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We deserve better: American mothers have been neglected for way too long

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This speech was delivered on May 5, 2019, by Motherly's co-founder Liz Tenety at the MomCongress summit in Washington, DC.

Thank you so much for this great honor to be among so many inspiring women and men in support of this great mission.

It's wonderful to be back in DC, a city I lived in for a decade and truly adore. A city that gave me a college degree, where I met my husband, had my first "real" job and gave birth to our first child.

A city that is constantly brimming passion and activism and the hope that the status quo can be made better.

And so, to the mothers in the room, I want to say this: THIS is our time.

It's time to take motherhood seriously.

It's time to talk about motherhood not just as a women's issue—but as a human issue.

Because the reality is, motherhood is one of the most universal experiences that we as human beings share.

At Motherly, we believe that mothers deserve way more support—and way less judgment.

Because the truth is, American mothers are carrying heavy burdens. The burden is so heavy, and so many other women are carrying it too, that we can start to assume it's normal. That this is what it's supposed to be like. And that everyone else is carrying it well—that it's just you that is struggling.

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Mama, it's not just you. Motherhood shouldn't be this hard. And it's society that is failing, not you.

We live in a culture that gives lip service to the importance of family, but sees investment in women and children as an 'entitlement' too far. We operate in a business climate that prizes consumption and profitability above all, and leaves families, and especially women, behind in its wake. We're citizens in a country where 'women's issues' are seen as side-issues, rather than foundational functions of our society.

Motherhood is way harder than it should be because for too long, our stories have been pushed to the sidelines.

Despite all of this, I am incredibly optimistic. We are living in an era of major consciousness-raising, where women no longer fight one another in some kind of 'mommy war,' and instead are looking around us at the root causes of this profound unfairness.

And from where I sit, these are major signs of progress for women, mothers, and society at large.

But in order to get where we need to go, we have to first understand the problem:

1. Motherhood seems overwhelming

It's not a secret that American motherhood is incredibly burdensome. Even before they have children, women sense a lack of support that makes motherhood overwhelming—it's this anxiety that sells books like "Lean In" and fuels a never-ending debate over whether women can ever "have it all." In fact, Motherly's recently-released State of Motherhood survey reveals that 87% of Millennial mothers say that that society does not understand or support them.

2. Motherhood can be dangerous

Discrimination against women, and women of color in particular, has led to an appalling maternal health crisis—where women's voices are not heard and women's needs are not met. American mothers die in childbirth at a higher rate than in any other country in the developed world—and the mortality rates actually getting worse, not better. And according to research in the New York Times, "Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts," with racism playing a direct role. In the United States, in 2019, sexism and racism interplay in a dangerous mix that puts all new mothers at risk.

3. There is no relief for working mothers

One in four new mothers returns to work out of economic necessity within two weeks of giving birth. Recent statistics from the U.S. Labor Bureau indicate that only 12% of American workers have access to paid leave—the rest are left to fend for themselves without paid compensation during one of the most vulnerable times in their lives. The United States remains the only country in the developed world that does not guarantee paid family leave upon the birth of a baby. For all our talk about being family-focused, we refuse to act like it.

4. Women experience tons of pressure to breastfeed, but little support

Before and after birth, breastfeeding education and support is hit or miss—There is no routine education for new mothers to learn how to nurse. Breastfeed might be 'natural,' but we all know it is a learned skill. Women routinely are forced to figure it out on their own—a reality that leads to anguish for mom, and struggle for baby. Private lactation consultants often cost hundreds of dollars, an expense that is frequently out of reach during this financially stressful time in life. And if a woman formula feeds her baby, for whatever reason, she is made to feel that she has made a lesser choice for her child. Our society expects mothers to be endlessly self-sacrificing, but is unwilling to give her the support she needs along the way.

5. Postpartum women have been left to fend for themselves

While newborns are typically seen at least four times in their first two months of life, their mothers routinely have no postpartum care from 48 hours after birth until 6 weeks. During these critical weeks of physical recovery and a psychological transition to parenthood, women are left to figure it out alone. A lack of consistent postpartum screening and support leads to record levels of physical and mental health problems.

6. Childcare that's as expensive as a mortgage payment/college

The incredibly high cost of childcare puts enormous stress on families. The high cost is a leading reason that so many American women drop out of the workforce when they become moms. It's a barrier to entry for them to start a business. It's a massive strain on family finances. Families today pay a huge price to work—one that the federal government nor the majority of employers do much to support.

7. We have an American work culture that penalizes women

It's no secret that working women face the motherhood penalty at work—which amounts to a decrease in 4 percent of her earnings for every child that she has. But it's an extra sting to learn that men benefit from a fatherhood bonus—on average earning 6 percent more after their first child is both. Motherly's State of Motherhood survey revealed that the majority of women scaled down their careers after the birth of a baby, while their partners often scaled up—a split that sometimes happens by choice, but other times happens by default, thanks to a lack of paid family leave, the high cost of childcare and inflexible work environments for parents.

8. This is the worst part: The victims blame themselves

Research shows that American mothers largely blame themselves, experiencing waves of guilt and self-criticism for not being able to accomplish the herculean task of working, raising children and managing a household, entirely on their own.

But it is NOT our fault.

As Beth Berry wrote in a Motherly essay that has become our anthem, "it takes a village, but there are no villages. . . you and I are not the problem at all. WE ARE DOING PLENTY. We may feel inadequate, but that's because we're on the front lines of the problem, which means we're the ones being hardest hit. We absorb the impact of a broken, still-oppressive social structure so that our children won't have to. That makes us heroes, not failures."

It makes us heroes, mama.

So, the system is stacked against us. Recognizing the problem is the first step. The next is identifying the structural changes that can and must be made to make American society a family-friendly one.

So let us imagine the world as it could be. This world is in our reach.

I see 8 steps + signs of progress for American mothers

1. It's time to rebrand motherhood

Yes, motherhood is all-consuming, but the transformation of motherhood is far from all bad. It's getting in touch with our deepest strengths. It's experiencing the greatest love of our lives. It's making us more efficient at work. Motherhood needs to be reclaimed for the woman-empowering experience that it is. Motherhood is tenderness and strength. Motherhood is purpose and power.

2. It's time for new policies making pregnant women safer

We are seeing small but important steps in the right direction, from the Preventing Maternal Death act on the federal level, to state-initiatives aiming at reversing the maternal death rate. New York, for example, has launched a program to cover doula services for low-income women during their births, a small but powerful sign that at least some women are getting the community-centered support they deserve. The elective use of midwives for low-risk births is also on the rise United States, helping give women more options to access the birth experience they desire. These are all good signs for women in America, and you are all here today to help get us across the finish line.

3. Let's learn from states leading the way on paid family leave

New York state has begun phasing in 12 weeks of paid family leave to help mom and dad bond with a newborn or newly adopted or fostered child. Washington state just followed suit with a paid 12-week plan of their own. And California governor Gavin Newsom recently proposed the most comprehensive plan of all, calling for 6 months of paid leave, able to be divided between both parents. Paid leave is good for babies, parents, society, and even the long-term economic flourishing of American businesses. With a groundswell of new mothers taking to the 2019 Congress, and unprecedented support for paid leave emerging on the right, action on the federal level is on the horizon. And it's about time.

4. We need a no-judgment breastfeeding revolution

In recent years, the rate of breastfeeding has continued to rise, with most recent data indicating that 83% of newborns are now breastfed in the United States. All 50 states now have laws on the books protecting public breastfeeding. Workers now have the right to demand the time and space to pump during the workday. And the Affordable Care Act made it a lot easier for mothers to afford lactation support. A new generation of female entrepreneurs have invented breastfeeding pods, cordless breast pumps, and baby bottles that make it easier for baby to transition from breast to bottle and back. That certainly doesn't mean that breastfeeding will come easy to every woman, or that every woman will choose to breastfeed, but we have finally reached an era where women have more options and support no matter how they feed their babies.

5. We're raising the standard for postpartum care

In 2018, ACOG updated its recommendations in 2018, calling for women to be seen at three weeks postpartum instead of six. This appointment 'includes a full assessment of her physical, social, and psychological well-being." The American Academy of Pediatrics also followed suit, calling for its pediatricians to screen mothers' mental health during their baby's well visits, providing two essential stop gap for women who were otherwise falling through the cracks. I know I personally would have benefitted from earlier, more rigorous care after the birth of my first son, and I'm grateful this standard will become the new normal.

6. We've got to make childcare more affordable

The desperate need for affordable childcare has become a rallying cry for a generation of Millennial parents saddled with student loan debt and an unprecedentedly high cost of living. Some states and cities like NY are beginning to offer free public preschool to 4 and even 3-year-olds, providing massive relief to families in those regions.

Startups and tech companies like SnapChat and Facebook all offer subsidies or benefits to help parents offset the cost of childcare. Patagonia is another example of a company that goes even further—providing free, on-site childcare to all of its employees.

These cities and companies make the case that investing in families is a long-term benefit drawing people to live and work in these places and companies. But the cry is getting louder—and there is a lot more that must be done.

7. American women are defining career and using technology to get what they want

Millennial women represent the first generation in history where women are more highly educated than men. Full stop. This is a very big deal. But when they become mothers, they find that many corporate cultures are unable to keep pace with the very reasonable idea that a person should be able to thrive in her career—and have a family. That's why we're seeing Millennial moms embracing entrepreneurship at unprecedented levels, particularly among women of color. When the system isn't working for them, these women are inventing systems of their own that do.

A host of female-founded startups like Werk, The Mom Project, Power to Fly and Apres have also emerged, using technology to help women find flexible, remote, high-quality employment opportunities. This new generation of entrepreneurs are helping their fellow Millennial moms to find opportunity where in the past, none existed. And I'm proud to share that at Motherly, we employ over 30 working mothers, all of our employees work flexible schedules, and we are 100% remote. This IS the change we wish to see in the world.

8. There's no reason to blame ourselves when the burdens of modern American motherhood feel heavy

And we have lots of people to thank for the progress we've made in the last decade.

From updated public health standards, to a new conversation around motherhood. From Sand Hill Road to the Halls of Congress, we are seeing American motherhood emerge as a source of massive power and strength.

It's time for us to stop blaming ourselves when the burden is heavy.

It's time for us to seize this moment to take motherhood seriously.

It's time for our generation of parents to rise up and demand that society give more than lip service to being family-friendly.

It's time for our incredibly outdated structures to reflect our modern reality.

It's time for women to do more than just survive motherhood.

I believe it is finally time for mothers to thrive.

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Did you hear that? That was the sound of Nordstrom and Maisonette making all your kid's summer wardrobe dreams come true.

Nordstrom partnered with Maisonette to create the perfect in-store pop-up shop from May 24th-June 23rd, featuring some of our favorite baby and kids brands, like Pehr, Zestt Organics, Lali and more. (Trust us, these items are going to take your Instagram feed to the next level of cuteness. 😍) Items range from $15 to $200, so there's something for every budget.

Pop-In@Nordstrom x Maisonette

Maisonette has long been a go-to for some of the best children's products from around the world, whether it's tastefully designed outfits, adorable accessories, or handmade toys we actually don't mind seeing sprawled across the living room rug. Now their whimsical, colorful aesthetic will be available at Nordstrom.

The pop-in shops will be featured in nine Nordstrom locations: Costa Mesa, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX; Dallas, TX; Bellevue, WA; Seattle, WA; Toronto, ON; and Vancouver, BC.

Don't live nearby? Don't stress! Mamas all across the U.S. and Canada will be able to access the pop-in merchandise online at nordstrom.com/pop

But don't delay―these heirloom-quality pieces will only be available at Nordstrom during the pop-in's run, and then they'll be over faster than your spring break vacation. Happy shopping! 🛍

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

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For decades, doctors have prescribed progesterone, one of the key hormones your body needs during pregnancy, to prevent a miscarriage. The hormone, produced by the ovaries, is necessary to prepare the body for implantation. As the pregnancy progresses, the placenta produces progesterone, which suppresses uterine contractions and early labor.

But a new study out of the UK finds that administering progesterone to women experiencing bleeding in their first trimester does not result in dramatically more successful births than a placebo. Yet, for a small group of mothers-to-be who had experienced "previous recurrent miscarriages," the numbers showed promise.

The study, conducted at Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research at the University of Birmingham in the UK, is the largest of its kind, involving 4,153 pregnant women who were experiencing bleeding in those risky (and nerve-wracking) early weeks. The women were randomly split into two groups, with one group receiving 400 milligrams of progesterone via a vaginal suppository, and the other receiving a placebo of the same amount. Both groups were given the suppositories through their 16th week of pregnancy.

Of the group given progesterone, 75% went on to have a successful, full-term birth, compared to 72% for the placebo.

As the study notes, for most women, the administration of progesterone "did not result in a significantly higher incidence of live births than placebo." But for women who had experienced one or two previous miscarriages, the result was a 4% increase in the number of successful births. And for women who had experienced three or more recurrent miscarriages, the number jumped to a 15% increase.

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Dr. Arri Coomarasamy, Professor of Gynecology at the University of Birmingham and Director of Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research, said the implications for that group are "huge." "Our finding that women who are at risk of a miscarriage because of current pregnancy bleeding and a history of a previous miscarriage could benefit from progesterone treatment has huge implications for practice," he said.

It's estimated that 1 in 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. And while even a spot of blood no doubt increases the fear in every expectant mother's mind, bleeding is actually a very common occurrence during pregnancy, Coomarasamy said. Still, first trimester bleeding is particularly risky, with a third of women who experience it going on to miscarry.

So for women who have been through it multiple times, Coomarasamy's findings are an important avenue to explore. "This treatment could save thousands of babies who may have otherwise been lost to a miscarriage," he added.

The study is among a number of recent groundbreaking discoveries made by doctors looking to further understand what causes miscarriages and what can be done to prevent them. While about 70% of miscarriages are attributed to chromosomal abnormalities, doctors recently learned that certain genetic abnormalities, which exist in a small group of parents-to-be, could be discovered by testing the mother and father, as well as the embryo.

Doctors have also discovered that even knowing the sex of your baby could predict the complications a mother may face, thus helping medical professionals to assist in keeping the pregnancy viable.

But while there is no sweeping solution to stop miscarriages, for some couples, the use of progesterone does offer a glimmer of hope. "The results from this study are important for parents who have experienced miscarriage," Jane Brewin, chief executive of Tommy's said. "They now have a robust and effective treatment option which will save many lives and prevent much heartache."

Brewin added that studies like this one are imperative to our understanding of how the creation of life, which remains both a miracle and a mystery, truly works. "It gives us confidence to believe that further research will yield more treatments and ultimately make many more miscarriages preventable," she said.

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Every mom has her own list of character traits each of she hopes to instill in her children, but there is one that stands out as a big priority for the majority of millennial mothers.

Motherly's 2019 State of Motherhood survey revealed that kindness is incredibly important to today's moms. It is the number one trait we want to cultivate in our children, and according to stats from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, this emphasis on kindness couldn't come at a better time.

In recent years kids and parents have been straying from kindness, but these Ivy League experts have some great ideas about how today's moms can get the next generation back on track so they can become the caring adults of tomorrow.

Between 2013 and 2014, as part of Harvard's Making Caring Common project, researchers surveyed 10,000 middle and high school students across the nation. They found that no matter what race, class or culture the kids identified with, the majority of the students surveyed valued their own personal success and happiness way more than that of others.

Why do kids value their own success so much more than things like caring and fairness? Well, apparently, mom and dad told them to.

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Eighty percent of the 10,000 students said their parents taught them that their own happiness and high achievement were more important than caring for others. (So much for sharing is caring.)

The folks at Harvard say that valuing your own ambition is obviously a good thing (in moderation) in today's competitive world, but prioritizing it so much more than ethical values like kindness, caring and fairness makes kids more likely to be cruel, disrespectful and dishonest.

So how do we fix this? Here's Harvard's four-step plan for raising kinder kids.

1. Help them practice being nice

Giving kids daily opportunities to practice caring and kind acts helps make ethical behavior second nature. They could help you with chores, help a friend with homework or work on a project to help homelessness.

All those tasks would help a child flex their empathy muscles. The key is to increase the challenges over time so your child can develop a stronger capacity for caregiving as they grow.

2. Help them see multiple perspectives

The researchers want kids to “zoom in" and listen closely to the people around them, but also see the bigger picture. “By zooming out and taking multiple perspectives, including the perspectives of those who are too often invisible (such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn't speak their language, or the school custodian), young people expand their circle of concern and become able to consider the justice of their communities and society," the study's authors' wrote.

3. Model kindness

Our kids are watching, so if we want them to be kinder, it's something we should try to cultivate in ourselves. The Harvard team suggests parents make an effort to widen our circles of concern and deepen our understanding of issues of fairness and justice.

4. Teach kids to cope with destructive feelings

According to the researchers, the ability to care about others can be overwhelmed by a kid's feelings of anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings. They suggest we teach our kids teach that while all feelings are okay to feel, some ways of dealing with them are not helpful, or kind (for example, “Hitting your classmate might make you happy, but it won't make them happy and isn't very kind. Counting to 10 and talking about why you're mad is more productive than hitting.")

While the folks at Harvard are concerned that so many kids are being taught to value their own happiness above all, they were also encouraged by the students who do prioritize caring and kindness. One of the students surveyed wrote, “People should always put others before themselves and focus on contributing something to the world that will improve life for future generations."

If we follow the advice of Harvard researchers, the world will see more kids that think like that, and that's what future generations need.

[A version of this post was originally published November 8, 2017. It has been updated.]

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These days more women are having babies into their 40s, but the idea that women are facing down the biological clock is pretty pervasive—once you're over 35, you automatically receive that "advanced maternal age" classification, while your male partner's age may never even be mentioned. The pressure on older moms is unfair, because according to new research from Rutgers University, men may face age-related fertility decline too and America's dads are getting older.

It's a new idea, but this finding actually takes 40 years worth of research into account—which, coincidentally, is around the age male fertility may start to decline. According to Rutgers researchers, the medical community hasn't quite pinpointed the onset of advanced age, but it hovers somewhere between ages 35 and 45.

The study which appears in the journal Maturitas, finds that a father's age may not just affect his fertility, but also the health of his partner and offspring.

Based on previously conducted research, the team behind this study found evidence that men over 45 could put their partners at greater risk for pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Babies born to older fathers also have an increased likelihood of premature birth, late stillbirth, low Apgar scores, low birthweight, newborn seizures and more. The risks appear to exist later in life, too: Research suggests children of older fathers have greater risk of childhood cancers, cognitive issues and autism.

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There's been plenty of studies surrounding advanced maternal age, but research on advanced paternal age is pretty slim—scientists don't quite understand how age correlates to these factors at this point. But researchers from Rutgers believe that age-related decline in testosterone and sperm quality degradation may be to blame. "Just as people lose muscle strength, flexibility and endurance with age, in men, sperm also tend to lose 'fitness' over the life cycle," Gloria Bachmann, director of the Women's Health Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, explains in a release for this news.

As we've previously reported, more and more men are waiting until later in life to have children. According to a 2017 Stanford study, children born to fathers over 40 represent 9% of U.S. births, and the average age of first-time fathers has climbed by three-and-a-half years over the past four decades —so this research matters now more than ever, and it may represent the first step towards setting certain standards in place for men who choose to delay parenthood.

The biggest thing to come out of this research may be the need for more awareness surrounding advanced paternal age. This particular study's authors believe doctors should be starting to have conversations with their male patients, possibly even encouraging them to consider banking sperm if they're considering parenthood later in life.

Women certainly tend to be aware of the age-related risks to their fertility, and many regularly hear that they should freeze their eggs if they're not ready for motherhood. And while it's still too early to say whether we'll ever examine paternal age this closely, this research may set a whole new conversation in motion.

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In many homes, especially those where both men and women are present, the battle for control over the thermostat is very, very real. If you find you're often the one cranking up the heat or turning down the air conditioning, there's a reason for that, mama.

According to a study published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, women think better in warmer temperatures, while men get sharper when the air conditioning kicks in.

Researchers recruited hundreds of college students, both men and women, and put them in rooms where the temperatures ranged from 61 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, the students took tests. Their math, verbal and local skills were evaluated. It was pretty simple stuff, like doing addition without pulling up the calculator on your phone or making as many words as you can from a bunch of letters within a set time limit.

For every 1.8 degrees that the temperature went up, women performed better on the math problems by nearly 1.8%! Basically, when the room got warmer, the women could think clearer. As for the men, when the temperature went up by 1.8 degrees their math performance suffered by about 0.63%. They were not as impacted as women, but still clearly did better when the rooms were colder.

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The researchers were thinking about offices when they set out to do this study, and suggest that many air-conditioned office spaces are too cold for women and should be less chilly. But the research also makes sense within the context of many homes where disagreements over temperature are a common occurrence.

The study proves that those of us who are shuffling around the house in slippers and sweaters in May while our partners are walking around in basketball shorts and t-shirts may have a point. As Paul C. Rosenblatt, a Professor Emeritus of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota wrote for HuffPost, "in heterosexual couples the woman was three times more likely than the man to be the colder one," and "that for couples with real differences in temperature preference, there is problem solving to do."

Part of that problem solving may involve compromise or different temperature settings in different rooms when possible. "There are couples who battle for years about thermostat settings — thermostat wars in which each sneaks to the thermostat to set it up or down when the partner isn't paying attention," Rosenblatt writes.

That's not ideal, but neither is having brain freeze all time or wearing three pairs of socks in the house. A 1998 study out of the University of Utah found women usually do have colder hands and feet than men, by about 3 degrees Celsius.

Maybe it's time for everyone to comprise. If the house is just a couple degrees warmer we might all be happier.

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