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My birth story: I was pregnant as my mother was dying

How was I supposed to hold inexplicable joy and inexplicable grief at the same time?

My birth story: I was pregnant as my mother was dying
Lo Mansfield

[Trigger warning: This is the story of a woman whose mother passed away from cancer.]

I was nine weeks pregnant, and my own mama was in the ICU on the day of my first ultrasound. I flinched at the cold gel, looked at my midwife and told her, "We really need a win today."

She put the ultrasound probe on my belly and there it was; that reassuring "whomp, whomp, whomp" of my baby's heartbeat filled the room, It was our first precious win in what was about to become a season of loss.

Carrying our good news, my husband Kelvin and I flew to Washington that afternoon and told our families. My mama was in a hospital bed when I told her, too sick to hug me, but overjoyed all the same.

I've never met a woman stronger than my mama. I'm not certain I ever will.

Tiny in stature but enormous in hope, she refused to let anything beat her. When I was little, she was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disease that her doctors could not make go away. As the years rolled by, sarcoidosis took a slow, steady toll on her body, quietly creeping into her lungs, her liver and her spleen. She had a lumpectomy, a lymphadenectomy, chemotherapy and radiation to beat breast cancer. She had her spleen removed as a result of the sarcoidosis.

She was then diagnosed with smoldering myeloma; she and her doctors quietly waited and watched for it to show its true colors.

The day I told my mama I was pregnant, she was in the middle of a four-week stint in the ICU, her lungs bravely fighting a dangerous combination of flu, pneumonia, sarcoidosis and fungal infection.

So we talked of death and life, diapers and baby names, fear and hope. We spoke of trusting in what we can't control. I grieved, and I celebrated, sharing our news, growing our baby, and desperately praying for my mama.

My pregnancy

I'm a labor and delivery nurse, both a blessing and a curse when you're pregnant with your own. I'd seen so many births, had so much time to decide what I wanted—what I hoped it would look like. But I'd also seen the things that could happen. I shared due dates with mamas who came into our triage, their babies struggling to live while I quietly and gratefully rubbed my own belly.

Knowledge is power, but at times, it can also bring fear.

Over the next few months, I tried to ride all the waves of worry and elation, fear and joy. Yes, I knew too much to be blissfully naïve, but I was also a first-time mama, joyfully marveling over every new thing. I wanted what many want: a healthy baby, an unmedicated delivery, and the privilege of breastfeeding. I choose to see a midwife, as I had loved the care I had watched them give.

But ultimately, like my patients, I knew I couldn't control much—I just had to trust.

When I was seven months pregnant, my mama was diagnosed with lymphoma. It was cancer number three on an already exhausted body, and it quickly became clear that my baby would not have the privilege of knowing their Nana the way that I desperately wanted them too. This was, finally, the thing that would beat her.

Her plans to be there when our baby was born, to fold tiny baby clothes, to make me dinner and to share naps with our sweet newborn quickly unraveled.

Kelvin would not get the privilege of proudly proclaiming gender and weight and length to my anxious mama in a hospital waiting room.

I would not get the sweet privilege of my mama taking care of me, her own baby girl.

It was the most painful collision of two equally hard and beautiful truths. I was losing my mama and becoming a mama at the same time—a roller coaster of emotion, unlike any I had ever known.

How was I supposed to hold inexplicable joy and inexplicable grief at the same time? How could I be a mama without my own mama? Would she somehow get to meet my baby? Who would I call? Who would I cry to? Would my baby be okay if they only got a broken version of me? Who was going to tell me I would be okay when all things seemed to say that I would not?

I was staring at mamahood, sure to be the greatest challenge I had ever faced, while painfully coming to terms with the likely truth that I was going to have to do it without her. So there I sat, amidst baby kicks and hiccups, a new crib and a guest room we would no longer need, grieving, desperate, grateful—again, I just had to trust.

My labor started

I was 39 weeks and two days pregnant when I went into labor. It was 2:26 am, and aside from my approaching due date, I had gone to bed with zero indication that labor was coming. Contractions woke me, quietly and painlessly, but clearly present.

I lay in my bed, contemplating whether to wake Kelvin. I went to the bathroom, drank some water—all the things I told my patients to do, I did.

And still, they came—every 8 minutes, then 7 minutes.

At some point, I got out of bed, doing laps around our tiny house. I labored alone, quietly, for four hours. I walked and walked, making my body prove to my nurse's head that it was real.

Six minutes, 5 minutes, 4 minutes—my labor pattern was textbook. Finally, I woke Kelvin, certain that our baby was coming.

He and I continued to labor together at home, the minutes both short and long, as we waited for the right time to head to the hospital. Somewhere in those hours, I stopped thinking like a nurse, instead of a woman in labor like anyone else.

Four minutes, 3 minutes.

And then there it was, a contraction that felt different, that said, "time to go." Kelvin questioned me once, as our birth instructor had told him to, but I insisted. "Trust me, Kelvin; I want to go."

I remember no car ride more than I remember that one. My husband's eyes on me in the back seat saying, "Good job, babe, 18 minutes to go… we're almost there, 8 minutes to go."

We arrived at the hospital

We pulled into my hospital, my workplace, at 10 am. I ran up the stairs, vaguely noticing the familiar faces sneaking smiles at me.

In triage, we learned that I was eight centimeters with a bulging bag of water (which means it would likely break at any moment). Things moved quickly then, as they do when a mama is that far along. They placed me on the monitors and my nurse brain briefly kicked back in—the baby's heart tones were perfect, and the contractions regular.

The monitors came off, and we moved to our room. Kelvin and I continued to labor together.

Three minutes, 2 minutes.

The room stayed quiet. I had been clear with my coworkers and friends that I wanted no one in the room except those who had to be there.

I remember the pain, panic and fear, all emotions I'd been told I would feel as I transitioned, as I got closer. There were brief intermittent checks of the baby's heart, the rhythm always steady. I got myself onto my hands and knees on the floor, looked up at my midwife, "I think I have to push." It was too soon, wasn't it? I'd only been in active labor for a few hours. But my midwife knew to listen.

"Okay, Laura. I trust you."

My husband ran to the bathroom, and I asked my midwife to check my cervix. I was 10 centimeters, and my bag of waters was still intact. I asked her to break it; I was ready to be done. Water went everywhere, all over the floor and up my back. Meconium, too—our baby was ready to come out.

My husband came out of the door, panic on his face. A lot can happen in two minutes.

I looked at him and said, "I'm complete. I need to push." I pushed once on the floor, but I wanted to be in bed. I panicked with the next push—it was an indescribable sensation of fullness and pain. My nurse and my husband simply said, "Breathe Laura. Trust your body."

I knew I needed to charge right through it. It took four more minutes, two more contractions and six more pushes. And then the baby was out and on my chest.

I looked to Kelvin. "A girl," he said, tears streaming down his face. "We have a daughter."

The time was 12:26 pm. The day—my mama's birthday.

My baby and her Nana

Emmeline Jean, 7 pounds 4 ounces, 20.5 inches long, was born my own mama's birthday. She was named after her Nana, Tammy Jean.

Emme and I Facetimed my mama daily for four weeks until we flew home for Christmas so they could finally meet.

That Christmas was beautiful but hard. My mama's hair was thinning and falling out. We found out the chemotherapy wasn't working, so the plan was to try radiation next. Over the next few months, my mama's health continued to decline. I quit my job and flew home many times, trying to get Emme and me as much time as possible with my precious mama.

Those trips were painfully lovely, Emme and her Nana the most incredible picture of life and loss, joy and anger, of enduring hope in the hardest circumstances.

My mama died on April 29th, 2017, five months after Emme was born.

Though they never blew out their candles together, I still consider their shared birthday nothing but a miracle. It's a hard day for me each year, but I don't ever want Emme to feel my sadness. The joy of celebrating Emme's life is such a balm for my pain, the sweetest reminder of my mama's legacy.

The love of my mama was a love unlike any I have ever known. Her loss has been both everything and nothing that I thought it would be—an unraveling of who I am, and the slow, steady and painful process of redefining myself as a mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend.

Today, two years and one more granddaughter later, a little bit broken and a little bit okay, we continue to (try to) trust in what we can't control.

The sweet privilege of loving my own girls has been the most precious glimpse of how much my mama loved me—limitless and unconditionally.

Lo Mansfield

My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

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

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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