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At the end of 2011, my husband Byron and I were at a crossroad. We'd been together for five years and had one child—a 4-year-old son. In July of that year, we'd eloped to Jamaica. We exchanged vows under a picturesque, white painted gazebo flanked by tropical flowers and palm trees. Our dear friends were with us. The breeze floated through the leaves and the sound of the ocean sailed through the distance.

Our wedding day was a scene from a sappy, rom-com. Eloping was the perfect way for us to make our marriage about us. After all, we did things "backward" by conventional standards. We had a house, life, and child together before tying the knot.

A few months after we returned home, though, the reality the movies don't always show had set in. And when it came down to it, we weren't sure if we wanted to stay together.

We thought waiting so long to get married would ensure we'd go into our contracted partnership with no hesitation. After all, we'd been together long enough to know what each other's best and worst qualities were at that point. We already knew we could parent together. We'd already navigated so many of life's difficulties—losing a parent, job changes, moving-—and we'd done it together.

When my husband and I came to the realization that still, after all we'd experienced together, we were having doubts, we decided action was necessary.

And that is how we found ourselves seated together on a dark brown loveseat in the well-lit office of a marriage and family therapist. Across from us, a woman of medium build with brown eyes and blonde hair that was dark at the root sat with legs crossed and a notepad in her hand. A slight smile on her face. "How about we start with telling me why you've sought out counseling?" she said.

Byron and I looked at each other for a moment, and then back at the counselor. An awkward silence followed, and then I launched into all our perceived problems. I spewed about finances, differences in parenting techniques, lack of intimacy, and a general feeling of disconnectedness. All the while, my husband sat, quiet.

Thus started our journey in couples counseling. We spent two years in therapy and together with our counselor, we tackled each of our issues one at a time.

We learned that Byron and I—each raised by single mothers—were approaching our relationship and its responsibilities from a single parent mentality. Our counselor helped us see that we didn't understand how to treat our relationship as a partnership because we hadn't seen that as children. This mentality affected everything from our finances to our parenting techniques to our communication style.

At the time, I was responsible for paying certain bills, and Byron was responsible for the others. Each month, some bills were delinquent, and the other person wouldn't find out until we received a letter or an email. This was often the source of an argument.

Our counselor handed us a yellow, spiral notebook and told us to write "Byron and Nicole's Finances" on the front. She then instructed us to write down all our bills in the notebook and come up with a budget together. This was the first time we'd done our bills together, and we balked at not thinking of it on our own.

Our counselor dispelled our embarrassment. "How would you know to do this if you'd never seen it growing up?" Her question made so much sense. "Sometimes, it's great to have an outside perspective like me, come in and help you see these things," she continued, "our relationships with each other can cloud our judgment because of the emotional attachment involved, and it's my job to help you see through that."

This put us at ease, and that week, we sat down with our laptop, notebook, and a calendar, and created a budget together. Today, we still sit down at the beginning of each month to discuss our bills and make changes to our budget as needed.

Another area our "single parent" mindset affected was our parenting style. Byron and I had completely different parenting methods in mind, and we often bickered about how we discipline our son. Sometimes, we disagreed in front of our son, which created its own set of problems.

Our therapist helped us see that we were both trying to put in place the parenting strategies we'd learned from our mothers, but we hadn't thought about going to each other to come up with discipline methods together.

Once again, we'd never seen that done. Our mothers didn't answer to anyone else when it came to discipline, so it didn't occur to use to use each other as a sounding board.

Outside our "single parent" mentality, Byron and I faced intimacy issues that transcended the bedroom. He and I weren't connecting at any intimate level. We simply existed in the same household and proceeded with our day-to-day lives, leaving little time for connection with one another. We came home from our respective jobs, tended to our son's needs, and then went our separate ways.

He's a night owl and I'm an early riser. He decompresses by watching television. I prefer reading.

Our counselor taught us that fostering a feeling of connection, especially after several years together and a child, takes work. It wasn't going to be as easy as it was at the beginning of our relationship to make time for each other, and that was normal. This was big news to both of us.

I grew up on a healthy dose of Disney films and societal standards that told me marriage was bliss at all times. What isn't conveyed is how much work goes into keeping a long-term relationship fresh. There is no downtime, and this is something our counselor taught us.

She set us up with little assignments that helped build the connection. One that is still a part of our lives today is "the check-in." Before I go to bed, Byron comes into the room and sits down for about 15 minutes with me. We talk about our day and spend a little time together without electronic devices, or my book, or the television on.

Every now and then, we ask one another if there's anything the other person needs. Am I being attentive enough? Is there something I haven't been doing that you'd like me to do? Is there anything you need from me to show I support you?

These questions keep us accountable to one another and leave little space for animosity to build up because we're being open, honest, and direct with one another.

She also had us complete the quiz in the back of the book, The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. We were then to read about each other's love language. This exercise was pivotal in our relationship. "Couples express love the way they want to receive love, but seldom do two people in a relationship express love in the same ways," our counselor told us.

This was true in mine and Byron's relationship. I'm the touchy-feely type, and Byron wants someone to listen and support him through action. I was trying to show love by holding Byron's hand in public or hugging him more. He was trying to show me love by listening to my woes or supporting my education goals.

What we failed to realize was that we were giving each other what we needed, not what the other person needed.

As a result, Byron started showing me more physical affection, and I started attending his football games to show him I supported his extracurricular activities.

Though we learned much more than even this—these were the big things. We left counseling feeling empowered and thankful that we were able to put our egos aside to mend our relationship.

Quite frankly, marriage counseling is the reason we're still together—and happy—today. Are things perfect? Absolutely not. We can both still be forgetful. There are still arguments and rough patches. Today though, we have a blueprint to fall back on thanks to what we learned in counseling. And I'm proud we took that first step together when we knew we needed to.

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Just because new moms aren't hitting the gym doesn't mean they aren't doing one of the most demanding workouts of all: It takes about 20 calories to produce one ounce of milk. So, with babies who down ounces upon ounces each day, that means breastfeeding mothers can easily burn hundreds of calories almost literally in their sleep.

All that hard work can result in quite an appetite, which can have new moms reaching for whatever is most convenient. But convenience doesn't have to come at the cost of good nutrition, taste and lactation-boosting powers—as proven by the delicious Booby Boons Lactation Cookies from Stork and Dove.

"Nourishing your body is just as important now as it was when you were pregnant. Not only are you recovering from pregnancy and birth, you are making milk to sustain your baby—and all the thousands of other things you do for them every single day," says Diana Spalding, Motherly's Birth Expert, midwife and pediatric nurse. "You are working so hard, mama. You deserve to fuel your body with the best—and it doesn't hurt when the best also happens to be delicious."

Here's why these little cookies are such lactation powerhouses:

Oats

The natural goodness of oats does so much more than make for tasty cookies. Considered to be a top galactagogue—or a substance that helps boost milk supply—oats are rich in iron, fiber and protein. Because low iron can reduce milk supply, mixing a scoop of oats into lactation cookies is a tasty way to give your body the boost it may need.

Nutritional yeast

For generations, nutritional yeast has been a remedy suggests to mamas looking to boost their milk supply. And for good reason: With protein, phytoestrogen and B12 found in fortified versions, nutritional yeast can provide nutrients to stimulate milk supply—while also offering a boost of energy.

Flax meal

Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed is good for the brain health of mothers and babies. Not to mention that with a nice nutty taste and great protein profile, they make nice additions to lactation cookies by helping you stay full longer.

Chia seeds

When it comes to lactation cookies and promoting brain development, varied sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are so helpful—and chia seeds deliver there. Found in some of the Booby Boons Lactation Cookies, chia seeds also deliver protein, calcium and magnesium.

Probiotics

Few things can take a toll on milk supply like when you're under the weather. Booby Boons+ Lactation Cookies provide a probiotic boost, keeping your immune system up and digestive health in check for better production—and a healthier-feeling mama.

Bonus: A sense of relaxation and ease is clinically proven to aid in milk production.

Even better, the cookies are wheat-, soy- and preservative-free! So grab a cookie, take a moment for yourself and boost that supply. Grab your cookies HERE or at Target and other fine retailers.

This article was sponsored by Stork and Dove. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Baking Christmas cookies together is a family tradition for many, but the Centers for Disease Control is warning parents that if your recipe contains raw flour or raw eggs, you really shouldn't sneak a bite before it is cooked, and neither should your kids.

The CDC is warning people not to eat raw cookie dough, cake mix or bread as we head into prime baking season.

The agency acknowledges the appeal of a spoonful of chocolate chip goodness but asks that we "steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick."

Salmonella from raw eggs is, of course, a concern, and so is the raw flour. According to the CDC, flour needs to be cooked in order to kill germs like E.Coli. That's why the CDC is asking parents to "say no to raw dough," not just for eating but even for playing with.

"Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too," the CDC posted on its website.

On the Food and Drug Administration's website, that agency advises that "even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with." Health Canada also states that raw flour should not be used in children's play-dough.

The warnings follow a 2016 E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated raw flour. Dozens of people got sick that year, and a post-outbreak report notes that "state investigators identified three ill children who had been exposed to raw flour at restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Restaurant staff had given them raw dough to play with while they waited for their food to be served."

The CDC worries that with flour's long shelf life, products recalled during the 2016 outbreak may still be in people's pantries (although the CDC notes that any raw flour—recalled or otherwise—should not be consumed).

If your kids do have flour-based play dough, don't worry.

Some parents are still choosing to use flour-based craft dough to make Christmas ornaments or other crafts this holiday season and are reducing the risks by A) making sure the kids aren't eating their art, and B) thoroughly washing little hands, work surfaces, and utensils when the dough play is over.

Other parents are choosing other types of craft clay over flour-based dough.


During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Two years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

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Twinkling lights are everywhere I look, and the magic of the holiday season is filling our house. The kids are growing more excited each day anticipating Santa's arrival and gifts are accumulating, ready to be wrapped in beautiful paper and bows.

Elf and The Grinch have been playing on repeat and the nativity scene has found a safe spot among our decorations. It's one of the busiest times of the year and it can be hard to catch your breath in the hustle and bustle of it all.

But then something stops you.

Maybe it's a pang in your heart or a memory of someone dearly missed. Maybe it's a familiar feeling of emptiness—of wanting this person to be a part of this magical, joy-filled time of year.

It's so easy to forget that many people are struck with sadness around the holidays and are longing for someone who's missing from their lives. We give and give to our families and friends and communities this time of year—food for dinners, and toys for less-fortunate children—but people don't always realize that another type of giving is needed.

The gift of comfort.

Because someone who is missing their mother, father, brother, sister, child, friend or spouse needs your connection and warmth. They need a reminder of their loved one is not forgotten, and maybe above all—just needs a hug.

Family traditions are wonderful and cherished, but they can also feel incomplete when someone is missing.

For me, I love the holidays, and watching my kids experience all the joys this season has to offer truly fills my heart. Yet, not a Christmas goes by that I don't think about what Kendrick (my first child lost at 2 months old) would have thought of this time of year.

Would he have loved hot cocoa like his sister and brothers? Would he have gotten into all the ornaments on the tree as a toddler? What toys would he have asked Santa for? What Christmas wishes would he have made for others?

I am left to wonder these things without answer. And even though I fully embrace this time of year and relish the holidays, I can't help but miss him.

I wanted to share my story as a reminder that even though your holiday cup may be filled with joy, someone you know may be wrestling with sadness. With all the merry and bright and cups of cheer, it's important to be mindful of this and to treat people with extra care. Reach out to someone you know who has lost someone, and let them know you're thinking of them. It won't go unnoticed.

Many of us have dealt with loss at some point in our lives, and we've learned to carry these special people in our hearts so that they are always with us. But missing someone never goes away. There are so many experiences in our lives we wish we could just snap our fingers and have them right by our sides—the holidays being one of those.

So as you check off your shopping lists, make your donations, trim your tree, or light your menorah—please don't forget to show care to those who may be hurting a little this holiday season.


They're certainly in a position where they could buy every item on their kids' Christmas lists, but Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher aren't planning on piling up the presents under the Christmas tree this year.

"So far, our tradition is no presents for the kids," Kunis said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. Mom to 4-year-old daughter, Wyatt, and 2-year-old son Dmitri, Kunis says she and Kutcher are determined to not raise entitled kids—and are learning from the mistakes of Christmases past.

“We've told our parents, 'We're begging you: If you have to give her something, pick one gift,'" Kunis said. “'Otherwise, we'd like to take a charitable donation, to the Children's Hospital or a pet... Whatever you want.' That's our new tradition."

The minimalist Christmas that Kunis and Kutcher embrace makes sense on a lot of levels: It teaches kids how to be more mindful consumers, removes the emphasis on material goods... And saves you from those chaotic trips to the mall.

Going without presents doesn't mean going without

Putting a halt on presents these upcoming holidays is one way to reinforce what the season is really about: Spending quality time together as families and cherishing what we already have. But "no presents" doesn't mean "no fun," either.

Some of our favorite non-material gift suggestions include:

  • Experiences
  • Lessons
  • College contributions
  • Coupon booklets
  • Piggy bank donations
  • Gifts for others

Or you could take a cue from Kunis and Kutcher without going all the way: Maybe you only focus on one or two quality gifts. Or pass on anything that will likely get discarded to the bottom of the toy box before next year's holidays.

Think of Christmas gifts for kids kind of like eggnog: A little goes a long way.

[Originally published October 11, 2017]

After feeling alone and suffering silently for years, Gabrielle Union has been very open about her struggle with infertility since her memoir, We're Going to Need More Wine, came out last year. She surprised many by writing about how she'd suffered "8 or 9 miscarriages" while trying to conceive with husband Dwyane Wade, and just over a year later the couple surprised the world again by announcing they'd just welcomed a baby girl via surrogate.

Union's story is incredible, and one so many women needed to hear, and that's why Oprah's OWN network just aired a sit-down interview special with Union and Wade: Oprah at Home with Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade & Their New Baby.

(The audio version of the interview drops in two parts on 'Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations' podcast on Monday, December 10, and Wednesday, December 12.)

The interview, which first aired over the weekend, saw Union open up about how the years of IVF treatments and disappointment left her questioning everything she knew. "I've just always been of the mindset — because this is what people tell you: 'You work hard, you do the right things, you're a good person, it will happen for you,' eventually," Union, 46, told Oprah.

"I could not let go of this idea of creating this life within me," Union explains, adding that she felt the "need to be pregnant for everybody, including myself."

As the medical interventions escalated, Wade became worried. "I'm watching her do things to her body and to herself that it's getting to the point where it's not healthy," he told Oprah, adding that he always told Union that he wanted a baby as much as she did, but that he married her and that she was the most important thing to him.

"So it came to a point where, you know, I started to feel a certain way about that because I didn't want something to happen to her," Wade told Oprah.

So when the couple decided to explore surrogacy, Wade was pleased to see the medical part of his wife's journey come to an end.

When the couple surprised the world by announcing the birth of their daughter, Kaavia James, Union was puzzled by comments that insinuated the skin-to-skin photo she used in the birth announcement was an attempt to "act like" she'd been pregnant herself, or that she really had been pregnant herself.

She notes she never tried to make it seem like she'd been pregnant, as she explained her daughter was born via surrogate in the caption for that photo, which was taken after the surrogate had a C-section.

"Our surrogate went into recovery, and we were able to go immediately into another hospital room," Union told Oprah. "I had one of my New York & Company sweaters on, but skin-to-skin was kind of hard. And because the doctors kept coming in…it was easier to have skin to skin in a hospital gown."

Wade said he found the comments painful. "I think for me the most hurtful thing was once we had the baby, and everyone started talking about why is she in the bed holding the baby, why does she have a gown on, why is she acting that she just had a baby," Wade said.

Union and Wade say they hope talking about their story will help others tell theirs, and know that they are not alone. "So many people are suffering in silence and every time, when we're candid and transparent about our journeys, no matter what those journeys are, you are allowing people to be seen and heard and empowered in ways that they've never been," Union told Oprah.

She may have felt alone during her journey to motherhood, but by telling her story, Union is making sure other mamas don't.

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