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Parents’ greatest fear is that their kids will become addicted to drugs and alcohol.


According to a Parent.co survey of over 1500 participants, fear of drug and alcohol addiction vastly outweighed concerns about terrorism, economic collapse, crime, and war.

With help from AddictionWise, we set out to research the scope of addiction in America and how it impacts families

Most people in America know someone who is struggling with addiction. It may be the parent of a child in your kids’ class, someone at your church, or someone in your family. It might be your parent, or even your child. It might be you.

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  • 44% of Americans say they personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers, CNBC reports.
  • 20% said it was a family member.
  • 24.6 million Americans used drugs.
  • This equates to 9.4% of the population versus 8.3% in 2002.
  • That’s roughly equal to the entire population of Texas.

An introduction to drug addiction 

Addiction is a complex disease that causes changes in the functioning of the brain.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a “chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use.”

While a first-time user may try a substance voluntarily, chemicals contained in drugs compromise an individual’s self-control so that further use gradually becomes involuntary.

Drugs like heroin and marijuana mimic neurotransmitters, disrupting normal messages in brain chemistry. Cocaine and methamphetamine interact differently by producing dopamine, which arouses the brain’s reward center while also inducing the brain to produce less dopamine naturally. As drug use becomes more regular, the user’s tolerance increases with a need to use more qualities of drugs to attain a high.

Longer-term drug use affects glutamate, critical to both the reward center and for learning, which negatively influences certain brain functioning such as critical thinking, memory, and self-control.

Nationwide Trends

Annual surveys conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that drug use is on the rise in America. Participants of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, who are 12 years and older, provide critical commentary on the use of various substances for different periods, indicating weekly, monthly, or lifetime use of drugs and alcohol.

According to the 2013 results:

  •  23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs.
  • 24.6 million Americans used drugs.
  • This is an increase from 8.3% in 2002  to 9.4%.
  • Marijuana accounts for the majority of this increase as 19.8 million reported using this particular drug in 2013 whereas in 2007, this figure was only 14.5 million.
  • Marijuana accounts for the greatest rates of dependence (after alcohol) with 4.2 million users matching standards for clinical trials for abuse
  • 1.9 million met criteria for dependence on prescription painkillers and 855,000 for cocaine.
  • Methamphetamine use also increased from 353,000 users in 2010 to 595,000 users in 2013.
  • Cocaine however is currently trending downwards, from 2.4 million reported uses from 2002 to 2007 to 1.4 million uses in 2013.

Here in Vermont, more parents are permanently losing their children because of drug addiction.

Parents who are hooked on heroin and prescription opiates are driving an increase in child neglect cases, according to state child welfare officials and prosecutors. “It’s the drugs,” said James Hughes, state’s attorney in Franklin County, which has been swamped with juvenile cases. “Young parents are taking care of their addiction instead of taking care of their children.”

Teens and Drugs

The teenage population accounted for 54.1% of first-time drug users in 2013. Marijuana, followed by opioids then inhalants, are the most popular drugs of choice for this demographic.

Statistics show that drug use typically peaks in late teens and earlier twenties, though later generations are demonstrating a marked increase in drug use, especially for people in their 50s and 60s.

Survey results suggest that baby boomers have typically demonstrated elevated drug use compared to their predecessors.

Alcohol use tends to differ amongst the type of use and between ages and genders. Overall, underage drinking has declined from 28.8% to 22.7 % and binge drinking (5 or more drinks at the same time) from 19.3% to 14.2 % from 2002 to 2013.

Men are more likely to partake in binge drinking as 30.2 % of men and only 16% of women indicated that they had done so within in the month preceding the survey.

Heavy alcohol use (defined as binge drinking on 5 different days over the course of one month) is also more prevalent among men, with 9.5% of men versus 3.3% of women indicating this type of use.

Driving under the influence has fortunately declined from 2002 to 2013 from 14.2% down to 10.9%.

Alcohol addiction, which has the highest rate of dependence for all substances, has also declined in this timeframe, from 7.7% to 6.6% of Americans reporting alcohol dependence or related problems.

Tobacco use has also declined significantly between 2002, in which 2% of Americans reported regular cigarette use, and 2013, in which 21.3% indicated being a current cigarette smoker.

Encouragingly, the number of teenage smokers has declined between 2002 and 2013 from 13% to 5.6%.

The Monitoring the Future 2014’s survey, published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that drug use is on the decline amongst American teenagers across almost all categories of drugs (with the exception of marijuana, the use of which has stayed level from previous surveys).

From alcohol to painkillers, cigarettes to inhalants, teens are partaking in less substance abuse than previous generations.

However, this downward trend is countered by the rapid rise of e-cigarette use and a growing perception of marijuana as a less harmful substance. The Monitoring the Future survey reported that of 8th graders surveyed, 8.7% had used e-cigarettes in the past month, a percentage that only increases with each grade level up to 17.1% of 12th graders. 22.9% of 12th graders also indicated hookah use within the preceding year.

Despite the apparent decline of substance use in certain categories and demographics, a “treatment gap” persists for those suffering from addiction and substance dependence/abuse. While 8.6% Americans required professional care for substance abuse, only 0.9% obtained specialized treatment.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that “a majority of Americans say that lack of access to care for people with substance abuse issues is a problem (75 percent), including 58 percent who say it is a major problem.”

Emerging Trends and Opiate Addiction

The landscape of heroin addiction in the US has transformed over the past decades. Migrating from urban to suburban areas, lower income to more affluent neighborhoods, the profile of a heroin addict has changed from that of poor, urban, male and black users to predominantly white addicts of whom half are now women.

According to Theodore Cicero of Washington University in St Louis, first-time heroin users are typically in their mid-20s whereas decades ago, first-time users were generally around 16 years old. Between 2007 and 2013, heroin use has increased dramatically, from 370,000 to 680,000 users.

Similar patterns observed in the market for prescription painkillers like OxyContin mirror the rise of heroin addiction in recent years. The 1990s witnessed an increase in the accessibility to prescription painkillers that created a wave of addiction, surpassing the collective use of illicit drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and methamphetamines.

In 2012, 16,000 deaths were caused by painkillers. However, medical professionals are working to combat the oversupply of prescription painkillers in the market. For example, OxyContin pills are now being manufactured in such a way that “when crushed, turn into a gloop that cannot easily be snorted or dissolved for injection”.

Foreign markets are responding to the increased American demand for heroin. Despite Afghanistan’s status as the main producer of opium globally, Mexico is America’s main supplier. Plus, Mexican heroin is cheaper than that imported from Asia or Columbia. Domestic politics also have an important function; as Mexico reorients its resources to combat primarily urban, organized crime, poppy farming goes unchecked in rural regions, thus allowing opium production to flourish.

Since Marijuana is still the most popular drug used in the US and nowadays, since many states have legalized cannabis for medical consumption or just plain legalized it, demand for Mexican marijuana is on the decline. Opium, therefore, provides a lucrative market. Moreover, heroin manufacturing has responded to users’ preferences. Brown heroin is more easily smoked or snorted and offers an alternative to the injection, rending heroin more accessible and perhaps, perceptibly less threatening.

Addiction and Overdose

The NY Times reported in early 2016 that the United States has seen a marked increase in the number of deaths from drug overdose, primarily propelled by heroin and prescription drugs.

Deaths from overdoses today are comparable to those of HIV in the 1980s and 1990s. Though deaths from HIV spiked more rapidly, Robert Anderson, CDC chief of morality statistics, has emphasized that unlike HIV, death from drug overdoses is not as localized to metropolitan areas and actually is beginning to occur with more frequency in rural regions.

Certain regions and states are experiencing the impact of opiate overdoses more acutely than others are. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Southwest and Appalachia regions are the most affected in the United States. West Virginia has the highest number of deaths caused by overdose in the United States. In Appalachia, deaths caused by overdose are arguably connected to the use of prescription painkillers amongst particular populations of the blue-collar workforce. According to the West Virginia University School of Medicine’s director of addiction services, Dr. Carl R. Sullivan, III, this population is more likely to experience injuries on the job, which result in the initial prescription to combat chronic pain, a notion deemed “unacceptable” by pharmaceutical companies in the mid-1990s. Despite laws to combat abuse of such medications, those addicted to painkillers adopted heroin use.

Due to a fundamental lack of resources to administer treatment services and programs, deaths from overdose continue unchecked. State by state discrepancies in access to treatment and expenditures for such treatment also becoming more apparent. For example, in New Hampshire, overdose of opiates, mostly connected to fentanyl, caused 326 deaths in 2014. However, Timothy R. Rouke, New Hampshire’s chairman for the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, cites that his state spends less per capita than all other states minus Texas in providing the necessary treatment services.

In other states, like New Mexico, deaths from heroin overdoses have persisted since the 1990s; so much that opiate addiction is almost akin to a hereditary disease.

According to the executive director of the nonprofit organization Healing Addiction in Our Community, Jennifer Weiss-Burke, heroin addiction is seemingly passed down from one generation to the next as “a way of life.”

Furthermore, Weiss-Burke has noticed that the younger generations are more difficult to treat. Some prove unwilling to get sober and “end up cycling through treatment or end up in jail.” Weiss-Burke further articulates that “when you go right back to the same environment, it’s hard to stay clean… Heroin craving continues to haunt a person for years.”

In 2014, abuse of opioids accounted for over 61% of overdose deaths,which has tripled since 2014 according to the New York Time. Almost more troubling is the rise of fentanyl, for which a greater amount of naloxene is required to resuscitate an overdose victim as compared to a heroin overdose. Naxolene is also used to reverse other opioid drug overdoses and it is not specific to fentanyl.

Combating Prescription Drug and Heroin Use in the US

In March 2016, President Obama enunciated a multifaceted plan to enhance resources and treatment facilities and provide greater access to naloxene to address what has rapidly transformed into a “national epidemic”. The Obama administration has thus far appealed for $1.1 billion to fund these new measures aimed at reducing opioid overdoses.

President Obama articulated that as the profile of heroin addiction has transformed in recent decades, experiencing a profound socioeconomic shift as discussed above, the widespread nature of current opioid addiction has altered public opinion. Heroin addiction is no longer an affliction solely of the urban poor and the result of moral failings.

The FDA has moved to strengthen warnings on immediate-release opioid prescription drugs to warn those taking these drugs about abuse and potential overdose. The FDA had previously subjected 34 brands of extended-release tablets to tougher labeling requirements back in 2013.

This time around, FDA Commissioner, Dr. Robert M. Califf, emphasized the enormity of this effort, and it will involve editing warning labels for 288 products. New Center for Diesease Control guidelines, though non-binding, will attempt to limit the prescription of opioid painkillers to cases in which no other appropriate option exists to mitigate pain.

Though the effectiveness of enhanced labeling of these drugs is perhaps debatable, Bruce Psaty at the University of Washington in Seattle emphasized that this “should help improve prescribing practices in the near term”. Thus, the new warnings and guidelines remain an integral part of a revitalized national campaign to combat drug addiction and opioid dependency.

This article is presented in partnership with AddictionWise.

AddictionWise is an online platform that helps family members manage the stress and difficulties of addiction in a loved one.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addicted family member, see how AddictionWise can help.

 

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We've all been there. You first hear those cries that don't sound like any other cries and immediately know what's happening. It's like our mama hearts know when our little ones need us the most. Having little ones feeling under the weather is hard. They can't tell you exactly how they feel. You can't explain to them that they'll feel better soon, and all there is for everyone to do is to take it easy and stay cuddled inside until you can get them to the doctor.

The issue, by this point, is that my son is old enough to know what's coming when we open the medicine cabinet, so giving him something for his throat ends up being like a wrestling match without the fun and giggles. My son especially likes spitting out anything as a way to protest how he's generally feeling, so we both end up covered in sticky syrup feeling defeated. Because, seriously, who thought that using a syringe or pipette to squirt out gooey liquid down an unwilling toddler's mouth was a good idea? (Probably not a parent.)

That's why when I found out there was an easier and more fun way to make these dreaded sick days better, I was all about it.

Enter: Lolleez.

Lolleez are organic throat soothing pops for kids—and adults!—that are made with organic ingredients that you can pronounce and understand like honey and natural fruit pectin. Plus, they're non-GMO as well as gluten, dairy and nut-free i.e. worry-free for all kinds of kiddos. The pops help soothe sore throats while acting like a treat for when kids are feeling under the weather. I also appreciate that the pops are actually flat and on a stick, as opposed to a lozenge or round ball lollipop. They were also created by a mom, which makes me feel a million times more confident about them since I know she knows exactly how hard sick days with a little one can be.

loleez

When I introduced my son to Lolleez pops, everything changed. Suddenly the battle to get him to take something to feel better wasn't... well, a battle. In the few times he's been sick since, he's been more than happy to pop a Lolleez, and I've been more than grateful that soothing him is now as easy as peeling open a wrapper. And, since they come in watermelon, strawberry and orange mango—strawberry is the favorite in this household—he never gets bored of getting a soothing lolly.

Also, they're easy to find—you can get them at stores like Target, CVS and online so I never worry that I'll be caught without in a pinch. After the sick days have run their course and my son starts feeling better, there's nothing like seeing that glow in his eyes come back and have him greet me with a big smile when I come into his room in the morning, ready for the day.

While our littles not feeling well is inevitable, as a mama, I'll do anything to make my child feel better, and I'm so thankful for products that make it just a little easier for the both of us. So here's to enjoying the snuggles that come with sick days, while also looking forward to the giggles that come after them.

This article was sponsored by Lolleez. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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There is little new parents obsess over as much as sleep. We go to great lengths to help our babies sleep because when they sleep we finally can, too. For exhausted parents who are warned against bed sharing but want their baby close, in-bed sleepers are intriguing products—a compromise between the convenience of co-sleeping and the separation of a crib or bassinet.

They make parents feel safer when bed sharing, but are in-bed sleepers safe?

This week, Consumer Reports published an investigation into in-bed sleepers which linked the product category to 12 infant deaths between 2012 and 2018. This investigation was published the same day as a new study in the journal Pediatrics which found less than a third of American babies are only put to sleep in the products the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends: firm and flat cribs, bassinets, or Pack N' Plays which meet the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Dr. Ben Hoffman is a pediatrician and the Chair of the AAP's Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention Executive Committee. He tells Motherly he feels a lot of compassion for parents who choose not to follow the AAP's safe sleep recommendations in the hope of getting more sleep, but he's also gravely worried for them. "I'm afraid that what's going to happen is exactly what we saw with the Rock 'n Play," he says.

A baby registry staple, the Rock 'n Play was an inclined sleeper, the design of which went against the AAP's recommendation that babies sleep on a flat surface. Earlier this year, a Consumer Reports investigation into infant deaths linked to inclined sleepers prompted a recall of the Rock 'n Play and similar products. Many fans of the Rock n' Play criticized the recall efforts, suggesting supervision, not the design, was a factor in the deaths of 59 babies in inclined sleepers.

The CPSC eventually hired a third party expert (a specialist in infant biomechanics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to conduct a study. According to the CPSC, that study "examined how 10 infants move and use their muscles on flat, inclined surfaces, and in selected inclined sleep products, and whether such product designs directly impact safety or present a risk factor that could contribute to the suffocation of an infant."

The study concluded that the inclined sleep products that were tested were not safe for sleep, and the expert behind the study says the kind of testing she did (after millions of inclined sleepers were sold) should be done before products go to market.

Dr. Hoffman agrees and worries that because there are currently no federal safety standards for in-bed sleepers and boxes "it's sort of the Wild West" for manufacturers. He worries parents are being taken advantage of by companies and compares sleep products that are hailed as miracles to snake oil.

"Every parent struggles with sleep and they are desperate for something…they sell hope to a family," he explains.

The 'Consumer Reports' investigation

Consumer Reports examined data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and names three in-bed sleeping products in its investigation: The popular DockATot, the Baby Delight Snuggle Nest Infant Sleeper and the SwaddleMe By Your Side Sleeper.

Rachel Rabkin Peachman, an investigative reporter with Consumer Reports, notes that the CPSC "inadvertently disclosed information about the specific products involved in the incidents."

Motherly has reached out to all of these brands for comment on the Consumer Reports investigation. As of this writing DockATot has not responded.

SUMR Brands, the parent company of Summer Infant, maker of the SwaddleMe By Your Side Sleeper has responded with the same statement it provided to Consumer Reports.

The company states, in part: "The Summer Infant By Your Side Sleeper is not responsible for any deaths. Independent medical examiner reports of two incidents where a Summer in-bed sleeper was present in 2014 and 2015 concluded the in-bed sleeper was not a contributing factor to a child's death."

A spokesperson for Baby Delight stated in an email to Motherly that the "Consumer Reports article is a bit misleading since it equates our Snuggle Nest products with inclined sleepers." The Snuggle Nest is not an inclined sleeper and that's not what Consumer Reports or Dr. Hoffman are suggesting. Both, however, suggest parents stop using the product.

Consumer Reports states it identified two deaths that involved the SwaddleMe By Your Side Sleeper, two deaths involving the DockATot as well as three deaths that involved the Baby Delight Snuggle Nest Infant Sleeper.

Baby Delight tells Motherly that "based on the information from the CPSC Investigations, each incident was apparently a result of caregiver behavior contrary to safe sleep practices and warning labels present on product and in instruction manual." The AAP points out that the very existence of the Snuggle Nest Infant Sleeper is contrary to safe sleep practices.

The backstory on in-bed sleepers

Two of the products named in the Consumer Reports investigation, the Baby Delight Snuggle Nest and the SwaddleMe By Your Side Sleeper are comprised of a mattress with low, mesh walls. (Baby Delight describes its product as having "breathable mesh walls along with solid plastic inserts for stability.")

The third product, the DockATot, is softer, a product in a category sometimes known as baby nests or baby pods.

That's the language the FDA, the UK's Lullaby Trust (with support from Public Health England) and Health Canada have used when warning parents not to put babies to sleep in products that have soft bolsters on sides, like the DockATot does. Such bolsters pose a suffocation risk, the FDA notes.

On its website DockATot states the company "recognizes that many people believe strongly that infants and young children should never sleep with adults in their bed, while others believe that such co-sleeping provides benefits. Many who choose to co-sleep with a DockATot dock find that the sides help establish a separate space for the baby that is close by to the parent(s)."

DockATot also states its product should never be used in a crib or playpen.

Safe sleep recommendations

But a quick Instagram scroll through #dockatot proves that many parents are using the DockATot in cribs, and that is not the only way in which parents are ignoring safety recommendations from the makers of sleep products and from pediatricians.

A study released this week in the journal Pediatrics found that while most new parents put their babies to sleep on their backs, only 42% follow the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation against soft bedding, and just 32% were using a separate, approved sleep surface.

Less than a third of American babies are only put to sleep in the recommended products firm cribs, bassinets, or Pack N' Plays which meet the safety standards of the CPSC.

This follows research published in 2018 which found the number of American babies dying by suffocation has been on the rise in recent years. The majority of these suffocation deaths happened while these babies were in bed. In an email interview with Reuters last year, one of the study's co-authors suggested that the rise in suffocation deaths could be because parents are ignoring safe sleep recommendations, but suggested "It may also be that we have dangerous items on the market and in our homes, and they need to be removed."

The recent CPSC study found that was the case with the Rock 'n Play, but even though the product was the subject of a widely publicized recall, some caregivers and parents and still choosing to use the inclined sleeper.

Calls for change 

A parent himself, Dr. Hoffman does not want to minimize how much parents struggle with sleep in the early weeks and months of parenthood, calling it "one of the hardest things many people will go through in life."

It really is that hard, he says. But he also says in-bed sleepers are not the solution exhausted parents are looking for. "I've testified a couple of times before the Consumer Product Safety Commission about them, and I feel about them, honestly, the way that I felt about the inclined sleepers—that there's really not a safe way that they can be used," he tells Motherly.

And as much as Dr. Hoffman feels for parents going through sleep deprivation in early parenthood, he knows that losing a child to SIDS is so much harder and he wants lawmakers, manufacturers and the end consumers to think about that when considering infant sleep products.

"Parents are desperate for something because their child is unhappy and it makes them unhappy and everybody's miserable. But the fact of the matter is...it's just not worth the risk."

Hoffman is calling for regulatory change, but he says parents can keep their babies safer by sticking with products that meet the CPSC's standards and by always putting babies to sleep on a flat, firm sleep surface with no soft bedding, bumpers, bears or blankets. "Buy a crib or bassinet that conforms to the Consumer Product Safety Commission crib and bassinet standard. Absolutely. Anything that does not is not a safe place for a baby to sleep unattended."

[Correction: October 23, 2019: A previous version of this post stated the expert behind the new Rock 'n Play study is a specialist in infant biomechanics at the University of Arkansas. She is with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.]

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Shawn Johnson East is set to welcome her firstborn any day now, and she's taken us along on all the ups and downs she's faced on this journey. Now she's revealing how much she wanted to have this child and the role her first pregnancy, which ended in miscarriage, played in that realization.

"I don't feel like we ever felt ready [to have kids]...and then we accidentally ended up pregnant. It was a surprise for both of us and we ended up losing that pregnancy," Shawn says during a recent appearance on the Miraculous Mamas podcast. "It was after the miscarriage we both just kind of had this switch flip...it was a rude awakening of like, 'holy, crap we're going to have a kid,' but all of a sudden it was like "we're ready to have a kid and like we want nothing else.'"

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Shawn says that even though she's so close to giving birth, she still doesn't feel 100% ready to have a kid (which is a completely normal sentiment). She also explains that she and her husband, Andrew East, worry most about how becoming parents will affect their marriage, but ultimately, they just wanted to experience parenthood together more than anything in the wake of their miscarriage.

"As soon as we did miscarry, I went through that whole phase of...it was almost like a postpartum depression," Shawn reveals. "Because you have all these hormones leaving your body, which you have to deal with on top of the mental side of processing what did you just go through. With my husband it was a year-long, not battle, but back and forth. As soon as I miscarried I was like 'I want to try again. I want to still be pregnant, I want to do this.' And my husband was like 'I think we need to take a break. I think we need to heal from this and process everything. That causes tension between a marriage."

It took the couple a little over a year to figure things out, heal, work on their marriage and finally get pregnant again and while Shawn says she still doesn't feel completely ready for motherhood, we know she and her husband have got this.

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Giving birth is NOT easy. It's painful, messy, terrifying and an emotional roller coaster...but it's also pretty darn incredible. And, according to Jennifer Garner, it's also incredibly romantic.

Then again, it might not be—at least if you're anything like Kristen Bell. Jennifer and Kristen sat down together for an installment of Momsplaining with Kristen Bell to tackle this topic.

One of the moms who joins Kristen's roundtable in this episode is five months pregnant and tells the two famous mamas that while she's feeling pretty good, she is starting to get a little nervous about going into labor. "I think it is the most romantic day you'll ever experience," Jennifer declares.

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But Kristen isn't buying it. "You're a better person than I am," she says after her jaw drops. "I was going to say, 'It's going to look like a homicide...way more blood than you think there should be."

Jennifer Garner Talks Motherhood: #Momsplaining with Kristen Bell www.youtube.com

Luckily, Kristen has a piece of advice for the expectant mama. "My best advice—and I even brought an example 'cause I knew you were pregnant— is make a birth plan. Put a lot of thought into it, take a deep breath...and then just [rip it up]. It's never going to happen like that so get rid of it. And that is kind of what labor is like."

It's true...and to be fair, some may find romance in all that craziness. You also may discover your own ability to laugh at yourself and your circumstances. Take for example, Kristen Bell's story about thinking her water broke during her pregnancy. She headed to the hospital convinced she was having her baby, only to learn she had likely peed herself. Raise your hand if you've been there.

This inspired the ladies to play a game where they stuck water-filled condoms between their knees and ran around the restaurant. The game's name? "Did my water break or did I pee my pants?" 😂

It goes to show that motherhood is usually not pretty...but if you really stop to examine it, you can see the humor—and yes, even the romance—in those messy moments.

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I always knew I would marry someone from another culture. Growing up in the Dominican Republic and then moving to Miami in my early 20s, I was curious and attracted by looks, accents and customs different than mine. I started studying English when I was six and added Italian classes at age 16, so marriage was still far from my mind, but little did I know that becoming trilingual would definitely mark my life and my family's when the right time arrived.

My husband is Italian, born and raised in Palermo, Sicily. When we started dating, I was excited to learn that he had two of my non-negotiable musts in a guy: He could speak Spanish with my parents and he could dance merengue! Bingo!

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Shortly after we got married ten years ago, we started daydreaming about our future mixed kids. We could almost see and hear our child running free and jumping for joy around us. Beyond any gender or looks, all I wanted was a healthy, happy and wholly baby.

Our son is now 2 years old. I gave birth with my Italian husband-become-doula reminding me to breathe and push in Spanish, my Puerto Rican ob-gyn coaching me with his Boricua accent, and three nurses—Indian, British, and Cuban—all cheering me on in their own version of English.

The moment my son was born, I just remember telling him: "I love you! I love you! I love you!" A hundred times. English was the language that I heard myself speaking to him.

Even before he was born, we were spontaneously and intentionally looking for ways to include our cultures in his life. We debated between names that had the same spelling and pronunciation in Spanish, English and Italian. We asked his grandmothers to bring children's books from home so they could read to him in the only language they speak. We included multilingual toys in our baby shower registry and started talking and singing lullabies in my native Spanish and Daddy's Italian when he was in the womb.

Even though we often sound like an episode of Dora the Explorer, I do my best to only speak Spanish at home, and his dad speaks Italian to him 100% of the time. He loves pasta, maduros, and pancakes.

When it was time to look for a preschool, diversity was our number one priority. We chose a Montessori school where he is now learning English as a third language and where we thoughtfully share traditional desserts from our homelands when we are invited to potlucks.

When he is out of school and we have run out of ideas, I admit that he watches and dances to merengue videos on YouTube, and loves them. As a result, our boy is now growing up trilingual in the United States, in a multicultural environment filled with all Latinx experiences.

At the same time, I like to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that he was born in the United States. I make a point of having a traditional menu for Thanksgiving dinner even though none of us enjoys turkey that much.

We alternate our holiday travel between the Dominican Republic and Italy every year, and no matter where we are, he gets gifts from El Niño Jesús and Santa Claus on Christmas and then from La Befana (the old woman bearing gifts from Italian folklore) and Los Reyes Magos (the Three Magic Kings) on January 6th.

He made me feel proud when he came back from camp this summer holding a red, white and blue boat while jumping and screaming, "Our flag!" on the days leading up to the Fourth of July. And on the Fourth, he surprised us by lying on the grass to enjoy the fireworks, making us feel grateful for him and for this land that we call home.

Being a Latinx parent in the US today is a blessing and challenge at once. As an immigrant, I am aware of how fortunate I am to be able to raise my child with all the benefits this country offers, while still embracing my roots. Every day I challenge myself to keep growing, to become a better citizen and to be more visible so that we continue to break stereotypes and defy statistics.

Most of all, I want my little one to be free to express himself, to see the world and appreciate all the colors, rhythms and flavors beyond our own.

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