery Play Kits are like the care packages you wish your child's grandparent would send every month. Expertly curated by child development specialists, each kit is crafted to encourage your child's current developmental milestones with beautiful toys and insightful activity ideas for parents. A flip book of how-tos and recommendations accompanies each box, giving parents not only tips for making the most of each developmental stage, but also explaining how the games and activities benefit those growing brains.

Even better, the toys are legitimately beautiful. Made from eco-friendly, sustainable materials materials and artfully designed, I even find myself less bothered when my toddler leaves hers strewn across the living room floor.

What I really love, though, is that the kits are about so much more than toys. Each box is like a springboard of imaginative, open-ended play that starts with the included playthings and expands into daily activities we can do during breakfast or while driving to and from lessons. For the first time, I feel like a company isn't just trying to sell me more toys―they're providing expert guidance on how to engage in educational play with my child. And with baby kits that range from age 0 to 12 months and toddler kits for ages 13 to 24 months, the kits are there for me during every major step of development I'll encounter as a new mama.

So maybe I'll never love toys―but I will always love spending time with my children. And with Lovevery's unique products, mixing those worlds has become child's play.


This article was sponsored by Lovevery. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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It's important that kids have both male and female role models to help dispel harmful stereotypes and reinforce their understanding of the fundamental uniqueness and equality of each person. At the heart of this is personalism and it encourages kids to emulate what's best in people who come from a wide range of backgrounds with different personalities and physical attributes.

For a long time, female representation in television and movies lagged far behind male representation, making it harder to find suitable role models that are worthy of admiration. Thankfully, there are now a growing number of great female role models on television and in movies that all kids can admire and emulate.

Of course, what constitutes a role model is subjective. As parents, my wife and I look for role models that reinforce the lessons that we teach our kids and display behavior that corresponds with an approach to life that aligns with our understanding of morality, human flourishing and a life of joy.

Role models show that strength and compassion are not opposites. They prove that women can pursue and achieve excellence, while still valuing relationships and other people. They teach kids that real courage is not bravado or a lust for recklessness, but perseverance and determination in the face of serious obstacles to achieving what is right and just.

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Here are seven fictional role models that can inspire kids of all ages.

1. Wonder Woman

In the DC universe's most acclaimed film, Wonder Woman declares, "I'm willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves." Upon fully realizing the implications of free will and the human capacity for both goodness and evil, she concludes that "only love can truly save the world."

In response, she says, "So I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be." When she realizes the brokenness of the world and human person, she responds not with cynicism (as so many do), but with a renewed commitment to love and building a better world.

Wonder Woman is recommended for kids age 7+ and has a PG-13 rating.

2. Moana

Moana breaks the "curse of the good girl" by breaking from conventions out of love for her people. She loves and respects her parents, but her sense of mission or call leads her to heroically undertake an adventure to save the world. She has a strong sense of identity, which is linked to who she is unique as a person and her duties. She is wholly comfortable in her own skin, indifferent to the superficial. She displays courage and compassion and refuses to turn back in the face of difficulties, even when Maui wants to give up. And it is her empathy and compassion that ultimately brings out the best in Maui and saves the world.

Moana is recommended for kids ages 4+ and has a PG rating.

3. Katniss Everdeen

In the Hunger Games series, Katniss Everdeen is willing to risk her own life to save her sister in a selfless act of love. Throughout the films, she refuses to surrender her integrity and ultimately has the wisdom and will to do what is necessary so that the revolution will succeed and serve all.

The Hunger Games is recommended for kids age 12+ and has a PG-13 rating.

4. Mulan

The Disney character Mulan is a great role model because she does what is right and courageous, despite serious social pressures and strictures. Her sense of morality extends beyond legalism and conformity. She also has a real sense of authenticity.

She knows that being herself would break her family's heart—she's sensitive to that, but ultimately willing to put the good of her family above their immediate desires. While there is pressure to focus on her physical appearance and manners to win a husband, she thinks that men should be more interested in having a girl with a brain who speaks her mind. And it is her courage and her wits that ultimately save the day.

Mulan is recommended for kids ages 5+ and has a G rating.

5. Hermione

In the Harry Potter series, Hermione is daring and courageous, brilliant and hardworking, compassionate and caring. In our society, many with innate intelligence (or those with affluent backgrounds who imagine they are inherently intellectually superior) take pride in their intelligence and treat it as though it is an accomplishment they have earned. This can lead to hubris and a lax work ethic.

Hermione is naturally gifted and it takes her some time to be confident without looking down on others who are less intellectually gifted or engaged. But she is always hard-working; she utilizes her intellectual gifts to reach her potential. And she uses these gifts to serve others.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is recommended for kids age 7+ and has a PG rating.

6. Rey

Star Wars has a number of strong female characters with many admirable traits, including Leia Organa and Jyn Erso. In the latest trilogy, we are introduced to Rey. Rey is fierce and fearless. She is her own knight in shining armor. She refuses to selfishly sell BB-8. She resists the temptation of the amoral pursuit of power. Instead, she holds fast to her sense of what is right and never surrenders her integrity.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is recommended for kids age 10+, and has a PG-13 rating.

7. Doc McStuffins

The Disney Junior character Doc McStuffins is smart, considerate, and caring. She communicates her feelings and encourages others to do so, as well. She also has fun and can be silly. In our culture, there is too often a failure to treat kids in a way that is appropriate for their age and stage of development.

On the one hand, adults too often strip kids of their joy, energy, and silly fun, trying to turn them into boring, bourgeois adults. On the other hand, they infantilize kids, failing to give them space to try new things, make mistakes, assume responsibilities, and achieve accomplishments that they are fully capable of making. Doc shows that kids can be really serious and responsible when curing toys or helping others, while still having fun and being a kid.

Doc McStuffins is recommended for kids ages 2-7.

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Life

It's no secret that mamas don't get enough sleep. Between waking up to feed the baby every three hours, staying up way past our bedtime to finally have some alone time, or going over our never-ending to-do list in our head before bed, mamas are tired.

While a great set of sheets won't magically fix the relentless exhaustion, we promise they'll make those few hours in bed that much better. And a couple of our favorite ones are on mega-sale right now. 🙌

Shop our favorites below:

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Celebrating their fourth birthday (so this only happens once a year!), enjoy 15% off orders of $250+.

Our recommendation: The percale sheet set. Made of Egyptian cotton, incredibly smooth, and 500 thread count. We also love the linen set. Toss in a duvet cover or feather pillow to make the minimum spend.

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Our recommendation: The luxe sateen sheet set. It's a best seller for a reason—buttery-smooth cotton in 15+ colors.

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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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Who would have thought Target could get any better? Apparently the folks in charge of store design and policy. While moms in America continue to face pushback for simply breastfeeding their babies in public, Target has taken an amazing stance on the issue.

Through its policies and remodel plans that include dedicated nursing rooms, Target is sending an important message to mamas: Whether you want to nurse in full view of everyone in housewares or prefer to feed your baby in a private spot, Target's got your back.

"At Target, you are free to nurse wherever and whenever you like..." 

We love Target's nursing policy, which straight up states that moms rock (we do) and mamas can feed wherever they need to in the store.

"At Target, you are free to nurse wherever and whenever you like while you shop because we think #momsrock. But, if you would like a comfy (or more private) spot to nurse or change a diaper, please ask our Fitting Room Attendant about our Nursing Room!" reads the sign, which was posted in Target stores and shared online by a happy shopper.

Moms in the comments section of the Breastfeeding Mama Talk Facebook page are attesting to how Target lives into this policy, swapping stories about how supportive team members in red polos have been about infant feeding.

"I nursed in the outdoor furniture section, and had a couple staff members make sure I was comfortable," one mama wrote.

Making mamas a space, too. 

Target is obviously super supportive of moms nursing wherever they need to in the store, but not every mom is comfortable nursing in the outdoor furniture section or the food court. That's why Target included nursing rooms in store remodel plans. Comfy chairs and locking doors are exactly what mama needs sometimes.

The nursing rooms were originally added to about 40 remodeled stores, but moms loved them so much that Target decided to include that in every store remodeling plan.

Basically, no matter what kind of Target run you're doing—a mad dash to the Drive Up service, means you won't have to get out of your car (or unbuckle your sleeping baby) to pick up your online order, a hands-free walk-and-nurse with a baby in a wrap and a frap in your hand, or even one that includes a private nursing session, moms and babies are welcome at Target.

We love it and hope other businesses are taking notes!

[A version of this post was originally published November 16, 2017. It has been updated.]

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News

I distinctly remember being pregnant with my first daughter and commuting two hours a day as a consultant in Washington, D.C. It was hard on my growing body, leading me to seek chiropractic care, and toward the end of my pregnancy, made me nervous to be so far from home and the hospital—but, that's the reality for many mamas.

This experience was central to our decision at Motherly to have a fully remote workforce as a way to support families and working parents. We also took lessons from my days as a consultant helping organizations increase agility and spent time talking to other office-free founders before taking the leap.

The bottom line? Inflexibility and commuting take up precious hours of a working mom's day.

Today, remote collaboration is easier than ever with video conferencing technologies and synchronous communication tools becoming ubiquitous, prompting a growing number of companies to opt for no office at all. It helps the bottom line for businesses in terms of savings on office space and improves employee retention and satisfaction.

And in today's dual-income families, the flexibility provided can be a key ingredient in helping families thrive. In the four years since launching Motherly my co-founder, Liz Tenety, and I have only been co-located for a total of four months. In fact, we didn't see each other at all the entire second year of Motherly—and we've still thrived.

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With a growing team of more than 30, we've found that we are on the cutting edge of an important trend for workplaces. Research shows that companies with a substantial remote workforce have a higher percentage of women in leadership roles, which amounts to roughly four times as many women in CEO/founding roles than S&P 500 office-based companies.

Along the way, we've learned a lot of lessons on how to establish and maintain a cohesive remote team—here are the top 10.

1. Go all in.

Fully remote teams function more effectively than a hybrid where some work remote and some co-located. In my experience, having a co-founding and/or leadership team co-located when the rest of the team is remote can make it hard to set reasonable expectations and can result in an us versus them mentality. Leading a remote team requires working remotely so that the challenges the workforce feels can be genuinely understood and appreciated.

2. Nurture an empowered culture where everyone feels comfortable speaking up and across functions.

Proximity breeds comfort and without it, people tend to stay polite and surface-level longer. Stressing the importance of being empowered and speaking truth to power is critical to encouraging a team to share constructive criticism versus platitudes.

3. Establish shared core work hours to ensure synchronous communication can occur across time zones reducing bottlenecks.

Remote work has been proven to increase team efficiency but time zones can kill gains if not addressed head-on. Businesses can benefit from around the world coverage and support but collaboration can be hard if teammates can't connect realtime. Core co-working hours are a simple but effective fix.

4. Utilize video conferencing to support human connections.

In today's digital world most everyone is comfortable interacting online but the nuances of human interaction are easier to decipher face-to-face and help form bonds that are critical to overcoming the eventual miscommunication that will occasionally occur between teammates. Make a point of holding video calls whenever possible—screen-sharing via video can also help with collaboration and problem solving.

5. Leverage tools (like Slack) with small talk channels to serve as a virtual #watercooler.

Slack is a lifesaver for a remote team providing synchronous communication with organization and notification features to make it manageable, limiting information overload. And don't just think about it as a business communication tool but also a team building tool. Plugins exist to facilitate virtual coffee meetups between colleagues and a general #watercooler channel can also become a hub for non-work discussions that serve as a way for remote teammates to get to know each other at a personal level.

6. Schedule weekly "flare" sessions for free brainstorming to keep creativity flowing.

Ad hoc group problem solving can be limited for remote teams so creating the structure to mitigate lost opportunities can be helpful to keep creativity flowing. A weekly team or company wide "flare" or brainstorming session that teams or individuals can claim and lead can provide an opportunity to solve problems together and build camaraderie across teams and functions.

7. Host annual (or more!) IRL retreats to build team intimacy and bonds through shared experiences.

Notice the word retreat, not conference or all-hands—while it's important to have time to communicate company strategy and important initiatives, for remote teams the in-person time must prioritize team building through shared experiences. Casual meals, volunteer projects, a cheesy city tour, bowling outing, or museum visit can become company lore and tradition that over time become part of the foundation of a company's culture.

8. Hold virtual holiday parties + celebrations.

Get creative! Set up virtual secret Santa or cookie exchange, order lunch in for everyone remotely, leverage Amazon to synchronize deliveries for a baby shower and get everyone on video conference for a festive good time. Another one to try—cancel meetings on a Friday afternoon and send everyone on a spa treatment at their local spa!

9. Organize cross-functional "Think Tank Projects" to integrate teams and benefit from cognitive diversity in problem solving.

Cross functional team integration is as important, if not more important, for remote teams. Identify a company-wide initiative and assign it based on skill set and individual superpowers versus functional teams, creating an opportunity for inter-team collaboration.

10. Set aside time to review and address hardships as a remote team.

Being purposeful about removing obstacles and modifying structures, processes, and tools as teams evolve. Creating a culture of honesty means acknowledging challenges and facing them head-on. Encourage teams to share obstacles and hardships and take the time to appreciate them rather than jumping into problem-solving mode from the start. Everyone needs an occasional venting session and you'll find that through the discussion, the team will find its way to solutions and a recognition that the tradeoffs are totally worth it. It's so much more authentic if they draw that conclusion themselves vs leadership cheerleading the benefits of remote work.

A strong, cohesive team culture is possible for remote teams and like all relationships it takes time and continuous work. In the end, teamwork makes the remote dream work creating tangible and intangible benefits for the business and employees, as well as their families. Put in the time in to establish the structure, behavior and processes and you'll be rewarded with a committed, loyal, and united team. More than that, you'll have thriving mamas and families.

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