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70% of young moms are 'most defined' by motherhood—and there's nothing wrong with that

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Mothers can do and be anything. But chances are that while we're doing and being, our children will never be far from our minds. That's because, from the moment a baby enters the world, our identities shift in fundamental ways—no question about it.


If that noble, consuming, incredible role seems to represent you above all else, you're not alone. According to the 2018 State of Motherhood survey by Motherly, 59% of moms report being "most strongly" defined by motherhood. Among moms under 30 with young children, that bumps up to 70%.

This goes to show that feeling like you are first and foremost a mom is not just natural, but truly empowering. "Everything that I do ties back into my role as a mother," Megan K. tells Motherly. "I'm always thinking about how the decisions I make will help me to be a happier, healthier person, which will allow me to be a better mother."

And when we give ourselves permission to fully welcome motherhood and how it affects our lives, the chances are we're going to take more pride and find more fulfillment in the role—which benefits our children, too.

"The great thing about moms embracing their identity as a mother is that children today are getting more and greater opportunities than ever," says Erin Wiley, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and the Executive Director of the Willow Center in Ohio. "Their parents are investing time and money into them like no generation has before. It's a wonderful thing when a society prioritizes the growth and development of its children."

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For many women, feeling free to express that they are most strongly defined by motherhood is liberating. "Before I had my son, I told myself that being a mom wouldn't be the sole defining factor of my life. Now that he's here, nothing else seems as important," says Jenny F.

Many more Motherly readers echoed that they view motherhood as a reason for pride, rather than a dimension of themselves that needs to be hidden. "I'm employed full time and I love my career," says Rebecca S. "But nothing has shaped or changed my life like my kids. They are my everything."

That is increasingly reflected in workplaces—to the advantage of everyone, explains Georgene Huang, co-founder of Fairygodboss. "From the perspective of workplace culture, I believe the best and most productive companies are those that allow all employees to bring their authentic selves to work."

In addition to motherhood, survey respondents also said they cherish the identities they find through their partnerships, faith, careers, hobbies and friendships. Among those who said motherhood is not their strongest identity, the most common reasons were because of the role faith or longer-held identities have in their lives.

"As much as I love being a mom, I've only been one for 7 months," explains Liz H. "I've been a mountain biker, pianist, education abroad professional, wife and partner, and so much more for so long. I am not defined by one thing, but am the sum of many."

The "season of life" effect

One common thread across the responses was that women recognize the years of parenting young children are both incredibly demanding and fleeting. "I think whatever defines me is fluid and changes from season to season [of life]," says Jena A. "With a toddler and a 6-month-old, motherhood is currently the most defining thing in my life."

As natural as it may be to feel like motherhood overrides all else during this time, many women added they are intentional in their efforts to uphold other elements of their identity. "I believe just as important as cherishing our little ones' childhood is balancing that with the wisdom that your child or children will not be home with you forever," says Wiley.

This means not only equipping them with the tools to thrive on their own, but also modeling for them what balance looks like, Wiley says. "Investing in exercise, the development of romantic relationships and friendships, and practicing other self-care activities all serve our children in the end by giving them a mom who is stable and well-rounded," she tells Motherly. "We also set a great example for our children by showing them a model of a woman who is truly flourishing in life in all arenas, not just as a mom."

The truth is "motherhood" doesn't have to look the same for any of us. It doesn't even have to look the same on an individual level from year to year. But, wherever anyone falls on the question of whether motherhood defines them, there is one point we can all agree on: We are fortunate to live in a time when we can define motherhood.

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It's 5 pm. You just got home from a busy day at work, dinner is nowhere close to being started, and the afternoon shenanigans have taken ahold of your little ones. They need some time to decompress from their busy day and, let's be honest, you need a few moments to transition into the last part of yours, too.

Your child asks, "Mooooom? Can I watch a show?"

Cue parenting inner-dilemma.

You want to say yes, but you also have fears about technology. How much is too much? Is it bad for my children? Will it isolate my children from me?

Sara DeWitt, the vice president of PBS KIDS Digital, said in her TED Talk that this last question is a big concern for parents. We desperately want to be connected to our children, and for our children to be connected to the world.

Unfortunately, she says, the "fear and skepticism about these devices hold us back from their potential." The truth is, high-quality educational screen time can actually build connections (more on that in a minute). Even more exciting, did you know that the right screen time can help your child develop empathy?

Empathy is a skill, but as a society, we are losing it. A shocking study found that empathy drops by about 40% by the time kids get to college. In a world fraught with inequities, divisiveness and conflict, rebuilding empathy is paramount. Motherly mamas agree. In the 2019 State of Motherhood survey, you told us that your top priority was to nurture kindness with your children.

But how do we do this? Telling our child to "be a kind person" is great, but in order to truly understand, they need to see empathy in context. By using digital content as a prompt for communication and conversation, it becomes one of the many tools we have at our disposal to help guide our children on the path to becoming empathic, kind people.

Enter PBS KIDS.

Raun D. Melmed, MD, FAAP, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician, and author of the Monster Diary series told us that, "our children have unprecedented access to wonderful educational opportunities through digital media. Interactive, nonjudgmental apps can enhance cognitive development (processing and organization, visual-spatial awareness, pattern recognition and even reading), social and emotional awareness, and even moral development."

When we control technology—and not the other way around—the potential is enormous.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that "media can have educational value for children starting at around 18 months of age, but it's critically important that this be high-quality programming, such as the content offered by Sesame Workshop and PBS."

Researchers looked at the impact of watching PBS KIDS' series, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, and the results were pretty inspiring. Children who watched the show for 30 minutes each day for two weeks demonstrated improved empathy, the ability to recognize emotions and increased social confidence.

But, here's the catch: In order to experience this growth, children needed to have recurrent conversations about what they saw with their parents.

Nicole Dreiske, Executive Director of the International Children's Media Center and author of The Upside of Digital Devices: How to Make Your Child More Screen Smart encourages parents to utilize screen time "in the same way that they would use story time: to build trust, emotional intelligence, and empathy." By spending just 10 minutes discussing what happened in a show, children can experience significant benefits.

Knowing the science behind the benefits of screen time is great. But when that afternoon struggle hits, it can be hard to remember exactly what to do, so DeWitt encourages parents to make a plan—here's how.

How to make a screen time plan for your family

Ask yourself the following two questions:

1. What do I want my kids to get out of their digital media time?

Do you want them to have an opportunity to be creative and think outside the box? Pull up PBS KIDS ScratchJr. Is there something going on at home or in school that requires learning about sharing? Share the "Daniel Shares his Tigertastic Car" episode of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood with them.

Consider your goals, and then choose media accordingly.

2. What do I want my kids to get out of their digital media time? How can it support our family schedule and priorities?

It is okay to factor your needs into the equation, mama. Deriving benefit from your child's screen time is no need to feel guilty. Go ahead and start dinner, or send that email, or yes (gasp), put your feet up and relax for a bit.

Once you've figured out your 'why,' it's time to consider the 'how.'

1. Communicate the plan to your kids (and be clear about limits).

Kids do best with clear boundaries and expectations. This will be especially important if you are implementing changes to how screen time is done in your home.

You could say, "You can play the Wild Kratts game for 30 minutes while I work on dinner, and then we are going to go outside and flap our wings as bats do! Do you think we should eat mosquitos for dinner like they do?!"

Before you start the show, Dreiske recommends planting the communication seed: "Today we're going to notice what we're feeling and what the characters are feeling."

2. Discuss what your kid played or watched.

When screen time is over, strike up a conversation. Dreiske suggests open-ended questions that help to "[create] a special space in which your child feels safe enough emotionally to confide in you about their experiences. Let the child's emotion or feelings 'lead' the talk rather than being obscured by your feelings." You can try the following starters:

  • How did you feel when… ? Why?
  • How do you think that character felt?
  • What if that happened to one of your friends?

3. Find a balance of activities.

Like everything in life, screen time is best in moderation. It is important that children know that screen time is one of the many options they have for activities. Exercise, outdoor play, reading, coloring and more are also incredibly important.

If there is a show or game your child particularly loves, DeWitt suggests finding the non-screen time version of it. "For example, if the kids in Dinosaur Train start a nature collection, suggest a nature walk through your neighborhood after they've watched. If your child likes Ready Jet Go!, use the Ready Jet Go Space Explorer app to look at the stars together and then continue exploring the night sky away from the screen. In other words, we can make digital media as a jumping off point for family fun!"

Sara DeWitt writes, "It helps to remember digital media is simply a tool, just like books, toys and art supplies. As parents, we have the power to decide how and when to use these tools with our kids."

When used thoughtfully, and with love, high-quality screen time is an incredibly powerful way to foster empathy and kindness in the next generation.

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

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It's been a hard week of hard news. It's tough to hear about what is happening to the detained immigrant children and feel helpless (but you're not—you can help, mama) and sometimes our brains just need a break.

We have been updating information on this situation all week long, and so we totally understood when Chrissy Teigen took to social media on Wednesday asking for a feed that would only let you see happy posts.

"I would use that today," Teigen wrote.

Don't worry Chrissy, we've got you covered. Here are seven adorable video posts from our archive to make Chrissy and all the other mamas happy today.

1. Viral video of dad helping daughter hula hoop

#dadgoals 😍

(via parents @mayaturnipseed + @djkingseed)

This video has been viewed so many times on our Facebook page because it is just that good. Watch this and try not to smile, we dare you.

There is nothing sweeter than a dad playing with his baby, and there is a ton of scientific evidence showing that when dads are involved like this father is, kids reap all kinds of developmental benefits and can even end up with higher self-esteem as they grow.

One of Motherly's Facebook commenter's said it best: "This is the best video ever. The bond between father and daughter is priceless ❤️"

2. Adorable video of little girl meeting Mickey Mouse

This little girl's reaction to meeting Mickey will make your day. 💕

Seriously, turn the audio up because this is the cutest thing. We all get a little star struck when we meet a celeb and this 2-year-old is no exception.

"Hi Mickey!" she shouts (over, and over).

She just couldn't get enough hugs from the famous mouse (honestly, we would be super excited, too) who was a really good sport and sang to his little fan, making her day (and ours).

The Magic Kingdom really is magic.

3. Viral video of a dad adoring his newborn daughter

She's definitely going to be a daddy's girl. 😍

This is going to melt your heart. If we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times: There is nothing sweeter than a man loving his child, and this proud dad obviously can't get enough of his baby girl.

"You're the best thing that ever happened to me," he coos at her, making her smile.

"You're my best friend," he tells her.

A study found when parents chat with their babies like this it can help infants recognize people, places and things.

Another study found that when parents use baby talk, babies may learn to talk faster.

This is a daddy-daughter duo that is going to be having a lot of these conversations for years to come. This baby is beautiful and so is their bond.

4. Hilarious video of babies that scoot, slide and army crawl

Check out these babies who are just figuring out how to get where they want to go, by any means possible.

Whether it's a scoot, a slide, or a crawl that's not quite a crawl, these babies are finding creative ways to get mobile.

"There is a big age range for when babies start to crawl (and some never do), so don't worry if yours has not started," notes Dr. Tovah Klein.

She continues: "Being mobile is very exciting—[your baby] can move on her own and that is an enormous shift for her. Soon she will be able to pull up to standing, which is thrilling as well. She has more control of her world and being upright gives her a new view of her world."

These moves in the video may not be true baby steps, but they are baby steps to baby steps, if you get what we mean.

5. Viral video shows NICU 'graduate' in cap and gown

After 160 days in the NICU, baby Cullen Potter was carried by his primary care nurse, Jewel Barbour, as he "graduated" from the NICU, in attire fitting of such a momentous milestone: A tiny cap and gown.

The little graduate, Cullen was born weighing three ounces shy of a pound.and was no bigger than a can of soda. Over the next five months, the Potters went back and back and forth from their home in Florida to the hospital in Mobile, Alabama to be with Cullen.

Getting to graduation day was a big achievement for Cullen, his thankful parents and the amazing medical team who took such good care of him.

"It was an overwhelming sense of joy. It didn't feel real. We were going to walk out with our baby after five long months. We can never say thank you enough to the nurses and doctors as staff at the hospital. They saved our baby," Cullen's mom, Molli Potter told Motherly last year.

6. Viral video of a baby in a dinosaur costume will make your day

BRB, ordering all of our babies Dino costumes for Halloween.

Did you know that your kid's dinosaur obsession is really good for them? This little baby could be crawling toward an obsession that will serve them well.

A 2007 study published in the journal Developmental Research, found about 1 in 3 young children will develop an "intense interest" at some point, and dinosaur obsessions rank really high in what they are interested in.

"It makes them feel powerful," paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara told CNN. "Their parent may be able to name three or four dinosaurs and the kid can name 20, and the kid seems like a real authority."

This baby can't say "dinosaur" yet, but they sure are a cute one.

7. Adorable video of dad pretending to have a conversation with his baby goes viral

Baby breaks the internet babbling to dad 😍

Motherly recently caught up with proud parents DJ Pryor + @Shanieke Pryor—about their adorable 19-month-old son Kingston who has warmed all our hearts. 💕

"I know every parent probably thinks this—but seeing his growth every day and how he interprets what he sees—it's thrilling to me," DJ told Motherly.

These two cuties went viral and then they booked a Denny's commercial! Talk about an adorable grand slam!

[Correction: A previous version stated that we had rounded up four viral videos, when in fact there were seven. We've corrected our error and regret to admit that we've never been good at math.]

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For a lot of mothers, the way they become mothers is different from how they imagined, and for House of Card's Kate Mara that was true. Her journey wasn't exactly how she pictured it, but it is one so many mothers can relate to.

Mara recently opened up about how her first pregnancy ended in an miscarriage, and her second ended with an emergency C-section and a blood transfusion. In a two-part interview for the Informed Pregnancy podcast, Mara told prenatal chiropractor, childbirth educator and labor doula Dr. Elliot Berlin about her experience, and it is definitely a story about the strength of mothers.

Kate Mara is refreshingly honest about her misscarriage 

Mara explains that she first told her husband, fellow actor Jamie Bell, about her pregnancy when they were stopped at a red light. "I turned to him and I was like, 'Is now a bad time to show you this?' " she tells Berlin. "I showed him the [test] stick. He was at a stop light, and he just burst out laughing and was like, 'Oh, my God. How is that possible?'"

"It was the first time I've ever been pregnant, and I've never had that excitement and shock of being an almost mom," says Mara.

She continues: "That just was such a special sort of reveal."

Unfortunately, about eight weeks into her pregnancy Mara learned something was wrong. Eventually, she was diagnosed with a blighted ovum, a type of early miscarriage where a fertilized egg doesn't continue to develop into an embryo.
Weeks later, the pregnancy officially ended with a miscarriage. "Everything just took so much time, by the time it was all over. It just dragged out forever," Mara explains.

Kate Mara's birth story didn't go as planned (but she wouldn't change it) 

After her first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, Mara did get pregnant again but was diagnosed with obstetric cholestasis, a liver condition that can make mothers extremely itchy in late pregnancy and can result in complications as serious as stillbirth.

Mara's medical team determined the safest thing to do was induce her a month early, dashing her dreams of an unmedicated home birth. Instead, she spent several days laboring at the hospital and did get an epidural. Eventually, though, things took a serious turn as her temperature spiked to unmanageable levels and she needed to be rushed to the OR for a C-section.

"Right before I went in for the C-section, that's when I sort of [felt] the devastation of it and the disappointment of not being able to experience a birth any way that I had hoped," Mara tells Berlin.

She goes on: "I was so scared to have the C-section, to have this surgery. I was genuinely terrified of what that meant and what could happen and all of these things, and then of course just being tired made me that much more scared, I think."

Once her baby girl was born and safe, it became clear that Mara was not. She'd needed a blood transfusion during the operation and was experiencing something a lot of C-section mamas know all too well—the post-surgery shakes. These tremors kept her from holding her baby.

"My husband brought her over to me and he kind of held her on my chest and it was amazing, but it was not at all what I imagined it would be. I could barely keep my eyes open to look at her."

Mara was sad that day because her birth experience didn't go as she'd hoped, but she also says that looking back, she wouldn't do a thing differently. Everything that was done was done for really serious medical reasons and her baby girl ended up with the best outcome.

It's okay to feel either sad, happy (or both) when your birth plans change 

Kate Mara's C-section story is like a lot of moms', and her feelings are totally valid, say experts.

According to the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C-sections are super common, representing about 32% of all births in the United States, but emergency cesareans can be so stressful. "The emergency nature of C-sections leads [some mothers] to feel out of control, as well as fear that there will be harm to the baby or themselves," Dr. Sarah Allen, a Chicago psychologist and director of the Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune.

Mara's worst fears did not come true that day, but her dream of motherhood did. And that is why she doesn't look back on her birth and regret the interventions. She was scared, but she was so strong and she's telling her story in the hopes of lending some strength to other mamas.

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News

There are many compassionate people in America and so when reports of unsanitary conditions and limited supplies for detained children living in a border patrol station spread across the country, many of these compassionate people thought they could help by donating things like diapers, soap, toothbrushes and toys for the children being detained.

But, as we noted earlier this week, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is not accepting donations of physical goods and is not accepting offers to volunteer inside the detention facilities.

As first reported by The Texas Tribune, well-meaning people showing up with goods are being turned away, and a Border Patrol official told a state lawmaker that the agency doesn't accept donations. When Texas state Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg reached out to Border Patrol asking for a list of acceptable items to donate, he was shocked and disappointed by the response.

"The United States Border Patrol has responded, telling my office they do not accept donations," he tweeted.

CNN reports Border Patrol officials say they aren't actually running low on supplies, so they don't need the donations. On a call with journalists, the unnamed official reportedly told CNN the agency uses operational funding to buy these kinds of things and that they have been available continuously, although they did note they are looking at the possibility of using donations in the future.

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CBP says it has the funding for hygiene supplies, but it is that the clear hygiene supplies aren't making it to the detainees. Canales explains the disconnect is worrisome, and he thinks direct donations would help and is keeping a dialogue open with CBP about the possibility. "The reality is Border Patrol is overwhelmed, and whether they've got the monetary funding to provide the resources and whether they can provide the resources are two different things," he explained to CNN.

While CBP may be considering it, there's a whole lot standing in the way, namely, the Antideficiency Act, which prevents government agencies from "accepting voluntary services for the United States, or employing personal services not authorized by law, except in cases of emergency involving the safety of human life or the protection of property."

Many would argue that this situation is an "emergency involving the safety of human life," but at this point, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is going by the book and saying no.

Motherly has heard from concerned people seeking advice on how to volunteer inside the facilities. At this point, that is not possible. Canales is hoping to keep working with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to figure out a way that people who want to help these kids can. "I understand there can be some policy reasons and security reasons, but these reasons can be overcome," he told CNN.

Right now, when people show up with boxes of diapers they are not being received, so taking such goods to a border patrol facility may not be the best use of your time and funds. We have listed organizations that are helping and can accept donations here.

Meanwhile, late Tuesday the House passed a $4.5 billion emergency border aid package intended to fund care for people who have been detained after coming over the U.S.-Mexico border, as Customs and Border Protection is clearly overwhelmed. Last week Chief Operating Officer John Sanders told The Associated Press the border patrol stations (which are supposed to hold about 4,000 people, max) are way, way over capacity with about 15,000 detainees. This week, Sanders announced he's resigning.

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News

Some women are more at risk than others when it comes to being pregnant. Black moms are up to four times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth and another group, Native American and Alaska Native women, are also dying from complications in childbirth at a disproportionate rate.

Native American and Native Alaskans make up just 2% of the total U.S. population but account for the second highest number of maternal deaths in the only industrialized country where maternal deaths, overall, are rising. They are approximately 3.3 and 2.5 times more likely, respectively, to die while pregnant or as new moms than white women are.

Alarming statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in May 2019 show that between 2011–2015, black women had the highest maternal death rate at 43 deaths per 100,000 live births, followed by American Indian and Alaska Native women at nearly 33 deaths. Thirteen white mothers died in the same time period.

"Racial disparities in maternal mortality are staggering" 

"More women die in the US from pregnancy-related complications than in any other developed country," the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states on its website. According to the ACOG, the "racial disparities in maternal mortality are staggering…"

According to the CDC, 60% of maternal deaths are preventable. The leading causes of deaths during pregnancy, birth and the first year after childbirth include cardiovascular conditions, infection, and hemorrhage, but preventative strategies—including improving access to care and how it is coordinated and delivered—could save lives.

And in order to save lives, we have to acknowledge that Native American and Native Alaskan moms are dying because the health care system is failing them.

Meet Nicolle Gonzales 

Nicolle Gonzales is a Dine' Nurse-Midwife and the founder of the non-profit Changing Woman Initiative (CWI), in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A Native American-centered women's health collective, CWI aims to improve the health of expectant mothers, but Gonzales tells Motherly that she's been frustrated by a lack of information around native women's health available to medical professionals.

"When I attended conferences where they claimed to focus on Native American women's health, I found them sharing data that did not tell the full story about why our health outcomes were so bad," said Gonzales. "Further, blames seemed to be placed on native women and that it was their behavior that was the cause. I also saw the same old health frameworks being used to address known health disparities and then they would sit back and wonder why the outcomes were still terrible."

Gonzales witnessed many Native American women struggling with navigating the western medical healthcare system throughout her career. She saw assimilation practices from birth and on, that stopped Native American families from "bringing their loved ones into this world in a culturally supported and ceremonial way."

The disconnect helped inspire Gonzales to launch CWI in the fall of 2018.

Prenatal care can be culturally centered and accessible

It's on a mission to renew cultural birth knowledge, promote reproductive wellness, to support healing through holistic approaches and to strengthen women's bonds to family and community. The non-profit organization also provides training to increase the number of Indigenous midwives and encourage policy advocacy related to native women's health.

Gonzales believes some of the reasons behind the higher rates of birth mortality in Native American women are socio/economically and culturally linked. There are longer wait times to see obstetricians and/or midwives in native communities because of the remoteness of some reservations, she explains. Sometimes it's a lack of having a Medicaid card at the time of appointment, having no transportation or not making prenatal care a priority, Gonzales continues.

She believes taking the initial steps to seek medical care are crucial and wants to see moms better supported to do so. "First-trimester prenatal visits are very important. They identify health risks early, genetic screenings can be done sooner, and social circumstances and resources can be brought in," Gonzales says.

According to Gonzales' expertise, native women are at higher risk for adverse birth outcomes due to higher rates of gestational diabetes, hypertension, obesity, blood clotting disorders, drug addictions and limited access to healthcare education.

A less talked about cause of birth mortality rates for Native American women is intimate partner violence, she added. "There are limited places Native American women can go for safety and they are more likely to experience this or die from violence during their pregnancy."

The Changing Woman Initiative

The CWI also provides expectant mothers with access to healthy foods, plants and traditional medicines and time with a traditional doctor commonly called 'a medicine person.' It's a one-of-a-kind approach to a serious problem and the CWI is working to change the statistics from within its own community.

In the next three years, it aims to provide an Indigenous doula and peer counselor training to over 100 women in New Mexico.

The CDC study states that reducing pregnancy-related deaths requires reviewing and learning from each death, improving women's health, and reducing social inequities across the life span, as well as ensuring quality care for pregnant and postpartum periods, and for providers and patients to work together to optimally manage chronic health conditions.

America cannot save the lives of Native mothers if it doesn't understand why they are at risk, and supporting women who can provide culturally appropriate care—and listening to them—is vital.

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