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[Trigger warning: This essay describes one woman's emotional journey with a traumatic birth experience.]

My arms are filled with blessing and my lungs are filled with air. But my eyes are drawn to my heart, which is shattered into pieces. Shattered because what was expected to be a sweet day of welcoming our second baby girl into the world turned into the scariest day of our lives.

After a straightforward delivery, I was blindsided by unexpected massive blood loss stemming from a clotting complication. I almost lost my life in an operating room. My family almost fell apart because mama almost didn't make it. My husband almost lost his wife and my girls almost lost their mother. And while everything turned out okay in the end, my heart was left with a grief that is really hard to understand.

You would think almost dying would make me grateful for living—but it left me stunned and incredibly sad. I had no idea that I held so many unconscious expectations on how that day would go—and they all seemed pretty reasonable.

This was my second pregnancy, I was in good shape, and I already had one uncomplicated labor and delivery. How could anything go wrong?

But when those expectations were smashed on the ground, it knocked the wind out of me. And the dust that rose from the rumble formed this dark cloud over me, around me. It settled like a shadowy fog over my thoughts and my mind.

For weeks after, I couldn't stop thinking about how "it wasn't supposed to be this way."

I wasn't supposed to only hold my newborn baby for 15 minutes before being rushed into an OR for six hours. I wasn't supposed to drain blood like a broken dam until the point just before death. My blood wasn't supposed to stop clotting correctly. I wasn't supposed to wake up in a recovery room with an oxygen mask and 14 different tubes and monitors in and on me.

My husband wasn't supposed to wait in a room for hours to hear if his wife would live or not. My baby wasn't supposed to spend her first day of life in a hospital nursery, being held by nurses instead of by me.

I remember staring at the operating room ceiling, unable to move, as doctors and nurses swarmed around me. At that point, I had no idea what was going on. All I knew is that I felt like I was coming unplugged from my own body. I started to pray—telling God that I was scared, that I wanted to live so I could raise my babies.

God graciously answered my prayers that day: My babies are healthy, my family is still together. After mustering the courage to ask a doctor if he would tell my husband that I love him, in case I didn't get to tell him ever again—I am alive, I have survived.

But my heart is grieving the "almost"—what it almost lost. I almost missed this. I almost lost my family. I almost lost my life. That's all I could think about for weeks. Those thoughts would echo as I nursed my newborn, as I saw my 3-year-old come joyfully running when I picked her up from school, as my husband and I would cuddle up in bed.

I felt confused by how devastating "almost" could feel. And I felt ashamed for struggling at all—because the reality was—it all turned out okay. What was there to grieve?

"At least you have a healthy baby girl!" was a phrase I heard a lot in the first few days. Each time I heard it, it stung. Because she and her sister almost didn't have their mama. Almost.

There was an ocean of tears in between what happened and the happy ending—and to ignore that ocean made me feel like I was drowning.

It took me the better part of two months to realize my heart was grieving what it did lose. There was no "almost." We grieve what we've lost—and I had lost a lot of precious moments.

I did lose memories that were supposed to happen and plans that didn't get to be. I had lost a safe and uncomplicated delivery. I lost spending the day with my baby on her birthday. I lost the chance to spend those first precious hours alone with my husband and our newborn, soaking in her features. I lost the chance to introduce her to her sister, her grandparents. I lost so much blood that it took months to get my energy back to normal.

I lost the illusion that death was a distant event because I was unexpectedly thrown into the valley of its shadow. I lost the illusion that I would always be there for my girls, that I would share my life with my husband until a ripe old age.

An entire village of people was gracious and brave enough to enter into this pain with me—my husband, mom, doctor and a few close friends. They gave me permission over and over again to feel whatever emotions presented themselves in the days and weeks that followed.

They reminded me that what I went through was, in fact, traumatic when I was tempted to brush it off. They pointed to hope when I couldn't see it for myself. Sometimes I cried for much of the day, other times I was so numb (and tired) that I binged watched TV for hours while nursing my newborn.

A dear friend sent me a message early on that has been the encouragement I have clung to when I'm tempted to rush my recovery: "I'm certain the gloominess will lift, just as the fog always does, but you're right in the thick of it. And I don't think you need to feel the need to lift the fog yourself. Let it sit there. Let it be lifted by faith.."

Sure enough, I started to feel gratitude for different moments of that day. I have started making peace with what happened. I've realized that life after a traumatic birth means you live in the tension of two massively conflicting realities: Grief and joy. Fear and relief. Sorrow and delight. I no longer have the illusion tomorrow is guaranteed. But that's all it was—an illusion.

So I snuggle both of my babies a little closer and hug my husband a little tighter, trusting that the fog isn't forever. I thank God for details and memories that did take place that day, trusting that healing will come. I try not to take a single moment of this life for granted. And I lean into grief when her currents rush over me, knowing that swimming with them is the only way to get to shore.

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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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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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Score 10% off and a free bottle of Laundress Detergent on orders $100+.

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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