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I stood next to the kitchen counter making—I don’t even know what—something for someone else. It was a long day, after a long week, after a long year. We decided to keep things simple by letting the kids start early with dinner and a movie. I bought sparkling apple juice for them because what says We’re Celebrating! more than drinking little bubbles?


He’s holding the bottle and asks, “Where are the glasses for the kids?”

Do you live here?

I know he knows, or at least I think he knows, that I have these cute little cordial glasses we received as a wedding present nearly 20 years ago that I let the kids use when we’re pretending to be fancy. But maybe he doesn’t know?

I put the knife down, the one I was using to cut the I-don’t-even-remember. He’d asked me at least 50 billion questions about dinner by this point and even though I know he was trying to cater to me, to be helpful, to give me control of this evening (down to which glasses to use for the kids) during days where I had little control of who would sleep when or have a tantrum for how long, it was making me angry.

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“They’re downstairs.”

“What are downstairs? The glasses?”

“Yes. The glasses.” You live here, right?

“I just meant which glasses did you want the kids to use for the juice?”

“The ones downstairs.”

His expression made it clear: he had no clue we have cute little cordial glasses we use a few times a year down in the storage room on the second shelf next to the bowl with the snowman on it.

“You could just tell me,” he said.

I just did.” Every inch of my skin was kindling and lighter fluid dripped from my lips.

He left the kitchen with the bottle in his hand, and on his way down the stairs, he mumbled something under his breath. Except I heard it.

He struck a match.

Everything I’d inadvertently been holding onto, the small things I could have easily let go of, had I not been tired or sad or just feeling drained, engulfed in flames. Blazing, I let out a bonfire of words.

After the kids were in bed, we drank (real) champagne in complete silence and went to bed angry. For the next two days, we said not one more word to each other than was necessary to keep our lives in forward motion.

We drank wine. The guys had beer. We all sat around their brown table in a kitchen bigger than our entire apartment. Their kids were in bed, and Chris and I didn’t have any yet. Our laughter was the soundtrack. The lights were dim and she had candles burning. This is atmosphere for real conversation.

Our friends had just celebrated their 12th wedding anniversary and we’d been married a handful of years. Anyone who’s been married longer than thirty days knows marriage isn’t always bliss, so I wanted the secret. Their secret. How did they keep a healthy/fun/exciting/loving/supportive marriage going?

“What’s your advice?”

Sipping his beer, the husband laughed, “We have no advice.”

“Oh come on!”

“No, really—no advice. Actually, we asked each other what we were most surprised by, after all these years.”

“And ... ?”

“She said she’s surprised how hard it still is.”

Amen, Sister. We raise our glasses “To marriage” and I make a silent self-righteous vow: we’ll have it figured out by the time we’ve been married that long.

***

I wouldn’t hesitate to tell you I fall short as a mother. I forget to sign permission slips. I lose my temper. I’ve washed the same load of laundry four times, and I’m pretty sure it’s still sitting in the washer, getting smelly once again while you read this. (And although laundry is not a task inherent to motherhood — be real with me for a sec — I’d have 1/3 the amount of laundry if I wasn’t a mother of four kids.) I yell. I get frustrated. And at certain points, I cry.

To say, in general terms, that marriage is hard — bothers no one. You and I could laugh for days over the fact that our husbands can’t find the book on the corner of the table right there, that they chew too loud, clear their throats too often, and are such babies when they get sick.

But I hesitate to say my marriage is hard. I don’t want to invite the inevitable divining forks to come out, ready to dip and tilt and point. Saying you have a hard marriage begs the curious questions: hard why? Hard how?

I could explain our differences: I am late, and he is on time. He is left-handed, and I am right. I tan. He burns. He is disciplined. I am indulgent. I’m loud. He’s quiet. I exaggerate (to make a point), but he lets the facts speak for themselves. I’m emotionally hot. He’s emotionally cold. I process life through means outside of my body, while he barely talks and processes the world internally. We share no letters on our Myers Briggs test results.

I could tell you that my mom died when I was falling in love with this young man, and he could tell you about his unexpected brain surgery after we were married.

I could explain how we didn’t have a great support system for many years, and he would agree that we’ve felt those effects ever since.

I could tell you how our upbringings and life circumstances made a well worn path that led us in the right direction, even though we both know there must be a better way, for this one has too many ruts, and we’ve had too many flat tires.

Those of us with hard marriages hesitate to say anything at all, for fear of being misunderstood.

I’d rather tell you how we always go to sleep with at least some part of our bodies touching, that his dry humor puts me on the floor with laughter, that I often look at him and think What did I do to deserve such a good man?

I want to explain when it comes to our faith, money, politics, and sex, our bookmarks are at the same page. I love my husband with my whole heart. I always have.

But the truth, even after all these years, is this: our marriage is still hard.

I share this because when we did get to our 12th anniversary, despite the work we put into it, and our creases and sharp edges hadn’t smoothed out, when our relationship remained peppered with miscommunications (because we literally do not understand things the same way), when we chose refuge in isolation instead of into each other’s arms, or spoke harsh words instead of giving grace during times of chronic tiredness and stress — I didn’t despair.

And I don’t want you to either.

Whether you’ve been married for 12 months or 12 years, and you don’t have it all figured out yet, you’re not alone. Hard does not mean bad. Hard just might be the truth. Many of us are on this challenging, good, and holy road.

My husband and I will celebrate our 19th anniversary this year. Most likely, we’ll order in sushi and drink champagne.

But numbers don’t matter. We all have the same charge: put one foot in front of the other, make the time to really talk, to forgive and ask for forgiveness.

Maybe it’s on Valentine’s Day. Maybe on your anniversary. Maybe it’ll be some random Saturday night when you find a babysitter or six months from now on a Tuesday after the kids finally start sleeping at the same time. Whenever it is, I hope you can find a moment to use the special glasses, look in each other’s eyes, and toast.

To marriage.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Student loan debt is a major problem for many mamas and their families―but it doesn't have to be. Refinancing companies like Laurel Road help families every year by offering better rates, making payments more manageable or helping them shorten their loan term.

If you're ready to start taking control of your student loan debt, here are five steps that could help you conquer your student loan debt and get a loan that works for you.

1. Understand your refinancing options.

Like motherhood, managing student loan debt is a journey made much easier by experience. If your eyes start to cross when you hear variable and fixed rates or annual percentage rate, start your process with a little education. Laurel Road offers a user-friendly resource hub with student loan refinancing guides and articles that can help explain your options and get you started on a more informed foot.

2. Potentially improve your credit score.

Your credit score is important because it provides an objective measure of your credit risk to lenders. It also has an impact on many aspects of your finances, so it's a good idea to understand and track your score regularly. To try and improve your score, pay your bills on time—your payment history is one of the most important factors in determining your credit score. Having a long history of on-time payments is best, while missing a payment may hurt your score. Another action to improve your credit score would be to keep the amount you owe low—keeping your balances low on credit cards and other types of revolving debt, such as a home equity lines of credit, may help boost your score. Remember, good credit scores don't just happen overnight, but taking positive financial steps now can lead to more positive outcomes in the future.

3. Get a better understanding of your current loan benefits.

Different loan types have different benefits and you want to make sure you don't lose any valuable benefits by refinancing your current loan. Before you're ready to apply for a better option, you need to know what you have. Determine your loan terms (how long you have to pay off your loan and how much you're required to pay each month) and find out your current interest rate.

When you took out your original loan, especially if it was a federal loan, everyone who applies is given the same rate regardless of their personal credit. When you look to refinance, companies like Laurel Road look at your credit score and other attributes to give you a personalized pricing option―one that's often more competitive than your original terms. However, it is important to know that federal loans offer several benefits and protections, including income based repayment and forgiveness options, that you may lose when refinancing with private lenders (learn more at https://studentloans.gov). Try Laurel Road's Student Loan Calculator to get a bigger picture perspective of what it will take to pay off your loan and the options available to you.

4. Pick the terms that fit your lifestyle.

Your long-term financial goals will determine what refinancing terms are right for you. For example, a 3- or 5-year loan means faster payoff times, but it will mean a higher monthly payment―which might not be possible if you're planning to purchase a home or looking to move your toddler to a more expensive school. A loan with a longer term will have lower payments, but more interest over the duration of the loan.

Want to see what your options are? Check your rates on Laurel Road. They'll perform a "soft credit pull" using some basic information (meaning initially checking your rates won't affect your credit score ) so you can make an informed decision. If you do proceed with the application Laurel Road will ask for your consent on a hard credit pull.

5. Don't miss out on discounts.

With a little research, many people can find opportunities for lower rates or discounts when refinancing their loans. For example, if your credit isn't the best, look into the possibility of adding a cosigner who may help boost your rate. There are also many associations and employers who offer student loan benefits. Laurel Road partners with a number of groups and employers who offer discounts on rates―so check with your professional associations or HR to see if any options are available to you. Finally, talk to your financial institution, especially if you're planning to take out another major loan like a mortgage. In some cases, having another product with an institution can get you a preferred customer rate.

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

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Dear second child,

I see you. In the background, laying on your activity mat. I am frantically peeling a banana to appease your big sister's demands while cleaning milk off the floor.

You reach over and grab your toy and I am SO proud of you. I see you.

You smile and coo to yourself and tears threaten to spill from my sleep-deprived blood-shot eyes.

You are 4 months old and I have so many things I've been meaning to do. I want to cuddle you on the couch while reading all the books I loved reading to your sister.

I want to help you explore sensory bins, feeling the rice that I dyed various vibrant colors between your sweet little fingers.

I want to lay with you in the grass, gazing at clouds and soaking in the feeling of you discovering your world.

But your sister just disappeared with a red crayon and has been quiet for far too long. So I dash to her, disappearing from your sight.

I am so sorry.

I want to sit and stare at you and memorize every smile and giggle.

I want lazy days in bed like I had with your sister.

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I want to spend hours just laying in the sun at the beach with you while you nap out in the fresh air.

But there are no quiet, cuddly nursing sessions. There are no cozy, carefree days. It's all business and I'm operating on survival mode right now—and barely keeping it together.

You are so sweet. So happy. You fill our days with laughter and joy. But right now, you are in your activity center while I make dinner.

The guilt overwhelms me as I watch you out of the corner of my eye during another negotiation with your sister over what we will eat tonight.

I want so badly to slow down, sing to you, dance with you in the kitchen, babble with you while I prepare dinner. But I am so distracted. So exhausted.

I feel like I am failing as your mother and I am sorry.

The rush of dinner, bath time, stories and bedtime is a blur. You love bath time and I make sure we spend an extra few minutes together, laughing as you splash and kick in the water.

I love these few moments we have. We read stories in your sister's room before shutting her door and saying goodnight.

This is our time now. Our last nursing session of the day. I snuggle into the chair with you, kiss your head, and breathe you in.

I stare into your eyes and memorize every inch of you. I tell you how much I love you and how wonderful you are. I say I love you before laying you down in bed and sneaking out of your room, the door closing gently behind me.

I did it. I survived another day. A wave of delight and gratitude washes over me, taking the guilt away with it.

You, my second child, are so incredibly special. I love you so fiercely and I am so proud of you. You learn and grow every day and I admire you endlessly. I am in awe of you. I am thankful for your easygoing nature, your abundance of giggles and infectious smiles (seriously, you are the happiest baby I've ever met).

I love our small moments together—when I catch a glimpse of you in your car seat mirror and am overcome with love. When you fall asleep on me while we're at the park pushing your sister on the swing. Our middle-of-the night feedings where I can take all of you in and snuggle you peacefully in the 3am silence only a mother knows.

I don't remember life without you and you complete me in a way I didn't know was possible. And you deserve my very best.

I try, little one, I really do.

I try to make sure and slow down. To dance with you in the kitchen. To give you those extra minutes of bath time. To rock you in that chair a little longer.

I want to sing to you. I want to read you an extra book. I want to pause. To stop. And see you.

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Life

Many mothers-to-be find comfort and confidence in the idea that our bodies are built for birth. It's a mantra that has helped many through labor, but too often this idea is tossed around not to help mothers get through birth, but to discount its difficulty.

Our bodies are incredibly powerful, but so is the myth surrounding their ability to recover after birth. Yes, birth is natural and normal, but it is also really, really hard on us. Society needs to acknowledge that so mothers can get the support and time they need to heal.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances found pregnant people and extreme distance distance runners have something in common: Both groups push their bodies to the limit of human endurance and potential. It turns out energy expenditure among extreme athletes pushing their limits is only slightly higher than that of pregnant people.

Simply put: Science proves It's no wonder you're tired mama, being pregnant takes so much energy.

Science also suggests that giving birth is harder on a person's body than running a marathon, and while athletes are resting and getting treatment for their injuries, too many mothers are trying to walk theirs off.

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In a lot of ways, running a marathon and giving birth are very similar experiences. Researchers note that in both cases, we tend to forget how painful the event actually was, and in both cases our bodies are pushed to extremes. Researchers suggest childbirth is as traumatic as many endurance sports.

But runners step up to the starting line well rested. When women step into the birthing suite, they're already exhausted.

According to Holly Dunsworth, an associate professor of anthropology at of the University of Rhode Island, mothers in the last weeks and months of pregnancy are "pushing right against the possible sustainable metabolic rates in humans."

"We max out toward the end of pregnancy," Dunsworth told the BBC. "Those last weeks and months of pregnancy are tiring." We are starting our race feeling as depleted as runners feel when theirs is over.

To energize for labor, "moms should remain hydrated, and ensure that they are getting enough iron and protein", says Diana Spalding, a midwife, pediatric nurse and Motherly's Digital Education Editor.

And when runners get hurt, they get help. Moms often don't.

A 2015 study out of the University of Michigan found that 25% of postpartum mothers have "fluid in the pubic bone marrow or sustained fractures similar to a sports-related stress fracture." Two-thirds of the women had injuries similar to a severe muscle strain. The research suggests up to 15% of moms sustain pelvic injuries that don't heal, and we're just walking around with them.

According to Janis Miller, the lead author on the study, when an athlete gets one of the these injuries, they end up in an MRI machine getting checked out. When a postpartum mom has the same issue, it's downplayed and often undiagnosed. This leaves women confused and concerned about symptoms, and unchecked physical problems can put a strain on maternal mental health.

"We have this thing where we tell women, 'Well, you're six weeks postpartum and now we don't need to see you—you'll be fine.' But not all women feel fine after six weeks nor are [they] ready to go back to work, and they aren't crazy," Miller said in a media release.

As Miller recently told the BBC, mothers often don't even know when they've torn a muscle like the levator ani. A tear in that muscle can cause pelvic floor problems and even prolapse, and it's the kind of thing kegels aren't going to fix, but many moms are told that with kegels and time they'll feel better, when the injury is more serious than that.

"In the extreme, we're asking for some women to strengthen a muscle they might not even have anymore," Miller told the BBC. "What is often observed as weakness is actually torn muscle."

The science shows that childbirth can be as hard on the body as running a marathon, and can even result in similar injuries. But even when injuries are not a factor, anecdotal evidence suggests giving birth is harder than running a marathon.

Just ask Amber Miller, who once ran a six-hour marathon and then gave birth all on the same day. "Giving birth is definitely harder than running a marathon," Miller told The Guardian. "Give me a marathon any day."

[A version of this post was originally published on February 5, 2019. It has been updated.]

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News

It's Father's Day and dads around the world are getting some love from their loved ones, and we are loving all the adorable posts on Instagram today.

Celebrity dads are getting (and dishing out) a lot of love today, and these 10 Instagram posts, in particular, are melting our hearts.


James Van Der Beek 

James Van Der Beek will always be Dawson to many millennial mamas, but to his five kids he's just "Daddy." His wife Kimberly posted the cutest pic of James with their kiddos, Olivia, Emilia, Annabel Leah, Joshua and baby Gwendolyn.

James posted the same photo to his own account, with a caption that may make you cry.

He wrote: "For me, being a father means having that quiet little voice inside of you that says 'Be a better man,' get louder and more consistent... to the point where you can't really remember where that voice ends and where you begin. It means being tired beyond what is probably healthy, and patient beyond what you previously thought possible. And even though you know you're far from perfect... being a father also comes with an unshakable awareness that all your actions have consequences - context that reaches far beyond your own self-interest. It's scary to feel that interconnected with the rest of the world - especially with your heart now walking around outside your body - because it demands more personal responsibility... but it will make you a better man. Of at least that I'm sure. #HappyFathersDay to all the imperfect dads out there, trying their best and learning on the job.👊#fatherhood"

That post gives us more feels than any episode of Dawson's Creek ever did.


Today, our Istagram and Facebook feeds are filled with evidence that today's dads are doing more than any other generation of fathers. Congrats guys, you really deserve a Happy Father's Day!

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The bond between sisters is special, but Jill Noe and Whitney Bliesner have a unique bond that goes beyond just being siblings. As twins, Jill and Whitney shared a lot throughout their lives, and when Jill became Whitney's surrogate they even shared a pregnancy.

As first reported by Today, Whitney has a rare disease called NF2 (Neurofibromatosis type 2). Because of NF2 she lost the vision in her left eye and hearing in her right ear, along with partial hearing loss in her left ear. The condition makes pregnancy risky, and the disease is hereditary.

Whitney and her husband, Pete, wanted to start a family, but adoption and surrogacy fees seemed to be putting parenthood out of their reach. Until Jill stepped in as their surrogate.

"We have always had a strong connection, I do think this experience made our connection stronger, for sure," Whitney tells Motherly, adding that she's sure that when Jill eventuallu has kids of her own the sisters will likely bond over motherhood, too.

Through IVF, Jill carried donor eggs fertilized with Pete's sperm to make her twin sister's family, and on June 7 Jill delivered Whitney and Pete's son and daughter, little Rhett and Rhenley.

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"Going through this with Jill was so easy," Whitney tells Motherly. "We both had no idea what was going to happen or how we would deal with stuff during this journey. We had our ups and downs, but I think that's life, and in any situation you would experience that. But with my sister, there was a sense of everything was going to be ok, like always. We always get over our annoyance and disagreements with each other very fast with no hard feelings. It was just a great experience to have with my best friend, my twin sister."

Rhett and Rhenley are keeping Whitney super busy these days (with twins, someone is always hungry!) but she's making time to share her story because she wants other people who can't physically be pregnant to not give up on their dream of being a mom.

"It's not about blood or biologically carrying a kid that makes you a mom, it's the unconditional love, care, and security you give a child that makes you a mom," she explains.

Whitney continues: "Even though you aren't carrying or blood-related, you still have those feelings of babies being yours!"

Whitney calls Jill her best friend and Jill says the feeling is mutual, telling Today that she knows Whitney would have done the same for her if the roles where reversed.

"She's always wanted to be a mom and her disease has already taken so much from her. I wasn't going to allow (NF2) to take this opportunity from her, too," Jill said. "It just felt like the right thing to do. Our family is so strong and so supportive of one another, especially since Whit's diagnosis in 8th grade."

Thanks to Jill, Whitney is now living her dream, taking care of her two adorable babies.

Jill is an amazing sister, and Whitney is already an amazing mom.

[A version of this post was originally published June 14, 2019. It has been updated.]

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