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My iPhone buzzed. I looked down at the text message on the glowing blue screen. The words took a moment to sink in. It was like being back in primary school and discovering you hadn't been invited to your friend's sleepover, only worse.

"Hi," the text began. "Just letting you know there's no Pilates tonight. We're all going to The Hub to C an indie music jam. SAT! C U next week 😀."

I put my phone down and stared numbly around my kitchen. Dirty dishes jammed the sink. My toddler's banana was smeared all over the fridge door, but I couldn't gather the energy to wipe it clean. The monotony of life as a stay-at-home mom was starting to get to me. And while I knew I was lucky to have everything I'd worked for—family, a new apartment, financial stability—I also knew that I had never felt so lonely.

"C U next week."

I'd joined the Pilates group shortly after we'd moved to the Gold Coast in an effort to meet new people. At first, I felt I'd fit in. The five or six other women who attended were a bit younger than me, but we shared an interest in organic markets, the beach, and environmental protection.

The one thing we didn't have in common, however, was kids.

I looked out the window at the busy world outside. Cars and trams passing by. People striding down the bustling street. What was wrong with me? After living in a city of more than half a million people for the past six months, I still hadn't made any friends. At least, not close ones. Not like the friends I'd left behind in Melbourne. The pre-marriage friends. The pre-baby friends.

Sure, I was 'connected' on social media. But every time I checked my Facebook account to read a pithy update from a high school friend I hadn't spoken to in over a decade or to see a selfie from a university acquaintance holidaying in some exotic location, I came away feeling surprisingly empty.

As I mashed some pumpkin and peas and settled my daughter in her highchair for lunch, I realized I didn't have a single real friend in the entire state.

A week went by.

The house became messier. The dirty laundry pile expanded. And when I didn't go to my Pilates class, nobody texted. I knew I had to do something.

In a precious patch of time, when my daughter was asleep, I picked up my iPhone and googled words like 'moving', 'friends,' and 'loneliness' and I discovered that my situation was hardly unique.

“Life is transitional," says relationships counselor and psychotherapist Charmaine Roth. “We change and mature as we navigate different stages of our lives. And the people that we are in relationships with also change. Friendship fulfills needs. So as our needs change, so do our friendships."

But I didn't have any local friends. What was I supposed to do? I made myself a cup of tea and googled further.

“My mantra is 'get out there'," says clinical psychologist and director of CPConsulting Dr. Simon Kinsella. “If you do something you are interested in, then you will meet like-minded people. If you don't know what you would like, try lots of things. And if you are moving to a new city, get involved in lots of things quickly, and meet lots of people. Then you can reduce the amount of activity and focus on doing the things you love the most, with people you really connect with."

On a sunny autumn morning, I did just that. I filled a plastic container with warm porridge, another with sliced strawberries, plonked my daughter into her pram, and left the apartment, heading for the beach.

At first, having breakfast on the esplanade was a disaster. With no Peppa Pig playing on the TV in the background, I had a riot on my hands. I had to deal with spat-out food, porridge all over our clothes, screaming (her), and red faces (both of us).

The next day, I was sorely tempted to remain in the safety of our apartment, but I forced myself to pack my daughter's breakfast, put her in the pram, and set out again. That day was even worse—broken apple sauce jar, punctured pram tire.

But I persisted.

In the days that followed, things gradually got easier.

We got to know the locals—café owners, dog walkers, council workers—many of whom started smiling and waving at us as we passed. Then other mums pushing prams began to stop and say hello. After months of reading parenting blogs online, I was happy to swap stories with other mothers face-to-face. Every sleepless night, tantrum and nappy disaster: We were open to venting about anything.

Several weeks in, one of the moms mentioned that a group of mothers with toddlers met every Wednesday in the park. Did I want to join them?

Did I?!

The lawn was spread with tartan picnic blankets, the play area teeming with squealing toddlers. Parking the pram in the shade of a tree, I hung back for a second. Did they really want me there? For all I knew, the other mum was just being polite. A knot formed in my stomach. I felt like going home.

But after a moment, I took my daughter from the pram, and we walked over and joined them. A circle of smiling faces squinted up at us. Introducing myself, I placed the container of oatmeal cookies I'd made down amongst the apple slices, juice boxes, and little packets of raisins that had been brought out for morning tea.

Over the next hour, we all talked and laughed. We swapped phone numbers. We fed our children and played on the swings and slides. Finally, when the grizzles started, we split up with plans to meet again the same time the next Wednesday.

As I headed home, I thought of my old friends, and it occurred to me that even though they were less available to me during this stage of my life, it didn't mean that I had lost them forever.

Last week marked a year since I've been going to the park. What began as a mother's group has evolved into a bunch of local friends. Getting out taught me that new friendships can form in any life stage. It also opened my eyes to what was sitting there right in front of me. “Your daughter has a lovely name," a mom of twin boys said to me on that first morning in the park. “Amity. What does it mean?"

I looked down at my daughter. She'd twisted around in my lap at the sound of her name. I brushed the curls from her forehead and she giggled, burying her face in my yellow dress.

“It's Latin," I said. “It means friendship."

This piece was originally published on Essentialbaby.com.

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While breastfeeding might seem like a simple task, there are so many pieces to the puzzle aside from your breasts and baby. From securing a good latch, boosting your milk supply and navigating pumping at work or feeding throughout the night, there's a lot that mama has to go through—and a number of products she needs.

No matter how long your nursing journey may be, it can be hard to figure out what items you really need to add to your cart. So we asked our team at Motherly to share items they simply couldn't live without while breastfeeding. You know, those ones that are a total game-changer.

Here are the best 13 products that they recommend—and you can get them all from Walmart.com:

1. Medela Nursing Sleep Bra

"This fuss-free nursing bra was perfect for all the times that I was too tired to fumble with a clasp. It's also so comfy that, I have to admit, I still keep it in rotation despite the fact that my nursing days are behind me (shh!)." —Mary S.

Price: $15.99

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2. Dr. Brown's Baby First Year Transition Bottles

"My daughter easily transitioned back and forth between breastfeeding and these bottles." —Elizabeth

Price: $24.98

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3. Multi-Use Nursing Cover

"When I was breastfeeding, it was important to me to feel like a part of things, to be around people, entertain guests, etc. Especially since so much of being a new mom can feel isolating. So having the ability to cover up but still breastfeed out in the open, instead of disappearing into a room somewhere for long stretches alone to feed, made me feel better."—Renata

Price: $11.99

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4. Lansinoh TheraPearl Breast Therapy Pack

"I suffered from extreme engorgement during the first weeks after delivery with both of my children. I wouldn't have survived had it not been for these packs that provided cold therapy for engorgement and hot therapy for clogged milk ducts." —Deena

Price: $10.25

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5. Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump Wipes

"Being a working and pumping mama, these quick clean wipes made pumping at the office so much easier, and quicker. I could give everything a quick wipe down between pumping sessions. And did not need a set of spare parts for the office." —Ashley

Price: $19.99

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6. Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter

"This nipple butter is everything, you don't need to wash it off before baby feeds/you pump. I even put some on my lips at the hospital and it saved me from chapped lips and nips." —Conz

Price: $12.95

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7. Medela Double Electric Pump

"I had latch issues and terrible postpartum anxiety, and was always worried my son wasn't getting enough milk. So I relied heavily on my breast pump so that I could feed him bottles and know exactly how much he was drinking. This Medela pump and I were best friends for almost an entire year" —Karell

Price: $199.99 Receive a $50 gift card with purchase at walmart.com

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8. Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads

"I overproduced in the first couple weeks (and my milk would come in pretty much every time my baby LOOKED at my boobs), so Lansinoh disposable nursing pads saved me from many awkward leak situations!" —Justine

Price: $9.79

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9. Haakaa Silicone Manual Breast Pump

"This has been a huge help in saving the extra milk from the letdown during breastfeeding and preventing leaks on my clothes!" —Rachel

Price: $12.99

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10. Medela Harmony Breast Pump

"Because I didn't plan to breastfeed I didn't buy a pump before birth. When I decided to try, I needed a pump so my husband ran out and bought this. It was easy to use, easy to wash and more convenient than our borrowed electric pump." —Heather

Price: $26.99

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11. Milkies Fenugreek

"I struggled with supply for my first and adding this to my regimen really helped with increasing milk." —Mary N.

Price: $14.95

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12. Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags

"I exclusively pumped for a year with my first and these are hands down the best storage bags. All others always managed to crack eventually. These can hold a great amount and I haven't had a leak! And I have used over 300-400 of these!" —Carla

Price: $13.19

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13. Kiinde Twist Breastfeeding Starter Kit

"The Kiinde system made pumping and storing breastmilk so easy. It was awesome to be able pump directly into the storage bags, and then use the same bags in the bottle to feed my baby." —Diana

Price: $21.99

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

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If you're about to be a parent, whether it's for the first time or not, then you've probably thought about all the changes in your life that are coming—especially in the area of finances. Having a baby alters your financial picture. If you take maternity or paternity leave, those changes can be even more pronounced.

If you have student loans in repayment, you may find it difficult to make monthly loan payment with a new baby, and you might be wondering how to make it work.

So how do you handle student loan payments while on maternity leave?

Here are the options available to student loan borrowers:

Family leave deferment

If you have a federal student loan, you can ask for a parental leave/working mother deferment, which offers you time without payments. Becoming a new mother isn't cause for an automatic deferment, like a job loss or serious illness, and so you'll have to work with your servicer directly to request this type of deferment. Navient, one of the largest federal loan servicers, offers information about this deferment on their website.

To be eligible, you'll need to either be pregnant or have a baby less than six months old. You must prove this via a birth certificate or doctor's statement confirming your pregnancy.

In addition, you cannot be working full-time or attending school during the deferment period. If you're hoping to ask for a deferment without taking the time off work, you'll find your request denied. The maximum length of a deferment is six months.

Forbearance

A forbearance allows you to either make a smaller payment or postpone payments completely. Like the deferment, you'll need to contact your servicer and request it. If it's approved, you can take some time off of your student loans while you're off work. Just be aware that even during forbearance, interest continues to accrue, which means your total balance will increase during that time.

Income-based repayment plan

If you'd prefer to keep making payments but just need the amount reduced, you can apply for a new income-based repayment plan. The Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan caps your monthly payment at 10% to 15% of your discretionary income. And since it's also based upon the size of your family, it will account for the fact that your family size has changed, and your discretionary income has decreased. To apply, contact your loan servicer.

Pay as you earn (PAYE) plan

Another option is the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) plan, which allows you to pay 10% of your income, but only up to the payment amount you would have paid on the standard plan. Because the income and family size are reassessed each year, this plan is great for growing families. It allows you to get a temporary reprieve with lower payments. Then, as you further your career and increase your income, your payment gets back on schedule. Your servicer can help get you set up with the PAYE plan. Your spouse's income is only counted if you file taxes as married jointly.

Revised pay as you earn (REPAYE) plan

Under the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) plan, you'll pay the same 10% of your income, with annual reassessment of your situation. You won't, however, get a break from counting your spouse's income. With REPAYE, all income counts regardless of how you file your taxes. The good news is that anything left on your balance will be forgiven after 20 years. Talk to your servicer to see if it's a good fit.

Income contingent-repayment (ICR) plan

The Income Contingent-Repayment (ICR) plan is either 20% of your discretionary income, or what you'd pay on a fixed repayment for 12 years, whichever is less. Just as in the other options, you must update your income and family size each year even if nothing changed. In addition, you may have to pay taxes on any amount that is forgiven because the government considers it income. It does, however, work on subsidized, unsubsidized, PLUS, and even consolidation loans, and can be applied for with your servicer.

Budgeting for a baby

There's no way around it—having a baby brings a lot of new expenses. From the things you'll need to buy before the baby comes, to the amount of diapers, bottles and other things your child will need in their first year, you'll need to figure out how much that will cost and how to correctly budget for it. Babycenter.com has a calculator that can help you break down what your child will cost in a given year. You can divide that number by 12 to understand the monthly costs.

Then, you'll want to identify where you can cut back, if possible, to continue meeting your monthly student loan obligations. For some, that might mean eating out less and bypassing the afternoon latte. For others, it'll require a full restructuring of the budget, especially if you plan to take maternity leave that's not fully paid. Since most maternity leaves are unpaid, you'll need to consider expenses, monthly bills, or other obligations that normally comes out of your paycheck and add those to the budget for the time that you're home.

After you get a handle on what your finances will look like and you have a functional budget, don't wait for your child to arrive before trying to live on that budget. In fact, the sooner you start cutting back, the better. That way, you can get a head start on saving, and you'll also be able to adjust any facets of your budget that prove unworkable.

The bottom line

Having a baby is a joyful experience. But caring for a newborn brings enough stress without the anxiety of how you'll pay student loans while you're on maternity or paternity leave. The best time to plan for your new family member is long before you bring them home. Take the time to talk to your servicer, make a budget and prepare your finances for your baby.

Originally posted on lendedu.

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Learn + Play

Michael Bublé knows how to make music that makes us feel all the feels, and his viral lyric video for his song "Forever Now" proves it.

If you've got kids heading back to school, watch this at your own risk and with some tissues handy, mama.

Michael Bublé - Forever Now [Official Lyric Video] youtu.be

The video is a simple animation of a child's room as it transforms over time from a nursery to the packed-up bedroom of a young adult leaving the nest. We held it together until it got to this part: "It wasn't so long ago, we walked together and you held my hand. and now you're getting too big to want to."

The video reminds us of the classic children's book Love You Forever, and that the babies in our arms today will one day be in someone else's arms.

Right now, when our days are filled with bottle washing and shoe getting and making sure that no one falls asleep in their car seat the days sometimes feel so long, but Bublé's telling us something that we sometimes forget: One day we will be looking back and wondering why these long days went by so fast.

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It would be easy to look at one of Tori Roloff's (of Little People, Big World) stunning maternity photos and think everything is going perfectly for the soon-to-be mother of two, who is expecting a baby girl with her husband Zach. But Tori is keeping it real: Though the photos may show her in a pretty dress, cradling her baby bump against a stunning backdrop, Tori isn't loving every second of her pregnancy. And you know what? That's okay.

The pregnancy is so rough, Tori initially didn't even want to commemorate it with photos (though we bet she's glad she did upon seeing the finished product!).

"I'm not one of those women who loves being pregnant," Tori writes alongside one maternity photo, which she posted to Instagram. "In fact there's not a lot of times I do love being pregnant. Don't get me wrong. I thank God for this amazing gift every single day and I know how blessed I am but it definitely hasn't made me feel my best."

But let's make one thing clear: Just because Tori is clearly finding parts of pregnancy unpleasant, that doesn't mean she isn't immensely grateful for the chance to carry her baby.

"This photo truly embodies what I LOVE about pregnancy. My growing bump is a symbol of a healthy girlsie [sic]. It's a reminder that I'm in a position that many women dream of and trust me—I do not take it for granted," she adds.

One Instagram user sums up our feelings on this post pretty perfectly. "Pregnancy is so hard and I think some people assume that if you don't love it, you're ungrateful. I think you can recognize the difficulties of pregnancy and still be grateful for it — they're not mutually exclusive. This photograph is stunning and you are glowing. Embrace your feelings, no matter what they are. You're valid in them! Sending you big love," she writes in the post's comments.

Our take? Pregnancy is not easy...at all! Morning sickness, exhaustion, back pain, hip pain, belly pain...let's just say expectant mamas can be in a lot of discomfort and voicing that discomfort is totally acceptable.

Yes, pregnancy is an amazing blessing (and one that not every woman gets to or wants to experience), but not enjoying every single second of it doesn't take away from the gratitude an expectant mom feels. So to Tori (and all the other uncomfortable preggos out there), here's what we'll say: Don't beat yourself up for not loving pregnancy. It doesn't mean you love your baby — or the privilege of carrying them—any less.

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There's nothing more important than the bond between a newborn baby and their parents. And while an emotional bond and attachment between parents and a child happen overs years of development, the first year is the most important because a baby's brain grows most rapidly in the first 12 months of life.

In fact, According to Scientific American, paid parental leave benefits baby's brain development. Research shows infant's brains form up to a thousand new connections per second, but those connections form best when the babies are exposed to the kind of stimulation parents on paid leave can provide.

Every parent in America should have the chance to bond with their newborn child, and America deserves a national paid leave policy that supports families.

While the nation works on a single policy, there are some very special workplaces stepping up to the plate and leading the way when it comes to helping parents do what they do best: parent.

Here are 11 employers who get it.

1. Patagonia

Holly Morissette, a recruiter at Patagonia, recently went viral with a post on LinkedIn in which she shared her experience as a breastfeeding mama working at Patagonia.

"While nursing my baby during a morning meeting the other day after a recent return from maternity leave, our VP (Dean Carter) turned to me and said...'There is no way to measure the ROI on that. But I know it's huge.'" Morissette wrote.

"It got me thinking...with the immense gratitude that I have for on-site childcare at Patagonia comes a responsibility to share a 'call to action'. A PSA to tout the extraordinary benefits that come along with not asking employees to make the gut wrenching decision to either leave their jobs or leave their babies. TO HAVE TO LEAVE THEIR JOBS OR LEAVE THEIR BABIES."

Morissette is right here. A recent survey found for 49% of expectant women, it can feel like a choice between breastfeeding or job growth and in two-thirds of cases when breastfeeding mothers point out when they are being discriminated against they ultimately lose their jobs.

That is why Morissette wrote her viral post, to raise awareness of how Patagonia is supporting parents. She hopes that maybe parents will reference her post in conversations with their bosses.

"That perhaps just one person will brave the subject with their employer (big or small) in the hopes that it gets the wheels turning to think differently about how to truly support working families. That with a bit of creativity, and a whole lot of guts, companies can create a workplace where mothers aren't hiding in broom closets pumping milk, but rather visiting their babies for large doses of love and serotonin before returning to their work and kicking ass. It's no wonder that Patagonia has 100% retention of moms. Keeping them close to their babies keeps them engaged. And engaged mothers (and fathers!) get stuff done. Thank you, Patagonia, for leading the way," she wrote.

This is hardly the first time Patagonia's commitment to parents has received attention. The company's family-friendly policies are well known and go way beyond breastfeeding acceptance.

As Quartz reports, Patagonia has been a leader in family-friendly policies for decades. It's had an on-site daycare for over 30 years and busses drop kids off at the corporate headquarters after school. The childcare isn't free, but it is quality care run by teachers and is conveniently located for busy parents. Anyone who has been waitlisted for day care or had to add an hour to their commute for drop-offs can understand why Patagonia employees love this so much.

The company also offers 16 weeks of paid maternity leave and 12 weeks of paid paternity leave. In 2016, Patagonia reported that for the previous five years it had seen 100% of its new moms return to work after maternity leave, and it's no wonder.

[This post was originally published July 8, 2019. It has been updated.]

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