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The Curator of Sex on how making a baby blew her mind

It was after a year of working with us that my babysitter finally realized that I am the Curator of the Museum of Sex. With our living room bookshelves filled with sex titles and my desk strewn with piles of purposefully NSFW content, I’m pretty impressed about how accepting and non-judgmental she was across the year, as she must have wondered what it was that my husband and I did for work while she watched our two small children. She knew I worked in a Museum, it never dawned on me to tell her which one.


Across the last decade I have worked at the Museum of Sex, starting at the age of 22, three months after graduating the preppy and privileged Connecticut College. It was August of 2004, and I would be starting a Master’s program in Anthropology that September at the New School. I had the whole world figured out, and grad school, I thought, was my first step toward becoming a beloved and mind-opening professor who teaches Anthropology 101 and summers with her family in exotic locales, living with indigenous tribes. I wanted to become the Iris Apfel of Anthropology.

But as with all plans in our early 20s, the plans quickly changed. That August as I signed my first lease, for my first apartment, my boyfriend at the time wandered into the Museum of Sex. A few blocks away from the leasing office, Nick killed time at the museum, sent away as I knew the broker’s flirtations didn’t factor a boyfriend into the scenario. When the paperwork was sorted, I bounded with excitement to meet Nick, at a museum I had never heard of, and never knew existed —the Museum of Sex. As liberal and adventurous as I am, I was a little nervous. What in the world is the Museum of Sex?

Established in 2002, the museum had not even been open for two years when I first visited. “Dedicated to an uncensored discourse about sex and sexuality,” as the mission dictates, were words that held no meaning for me until I first walked through its doors that life-changing summer. Even then, with the museum still rough around its edges, figuring itself out as an institution and working through growing pains, I fell in love. While I didn’t know what to make of the contemporary art show on the ground floor, with a huge projection of a vagina, anthropomorphized with googly eyes and smoking a cigarette no less —the exhibition on the second floor, “Sex Among the Lotus: Three Thousand Years of Erotic Obsession” is what hooked me. A survey of sex in China, the exhibition, spread across two galleries, inspired me to pull my sketchbook from my bag to jot down quotes.

Is this what a museum could be? Fun and informative? Entertaining and educational? A few days later, I dropped my resume off at the front desk. You never know, right?

A few weeks later I began working at the museum, replacing the anthropologist researcher, who was off to do his fieldwork for his dissertation. Across the next two years I was promoted Assistant Curator and once I completed my Master’s, on the cusp of taking another job at a more traditional museum, I was offered the job of Curator. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I was feeling on top of the world, and at the time, I thought a proposal from Nick was right around the corner. But, like so many plans, that one was shortly going to fade away. I experienced my first official, gut-wrenching, almost faint on the subway because you forgot to eat out of sadness kind of heartbreak. I was 24, and a single “Curator of Sex” in New York City.

As you can imagine, with that title, I got a lot of attention across the bars and night clubs of New York City. In a city where, “what do you do?” is often asked before knowing someone’s name, my answer was a conversation starter, to say the least.

Still, those were not always the conversations I wanted to be having. Some people found it appropriate to tell me about every pornographic endeavor they forged and others incorrectly believed “curator” was actually a code word for sex worker. Not surprisingly, the one man who actually wished I had any other job in the world became my husband. After meeting by chance in a bar, and after a year of that dramatic, confusing, untenable, and maddening New York City dating, Jason, proposed to me at the top of Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles in November 2008. In September 2009 we were married in Marrakesh, Morocco surrounded by 100 of our closest friends and family. The next year, just around our first wedding anniversary, a Shiba Inu puppy named, She-ra, named after the beloved ‘80s cartoon warrior princess of the same name, joined our family. It felt like playing house and we celebrated that first anniversary sitting on the floor, drinking champagne, as our four pound pup ran and slid across the floor of our Tribeca apartment.

She-ra was the first step in creating the family I had always wanted and never had. Her affection also helped soften the blow each month I saw a negative pregnancy test.

As my husband and I were approaching the one-year mark of trying to become pregnant, I was starting to question my womanhood and my brand-new marriage.

I was only 28, I never imagined it would take that long to conceive. But after a girls weekend in LA, in which I felt like something just wasn’t right, I returned to New York on Valentine’s Day 2011 to finally see the positive test I always dreamed of.

Later that year, my son Kai was born, and his sister, Zia, joined us in 2014.

I am still the Curator of the Museum of Sex.

Now, I’m also a wife and now a mother.

The last few years of motherhood have been the most amazing, and candidly, the hardest of my life. With two difficult pregnancies, preterm labor scares and bed rest, followed by eight months of breastfeeding both children, I feel like only recently have I been able to stick my head out from the blur. I’ve tried my best to maintain glimmers of my pre-motherhood identity and simultaneously begin to craft a new one.

And as much as I know about sex, at least from a professional perspective, I never learned as much personally as I did the last few years through my pregnancies and motherhood (I’ve also never talked so much about my own vagina with near strangers).

As educated as I am on sex, I also realized how disconnected so many of us, myself included, have been from the information about baby-making sex, the awkward comical sex while pregnant, and navigation sexuality after this body-changing, life-changing experience. Like many of my life’s surprises over the last decade, I could never have predicted the impact becoming a mother would have on my total understanding of sexuality. Sex means new things to me now....pleasure as well as procreation, but also how I feel about myself, my partner and our relationship. As every parent knows, it’s also much harder to be romantic, let alone spontaneous, with a household of little people, schedules, exhaustion and “life.” Sex is an exciting, overwhelming, and complicated topic at all stages of life, but why is it that no one told me it would become even more so once becoming a mother?

The last three years have given me a deep understanding and reverence for motherhood. They’ve also helped me find the courage to realize that, if I can do this whole motherhood thing, I can do anything, even talk, think and write about sex —after baby.

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The temperatures are dropping and that can only mean one thing. Whether we like it or not, winter's cold chilly months are upon us. As a born-and-raised Alaskan, and mama of three, I've got a lot of cold weather experience under my belt, and staying inside half the year just isn't an option for us. As my husband likes to say, "There's no bad weather, just bad gear."

Here are some of my favorite picks to keep your family toasty warm this winter.


1. Bear bunting

This sherpa bear bunting wins winter wear MVP for being a comfy snowsuit for your littlest babe, or base-layer under another snowsuit for the chilliest of winter outings. Bonus: your baby bear will never look cuter!

Sherpa Hooded Bunting, Carter's, $15.20

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2. Patagonia Capilene base-layers

Speaking of base-layers, for any prolonged winter activity outside in the cold, it's best to layer up to create air pockets of warmth. These moisture wicking base-layers are a family favorite.

Baby Capilene Bottoms, Back Country, $29.00

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3. Arctix Kids limitless overall bib

These adjustable snow pants keep kids warm and the bib style keeps snow from going down the back of their pants. Bonus: the price is excellent for the quality and they can grow with your child. The Velcro strap also makes bathroom breaks for kids so much easier.

Arctix Kids Limitless Overall Bib, Amazon, $14.99-$49.99

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4. Hooded frost-free long jacket

Keep your little one warm and stylish in this long puffer jacket. Great for everyday outings.

Hooded Frost-Free Long Jacket, Old Navy, $35.00

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5. Patagonia reversible jacket

This jacket is windproof, waterproof and the built-in hood means one less piece of gear to worry about (or one more layer for your little one's head). It's a best buy if you live with cold winter temperatures for many months of the year and still love to get outside to play. It also stays in great condition for hand-me-downs to your next kid.

Reversible Down Sweater Hoodie, Nordstrom, $119.00

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6. Under Armour Decatur water repellent jacket

Made of waterproof fabric and lined with great insulation, kids will no doubt stay warm—and dry—in this. It features plenty of pockets, too, so mama doesn't always have to hold onto their items. We love that the UGrow system allows sleeves to grow a couple inches.

UA Decatur Water Repellent Jacket, Nordstrom, $155.00

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7. Stonz mittens

Ever tried to keep gloves on a 1-year-old? It's a tough task, but these gloves make it a breeze with a wide opening and two adjustable toggles for a snug fit they can't pull off! Warm and waterproof, and come in sizes from infant to big kids.

Stonz Mittz, Amazon, $39.99

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8. Sorel toot pack boot

Keep their little toes warm with these cozy boots from Sorel. With insulated uppers and waterproof bottoms their feet are sure to stay warm. They're well constructed and hold up over time, making them a great hand-me-down option for your family.

Sorel Kids' Yoot Boot, Amazon, $48.73-$175.63

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9. Stonz baby boots

These Stonz stay-on-baby booties do just as their name says and stay on their feet. No more searching for one boot in the grocery store parking lot!

Stonz Three Season Stay-On Baby Booties, Amazon, $29.99-$50.29

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We make a lot of things this time of year. Gingerbread houses. Christmas cards. New traditions. Babies.

Yes, December is peak baby making season. It's a month filled with togetherness and all the love felt in December is what makes September the most statistically popular month for American birthdays.

According to data journalist Matt Stiles, mid-September is the most popular time to give birth in America. He did a deep dive into the birth stats from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Social Security Administration collected between 1994 and 2014 and found that the most common American birthdays fall on September 9, 19 and 12. In fact, 9 of the 10 most popular days to give birth fall in September.

If we turn the calendar back, we're looking at Christmas time conceptions. Stiles illustrated his findings via a heat map, which presents the data in a visual form. The darker the square, the more common the birthday.

The square for August 30 is pretty dark as it is the 34th most common birthday in America. It's also 40 weeks after November 23, and the unofficial beginning of the United States' seasonal baby boom.


And while the Christmas holidays are common times to conceive, they're not common days to give birth, for obvious reasons. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and the fourth of July are all represented by light squares on Stiles's data map, meaning they're among the least popular days to welcome a little one into the world (Boxing Day is just a smidge darker, still a pretty rare birthday).

OB-GYNs are not likely to schedule C-sections on major holidays, so that might point to the low birth rates on these special days.

As for the September baby boom, it probably has less to do with the magic of the holiday season and more to do with the fact that many Americans take time off work during the holiday season. It's not that mistletoe is some magic aphrodisiac, but just that making babies takes time, and at this time of year we have some to spare.

This Christmas be thankful for the time you have with your loved ones and your partner. That time could give you a gift come September.

[A version of this article was originally posted November 21, 2018]

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When I gave birth the first time, I had two doulas—one for me, and one for my husband. (I wasn't messing around!) They worked hard to support me in what ended up being a long labor. About 20 hours in, I remember hearing my doulas whisper to my exhausted, hard-working husband, “Go lie down. We can take care of her."

This was absolutely true. They were more than capable of helping me through contractions, which up to this point I'd been handling really well. So upon their urging, my husband walked about three feet away and lay down on the daybed in the labor and delivery room. And then the strangest thing happened—

I completely lost my rhythm and my ability to breathe through contractions. It was as though I'd lost my way. The next handful of contractions were unbearable and caused me to cry out in anguish. My husband hurried to my side and held my hand once more.

And then, just as quickly, I found my rhythm, my breathing returned, and I was able to to handle my contractions until I gave birth several hours later.

In a recent study published in Nature, it was discovered that when a partner held the hand of a woman during labor, the couple would begin to synchronize their breathing and heart rate patterns, otherwise known as physiological coupling.

In addition, the women reported that their pain lessened while holding hands with their partners. If they were just sitting next to one another, but not holding hands, their pain levels weren't affected.

This study has obvious implications for the families I teach in my Childbirth Preparation classes, and it's important to share this news far and wide:

Everything you do for your partner while she's in labor makes a difference. Even if all you do is hold her hand.

Labor is not just something that a birthing woman experiences. Her partner experiences labor too, just in a very different way. For far too long, we've either diminished or ignored the partner's experience of labor—to everyone's detriment.

I realize that it makes sense to pay close attention to how a woman moves through her pregnancy, labor and birth. But if we're not paying equal attention to her partner's experience, we're not setting this new family up for success. In fact, we might be doing the exact opposite.

If partners don't realize the importance their words, actions and touch can have on the laboring woman's experience, many may freeze up and feel helpless as they witness the power and intensity of labor and birth. They may end up feeling as though all of their efforts and suggestions for comfort measures are without any effect. But this couldn't be further from the truth!

Every little thing a partner does to make the laboring woman more comfortable matters immensely. Every sip of water offered, every new position suggested, every word of encouragement, every reminder to breathe, every single touch, provides comfort to the laboring woman. And partners need to know this and believe in the power that their undivided attention and connection can bring to the laboring woman.

Here's why I think the findings from this latest study are so important—it's that feeling of shared empathy between the laboring woman and her partner that causes the physiological coupling and pain relieving effects that help a woman when she's experiencing pain.

That's why I've always told the partners in my classes that even if they hired an army of the world's greatest labor doulas, their unwavering, focused and empathetic attention during birth, is the reason why she'll tell everyone that she couldn't have made it through labor without her partner! Even if all they did was hold her hand.

It's a conundrum many parents wrestle with: We don't want to lie to our kids, but when it comes to Santa, sometimes we're not exactly giving them the full truth either.

For Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, lying to daughters Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 3 just isn't an option, so everyone in the Bell-Shepard household knows the truth about Santa.

"This is going to be very controversial," Shepard told Us Weekly earlier this month. "I have a fundamental rule that I will never lie to them, which is challenging at times. Our 5-year-old started asking questions like, 'Well, this doesn't make sense, and that doesn't make sense.' I'm like, 'You know what? This is just a fun thing we pretend while it's Christmas.'"

According to Shepard, this has not diminished the magic of Christmas in their home. "They love watching movies about Santa, they love talking about Santa," Shepard told Us. "They don't think he exists, but they're super happy and everything's fine."

Research indicates that Shepard is right—kids can be totally happy and into Christmas even after figuring out the truth and that most kids do start to untangle the Santa myth on their own, as Lincoln did.

Studies suggest that for many kids, the myth fades around age seven, but for some kids, it's sooner, and that's okay.


Writing for The Conversation, Kristen Dunfield, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Concordia University, suggests that when kids come to parents with the hard questions about Santa, parents may feel a bit sad, but can take some comfort in "recognizing these challenging questions for what they are—cognitive development in action."

Kids aren't usually the ones who are upset when they figure it out, researchers note. Typically, kids are kind of proud of themselves for being such great detectives. It's the parents who feel sadness.

Some parents may not choose to be as blunt as Shepard, and that's okay, too. According to Dunfield, if you don't want to answer questions about Santa with 100% truth, you can answer a question with a question.

"If instead you want to let your child take the lead, you can simply direct the question back to them, allowing your child to come up with explanations for themselves: "I don't know, how do you think the sleigh flies?" Dunfield writes.

While Dax Shepard acknowledges that telling a 3-year-old that Santa is pretend might be controversial, he's hardly the first parent to present Santa this way. There are plenty of healthy, happy adults whose parents told them the truth.

LeAnne Shepard is one of them. Now a mother herself, LeAnne's parents clued her into the Santa myth early, for religious reasons that were common in her community.

"In the small Texas town where I grew up, I wasn't alone in my disbelief. Many parents, including mine, presented Santa Claus as a game that other families played," she previously wrote. "That approach allowed us to get a picture on Santa's lap, watch the Christmas classics, and enjoy all the holiday festivities so long as we remembered the actual reason for the season. It was much like when I visited Disney World and met Minnie Mouse; I was both over the moon excited and somewhat aware that she was not actually real."

No matter why you want to tell your children the truth about Santa, know that it's okay to let the kids know that he's pretend. Kristen Bell's kids prove that knowing the truth about Santa doesn't have to make Christmas any less exciting. Pretending can be magical, too.

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