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Nine weeks after giving birth to my daughter, I scheduled a horseback riding lesson. I'd been stuck under a wave of postpartum depression that was stubbornly lingering, like the cold damp that refused to let up even though the calendar said spring. The advice from everyone—friends, family, even my doctor—was to do something for myself, something I had enjoyed pre-baby.

Horses, I thought. Horses would be that. My weekly lessons had never failed to bring me joy. I loved everything about the barn: the sweet smell of sweat and hay, the way curious heads poked out over the half doors of their stall, the feel of the leather tack, the power and harmony and effort it took to make the riding look seamless, effortless.

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Horses were supposed to make me feel better. They always had before. But when the day of my lesson arrived, everything that could go wrong was going wrong. My daughter had received her first round of shots the day before and was more fussy and clingy than she'd ever been, sleeping poorly and waking up hourly to chomp at my breast.

After a night spent holding and rocking her, I watched dawn break to that annoying in-between rain/not rain— the kind of mist that somehow leaves you wet without ever feeling a drop. It would be too cold and muddy to ride outside, sidelining us to the small indoor ring whose roof shook in the wind, spooking horses and necessitating extra work on the rider's part, effort I wasn't sure I still had.

My instructor was running behind. I anxiously watched the clock as my lesson got pushed back 15 minutes, a half hour, an hour. My mind calculated how fast I would have to drive to get back before my daughter was due to eat again, a feat that was looking less and less likely.

As I sat shivering in the cold office, I was gripped by how stupid the whole thing felt. Horseback riding was something little girls with pigtails on ponies did. Horses were for skinny teenagers balancing lightly atop a nimble steed as they soared over a jump.

Horseback riding wasn't for new moms whose hair was still falling out in clumps from the drop in pregnancy hormones, who was hiding her belly by hiking up her riding tights over the fleshy bump that no longer contained a baby, who should be saving money for diapers, formula and college.

I felt selfish. I felt silly. I watched the lesson before me and, embarrassed, felt the hot prick of tears behind my eyes.

It felt like I'd already given up so much to be a mom, in a million ways I had never anticipated. I loved my daughter but still hadn't experienced that overpowering sensation of devotion everyone else seemed to have. Instead, my love felt like it was buried under guilt (as she drank and drank more formula and less breastmilk), fear (checking her breathing once, twice, three times during a half-hour nap), anxiety (was she making enough wet diapers? Was she sleeping enough? Was she too hot? Too cold?), and worst of all, an uncertainty about how I now fit in the world.

I had desperately wanted to be a mother and was so grateful for my daughter's health and happiness, but it felt like large chunks of me were gone, scooped out, and I had empty holes I didn't know how to fill.

I watched the group of high school girls flawlessly guide their mounts over a series of impossibly tall fences and felt almost a sense of grief—it seemed like even the barn, which had been a safe haven to me for so much of my life, would be another thing that didn't align with my life as a mother.

A pair of tiny paws scratched against my thigh. I looked down and saw Sally, my instructor's scraggly mutt, pressing her feet into me. I quickly rubbed her ears, expecting her to do her typical seconds-long pause before bounding away to nip at the horses' heels. But instead of running away, Sally climbed into my lap. She curled herself around my belly, settled her head against my hip. The warmth. The positioning. The near impossible lightness of her tiny weight. The way her little body relaxed in my lap, like melting. Just like my daughter.

Sally craved comfort from me, but, at the same time, she was giving it, a two-way street. I had been so obsessed with my part in caring for my daughter, I hadn't stopped to think that she was here as a person, capable of giving so much to me.

I wouldn't know it then, how infinitely easier it would get as my daughter got older. A few weeks from that moment she would start smiling at me as I got her dressed, her face lighting up as if she couldn't believe how lucky she was. Giggles followed that—a sound so pure and precious I would try to hold it in my mind, recall its echoing chimes whenever we were apart.

She'd reach for me, throwing her tiny body towards me if she was upset or scared, turning her bashful face to my shoulder when she was excited, snaking her arm around my neck into the first semblances of a hug. As she grew, the love everyone talked about streamed in and filled the holes that gapped in me; holes that I had no idea how to fill in those first shaky months of motherhood.

Now, at six months I feel like Kintsugi pottery—broken yet put back together with gold.

At that moment, I knew none of this. So, I did nothing but hug Sally. I gave and received her comfort as best I could. Then I went home to my daughter, with aching muscles, stinking of horse, ready to try again at being a mom.

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

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


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[Editor's note: Dr. Anna Zimmermann is a mom of three, a neonatologist and the voice behind Mighty Littles, a blog and podcast about NICU families. When her own son contracted COVID-19 her blog and social media posts about his illness went viral. Excerpts from those posts have been republished here with her permission.]

When I started Mighty Littles, I never intended to write about my children being in the hospital. I planned to write about the resiliency I see in parents in the NICU, how parenting changes over time, and how big events shape who we are as parents. However, seeing as how the world has been taken over by COVID-19, and now so has my family, I need to write about it. I have to write about it. COVID-19 has consumed my thoughts and fears for the last week, and I'm not the only one.

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As a physician, I followed the outbreak of COVID-19 in China and Italy closely. Although no state or federal mandate was in place, we pulled our kids out of Jiujitsu and swimming lessons early, because we believed this virus was dangerous before many people started to take it seriously. The kids continued to go to preschool and kindergarten, and their last day at school was March 12th. The state of Colorado closed schools starting March 16th.

Since March 12th, the kids have not left the house. My husband went to Costco once. I went to Target once. My kids never went on a playdate. I wouldn't let them go across the street to talk to their neighborhood friends. We adopted the stay-at-home recommendations early and stuck to them. We did everything right.

But Lincoln got sick.

On March 21st, Lincoln sneezed a few times, I thought it was allergies. The following day he got a stuffy nose and slight cough. He didn't have a fever and I wasn't super worried, I assumed he picked up a little cold. On March 27th, he got a fever—a high fever to 104.5. He looked miserable and pathetic. I started to worry.

We saw the pediatrician first thing in the morning on March 28th, got a diagnosis of pneumonia after a viral illness (totally reasonable) and we did oral antibiotics and oxygen at home for the next 48 hours. He had moments where he looked totally fine, and other moments where he looked sick. But overall, I thought he was okay.

By Monday, March 30th, he was needing more and more support and oxygen and was admitted to the hospital.


COVID-19 cough youtu.be

I knew walking into the hospital that we would be there for a few days—I thought three, maybe four. I knew that he would be placed on a "COVID rule out"—where they treat him as if he has it until the testing comes back negative. And because I am familiar with hospital policies on COVID, I knew that I would not be able to leave his room until his testing was negative.

So walking into the hospital, I had one sick 4-year old, two near-empty oxygen tanks, and three bags—one for our clothes, one for his comfort items and snacks and my computer bag. I also had four hours of built-up anxiety rolling around in my head wondering what was going on with my son and why he was quickly getting worse.

The admission was smooth and we got settled into our room: IV, labs, swabs, meds, oxygen all got done by the wonderful staff. At the time of admission, he needed 2 Liters (L) of oxygen. That same night, he progressed up to needing 4L. By the next day, he was on 6L and then 9L.

He was working so hard to breathe—using all of the muscles in his chest, abdomen, and neck to help him breathe. As a doctor, I knew he was working hard to breathe. The medical terms used to describe respiratory distress—seesaw breathing, nasal flaring, grunting, retracting, tachypneic—he had them all.

As a mom, it was torture watching him struggle.

Over those first two days in the hospital, labs and information started coming back. His Complete Blood Count (CBC) didn't show classic signs of COVID infection. His other measures of infection—CRP and Procalcitonin—were not significantly elevated. His chest X-ray looked pretty good. He was changed to two IV antibiotics—Ampicillin and Azithromycin. He started receiving Albuterol treatments. And viral testing was pending.

During that first two days, he just continued to get worse. His labs and Xray didn't look like Coronavirus, but he was just getting worse quickly.

At about 7 pm on our second night in the hospital, we got the news. The nighttime doctor came in and introduced herself and took a look at Lincoln. Then she told me—Lincoln had tested positive for COVID-19.

I just started crying. He was getting worse quickly and now I was scared.

His timeline didn't fit. His labs didn't fit. His X-ray didn't fit. We took all the precautions.

How did this happen? Why did this happen? I don't understand.

How sick is he going to get? How long will this last? How long will we be in the hospital? What if the rest of my family gets as sick as Lincoln?

I did everything right. I was supposed to keep my family safe and I failed. And, yes, I know I didn't. But how can those thoughts not go through your head when your little boy has the scariest virus in on the planet right now?

How did this happen? How? I still don't understand. I cried for nearly four hours off and on that night. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't turn my brain off. I was terrified.

At the same time, I was relieved. If his COVID test had been negative, I would be terrified to go home and constantly be wondering "what if he gets COVID now?" At least now I know he has COVID. And I know he shouldn't get it again.

After five days in the hospital, Lincoln is starting to feel a better and after seven days he was finally discharged.

Being in the hospital was completely isolating. I wasn't allowed to leave his room. No one was allowed to come into his room. The nurses and physicians came in to assess him wearing all their personal protective equipment (PPE), but they minimize the number of times they entered into the room to preserve gear.

My husband was at home with my girls. We can't hug each other. I can't hug my girls. My family is split up and we feel so far away.

Despite the isolation here in the hospital, all around me, there has been a huge outpouring of support from our community. Both of our employers have been nothing but supportive. Our school community put together a meal train to deliver dinner to Chris and the girls nightly—which turns out to be a Godsend since they can't leave the house. Our neighbors dropped off healthy fresh berries at the house and sent a care package to me with shower wipes, face cleaning wipes, and dry shampoo. Did I mention I don't have a shower???

We live in a world where people are becoming more and more separate. More divided—by social status, by wealth, by politics, and by religion. If one thing is positive about our COVID journey, it is that our community came together to support us. People we barely know. People we don't know. Friends of friends of friends.

We are forever grateful and blessed because our community supported us. And no one blamed or shamed us for our son testing positive. I hope that this sense of community will persist after we move back towards our daily lives after COVID.

Please stay safe. Please stay healthy. Please take this virus seriously—it is no joke. And please reach out to your friends and neighbors and friends of friends who are struggling through this pandemic.

Lincoln was released from the hospital one week after his admission. He remains on oxygen at home and Dr. Zimmermann will continue to update her blog and social media sites about his recovery over the next several weeks.



News

We don't doubt the importance of school and learning—whatsoever. I think most parents are feeling extra grateful for the teachers, aides and other school staff members in their children's lives these days.

But we also don't doubt the amount of emotional, physical and mental labor that is placed on mothers around the world right now due to the coronavirus pandemic. With many workplaces closed, no childcare, no school, no activities, mothers are being asked to not only continue maintaining their workload, but also to teach their child(ren), set up and maintain their Google classroom/FaceTime call schedule/Zoom meeting calendars, as well as cook, clean, do laundry, order groceries or go grocery shopping and attempt to care for ourselves on top of all that.

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Even if we are quarantined with partners to help at home—which not everyone is—the work and worry load piled on us right now is not normal, not okay and frankly, not all doable.

We're finding that some things have to go, or fall by the wayside to keep our families afloat.

This week, Sarah Parcak, mother, Egyptologist, professor and author of Archaeology From Space, announced that for her family, it was keeping up with her son's virtual classroom. She spoke the truth many moms are feeling—that survival and the well-being of their family members are paramount right now. And for many of us, that does not include keeping up with classwork.

She tweeted:

"We just wrote a hard email. I told our son's (lovely, kind, caring) teacher that, no, we will not be participating in her "virtual classroom", and that he was done with the 1st grade. We cannot cope with this insanity. Survival and protecting his well-being come first.

"Don't any of you dare offer help or resources. We both work full time, I also help run my non profit AND manage a complex project in Egypt AND am running a Covid-19 tracking platform. So, his happiness trumps crappy math worksheet management.

"ie, managing his education is a bridge too far right now. I also cook, manage cleaning, have a garden etc (husband does 50% of housework BTW, we are a team). The thought of homeschooling makes me want to barf. It's a f*cking joke.

"He reads a lot. Plays outside a lot. We read to him a lot and talk to him a lot. He gets history lessons. There is an app where he can choose books to be read to him. We watch a fun movie every night. He plays playmobile with my husband (mega imagination)

"Our goal is to have our son come out of this happy and not be long term emotionally scarred (lord knows life will do that anyways).

"PS You do what's right for your family and mental health. Obviously kids 10+ can cope better with independent work (sometimes). The littles cannot.

"I give you permission to Let It All Go. It doesn't matter. School doesn't matter right now. All your kids will remember is how they were loved. Promise."

Parents from all over the interwebs chimed in both agreeing and disagreeing with Parcak. Reasons for opting out of the virtual classroom (or maybe just relieving the pressure of it and doing what they can) ranged from not having a printer available to them in order to print the many worksheets, working full-time and not being able to manage all of the classwork with them, having children with special needs, having children in different grade and skill levels, not having access to laptops and other resources—the reasons ran the gamut.

Some parents are focusing mostly on life skills.


While other families are enjoying the focused time they are able to get their kids involved in the virtual classroom.

But many families don't have access to laptops or desktop computers, which is unfair and problematic.

And many teachers are saying take note, Moms and Dads—the pressure is on them, too.

Countless teachers and counselors chimed in to let parents know that they understand and they support them in doing what's best for their families.




After reading messages accusing Parcak of not appreciating teachers, she took to Twitter again to clarify the fact that she is very appreciative of them, stating in fact that she "cannot do what they do."

Same, Sarah. Same.

I think it's safe to say that none of us really know what we're doing right now. We're sort of flying by the seat of our pants, and that's kind of all we can do.

We're doing the best we can in a really weird, busy and scary time—parents, teachers and most especially, our kiddos, too.

Life

We're used to seeing Dove crank out ad campaigns celebrating body acceptance but this week the company launched a new ad that celebrates something so deserving of attention: The beautiful courage of our front line health care workers.

The new video shows health care workers' selfies, taken when their faces where dented and bruised from their masks, when their eyes were sad and tired and their hearts clearly heavy. These are the people keeping us safe right now, and we need to see them.

Dove | Courage is Beautiful www.youtube.com

The short, now-viral video debuted in the U.S. this week but follows an earlier version that launched in Canada on April 5. The American version of the video notes how Dove is donating to Direct Relief to help health care workers in the U.S.

FEATURED VIDEO

As the New York Times reports, doctors, nurses and other health care workers are facing extreme risks right now, and those speaking out about the lack of personal protective equipment and other safeguards are risking their livelihoods. These health care professionals are making extraordinary sacrifices, even separating from their own children to care for other families.

Courage www.youtube.com

This week an ER clerk, a 34-year-old mother of twin 8-year-old boys, died after contracting COVID-19 at work. In Staten Island, a nurse lost her life to COVID-19 this week. And this week reports emerged about the first American doctor to die from COVID-19 and how he had to reuse his masks.

We need to face the courage of these front line workers and Dove's new ad campaign is helping us do that. Women represent 70% of workers in the health care industry. Our fellow mothers are fighting for us and these videos remind us to fight for them.

News

Among the many little things we truly miss from #lifebeforecoronavirus it's devouring the tasty treats from Disney. But it turns out you can create that same Disney magic at home.

The Disney Parks blog and app recently shared popular recipes as its parks continue to remain closed and the Dole Whip and churros are the exact sweets we need to get us through this challenging time.

For the unfamiliar, the Dole Whip is a creamy, frozen pineapple treat that melts in your mouth. It's so refreshing and can be vegan and dairy-free, depending on the ingredients you use.

Or, if you're into baking, you'll love the traditional Spanish and Portuguese churro that the park sells more than 5.5 million of each year. That's a huge hit for the park, and we're hoping it's a winner for families, too.

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Here's the Dole Whip recipe for a single serving according to the Disneyland app:


Ingredients:

  • 1 big scoop of ice cream
  • 4 oz of pineapple juice
  • 2 cups of frozen pineapple

Instructions:

  • Add all ingredients to a blender until it's a thick drink.
  • Add your swirl and then you're done.

And, here's the churro recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable or canola oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided

Instructions:

  1. Combine water, butter, salt, and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon in 1 1/2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Bring pot to rolling boil.
  2. Reduce heat to low.
  3. Add flour and stir vigorously until mix forms a ball. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 to 7 minutes.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, and stir until combined. Set aside.
  5. Heat oil in medium skillet or one-quart saucepan over medium-high heat or until temperature reaches 350 degrees.
  6. Spoon dough into piping bag fitted with large star tip. Pipe one-inch strip of dough over saucepan, cut with knife, and drop into hot oil. Repeat until churro bites fill saucepan with room to fry.
  7. Fry churro bites until golden brown. Remove with slotted spoon or mesh spider strainer.
  8. Drain churro bites on paper towel.
  9. Mix sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in medium bowl. Toss in churro bites until coated. Place on serving plate and serve with favorite dipping sauce.
News
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