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Why more moms need to share the #unspokenstories of their premature births

Honest stories of pregnancy, parenthood and loss don't get told as much as they should, so the crisis—in which more than 380,000 babies are born prematurely each year, and more than 50,000 mothers experience life-threatening complications as a result of pregnancy and birth—goes unnoticed.

Why more moms need to share the #unspokenstories of their premature births

There's no time in life quite like pregnancy and the postpartum period. Physically, we've never been more connected to someone else. It's incredibly beautiful, but also incredibly hard and lonely—especially when your birth story doesn't go as planned.

That was the reality for Hannah Spencer. She wasn't expecting to get preeclampsia, or spend a month in the hospital or welcome her son Nolan a month early. It wasn't the birth story she'd expected, but it is the one she now sharing through the March of Dimes' #UnspokenStories campaign.

"There was no history of complicated pregnancies or births in my family. I was taking it day by day and enjoying this special time in my life. I was assuming it would be like most of the stories I'd heard from others," Spencer tells Motherly.

She continues, "[I] never knew about the NICU, never been to a NICU, knew nothing of prematurity or the difficulties associated."

Unfortunately, Spencer's birth story is so much more common than she knew.

A recent report by the The National Center for Health Statistics found that in 2018, for the fourth year in a row, America's preterm birth rate rose, and as President and CEO Stacey D. Stewart points out, "persistent inequities in access to quality health care in our country play a role in driving up the preterm birth rate."

That's why Stewart and her colleagues at The March of Dimes are encouraging moms like Spencer to share their truths, to talk about how hard a premature birth can be, so that lawmakers, medical care providers and researchers will seek solutions to the problems and babies face every day in America.

According to Stewart, honest stories of pregnancy, parenthood and loss don't get told as much as they should, so the crisis—in which more than 380,000 babies are born prematurely each year, and more than 50,000 mothers experience life-threatening complications as a result of pregnancy and birth—goes unnoticed.

In the United States, 700 mothers die from pregnancy-related causes each year, and American babies are way more likely to die in the first year of life than babies in other wealthy nations, and black mothers face disproportionate risks.

Spencer had never heard any NICU stories until she was living one with Nolan, who weighed 2 pounds at birth.

"It wasn't until I was on bed rest that we posted an update on Facebook about our progress and people just started reaching out with their own stories of prematurity. I was forever grateful to those people who allowed me to ask them questions and lean on them for advice," Spencer explains.

She continues: "It's a story that many have never heard but also a fairly common one. Now that we have gone through it and feel comfortable telling our story, it's amazing how many people we have come across with some sort of connection to our story. It's important for us to let the world know that we went through this, it was the most challenging thing to date in our lives, but we lived through it and feel stronger because of it."

Spencer and Stewart are hoping that more moms don't have to live through it, or worse, lose their lives or their baby. If people know that Spencer and Nolan survived a harrowing experience, and that they are still luckier than other families, the story of maternal health in America can be rewritten.

"Unspoken Stories aims to build a supportive community for moms and families by breaking the stigma of sharing stories around all forms of pregnancy and parenting," says Stewart.

Spencer is now busy chasing Nolan, who is a healthy 3-year-old, but she's also busy advocating for change. She and Nolan recently walked in the March of Babies and she is always telling her birth story, even though it is hard.

If you have a story you want to share, visit Unspokenstories.org or use the hashtag #unspokenstories on social media.

It's time for America to start listening, and for mothers' stories to no longer go unspoken.

{Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Nolan's name as Noah.]

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After 4 kids, this is still the best baby gear item I’ve ever purchased

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work.

I have four kids 8 and under, so you might expect that my house is teeming with baby gear and kid toys.

But it turns out that for me, the more kids I have, the more I simplify our stuff. At this point, I'm down to the absolute essentials, the gear that I can't live without and the toys my kids actually play with. And so when a mama-to-be asks me what things are worth registering for, there are only a few must-haves on my list.

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer seat is on the top of my list—totally worth it and an absolute must-have for any new mama.

In fact, since I first splurged on my first BABYBJÖRN bouncer eight years ago (it definitely felt like a splurge at the time, but the five star reviews were really compelling), the bouncer seat has become the most-used product in our house for baby's first year.

We've actually invested in a second one so that we didn't have to keep moving ours from the bedroom to the living room when we change locations.

BABYBJÖRN bouncer bliss

baby bjorn bouncer

The utility of the seat might seem counterintuitive—it has no mechanical parts, so your baby is instead gently bounced by her own movements. In a world where many baby products are touted for their ability to mechanically rock baby to sleep, I get that many moms might not find the "no-motion" bouncer that compelling. But it turns out that the seat is quite reactive to baby's little kicks, and it has helped my kids to learn how to self-soothe.

$200

Lightweight + compact:

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer is super lightweight, and it also folds flat in a second. Because of those features, we've frequently stored it under the couch, in a suitcase or in the back of the car. It folds completely flat, which I love.

Entertainment zone:

Is the toy bar worth it? The toy bar is totally worth it. Not only is the toy bar adorable, but it's one of the first toys that my babies actually play with once they discover the world beyond my boobs. The toys spin and are close to eye level so they have frequently kept my baby entertained while I cook or take a quick shower.

Great style:

This is not a small detail to me–the BABYBJÖRN bouncer is seriously stylish. I am done with baby gear and toys that make my house look like a theme park. The elegant European design honestly just looks good in my living room and I appreciate that parents can enjoy it as much as baby.

It's adjustable:

With three height settings that let you prop baby up to be entertained, or lay back to rest, we get years of use. And the bouncer can actually be adjusted for bigger kids and used from newborn to toddler age. It's that good.

It just works:

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work. But I have used the seat as a safe space to put baby while I've worked (I once rocked my baby in it with my foot while I reported on a breaking news story for the Washington Post), and as a cozy spot for my second child to lay while his big brother played nearby. It's held up for almost a decade with almost-constant use.

So for me, looking back on what I thought was a splurge eight years ago, was actually one of the best investments in baby gear I ever made.

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Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Earth Mama: Effective, natural herbal care for mamas and babies

Founded and grown in her own garage in 2002, Earth Mama started as an operation of one, creating salves, tinctures, teas and soaps with homegrown herbs. With a deep desire to bring the healing powers of nature that have been relied on for thousands of years to as many mamas as possible, Melinda Olson's formulas quickly grew into Earth Mama Organics. Since then, the brand has remained committed to manufacturing clean, safe and effective herbal solutions for the entire journey of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby care, and even the loss of a baby.

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With 28 years of serving pregnant and postpartum mamas under their belt, Bravado Designs is a true authority on the needs of changing bodies. It's true that we have them to thank for rescuing us from the uncomfortable and frumpy designs our own moms had to live with. Launched in Canada by two young mamas, they designed the first prototypes with extra leopard print fabric certain that a better bra was possible. Throughout the years they've maintained their commitment to ethical manufacturing while creating long-lasting products that truly work.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

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"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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