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To my sister who had kids before me: I'm sorry I didn't get it

Now that I'm thinking back on it, I really had no clue about these 10 things.

To my sister who had kids before me: I'm sorry I didn't get it

My sister Meg had kids first. She had two before I even had one. I was next and I had three before my next sister had one.

When Meg was the only one with kids, none of us got it (we have two other siblings, too). We were just going about living our lives, going out with our friends, taking trips—doing whatever we wanted—as my sister and brother-in-law were navigating the waters of new parenthood.

I remember I was on a girl's weekend yucking it up in NYC the weekend my nephew was born. I was prepared to head back up to Massachusetts if he made his debut, but he didn't show up until a few days later. So there in the early September heat, I was traipsing around Manhattan with my college friends while my sister inched toward contractions and birthing her baby boy.

I didn't get it AT ALL. Like, not even close. I did not get it until I was on all fours in the hospital trying to relieve the pressure of back labor as I breathed (winced?) through each contraction of my own.

Now that I'm thinking back on it, I really had no clue about these 10 things:

1. How absolutely amazing, but definitely grueling pregnancy can be

I did not realize how many checkup appointments you have to go to. I did not realize how heavy a baby could actually feel inside you. I did not know the lower back pain, the sleepless nights spent wishing you could sleep on your stomach, the hormonal migraines, the first-trimester hit-by-a-bus exhaustion, the heartburn, the swelling….. The list could go on and on.

And I definitely could not comprehend how incredible it is to feel your baby kick inside of you. Or to hear your baby's heartbeat for the first time. Or to find out the sex of your baby. Or how close pregnancy can make you and your partner feel. Or how awesome it would be to not worry about any extra softness in your stomach area because of that gorgeous baby bump.

2. How life-changing the transformation to ‘mother’ is

My sister went through this complete shift in her identity—right in front of me, without me having hardly a clue. She was learning how to be a mom as I was popping over to cuddle my nephew for a bit then heading out to meet friends for dinner or a movie.

I didn't know she was basically experiencing an identity crisis—and who knows, maybe she didn't even know that at the time either—until I experienced my own shortly after becoming a mother.

I could never know what that felt like. And I could never understand what the moment you come face-to-face with your child—that deep and immediate love—feels like, no matter how many times she described it to me.

3. How long “having a baby” actually can take

We arrived at the hospital a mere few hours after my sister got there and we waited there for hours! I am laughing thinking about it. I basically thought she'd get to the hospital, pop the baby out and be ready for visitors. It took a lot longer than I ever thought.

4. How different birth can go than what you picture

My sister had to be induced because her son was super cozy in her womb and didn't want to come out. Her birth went differently than she thought it would. I didn't know that was a thing. I just thought you gave birth how you wanted to—oblivious to all the complications or changes that could come along the way.

5. How tired a mother could actually be

"You're exhausted? Yeah me too, I was up till like 3 am watching TV." Okay, I hope I never actually said his to her, but… I probably did. I absolutely 100% did not know what true exhaustion meant no matter how many all-nighters I pulled in college, no matter how many times I stayed up late into the wee hours of the morning (by my own choice, mind you). I did not understand the physical exhaustion of feeding another human from my body at all hours of the day and night or the mental exhaustion of worrying and remembering and doing.

6. How much effort goes into breastfeeding

Again. This is something I thought you just did. That just clicked. That just happened. I had no idea there were any smoke and mirrors in the background, like lactation counselors, nipple shields, breast pumps, supplementing, different kinds of formula, donor milk, or gastronomy tubes. I was so clueless! Imagine my surprise when I started breastfeeding 2.5 years later…

7. How strategic road trips become

Our parents live on Long Island and my sister and I live in Massachusetts with our families. I never got why they couldn't just hop in the car to go visit my parents with us for a weekend on a whim.

I didn't know that babies might not like riding in the car or they may get sick of sitting in their car seat after four hours or how annoying going off-routine for the weekend could be, how painful skipping naps is, how tricky it is to get babies to sleep at night in a place other than their home. I definitely didn't even think about all the stuff you had to schlep back and forth.

8. How tricky it can be to have a baby at a wedding

When I got married, my nephew had just turned one a week prior. They were all in the wedding. In fact, my sister was the maid of honor. I didn't know how stressful it could be to try to align your baby's idea of a timeline for the day with the planned wedding timeline. No, honey, you can't eat right now—it's time to take pictures. No, baby, I can't rock you for your nap, it's time to get my hair done.

I actually didn't fully realize what that felt like until I was on a plane heading to Vegas for my sister's destination wedding with a 2-year-old and a 3-month-old many years later. #Goodtimes

9. How much support you need

I knew we all needed to be there for my sister. I knew she could use some help with holding my nephew as she got stuff done around the house. But I didn't think to put a load of laundry on while I was over or think to randomly bring her a meal so she didn't have to cook dinner.

I didn't get the importance of connecting with other moms and couldn't properly commiserate with her when she talked about how she wished she could find some mom friends. I didn't know motherhood could be lonely—not with a cute baby around all day, right?!

10. How long it takes to find yourself again

I thought perhaps becoming a mother meant that you finally became your true self. I didn't know that you needed time to reconnect with your core identity and revamp what is important to you, where your passions lie. I didn't know that "mother" wasn't just simply another hat to wear, like the "daughter" hat or "friend" hat. I didn't know she was embarking on this giant soul-searching adventure.

I now have three kids. I get it. In fact, I get it more and more each day I learn how to be a mom. I learn more with each new challenge, each new lesson and each new #momwin.

I think we'll all always be learning. And now? Now I not only have my older sister but I have one of my younger sisters learning alongside me too. And it has been an honor having them to walk with on this wild journey called motherhood.

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Sunday Citizen

I live in the Northeast and when I woke up this morning, my house was freezing. It had been in the mid 40's overnight and we haven't turned the heat on yet. Suddenly, my normal duvet felt too thin. The socks on my bare feet too non-existent. Winter is coming, and I'd been drinking rosés still pretending it was summer.

I couldn't put it off any longer. It was time to do my annual tradition of winterizing my home—and I don't mean making sure my pipes and walls have enough insulation (though obviously that's important too). I mean the act of evaluating every room and wondering if it has enough hygge to it.

If you've never heard of hygge, it's a Danish word that means a quality of coziness or contentment. And what better time to make sure you have moments of hygge all throughout your house than right now? As far as I'm concerned it's the only way to get through these dark winter months (even more so during a pandemic.)

So I went room by room (yes, even my 4-year-old's room) and swapped in, layered or added in these 13 products to get us ready for winter:

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Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

Minimize smoke exposure.

Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

Do your best to filter the air.

According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

"Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

"COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

Most importantly, don't panic.

In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Mama, all I see is you

A love letter from your baby.

Mama,

I can't see past you right now, I'm so small and everything's a little blurry.

All I see is you.

When you feel alone, like the walls are closing in, remember I'm here too. I know your world has changed and the days feel a little lonely. But they aren't lonely for me.

You are my everything.

When you feel like you don't know what you're doing, you're making it look easy to me. Even though we're still getting to know each other, you know me better than anyone.

I trust you.

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