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I. Never ever

I recently returned from Florida where I spent a week cleaning out my mother’s house so that I can sell it and pay for the memory care facility where she presently resides. When I finally got around to the bathroom, I groaned. Not because it was filthy or because it stoked my ever-simmering sadness, but because my mother never in her life left the house unless she was wearing makeup.


And oh boy, did she ever have a lot of it.

My mother was the Countess of Cosmetics, the Baroness of Blush. I remember as a child sitting cross-legged on the floor, watching her “put on her face.” I was fascinated by the vast arsenal of products splayed out across her large countertop, mesmerized by the precise, dedicated manner in which she applied the foundation, the liners, the sticks, and the shadows. It seemed like it took her forever, and I can still hear the echo of my father’s impatient voice imploring her to “Come on already.”

By the time I reached the age where many girls begin enthusiastically experimenting with makeup, I wanted nothing to do with it. I was far more interested in embellishing my mind than my face. Instead of blackening my lashes with mascara, I hid in my room darkening my thoughts with Sartre.

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It just about killed my mother. She hated that I “didn’t take pride in my appearance,” and she often wondered aloud (jokingly, I think) whether the hospital had handed her the wrong baby by mistake.

Patti Smith put it well when she said, Even as a child, I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to wear red lipstick.

It wasn’t as if I was trying to make a statement by avoiding makeup, I just preferred how I looked without it. I preferred how all women looked without makeup, and didn’t really understand why they would want to hide their natural beauty behind artificial colors.

Most of my girlfriends wore makeup, I guess because it made them feel better about themselves. They knew how I felt, but still they often ganged up on me before a high school dance, pleading with me to bedaub my face with synthetic color, insisting that I would look prettier. Better. Sexier.

I always resisted. Regardless of peer pressure, media pressure, or maternal pressure, I knew I was never ever going to wear makeup. Not for any friend. Not for any man. Not for any reason.

II. What would you be willing to do for a chance such as this?

Long ago, before most Russians even knew there was such a thing as the Internet, I was living in Seattle in a tiny studio apartment on the top floor of a five-floor building overlooking Highway 5. I had a minuscule deck outside my window where I would sit and smoke while watching the ever-rushing traffic below me. If I craned my neck just so, I could see the Space Needle shooting up between two ugly office buildings.

After crawling back through the window, I’d sit at my desk-cum-dining room table and research possible markets for a genetics software program that my super-smart friend Tim was creating to allow breeders – cow, cat, plant, you name it – to input genetic data into a graphic interface. If he ever finished writing the code, it was going to take the software world by storm. While waiting for Tim to deliver me a shrink-wrap-ready product I got a call from my father, asking me if I wanted to go to Russia.

“To do what?” I asked with ignited interest. I mean, Russia? Boris Yeltsin had recently been elected President and the country was throwing open its previously-shuttered doors to the rest of the world. I wanted to be one of the first tourists to step through.

“You’d be selling makeup,” my father replied.

“Makeup?”

The cosmetics giant, Maybelline, had recently transitioned their ubiquitous blue-colored packaging to an au courant black, and now they needed to unload a few million units of the old stuff. My father, a man who was forever spawning some unconventional deal, somehow fell in with the owner of the corporate trading company charged with selling off the démodé eye shadows and blushes and lipsticks to fashion-starved Russian women. In order for my father to be in on the arrangement, he needed to come up with a sales rep.

He picked me, the woman who knew nothing about selling makeup, let alone applying it.

“Oh, and you’re going to peddle your own skincare line too,” he continued. “The company will create it for you.”

“My own—?”

“Yeah, I figured you should go over there as a…a personality, you know? Like an American starlet. They’ll eat it up. Your new name is going to be Lissa. Lissa Cazzel.”

“But I have no idea how to—”

“You’re going to have a ball, Lissa Cazzel,” he said, interrupting me before I could list my concerns. “You fly to New York next week.”

So it was that I allowed a Vietnamese woman to glue long red acrylic fingernails over my own short unpainted ones. I submitted to makeup lessons, using only Maybelline products. I slathered baby blue eye shadow across my lids and fiery orange lipstick over my lips because women in Russia, I learned, lusted for those colors.

I was outfitted with a new sexy skin-hugging wardrobe. I agreed to wear very high ankle-cracking heels and lots of costume bling after I stored away my Tibetan yak bone choker that I’d bought at a crafts fair in Portland.

I assessed my eponymous product line, sniffing the bath gels and rubbing the lotions onto my skin. They smelled like cheap perfume. When I suggested a more subtle scent, I was told that women in Russia love strong smells. The stronger the better.

Two weeks later, I landed in Saint Petersburg with two suitcases full of clothes and eight boxes filled with makeup and Lissa Skincare products, and checked into Hotel Astoria, the same hotel where Hitler had planned to celebrate his conquest over the city (good thing that party never got started).

You know what? Other than having the hardest time removing my contact lenses with my red talons, I did have a ball. I traveled all over Russia and Czechoslovakia, and even into parts of Finland, meeting with beauty shop owners and store managers and government officials (as well as un-officials).

Every morning I awoke before dawn so that I had enough time to “put on my face” – my very painted face – before rushing to meet Tanya, my interpreter, in front of the hotel. (As she was a Russian citizen, armed guards barred her from entering the hotel.)

Besides helping negotiate business deals, Tanya was also my tour guide and companion. She instructed me to stay silent and look angry as she pushed me along the much shorter Russian-Only lines at museums and other tourist attractions.

Tanya protected me from making bad decisions. During a business dinner, a Georgian businessman asked me to marry his son, a war hero. When he showed me his photo, I almost accepted his proposition on the spot, the guy was so handsome. Tanya leaned forward and, with a false smile on her face so the Georgian wouldn’t know what she was saying, told me that the son had been shot in the head during the war and was presently in a vegetative state. His father desperately wanted his son to receive better medical care and figured it’d help if he married an American starlet.

Since no business deal in Russia can ever be closed without first making many toasts with many shots of vodka, Tanya also taught me how to drink for hours at a time without falling face-first into my borscht and effectively blowing the sale. Which is why, when I finally departed Russia, I gladly gifted Tanya the rest of my samples. She would have enough blue eye shadow to last her a few lifetimes. It wasn’t as if I had any use for them. The moment I landed back home, I cleaved off my fingernails, scrubbed my clogged pores clean, and went back to being au naturale.

My mother kept a framed photo of me from when I was in Russia, the one where I looked “so beautiful.” It wasn’t that my mother didn’t think I was beautiful. She just loved makeup so much, she couldn’t help herself.

Mom couldn’t help herself the day I got married either. After she fastened the back of my wedding gown – a 1960s dress from Paris that I bought at a consignment shop – I turned around to face her. Of course I expected her to say, “You look beautiful.”

Instead she said, “Would it kill you to wear a little lipstick?”

Sure, I’d compromised my anti-makeup beliefs to go to Russia. I also knew it would make my mother wildly happy to see her only daughter wearing makeup on her wedding day. Yes, there was a small part of me that thought my wedding album might shine a little brighter if I smeared some color across my skin, but in the end, I really wanted to be my best unmade self that day.

“No,” I stated with a small smile. “I want Victor to recognize me when I walk down the aisle.”

III. A different shade of blue

I’ve always thought my mother was more beautiful without makeup, but the only time I ever saw her facially naked was in the mornings when she awoke or sometimes late at night if I went to sleep after she did. As she read her book in bed I’d lean over her to kiss her goodnight, silently breathing in her clean clear skin. I loved it when she didn’t smell like artificial dyes.

She smells like that now. Now that she no longer wears makeup. Now that she needs to be reminded how to use a phone. Now that she has no idea what day it is. Now that dementia is taking over her brain.

She’s still adept at conversation. She remembers the distant past, but has no idea what she ate for lunch. She recognizes people, but often sees or hears people who are not there, like her dead mother or my brother who lives in California. Remarkably, she doesn’t seem to care about her face anymore and leaves her room in the morning completely fresh-faced, straight from the shower.

Perhaps it’s because she doesn’t want to look at her own face anymore and so putting on makeup has become more of a burden than a desire. The woman who used to check her makeup in every mirror she passed now avoids them. I wonder if it’s because when she glances in the mirror she sees the shadows framing her reflection, the ones that are slowly smothering her mind.

I filled two Hefty bags with the leftover makeup from my mother’s bathroom. Part of me was grateful she no longer needed it. Grateful that she will spend her remaining days looking like her real self, even though so much of that self no longer exists.

I miss her. I don’t miss her criticizing my looks or my lack of fashion sense, but I sort of miss the painted lady that she was, the woman who cared too much about what other people thought about her looks.

She was beautiful then and she’s beautiful now. Just a different kind of beautiful.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Student loan debt is a major problem for many mamas and their families―but it doesn't have to be. Refinancing companies like Laurel Road help families every year by offering better rates, making payments more manageable or helping them shorten their loan term.

If you're ready to start taking control of your student loan debt, here are five steps that could help you conquer your student loan debt and get a loan that works for you.

1. Understand your refinancing options.

Like motherhood, managing student loan debt is a journey made much easier by experience. If your eyes start to cross when you hear variable and fixed rates or annual percentage rate, start your process with a little education. Laurel Road offers a user-friendly resource hub with student loan refinancing guides and articles that can help explain your options and get you started on a more informed foot.

2. Potentially improve your credit score.

Your credit score is important because it provides an objective measure of your credit risk to lenders. It also has an impact on many aspects of your finances, so it's a good idea to understand and track your score regularly. To try and improve your score, pay your bills on time—your payment history is one of the most important factors in determining your credit score. Having a long history of on-time payments is best, while missing a payment may hurt your score. Another action to improve your credit score would be to keep the amount you owe low—keeping your balances low on credit cards and other types of revolving debt, such as a home equity lines of credit, may help boost your score. Remember, good credit scores don't just happen overnight, but taking positive financial steps now can lead to more positive outcomes in the future.

3. Get a better understanding of your current loan benefits.

Different loan types have different benefits and you want to make sure you don't lose any valuable benefits by refinancing your current loan. Before you're ready to apply for a better option, you need to know what you have. Determine your loan terms (how long you have to pay off your loan and how much you're required to pay each month) and find out your current interest rate.

When you took out your original loan, especially if it was a federal loan, everyone who applies is given the same rate regardless of their personal credit. When you look to refinance, companies like Laurel Road look at your credit score and other attributes to give you a personalized pricing option―one that's often more competitive than your original terms. However, it is important to know that federal loans offer several benefits and protections, including income based repayment and forgiveness options, that you may lose when refinancing with private lenders (learn more at https://studentloans.gov). Try Laurel Road's Student Loan Calculator to get a bigger picture perspective of what it will take to pay off your loan and the options available to you.

4. Pick the terms that fit your lifestyle.

Your long-term financial goals will determine what refinancing terms are right for you. For example, a 3- or 5-year loan means faster payoff times, but it will mean a higher monthly payment―which might not be possible if you're planning to purchase a home or looking to move your toddler to a more expensive school. A loan with a longer term will have lower payments, but more interest over the duration of the loan.

Want to see what your options are? Check your rates on Laurel Road. They'll perform a "soft credit pull" using some basic information (meaning initially checking your rates won't affect your credit score ) so you can make an informed decision. If you do proceed with the application Laurel Road will ask for your consent on a hard credit pull.

5. Don't miss out on discounts.

With a little research, many people can find opportunities for lower rates or discounts when refinancing their loans. For example, if your credit isn't the best, look into the possibility of adding a cosigner who may help boost your rate. There are also many associations and employers who offer student loan benefits. Laurel Road partners with a number of groups and employers who offer discounts on rates―so check with your professional associations or HR to see if any options are available to you. Finally, talk to your financial institution, especially if you're planning to take out another major loan like a mortgage. In some cases, having another product with an institution can get you a preferred customer rate.

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

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Dear second child,

I see you. In the background, laying on your activity mat. I am frantically peeling a banana to appease your big sister's demands while cleaning milk off the floor.

You reach over and grab your toy and I am SO proud of you. I see you.

You smile and coo to yourself and tears threaten to spill from my sleep-deprived blood-shot eyes.

You are 4 months old and I have so many things I've been meaning to do. I want to cuddle you on the couch while reading all the books I loved reading to your sister.

I want to help you explore sensory bins, feeling the rice that I dyed various vibrant colors between your sweet little fingers.

I want to lay with you in the grass, gazing at clouds and soaking in the feeling of you discovering your world.

But your sister just disappeared with a red crayon and has been quiet for far too long. So I dash to her, disappearing from your sight.

I am so sorry.

I want to sit and stare at you and memorize every smile and giggle.

I want lazy days in bed like I had with your sister.

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I want to spend hours just laying in the sun at the beach with you while you nap out in the fresh air.

But there are no quiet, cuddly nursing sessions. There are no cozy, carefree days. It's all business and I'm operating on survival mode right now—and barely keeping it together.

You are so sweet. So happy. You fill our days with laughter and joy. But right now, you are in your activity center while I make dinner.

The guilt overwhelms me as I watch you out of the corner of my eye during another negotiation with your sister over what we will eat tonight.

I want so badly to slow down, sing to you, dance with you in the kitchen, babble with you while I prepare dinner. But I am so distracted. So exhausted.

I feel like I am failing as your mother and I am sorry.

The rush of dinner, bath time, stories and bedtime is a blur. You love bath time and I make sure we spend an extra few minutes together, laughing as you splash and kick in the water.

I love these few moments we have. We read stories in your sister's room before shutting her door and saying goodnight.

This is our time now. Our last nursing session of the day. I snuggle into the chair with you, kiss your head, and breathe you in.

I stare into your eyes and memorize every inch of you. I tell you how much I love you and how wonderful you are. I say I love you before laying you down in bed and sneaking out of your room, the door closing gently behind me.

I did it. I survived another day. A wave of delight and gratitude washes over me, taking the guilt away with it.

You, my second child, are so incredibly special. I love you so fiercely and I am so proud of you. You learn and grow every day and I admire you endlessly. I am in awe of you. I am thankful for your easygoing nature, your abundance of giggles and infectious smiles (seriously, you are the happiest baby I've ever met).

I love our small moments together—when I catch a glimpse of you in your car seat mirror and am overcome with love. When you fall asleep on me while we're at the park pushing your sister on the swing. Our middle-of-the night feedings where I can take all of you in and snuggle you peacefully in the 3am silence only a mother knows.

I don't remember life without you and you complete me in a way I didn't know was possible. And you deserve my very best.

I try, little one, I really do.

I try to make sure and slow down. To dance with you in the kitchen. To give you those extra minutes of bath time. To rock you in that chair a little longer.

I want to sing to you. I want to read you an extra book. I want to pause. To stop. And see you.

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Many mothers-to-be find comfort and confidence in the idea that our bodies are built for birth. It's a mantra that has helped many through labor, but too often this idea is tossed around not to help mothers get through birth, but to discount its difficulty.

Our bodies are incredibly powerful, but so is the myth surrounding their ability to recover after birth. Yes, birth is natural and normal, but it is also really, really hard on us. Society needs to acknowledge that so mothers can get the support and time they need to heal.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances found pregnant people and extreme distance distance runners have something in common: Both groups push their bodies to the limit of human endurance and potential. It turns out energy expenditure among extreme athletes pushing their limits is only slightly higher than that of pregnant people.

Simply put: Science proves It's no wonder you're tired mama, being pregnant takes so much energy.

Science also suggests that giving birth is harder on a person's body than running a marathon, and while athletes are resting and getting treatment for their injuries, too many mothers are trying to walk theirs off.

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In a lot of ways, running a marathon and giving birth are very similar experiences. Researchers note that in both cases, we tend to forget how painful the event actually was, and in both cases our bodies are pushed to extremes. Researchers suggest childbirth is as traumatic as many endurance sports.

But runners step up to the starting line well rested. When women step into the birthing suite, they're already exhausted.

According to Holly Dunsworth, an associate professor of anthropology at of the University of Rhode Island, mothers in the last weeks and months of pregnancy are "pushing right against the possible sustainable metabolic rates in humans."

"We max out toward the end of pregnancy," Dunsworth told the BBC. "Those last weeks and months of pregnancy are tiring." We are starting our race feeling as depleted as runners feel when theirs is over.

To energize for labor, "moms should remain hydrated, and ensure that they are getting enough iron and protein", says Diana Spalding, a midwife, pediatric nurse and Motherly's Digital Education Editor.

And when runners get hurt, they get help. Moms often don't.

A 2015 study out of the University of Michigan found that 25% of postpartum mothers have "fluid in the pubic bone marrow or sustained fractures similar to a sports-related stress fracture." Two-thirds of the women had injuries similar to a severe muscle strain. The research suggests up to 15% of moms sustain pelvic injuries that don't heal, and we're just walking around with them.

According to Janis Miller, the lead author on the study, when an athlete gets one of the these injuries, they end up in an MRI machine getting checked out. When a postpartum mom has the same issue, it's downplayed and often undiagnosed. This leaves women confused and concerned about symptoms, and unchecked physical problems can put a strain on maternal mental health.

"We have this thing where we tell women, 'Well, you're six weeks postpartum and now we don't need to see you—you'll be fine.' But not all women feel fine after six weeks nor are [they] ready to go back to work, and they aren't crazy," Miller said in a media release.

As Miller recently told the BBC, mothers often don't even know when they've torn a muscle like the levator ani. A tear in that muscle can cause pelvic floor problems and even prolapse, and it's the kind of thing kegels aren't going to fix, but many moms are told that with kegels and time they'll feel better, when the injury is more serious than that.

"In the extreme, we're asking for some women to strengthen a muscle they might not even have anymore," Miller told the BBC. "What is often observed as weakness is actually torn muscle."

The science shows that childbirth can be as hard on the body as running a marathon, and can even result in similar injuries. But even when injuries are not a factor, anecdotal evidence suggests giving birth is harder than running a marathon.

Just ask Amber Miller, who once ran a six-hour marathon and then gave birth all on the same day. "Giving birth is definitely harder than running a marathon," Miller told The Guardian. "Give me a marathon any day."

[A version of this post was originally published on February 5, 2019. It has been updated.]

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It's Father's Day and dads around the world are getting some love from their loved ones, and we are loving all the adorable posts on Instagram today.

Celebrity dads are getting (and dishing out) a lot of love today, and these 10 Instagram posts, in particular, are melting our hearts.


James Van Der Beek 

James Van Der Beek will always be Dawson to many millennial mamas, but to his five kids he's just "Daddy." His wife Kimberly posted the cutest pic of James with their kiddos, Olivia, Emilia, Annabel Leah, Joshua and baby Gwendolyn.

James posted the same photo to his own account, with a caption that may make you cry.

He wrote: "For me, being a father means having that quiet little voice inside of you that says 'Be a better man,' get louder and more consistent... to the point where you can't really remember where that voice ends and where you begin. It means being tired beyond what is probably healthy, and patient beyond what you previously thought possible. And even though you know you're far from perfect... being a father also comes with an unshakable awareness that all your actions have consequences - context that reaches far beyond your own self-interest. It's scary to feel that interconnected with the rest of the world - especially with your heart now walking around outside your body - because it demands more personal responsibility... but it will make you a better man. Of at least that I'm sure. #HappyFathersDay to all the imperfect dads out there, trying their best and learning on the job.👊#fatherhood"

That post gives us more feels than any episode of Dawson's Creek ever did.


Today, our Istagram and Facebook feeds are filled with evidence that today's dads are doing more than any other generation of fathers. Congrats guys, you really deserve a Happy Father's Day!

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The bond between sisters is special, but Jill Noe and Whitney Bliesner have a unique bond that goes beyond just being siblings. As twins, Jill and Whitney shared a lot throughout their lives, and when Jill became Whitney's surrogate they even shared a pregnancy.

As first reported by Today, Whitney has a rare disease called NF2 (Neurofibromatosis type 2). Because of NF2 she lost the vision in her left eye and hearing in her right ear, along with partial hearing loss in her left ear. The condition makes pregnancy risky, and the disease is hereditary.

Whitney and her husband, Pete, wanted to start a family, but adoption and surrogacy fees seemed to be putting parenthood out of their reach. Until Jill stepped in as their surrogate.

"We have always had a strong connection, I do think this experience made our connection stronger, for sure," Whitney tells Motherly, adding that she's sure that when Jill eventuallu has kids of her own the sisters will likely bond over motherhood, too.

Through IVF, Jill carried donor eggs fertilized with Pete's sperm to make her twin sister's family, and on June 7 Jill delivered Whitney and Pete's son and daughter, little Rhett and Rhenley.

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"Going through this with Jill was so easy," Whitney tells Motherly. "We both had no idea what was going to happen or how we would deal with stuff during this journey. We had our ups and downs, but I think that's life, and in any situation you would experience that. But with my sister, there was a sense of everything was going to be ok, like always. We always get over our annoyance and disagreements with each other very fast with no hard feelings. It was just a great experience to have with my best friend, my twin sister."

Rhett and Rhenley are keeping Whitney super busy these days (with twins, someone is always hungry!) but she's making time to share her story because she wants other people who can't physically be pregnant to not give up on their dream of being a mom.

"It's not about blood or biologically carrying a kid that makes you a mom, it's the unconditional love, care, and security you give a child that makes you a mom," she explains.

Whitney continues: "Even though you aren't carrying or blood-related, you still have those feelings of babies being yours!"

Whitney calls Jill her best friend and Jill says the feeling is mutual, telling Today that she knows Whitney would have done the same for her if the roles where reversed.

"She's always wanted to be a mom and her disease has already taken so much from her. I wasn't going to allow (NF2) to take this opportunity from her, too," Jill said. "It just felt like the right thing to do. Our family is so strong and so supportive of one another, especially since Whit's diagnosis in 8th grade."

Thanks to Jill, Whitney is now living her dream, taking care of her two adorable babies.

Jill is an amazing sister, and Whitney is already an amazing mom.

[A version of this post was originally published June 14, 2019. It has been updated.]

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