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I went back to work five weeks after my first child was born. This was out of necessity: I was freelance, and if I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid. I was worried that the contracts I had secured for myself before my daughter arrived would disappear if I didn’t get back to the grind quickly. There’s a pervasive feeling that you’re only as good as your last byline when you’re trying to make a living as a writer, and I was understandably afraid — based on research — that the longer I went without my name in print, the longer it would take me to get work again.

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With my second child, I was in a much different place. I was the editor-in-chief at a startup, and I got a few months of paid maternity leave. The emotional tenor of that recent postpartum period was so much more relaxed and joyful than with my first baby. I wasn’t stressed about going back to work or whether my family would be able to cover child care. I was able to think clearly about the book I was about to publish. I was able to physically recover more quickly because I could afford to pay for care when I needed to rest. And I was able to be mentally present with my children without being anxious, and I will be forever grateful for that.

I recognize how insanely privileged I am to receive paid maternity leave in the United States. Only 12 percent of privately employed American workers get paid family leave. Citizens of only a handful of states have access to paid leave. Nearly a quarter of working moms have to go back to work within TWO WEEKS of giving birth, which is inhumane. This isn’t just bad for women, who may be recovering from major abdominal surgery (aka a c-section) and may be more prone to postpartum depression when they don’t get adequate leave. It’s bad for babies. Paid leave reduces infant mortality, and babies whose parents have paid leave are more likely to get regular checkups.

But even though I am privileged compared to other American parents, American parents are the paupers of the world. We are the only developed nation that does not provide paid parental leave to its citizens. It’s an embarrassment. And even though Ivanka Trump has been touting her father’s vague plan to provide six weeks of paid leave to mothers, it would still be meager compared to the benefits that mothers and fathers get in Canada, Sweden, France, Turkey, Mexico, Cyprus… I could sit here and list countries all day. What’s more, if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, which is currently in the works, pregnant women and expectant parents could be denied health insurance on the individual market.

I have been writing about issues relating to parental leave for about five years now, and it’s depressing how little has changed, despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans are in favor of paid leave. Unlike almost every other issue these days, paid leave has bipartisan support. (I haven’t even mentioned all the people who are caring for elderly or otherwise infirm family members — those people don’t get paid leave either. And many workers don’t get paid sick leave for themselves, which is a national health crisis). You can make a difference by contacting your representatives and telling them you want paid leave and you want it now, or by supporting legal organizations like A Better Balance that fight the good fight to get paid leave laws passed.

I will never get a do-over of those first days with my older daughter. I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on how much more idyllic they could have been. But by the time my kids are ready to have their own kids, I want things to be different. And I want to be able to tell them I did everything in my power to fight for the structural support they deserve.

Jessica Grose is the author of the novel Soulmates, which is about a murder at a yoga retreat, and the editor in chief of Lenny.

Original photography by Belle Savransky for Well Rounded.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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As mamas we want our babies to be safe, and that's what makes what happened to Glee actress Naya Rivera and her 4-year-old son Josey so heartbreaking.

On July 13, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department announced the 33-year-old mother's body was found at Lake Piru, five days after her son was found floating alone on a rented boat. According to Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, Rivera's last action was to save her son.

"We know from speaking with her son that he and Naya swam in the lake together at some point in her journey. It was at that time that her son described being helped into the boat by Naya, who boosted him onto the deck from behind. He told investigators that he looked back and saw her disappear under the surface of the water," Ayub explained, adding that Rivera's son was wearing his life vest, but the adult life vest was left on the unanchored boat.

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Ayub says exactly what caused the drowning is still speculation but investigators believe the boat started drifting and that Rivera "mustered enough energy to get her son back onto the boat but not enough to save herself."

Our hearts are breaking for Josey and his dad right now. So much is unknown about what happened on Lake Piru but one thing is crystal clear: Naya Rivera has always loved her son with all her heart.

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