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Lying on my back, face turned to the ceiling, I could feel my husband’s warm hand tighten in mine. Every other time I’d done this, my body had been twisted as far as possible to see the screen next to me, eager to catch a glimpse of the baby inside me.


This time was different. This time I was terrified of what I would see or, rather, what I wouldn’t see. I’d been waiting 24 hours for this moment, but had I been able, I would have stopped time so it never arrived.

The cold gel on my stomach jerked me back to reality.

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“How many weeks along are you?” asked the clinician standing next to me, her face a blur, her voice gentle and sympathetic. I told her I thought I was around five weeks pregnant. Or not pregnant.

“Hmmm, that’s early. We might be able to see something, we might not.” I closed my eyes and thought about this strange place I occupied, this place between being pregnant and not being pregnant. Between motherhood or not. This space between one life or another, this path or that one. It’s a space that is sometimes easier to be in than not. At least when you don’t know, there’s still hope.

It had started the day before, as it starts for so many, with blood in my knickers and the feeling that I was dropping from a great height, my stomach left behind. My legs turned to jelly.

How much blood? Was I still bleeding? What color was it? The questions went through my mind, but as soon as they entered, they left again. The answers didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was that there was blood.

I had only known I was pregnant for a week or two. It was spring and, by my calculations, the baby would be born in December. I had imagined bringing her – or him, probably a him, I thought – home to a house full of sparkly lights, a decorated tree in the corner, and the smell of spices in the air. It would be cold outside and cozy in, our first Christmas as a family of four.

When I saw the blood, the twinkly lights in my mind started to go out.

Shaking, I pulled up my underwear and went to find my husband. We were due to go for a picnic that morning and planned to take our 18-month-old daughter to a playground. She’d just started to come down slides on her own and to clamber over climbing frames. I had been looking forward to playing with her, but now I knew I wouldn’t be enjoying anything about that day.

“I’m bleeding,” I told my husband, my hand laying protectively over my stomach, wanting to shelter the tiny grain inside that we had already started calling Basmati after the rice. Or Mattie for short.

“Do we need to go to the hospital?” he asked. I didn’t know, I had never been in this situation before. I decided to call the midwives. Unfortunately, they weren’t much help.

“Keep an eye on it and call again if you keep bleeding,” they told me. Apparently bleeding at this stage is quite normal. It might not mean anything, and it might mean everything. This wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted to know that I would be fine, that my baby would be fine, that we would be a family of four at Christmastime.

But for now, we were just three, and I had to continue as if nothing was wrong. So we set off for our picnic. At the playground, my daughter scrambled on the equipment.

“Careful not to fall!” I cautioned her as she balanced precariously on the metal bars of the climbing frame. I tried to appreciate the watery spring sunshine, but all I could think about was whether more fluid was seeping out onto the pad between my legs. I didn’t want to go to the park’s public toilet to find out. I wanted to keep hold of the fantasy of another child for as long as possible.

We walked through long grass, jumped over cow patties. I discovered when we got home that my daughter had picked up a tick and was trying to decide whether to call the hospital again. The bleeding hadn’t stopped. I pulled the tick off her skin and felt relieved that at least I could protect one of my children.

This time when I called, they asked me to come in. We had no one to watch our daughter, so she came with us. My husband took her to play at one end of the waiting area, while I sat at the other – just me and a terrified-looking Asian woman, who didn’t seem to speak any English. I smiled at her but feared she could tell I didn’t feel much like smiling. I was sure she felt the same.

Finally, my name was called. The duty doctor who saw me was a young man, distracted, hours of non-stop work etched into his face. Maybe it was the fatigue that made him uncomfortably direct. When I told him what had brought me in on a Sunday, he was dismissive. It “happens a lot,” he told me. It’s “normal.”

I could guess that he had never been pregnant or had ever imagined what life would be like with a Christmas baby.

In the end, they booked me in for a scan the next morning, and I was sent home. I knew that in the grand scheme of things I was not an emergency. I was not important. I was not dying. There were far worthier patients than me. But to me this wasn’t just about a tiny grain inside me, it was about carrying my new baby through the snow in December, watching my two children play in the stream together when the summer came, my husband helping them both to pick blackberries in the fall. Now I had to wait until the next day to learn whether that life still existed. I had to stay another night in the space between.

But to me, this wasn’t just about a tiny grain inside me. It was about carrying my new baby through the snow in December, watching my two children play in the stream together when the summer came, my husband helping them pick blackberries in the fall. Now I had to wait until the next day to learn whether that life still existed. I spent another night in the space between.

I spent another night in the space between.

***

The sonographer moved the magic wand over my stomach.

“Let’s see, are we going to be able to find anything?” she asked quietly, concentrating on her job. Her tone was so different from the male doctor last night. I thought about how many women had laid exactly where I was, waiting to hear the news they either long for or dread. How many times a day did she have to carry this responsibility on her shoulders?

I could bear it no longer and turned to see what she was doing. As always, the fuzziness was hard to interpret. But suddenly there was a flashing light. A flashing, sparkling, twinkling light. A heartbeat. A Christmas heartbeat.

“There it is!” The sonographer echoed my relief. “You must be slightly further along than you thought. You wouldn’t normally see a heartbeat this early. By my reckoning you’re probably around seven weeks pregnant.”

She paused, smiled. “And that’s a strong heartbeat. I think you’ll be fine.”

We left the hospital for home – for me to carry on being pregnant and for us both to plan for the time when our family would grow from three to four. We were told that the most likely reason for the blood was implantation, bleeding that occurs when the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the mother’s womb. A cause so common, I was sent home overnight to wait to see if I was still pregnant. So common that I didn’t seem worthy of sympathy from the busy doctor who first saw me.

I knew this stage isn’t really considered “proper” pregnancy by some, but I also knew how many would disagree. Every dark line for every wanted baby is special. As soon as that line appears, the child is a part of you, present and future.

And should it turn out that this time it isn’t meant to be, if you leave the space into darkness, we pack that child away somewhere and keep it safe forever in our memories – as I had started preparing myself to do.

My pregnancy ended successfully, with the birth of a beautiful girl on December 11. We bought a tree a few days after bringing her home and spent an exhausted, sleep-deprived Christmas day with my family. It wasn’t quite the sparkly, twinkly event I had imagined – but it was nevertheless a happy ending.

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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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