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My entrance into new motherhood brimmed with euphoria as I discovered parenting to be simplistically effortless. My daughter slept through the night and rarely cried. Her big eyes constantly searched for mine and her gurgling laugh filled the quiet house with its charming little ring.

Though born in mid-December, the days were remarkably sunny and warm. Snuggled up by the fire in soft sweaters with delicious coffee and her in my arms, the tranquility of life flowed like sheer happiness through my veins.

That tranquility was fleeting as pregnancy inadvertently embarked upon us a second time while my daughter was yet a newborn. This second pregnancy brought with it, identical twin boys. My body, still not recovered from incubating my daughter, rejected the further strain and my sons entered the world two and a half months before their expected arrival.

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Suddenly I had three babies under 12 months old, two of whom were premature.

The twins spent several weeks in the hospital's NICU fighting the vicious cycle of progress then stagnation. Our lives became fixated on the achievement of the hospital's milestones for release; the 4.5-pound weight minimum, maintaining core temperature, weaning off the feeding tubes and completing five consecutive days without the need for breathing simulation.

We battled through infection, harrowing weight loss, a blood transfusion, lingering jaundice until at long last, the trauma of NICU life came to conclusion and the hospital sent us unprepared into the dark, cold December night. Or was it day? I can't remember. With prematurity, there was no day or night.

We couldn't comprehend at the time that life in the NICU was not the only hard part of prematurity or that those hospital milestones were the last developmental achievements we'd experience for quite a while.

Life at home became measuring milk intake down to the smallest milliliter, checking bowel movements daily for blood, hurriedly suctioning mucus from little noses and mouths when they became asphyxiated and fighting the impossible task of keeping our intrigued daughter away from our immunocompromised sons during a particularly lethal flu season. Our hands cracked and bled from the over-use of hand sanitizer.

The emotional weight of being solely responsible for these two fragile little lives felt crushing. Filled with physical therapy, blood tests, concerns over weight gain or lack thereof, time was a dark blur. There seemed to be no ages, no weeks, no months, just hours upon never-ending hours.

Hours filled with tears as they relentlessly cried. Neither could drink a bottle without choking, and both were in physical pain, screaming as much after eating as they did before. Reflux caused constant vomiting and the diarrhea was so severe that we stocked prescription antibiotic cream for their raw, sensitive butts. They cried from the pain of both.

Never finishing a bottle, they passed over critical calories. Anger consumed me, as those calories were my only sense of forward movement. After a particularly rough feed, I remember taking the unfinished bottle to the trash and just tossing in the whole thing, too frustrated to wash it.

There were times the fear would overwhelm me, and I would sob uncontrollably. The stack of medical bills reached over 8 inches high on the counter, each one another search for answers and another non-descript result.

Our loving pediatrician sent us to a feeding specialist, who sent us to a gastrointestinal doctor, who recommended a home health therapist, who suggested their problems could be neurological.

Meanwhile, days passed, and I'm sure the boys got older, but I can't say I noticed.

At night, I would lay in bed between rounds of endless caretaking and wonder if my sons would ever progress, would ever be normal. Was there some form of underlying neurological disorder waiting in the darkness to negate hope for improvement? And despite understanding their circumstances, I harbored a massive amount of guilt when each day passed, and their development continued to stagnate—layered with a secret shame at my anger and frustration with the incessant wailing from two sets of tiny lungs.

In this manner, hours faded into days and then into weeks—months passed in this sort of dense, dark fog, where my only life was trying to advance their lives.

Then somewhere standing on the other side of their first year, I raised my head and realized I could see, the fog had suddenly lifted. Sometime between their inability to roll and stammering sound of my son saying "baby" in response to a flashcard—they had grown.

I had grown.

We had grown.

The changes happened at such a slow pace I hadn't notice. Their stumbling little walks, their babbling of my name, none of it struck me until I held up that flashcard, just as I had every day for months, only that day my son looked at the picture of the baby and said "baby."

Hearing "mama" was never as beautiful as hearing that one little word. That word that told me we had survived, like coming out of a bunker after a storm and seeing clear skies.

Prematurity lingers beyond the NICU, beyond the texts from friends, beyond the supportive casserole deliveries. Prematurity takes away the life you had and leaves you changed—stronger, braver and ever so grateful.

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If you had asked me a few years ago what I thought my biggest accomplishment was, I probably would have rattled off a bunch of career-related successes and financial wins. Or even something about my worldly travels. I was full of money-driven, "success" driven goals. I had it all mapped out.

I was ticking off items on my list thinking the more I did the happier I would become.

But, my sweet child, in the short three and a half years I've been a mama, 1,352 days to be exact, I have realized something. Something you need to know.

No matter what, nothing I do in life will ever be as great as being your mom.

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My accomplishments aren't measured in dollars, they are measured in hugs and kisses. And every time we say "I love you."

My accomplishments aren't measured by other people's praise, they are defined by the fact that I love you and will never stop.

My accomplishments are defined by the truth that I am with you no matter what. By the truth that I will be your biggest fan. Your protector. Your teacher. Your friend. Your confidant.

My accomplishments are defined by the truth that I will always be proud of you. That I will love you unconditionally, always and forever.

Yes, there are times when I achieve some pretty awesome things in life outside of being your mother. Moments I celebrate. Some are money-driven, some are career-driven, others are just things I've wanted to achieve and set out to do so. Am I proud of those things? Sure I am. I want to be an example to you that you can achieve anything you want to in this life. The world really is your oyster. Those moments though, never even come close to how proud I am to be your mom.

You see my child, no amount of money in the world can buy me the feeling of your little arms wrapped tight around me. The feeling of utter happiness I feel when I see you happy. No amount of money can buy the special bond we have.

My greatest accomplishment will always be you.

I won't lie, it isn't always easy. Sometimes, there are moments of exhaustion. Moments of frustration. Moments of tears. Moments where I desperately needed some 'me' time. But I will always choose you.

I know some people will not see motherhood as an accomplishment. That it is just something you do as part of life. But they don't see you like I do. Some people might wonder why I gave up a successful career to be home with you. But they don't know you like I do. They don't know that I was chosen to be your mama. That we were destined to be together. They don't know what an honor it is to be your mama.

So, my sweet child here is the truth.

You are my life's work.

You are my legacy in this world.

You, my child, are my greatest accomplishment and always will be.

[This article was previously published here.]

Life

Aside from hygienic reasons, there's something about a bath that's soothing, inviting and relaxing. Even little ones can enjoy the benefits of self-care but they often need a little bit of entertainment while they're getting cleaned. Because they are so small and constantly putting anything in their mouths, it's important to use toys that are just as safe as they are entertaining.

We gathered a few best practices from the American Academy of Pediatrics for safe bath time with infants and kids and our favorite products to keep our littles having fun in the water:

  • Use a safe, sturdy tub. Baby bathtubs can be "bucket style" for sitting upright, slanted for support, inflatable, folding and spa-style.
  • Be aware of bumps, edges and slings. Consider avoiding tubs with slings and pay close attention to any bumps or edges that pose a risk.
  • Never leave a child alone in a bathtub. Children can drown in 1 or 2 inches of water so make sure you're not stepping away from the bathroom or leaving babies in the care of another child.
  • Check water temperature. Lower the temperature of your water heater to no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid burns.

Here are our favorite safe bath toys for infants and toddlers. And of course, always check (and double check) toy labels for age guidelines and hazard warnings:

Green Toys tide pool bath set

Green Toys tide pool bath set

This 7-piece bath set includes a starfish, scallop, abalone, snail, squid and jellyfish, as well as a seaweed-patterned storage bag that are packaged using recyclable materials and printed with environmentally responsible inks. Each piece is designed to pour water in a different way—scoop up water with the abalone and create a cascading waterfall with the holes along the edge, or fill the jellyfish and watch the water run down and out each of the legs.

$12.77

B&H baby thermometer

B&H baby thermometer

Ever wonder if your baby is too hot or too cold during bath time? This high and low temperature alarm includes an accurate thermometer that flashes and beeps when water is at a non-optimal temperature. It also doubles as a bath toy that complies with the Consumer Product Safety Commission's toys safety standards, so you don't have to worry if the thermometer will produce chemical reactions in water. Genius!

$16.99

Sophie la girafe so pure bath toy

Sophie la girafe so pure bath toy

Babies can have fun chewing away this Sophie bath toy because it's made of 100% natural rubber from the rubber tree's sap. The rubber ring is also easy to grip so little ones can have full confidence splashing and playing around. And don't worry, water can't get inside the toy so bacteria and mold won't form.

$23.93

Skip Hop bath puzzle

Skip Hop bath puzzle

A puzzle and bath book in one? Yes, we'll take it! The pages float in water and stick to bath tiles so you're child will be entertained the entire time they're in the water. We love that the handy stroller ring keeps it all together when they're done.

$8.00

Green Toys my first tugboat

Green Toys my first tugboat

This cool tugboat toy is safe for the earth as well as your child. It's made with 100% recycled plastic milk containers, which helps save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and is free from BPA, PVC and phthalates. It also features a wide spout which will help them scoop and pour water while exploring in the water.

$11.91

Boon marco light-up bath toy

Boon marco light-up bath toy

If you have older kids and are less concerned with them putting toys in their mouth, your kid might enjoy Marco. Put Marco in water and watch him float while the color-changing light activates. It's BPA-free, too.

$11.99

Skip Hop light up bath toy

Skip Hop light up bath toy

Featuring water-activated multicolor lights, this soft and squeezable bath toy is sure to make a splash with any child in your life. Choose from a dinosaur or unicorn with the phthalate-free materials.

$4.50

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This year's flu season has been making headlines, and there's a lot of (perfectly understandable) concern among parents about flu prevention and treatment.

The flu vaccine is the single best way to prevent your child from catching the flu. Other ways to prevent the flu from taking hold in your family include washing hands frequently, avoiding close contact with those who are sick, avoiding touching your eyes, mouth and nose, and staying in good overall health—getting plenty of sleep, eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly.

But what if, despite your best efforts, your child comes down with the flu? It can be hard to watch children suffer with flu symptoms such as chills, fever, aches, cough and congestion. That's why parents need a helpful, complete, scannable-at-2-am-in-panic-mode rundown of what to do for the flu, when to call the doctor and how to help little ones feel better.

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Here's what to do when you think your child has the flu:

1. How do I know if my child has the flu?

Symptoms of influenza tend to come on suddenly, and include:

  • Fever (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater)
  • Headache
  • Muscle pains
  • Cough
  • Hives
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose

So how do you know whether it's a cold or the flu? Symptoms of the common cold may be similar to the flu, but generally are milder and include cough, congestion, runny nose and sore throat. RSV, or respiratory cold virus, is a separate condition that can cause cold-like symptoms in older children, but may cause a more severe lung disease in infants called bronchiolitis. Your best bet is to call your pediatrician for a diagnosis.

2. What should I do if my child has the flu?

The best treatment for most flu infections is what doctors call "supportive care:" encouraging fluid intake, giving fever-reducing medication such as children's acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and getting plenty of rest.

Children who are at higher risk of complications from the flu or whose symptoms started within the past 48 hours may also receive treatment with an antiviral medication. Talk with your primary care provider about your options.

3. What medicines are safe for my child to take for the flu?

Fever-reducing medications, including ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can generally be given to children with the flu with your pediatrician's okay. Children should not receive aspirin. Be sure to follow dosing directions for your child's age and weight.

4. What are home remedies for flu symptoms in kids?

Flu treatment is all about comfort care for symptoms—rest, fluids, fever-reducer, repeat. Keep children with the flu home from school, preschool or daycare, keep them comfortable in bed (or snuggled up on the couch), and offer fluids—and plenty of sympathy.

5. Should I try to make my child with the flu eat, or drink?

Keeping kids hydrated while they're sick with the flu is important. Encourage small, frequent sips of liquids and soup to keep up with hydration. But don't worry about forcing your child to eat a hearty meal: As your child's infection resolves, their appetite will return.

6. When should I call the doctor for my child's flu?

Parents should always call their pediatrician if they're worried, of course, and if your child has a chronic medical condition that may be worsened by the flu, call your doctor right away. Here are symptoms that warrant an immediate call to your care provider:

  • Fast breathing
  • Signs of dehydration including decreased urine output
  • Fever and cough which improved at first but have worsened
  • Fever above 103 degrees, or any fever in a child under 3 months of age

Serious signs that warrant a trip to the emergency room or a 911 call, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Labored breathing
  • Blue discoloration of the lips or face
  • Difficulty in awakening
  • Severe muscle pains
  • Seizure activity

7. How long will my child's flu last?

Most kids with the flu run a fever for 3 or 4 days with aches and chills. But the worst symptoms tend to be over within 4 days or so, with gradual improvement in respiratory symptoms after the fever resolves.

8. When is it safe for my child to go back to school or daycare after having the flu?

Most daycares and schools have specific guidelines, such as 24 hours without a fever. Children with the flu are usually contagious for 5 to 7 days after the first onset of symptoms, and are at their most contagious when their fever peaks during the first 3 days. In general, children should stay home until they're fever-free for 24 hours and respiratory symptoms have improved.

Watching your child suffer with the flu can be hard, but knowing steps you can take to help your little one feel better fast can help. Hang in there—even flu season can't last forever.

Learn + Play

If you haven't bought an Instant Pot yet, what are you waiting for, mama? It's one of those holy grail items that, once used, you're not sure how you ever lived without it. In fact, it was one of the most-purchased items from Motherly mamas last year and was life-changing for one of our editors when she finally caved and tried it out for her family.

Whether you're a chef who loves to make gourmet meals or a mama who hates cooking and needs more time in the day, it's one of those products that works for everyone.

And, the Instant Pot is on super sale today on Amazon—just $56.99.

Instant Pot 6-quart

instant pot sale

Why does it have such a cult following? Because it cuts down on cooking time and you can cook just about anything in it. It acts as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer and warmer all in one. And the smart one-touch program makes cooking ribs, soups and desserts so much easier.

The 6-quart size cooks for up to six people, making it the perfect size for your family, and is 29% off today.

$56.99

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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