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Within the past few decades, the rising rates of IVF, gestational carriers and surrogates have provided new ways for families to form. For lesbian couples, in particular, science now allows for a pretty amazing possibility: reciprocal IVF, a process in which one partner’s eggs are used to impregnate the other.


Also known as “shared motherhood,” this arrangement helps both women play a role in pregnancy—which one couple tells Motherly was such a special gift.

“We just really loved the idea of reciprocal IVF because we would be physically a part of the experience,” says Christina Bailey, who welcomed daughter Kennedy through reciprocal IVF with her wife, Katie.

Initially, Katie and Christina both considered intrauterine insemination (IUI) treatments using a sperm donor. But when they learned about reciprocal IVF, it immediately felt like the best option for them.

“It was important to me to have a child that was genetically mine, while this wasn't very important to Katie,” Christina explains. “Katie liked the idea of carrying a child, so it worked out perfectly.”

As for the final component, Christina says they were able to find the ideal sperm donor for their family through an online bank—which made for another interesting experience.

“We uploaded a photo of Katie's face and it gave results of donors who had similar facial characteristics,” Christina says. “We also looked for someone who had similar interests and talents. For example, the donor we chose has musical talents, similar to Katie.”

But while the decision to pursue reciprocal IVF came easily, the rest of the process isn’t without its challenges.

According to a new study published in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online, the reciprocal IVF process isn’t a guarantee: Of 141 IVF cycles tracked, there was a live birth rate of 60% per receiver and a twin delivery rate of 14%.

The expense certainly isn’t negligible, either, with an average cost upward of $16,000 per IVF cycle, according to WINFertility.

As the Baileys tell Motherly, there are also emotional challenges to the arrangement.

“There have been times when people ask Katie if she will have ‘her own child,’ which isn't meant as an insult, but can be taken that way,” Christina says. “The same can go for me with people asking why I don't carry or [they] consider Katie the mother because she gave birth.”

Still, the Baileys wouldn’t have it any other way. Now with another daughter on the way thanks to another round of reciprocal IVF, Christina says it was simply the perfect way for her and Katie to build their family.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Chrissy Teigen has been very open about the ways pregnancy has changed her body. Mom to 2-year-old Luna and 4-month-old Miles, Teigen—a former swimsuit model—has famously embraced her postpartum body (stretchies and all), while noting that she's still, at times, insecure about it, but she's not ashamed.

That's why, when a man on Twitter commented on a photo of Teigen's red carpet look for the Emmy's to ask the whole wide world (and Teigen herself, he tagged her) if she was pregnant again, Teigen was quick to shut down the shamer.

"I'm asking this with the utmost respectful [sic], but is @chrissyteigen pregnant again?" The man wrote.

"I just had a baby but thank you for being soooo respectful," Teigen replied (from the Emmys).


Fellow moms were quick to jump to Teigen's defense. Many pointed out that Teigen actually looks incredible for any human, let alone one who is four months postpartum. Other mamas were quick to chime in with stories about their own lingering baby bumps.

For a lot of women, our bodies are different after having a baby. Sometimes that means we're a little rounder in the middle than we used to be. It happens to almost everyone, even red carpet-walking A-listers, like Teigen and actress Jennifer Garner, who once told Ellen Degeneres that she would have a bump forever.

"I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump," Garner explained in 2014, after paparazzi photographs fueled speculation that she and Ben Affleck were expecting a fourth child. "Forever and ever, not another baby. Just a bump like a camel. But just in reverse," Garner jokes.

Like Garner, Teigen dealt with the pregnancy question with a sense of humor, but she shouldn't have had to defend her body from the Emmys. As many, many Twitter users pointed out to the man who asked, it's never cool to ask a woman if she is pregnant.

It's not polite to ask, and it's no one's business whether a woman's bump is a pregnancy, some fabric, a burrito, a weird shadow or (as in Teigen's case) basically a figment of someone's imagination.

A lot of mamas online last night chimed in to say that while Teigen's stomach doesn't look like it did in her Sports Illustrated days, it still looks pretty freaking amazing.

Yes, after two kids, Chrissy Teigen doesn't look like a swimsuit model. But she shouldn't have to. She's not a swimsuit model anymore. She is a cookbook author with her own Target line and she hosts a hilarious TV show. She's also a mother. She is so much more than her midsection.

"Honestly, I don't ever have to be in a swimsuit again," she recently told Women's Health. "Since I was 20 years old, I had this weight in my mind that I am, or that I'm supposed to be. I've been so used to that number for 10 years now. And then I started realizing it was a swimsuit-model weight. There's a very big difference between wanting to be that kind of fit and wanting to be happy-fit."

Teigen is happy with her body, and we're happy she spent Emmy night educating the internet about respecting women.

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Jessica Simpson will soon join the mom of three club! The singer-turned-fashion mogul announced on Instagram today that she is expecting a baby girl.

"This little baby girl will make us a family of five," said Simpson, who shares 6-year-old Maxwell and 5-year-old Ace with husband Eric Johnson. "We couldn't be happier to announce this precious blessing of life."

The news may come as a surprise to Simpson's fans, considering she's been pretty vocal about feeling as though her family was complete. "I have two beautiful children, and I'm not having a third," she told Ellen DeGeneres in 2017. "They're too cute. You can't top that."

Earlier this year, Simpson revealed to Entertainment Tonight she had developed a case of baby fever, but said it would "definitely have to be a miracle" to have a third baby. Today's joyful announcement is proof that plans can change and that's part of the fun of life. All that really matters is that Simpson's family—including the two big siblings—certainly seem excited.

Besides, the designer of a line for Motherhood Maternity shouldn't have any problem with being just as fashionable as ever through her third pregnancy. 😉

Congrats to the growing family!

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Parents buy wheeled baby walkers with the best intentions: We want to help our babies prepare to eventually walk unaided, and give them a little more freedom to explore in the meantime.

But pediatricians are asking parents to please not use wheeled baby walkers, and are calling for a ban on such products. The call comes as a new study published in the journal Pediatrics reveals that more than 2,000 babies each year are treated for injuries sustained while using these walkers.

Between 1990 and 2014, more than 230,000 children under 15 months old were seen in emergency rooms after being hurt while using a baby walker.

Most of the injuries, more than 90%, were injuries to the head and neck, including concussions or skull fractures. Many walker-related injuries are due to falling—either out of it or while in it—but babies can also very quickly end up in places they shouldn't be (like near staircases, fireplaces or swimming pools) because the wheels can make them surprisingly speedy, catching parents off guard.

According to the study's lead senior author, Dr. Gary Smith, the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, the wheels on a walker give babies some pretty incredible speed, allowing them to cover up to 4 feet per second.

"Children at this age are curious, but do not recognize danger," Smith told CBS News. As a pediatric emergency medicine physician, Smith says he's been seeing these injuries in ERs since the 1970's, and the shocked parents often tell him that their baby moved so quickly they just didn't have time to stop them before they were injured.

"These are good parents, who were carefully supervising their children and using the baby walker as intended," Smith explains. "Their only error was that they believed the myth that baby walkers are safe to use."

Calling for a ban

The number of baby walker-related injuries has declined in the last few decades. In 1990 20,650 babies were hurt, and in 2014 that number was just 2,001. It's good news, and something Smith and his colleagues say is due to stricter safety standards in recent years.

However, the doctors don't think safety standards are enough. They want baby walkers off store shelves and out of American homes—something the American Academy of Pediatrics has been calling for since the 1990s.

"We support the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics that baby walkers should not be sold or used. There's absolutely no reason these products should still be on the market," Smith told NPR.

America doesn't have to look far to find another country that's taken such measures. Across the border in Canada, it's been illegal to import, sell or advertise baby walkers since 2004. Parents who sneak them in from the United States may have their walker seized by customs. Selling a baby walker in Canada can see a person facing steep fines, or even jail time.

"It is also illegal to sell baby walkers at garage sales, flea markets, or on street corners. If you have one, destroy it so it cannot be used again and throw it away," the Canadian government notes on its website.

Safe alternative for babies

Smith and his colleagues agree with the Canadian government and suggest American parents who have walkers take the wheels off and dispose of them.

He recommends parents look into safer alternatives to rockers, "such as stationary activity centers that spin, rock, and bounce, but do not have wheels that give young children dangerous mobility. And good old fashioned belly time, where a child is placed on their belly on the floor and allowed to learn to gradually push themselves up, then crawl, and eventually walk."

A lot of parents use walkers with good intentions, wanting to help their baby learn to walk faster, but studies suggest they can actually do the opposite, slowing down development while letting babies propel themselves at unsafe speeds.

This is one case where slowing baby down might speed them up in the long run.

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When Carrie Underwood recently announced she and her husband, hockey player Mike Fisher, are expecting again, fans were thrilled and congratulated the singer on her second pregnancy.

But now, in a candid interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Underwood revealed that this isn't really her second pregnancy. In the last two years, Underwood has been pregnant three other times. She's suffered multiple miscarriages in a short period of time, and it was hard.

"I'd kind of planned that 2017 was, you know, going to be the year that I work on new music, and I have a baby. We got pregnant early 2017, and didn't work out," she explains, adding that she got pregnant again in the spring of 2017 and again suffered a pregnancy loss. Another positive pregnancy test and another devastating loss followed in early 2018.

"So, at that point, it was just kind of like, 'Okay, like, what's the deal? What is all of this?'" Underwood recalls.

She says she poured herself into her work because she couldn't just sit around thinking about it.

"Literally right after finding out that I would lose a baby, I'd have a writing session," she explains. "I would literally have these horrible things going on in my life, and then have to go smile and, like, do some interviews or, like, do a photo shoot or something, you know? So it was just kind of, like, therapeutic, I guess."

It's okay to feel blessed and mad 

Underwood says she recognizes that she has a pretty great life: "I have an incredible husband, incredible friends, an incredible job, an incredible kid."

And that's exactly why it was hard for her to allow herself to feel angry about the lost pregnancies. She feels so blessed in other parts of her life, but one night, when her husband Mike was away, the tears came while she was snuggling with her sleeping son, 3-year-old Isaiah.

"I don't know how I didn't wake him up, but I was just sobbing," Underwood recalled, noting that she prayed about the situation that night.

"That was like a Saturday – and the Monday I went to the doctor to, like, confirm, another miscarriage. And they told me everything was great!"

Underwood's story is one so many women can relate to. Miscarriages are really common, but they can feel so lonely because they're not talked about enough. It's okay to be angry is this happens to you, and it's okay to talk about it.

Underwood's experience is common 

A recent review of scientific literature on the subject suggests miscarriage is the "the predominant outcome of fertilisation" and "a natural and inevitable part of human reproduction at all ages," ScienceAlert reports.

That research, written by evolutionary geneticist William Richard Rice of the University of California, follows other studies which suggest as many as 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.

"It is not an abnormality," Rice told New Scientist. "It's the norm."

Those kind of stats may not be comforting to those going through the kind experience Underwood had, but it is helpful to know we're not alone.

By speaking out about her experience, Underwood is helping other women who are going through the same thing. She's letting others know that it's okay to be angry, it's okay to cry, and it's also okay to have hope.

"They were hard. And it sucked so much! But things are looking better," she says.


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