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[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]

Dear amazing, wonderful, romantic husband,

You are all of these things and more on a daily basis—because, yes, my idea of “romance" these days is when you volunteer to change the baby's umpteenth dirty diaper. Hubba-hubba.

You deserve to hear me say this. And, to be honest, I depend on the moral support I get from you, too. With two young kids, we're deep in the trenches of parenting and it sometimes feel like the only way we're keeping afloat is on love. (And lots of coffee. Which reminds me, the sexiest thing I've seen all year was when you set up that new espresso machine. ?)

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But, you know what we don't need right now? More pressure.

That's why I'm really, truly, 100% giving you permission to skip Valentine's Day this year.

I know, I know. This sounds like the set-up for a sitcom. In fact, it is the set-up for a sitcom: While crashed on the couch at the end of a busy day this week, I caught an episode of Matt LeBlanc's new-to-me show, Man with a Plan.

In it, his wife said exactly what I just did—only she not-so-secretly wanted him to lavish romance and gifts on her. Chaos and hilarity ensued. Predictably, all was well again by the end of the 30 minutes.

As much as it made for some enjoyable TV-viewing, that's not what I want.

You and I are here in real life, with real day-to-day challenges that accompany raising two little ones. And you know what I need more than another box of chocolate or fancy meal out? For you to continue showing up all the time, each day, as much as you already do. Besides, I can (and will) buy those chocolates for myself. ?

For some people in our shoes, celebrating Valentine's Day and being on their game the rest of the time may not be mutually exclusive.

But, speaking for myself, the pressure of one more thing on my to-do list may very well be the task that pushes me over the edge. Kidding, kidding—but let's not test it anyway, okay?

Here's my bigger point: You know what comes after Valentine's Day? February 15. I will be one happy girl if we can enjoy that day together, too, rather than feel burnt out from putting the emphasis on just one day.

So this year, let's make it past the kids' bedtime and then kick back and enjoy. If we're feeling crazy, maybe we can even have a glass of wine while sitting at the table instead of moving straight into the Netflix and chill portion of the evening.

While we're sitting there, I can guarantee you there will be a moment when I catch a glimpse of you—and see you not as the guy who used to make reservations at my favorite restaurant weeks in advance of Valentine's Day and then pick me up with a bouquet of flowers in his hand.

I'll see you as someone even more amazing than that:

The guy I fell in love with at first sight during a college party eight years ago.

The husband who was all I really needed through three major moves and two new babies.

The dad who gets up with our toddler at 6 a.m. and has some of that aforementioned espresso ready for me when I get up with the baby an hour later.

The best friend who loves me—despite the spit-up stains and breakdowns.

And the person who does those things during all 365 days of the year.

As those thoughts cross my mind, my heart will (unfathomably) find a way to love you even more. Best of all, it will do the same thing the next day, too. ❤️

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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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Artist and teacher Catie Atkinson at Spirit y Sol recently shared a beautiful drawing of a new mom crying on a couch—leaking breasts, newborn baby, pile of laundry and what we can only assume is cold coffee, included. Everything about the image is so real and raw to me—from the soft stomach to the nursing bra and the juxtaposition of the happy wallpaper to the palpable vulnerability of the mother—I can almost feel the couch underneath me. I can feel the exhaustion deep in this woman's bones.

My heart feels the ache of loneliness right alongside hers. Because I remember. I remember the confusion and uncertainty and love and messy beauty of the fourth trimester so well. After all, it's etched in our minds and bodies forever.

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But I've never experienced a fourth trimester amid the chaos and heaviness of a global crisis. A scary pandemic keeping people away, keeping new mothers home—increasing the isolation, increasing feelings of being trapped.

I haven't quite experienced that. And my heart goes out to the postpartum moms who are crying on their couch right now wondering why exactly, this is the maternity leave or introduction into motherhood they're getting—and not the one they envisioned.

She wrote:

"This is not what you had planned. This is not what you'd envisioned. There are no visits from friends, no loving doula bringing you soup, no 'mommy and me' yoga classes, no coffee dates, no stroller walks through the park. There is empty space where you had planned comfort and company. There are long days with no one but your little one to talk to and this big transition to navigate all alone.

"I know it's lonely, mama. I know the walls of your house feel tight and the days feel so long, and you crave a warm hand on your knee and the soft embrace of a friend. You wish for someone by your side to marvel at this beautiful baby of yours and to wrap an arm around you when the feelings get too big and scary.

"We were never meant to do this alone. Motherhood has never been a solitary sport. And yet here we are, in this odd chapter of isolation and distance, with no choice but to do it by ourselves.

"But mama, know this—We are alone. Together. You are surrounded all the other mothers who are navigating this tender time in isolation. You are held by all of us who have walked the path before you and who know how much you must be hurting. You are wrapped in the warm embrace of mama earth, as she too settles into this time of slowness and healing.

"This too shall pass. And when it does, hugs and coffee dates and visits from friends will taste so much sweeter. Soft kisses on your cheek and arms around your waist and gentle laughter in your ear will be the joyful medicine after this trying time.

"Until then, hunker down mama. Find the coziest, warmest spot on your couch, sink into the pile of unfolded laundry, and sleep the Spring away, with that sweet babe warm on your chest."

I cry for the new mom who has to introduce her new baby to their grandparents over FaceTime instead of an in-person visit.

I hold onto hope, knowing the day you can finally parade your baby around out in the world—showing them off to everyone you love—will be one of the proudest moments of your life.

I cry for the new mom desperate to go to a mother's group to commiserate and celebrate together with other mamas who are in this.

I hold onto hope, knowing that there are opportunities for virtual connection that are helpful and soul-filling, too.

I cry for the new mom wishing she had an extra set of hands around to hold her baby while she showers or naps.

I hold onto hope, imagining this time is a really special (albeit, intense) period of bonding and connection for your brand new family.

I cry for the new mom needing to break free from the walls of her home, the surroundings she looks at all day long.

I hold onto hope for you, praying you're able to get out for a walk or even a quick drive by yourself—with the music turned up on full blast.

We cry for you—with you—mama. But we're wildly inspired by you, too. You're the mothers birthing and raising new babies during a global pandemic. You are strong. You are resilient. And you are certainly not alone.

We are with you in spirit and solidarity. The fourth trimester you're getting might not be the one you hoped for, but that doesn't make it any less real, or any less significant.

It's powerful and it's yours.

Life

Recent studies found that a large portion of individuals with coronavirus are asymptomatic, meaning even those who eventually develop symptoms can transmit the virus before showing symptoms. It's hard to know how to truly protect yourself and others so the The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends individuals use cloth face coverings if you have to go out in public.

Of course cloth face coverings are not surgical or N-95 masks by any stretch, but in an effort to reserve them for health care workers and other first responders, it's a great idea to create your own.

According to CDC experts, "cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure."

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There are so many DIY mask options, whether you have a sewing machine around or just a pillowcase—there's something for you, regardless of your skill.

Keep in mind that cloth face coverings should not be placed on children under age two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance. It's also worth noting that creating your own mask does not replace the necessity of maintaining social distancing guidelines. It's also equally important to limit trips outside your home and wash your hands often.

Here are step-by-step instructions for how to make fabric face masks with a sewing machine, a needle and thread or materials you have around your home:

How to make a face mask with a sewing machine:


youtube

If you're a pro at adding buttons, zippers and piping then you're well-suited for this advanced sewing project. Plug in your Singer and go!

What you'll need:

Instructions:

  1. Cut material and interfacing to 12 x 9 inches
  2. Iron interfacing to material (adhesive side to back of material)
  3. Once ironed, fold fabric in half with interfacing on the outside
  4. Cut two pieces of elastic—each 7 inches long
  5. Pin and sew 1/4 inch from edge leaving a 2 inch gap in the center
  6. Put elastic band on each corner, inside the material and pin to keep in place, making sure the elastic is not twisted. Pinning in center as well
  7. Using the pattern, mark locations of pleat lines and add pins on both sides
  8. Fold three pleats. Sew around the entire perimeter of the mask, this holds the pleats in place, and closes the 2 inch gap

Mask from JOANN Fabric and Craft Stores.

How to make a face mask without a sewing machine:

youtube

If you can't sew, don't stress, mama. Try this DIY mask from the CDC that can be created with pillowcases, scarves, hand towels, and even old t-shirts you have laying around the house.

All you need is fabric and two rubber bands.

What you'll need:

  • An old scarf or bandana
  • 2 rubber bands or hair ties

Instructions:

  1. Place the scarf or handkerchief facedown on a flat surface.
  2. Fold the top half down to the midline of the scarf, then fold the bottom half up to the midline.
  3. Flip it over so that the seam faces down.
  4. Fold the new top half down to the midline, and the bottom half up.
  5. Flip it over again so that the seam faces up.
  6. Loop a hair tie over each end of the folded rectangle.
  7. Fold the free sides of the rectangle in toward the middle, layering one side over the other.
  8. Flip it over and loop the elastics over each ear to wear, making sure the mask covers your mouth and nose.

Mask from CDC.

How to make a face mask with needle + thread:

Maybe you don't own a sewing machine, but you aren't afraid of a needle and thread. If so, this step-by-step guide from The New York Times is perfect for you.

What you'll need:

  • Basic sewing tools (needle and thread, etc.)
  • Scissors
  • Pins or clips
  • 20 x 20 inch fabric
  • 4 strips (cotton shoe laces are great!) for ties

Instructions:

  1. Create your mask by folding your fabric of choice in half. It should measure about 10 inches x 7 inches.
  2. For your ties, cut four strips 18 inches in length and ¾ inches in width.
  3. Fold your ties in half lengthwise, and sew to reinforce and neaten edges.
  4. Pin your ties down at the corners of what will be the outside of your mask.
  5. Rest the excess tie material inside of the rectangle.
  6. Place the other layer of mask material on top of the first mask layer. You will be sandwiching together all of your ties.
  7. Sew around the perimeter of the mask, leaving a small ½ inch gap at the top. Make sure you sew the ties down and reinforce with several stitches.
  8. Use the 1/2 inch gap to turn the mask inside out.
  9. To help the mask fit your face better, fold pleats in the top layer. Pin them down, and sew in place around the perimeter.

Mask from The New York Times.

Lifestyle

With schools closing, events being canceled and new information about the coronavirus circulating through news and social media, it's only natural for parents to feel anxious about protecting their children from this unfamiliar disease. But for parents of premature babies and other medically fragile children, isolation and "social distancing" is all too familiar.

When our son was born at 23-weeks gestation, my husband and I were thrust into a medical world that taught us more than we ever wanted to know about germs and the human body. But when we were discharged from the NICU four months later, we found one of the challenges of caring for our baby at home was educating the people around us about his vulnerability to illness.

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The preemie journey doesn't end when the baby comes home.

It's easy to assume a preemie discharged from the NICU is now a healthy full-term baby, but that's not the case at all. In reality, NICU discharge means the baby can now be cared for at home, but this care often includes many of the trappings of hospital life.

Our son came home with oxygen tanks, a nasal cannula, and a pulse oximeter (a machine to monitor the levels of oxygen in his blood), as well as breathing treatments and five medications. We had a nurse come to our home every day to help with his care and monitor his health. It was December—right in the middle of cold and flu season—so we were also under strict orders to keep our son out of crowds, limit visitors and maintain many of the same hygiene and disinfecting practices we'd had to follow in the NICU.

After months of watching our son struggle to breathe in the NICU, we lived in constant fear that one of us would bring home an illness that would land him back in the hospital on a ventilator.

Preemie bodies don't work like the bodies of full-term babies. A very common piece of advice parents hear is, "You need to expose them to germs—that's how they build up their immune systems!" And while there is some truth in this advice, it's actually a lot more nuanced than that.

Preemies start at a disadvantage in terms of immunity because they miss out on some—or in our case, all—of the third trimester of pregnancy, which is when a mother passes her antibodies to her unborn child. There's also a misconception that premature babies are simply "finishing their gestation outside the womb," but in actuality, a baby's development proceeds very differently after they are born. So their organs are likely not functioning the same way they would be if the baby had been born on time.

Particularly, lung development is stunted by premature birth, and this can be exacerbated by ventilators which cause damage to delicate lung tissue. It can take years for children who were born prematurely to outgrow these shortcomings in immunity and lung development, depending on how early they were born.

Our doctors have told us to expect our 23-weeker to be vulnerable until he's at least 5 years old, and that's if we can protect him from dangerous respiratory illnesses. So even though he's 3 years old now, no longer our tiny baby, we've still been advised to keep him isolated while COVID-19 is spreading, because his body may not be strong enough to fight it off if he does get infected by it.

This isn't the life we imagined for our family.

When we first got pregnant, we pictured ourselves enjoying the fun parts of family life: visits from friends and family, outings with the baby strapped to our chest, family gatherings where our kiddo would join the already bustling crew of munchkins running around. But that's not exactly how it panned out for us.

We still feel the pain of that loss, even three years later. So while it may be disappointing for you when you can't meet the new baby in your family or friend's life or when they cancel plans and skip events because they're nervous about germs going around, please know—they're not overreacting and they're not excluding you because they don't love you. They're just trying to protect their child, and trust me, no one is sadder than the parents this is necessary.

And if you are the mother of a preemie or medically fragile child trying to navigate this scary new world where the coronavirus exists—you are not alone. Millions of Americans are with you, virtually, at home, too.

Life

On Friday President Trump announced that the Centers for Disease Control is now advising people to wear a cloth mask if they need to go out in public in a place where social distancing would be hard. The CDC is not asking people to wear masks all the time, just when you're going somewhere public like the grocery store, the pharmacy or using mass transit—places where it may be hard to keep your distance from others.

What the CDC says about cloth face masks:

The CDC says it's recommending cloth face masks because recent studies show that people can have COVID-19 while asymptomatic, meaning they feel fine and because they don't know they are sick they might still be going about their daily routine in their community.

FEATURED VIDEO

Basically, masks don't protect the wearer as much as they protect people from the wearer (who might not know they are sick) by blocking respiratory droplets "So it's not going to protect you, but it is going to protect your neighbor," Dr. Daniel Griffin at Columbia University, an expert on infectious diseases, tells NPR.

CDC experts are "advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure."

They say if you're going somewhere where it's hard to maintain the proper social distance of six feet, like a grocery store or a pharmacy, then it's a good idea to wear a simple cloth mask.

"The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance," the CDC states.

"You may need to improvise a cloth face covering using a scarf or bandana," the agency notes on its website.

A DIY cloth mask is an extra layer of protection:

The CDC still says that staying home and practicing good hand hygiene is the best protection against COVID-19, but a cloth mask would be an extra layer of protection if you must go out to get food or unavoidable medical care.

According to Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, certain types of fabric are better than others when it comes to making a mask. While he CDC says improvised bandanas or scarfs are better than nothing, Segal says DIY mask makers should aim a little higher for the masks to be effective.

"You have to use relatively high-quality cloth," Dr.Segal, who is researching this topic, tells NBC News.

According to Segal you don't want to use a knit fabric (like an old T-shirt) but rather a woven fabric. He suggests a double layer of heavyweight cotton with a thread count of at least 180 (like quilters cotton). If you don't have a cotton with that high of a thread count, line it with flannel.

For more tips on how to sew a fabric face mask, check out these instructions from Kaiser Permanente.

No-sew methods:

If you're not a sewer you can still fashion a mask, and there are plenty of no-sew tutorials online showing you how. Use heavyweight woven fabric like Segal suggests and make one of these without a sewing machine.

How To Make a Pleated Face Mask // Washable, Reusable, No-Sewing Required youtu.be

Should kids wear masks? Talk to your doctor.

The CDC says "Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance." Babies' faces should not be covered, they should not wear masks.

For older kids, the CDC is not recommending masks if you're just going for a walk around the block or playing in the backyard (which is the extent of most kids' outings these days). The masks are more for grocery runs, which many parents are opting to do alone these days.

But solo parents and those with partners who are in the military know that leaving the kids behind isn't always an option if you're the only adult in the home. If that's your circumstance, choose delivery options when possible to avoid taking your children to public places like grocery stores and pharmacies (the kinds of places the CDC recommends masks for).

If you are concerned that you may need to take your child somewhere where a mask would be required, call your pediatrician for advice on whether a mask is appropriate for your child's age and circumstances.

If you have no one to watch your children while you get groceries and cannot get them delivered try contacting your local government, community groups and churches for leads on grocery delivery help. They may be able to put you in touch with someone who can fetch groceries for you so that you don't have to take your children to the store with you.

The President says it's not a rule but a recommendation.

"It's really going to be a voluntary thing," President Trump told reporters Friday, contradicting the CDC recommendation. "I'm not choosing to do it."

First Lady Melania Trump is urging others to do it, howeverm tweeting, "I ask that everyone take social distancing & wearing a mask/face covering seriously. #COVID19 is a virus that can spread to anyone—we can stop this together."

[This post was originally published April 3, 2020. It has been updated.]

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