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When I became pregnant with my son three-and-a-half years ago it seemed like a few people here and there were having “gender reveal” parties to announce the sex of their baby.

From time to time a set of pink balloons or a slice of cake with blue frosting would appear on my Facebook feed. I would both smile for the happy parents and shudder for the unborn baby whose genitals usually appeared, circled, in an ultrasound picture in the same album.

The formula for a gender reveal party is basic: you gather your friends and relatives for the celebration and then either slice a cake, or fire a gun into a box filled with appropriately-colored chalk dust, or shoot silly string at your partner in the color representative of your unborn baby’s gender. Everyone cheers and then begins planning your kid’s life based on their anatomy.

These parties, while sometimes cute, have always grated at my feminist consciousness – why act as if a baby’s genitalia has anything to do with who they’re going to be? Why begin stereotyping and putting kids into a box before they even arrive and why, just oh my gosh why, would you bring guns to something about babies?

Sex vs. gender

I first began to understand sex and gender as distinct concepts in college. As I moved through my undergraduate sociology courses I started to understand that the binary I’d always taken for granted was really more of a continuum. Through readings, research, and rich discussion, I began to understand the systems and institutions that breed misogyny and sexism and the ways in which my own girlhood experience fit into the larger picture. 

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Most women who grew up as girls have stories of adults and authority figures forcing femininity and gender compliance upon them in one way or another. When I was a girl I saw these experiences as unfair and the perpetrators as cruel. I didn’t understand that they were part of something bigger.

The middle school teacher who told me I was “asking to be raped” for letting my bra straps show through my shirt was trying desperately to maintain the status-quo surrounding responsibility in sexual violence. The softball coach who screamed at my team to be ladylike was trying to get us to understand that our worth, even in places where it shouldn’t matter, always came back to what sort of woman we were. And the man who called my parents landline to whisper dirty words about what I wore when I dared jog on my own street after school was trying to maintain power and control over my actions from a distance.

Back then, I put on a jacket and quit softball and stopped running, but in college, when I began to see how everything fit together, I vowed to make the world something different both professionally and in my personal life.

Gender-neutral parenting in an overtly gender-biased state

As a parent, I’ve kept my promise and work hard to raise my son in an environment in which he feels free to express himself exactly as he is. I don’t want him to ever feel either boxed in or entitled because of his gender. We do the basic, enlightened parent thing, by ensuring he has a range of toys and celebrating all his interests and we dress him in a manner that, while probably a little “boyish” is based most intently on his comfort and ability to move and play. And while the bigger things may seem to matter more, like letting him participate in whatever activities he wants, we remain particularly mindful of the subtler messages he’s sent. 

We monitor our language at home (there are no firemen or policemen or lunch ladies, only fire fighters, police officers and cafeteria workers) and work hard to make no assumptions about how he’ll choose to identify or live his life in the future. I don’t assume that he’ll get married or that if he does he’ll marry a woman. I leave the door open to all possibilities as he chats about his friends and his feelings. I’ve hushed more than one person who suggested he’s a “lady killer” or a “flirt” and I don’t let him spend time with people who say things like, “boys will be boys.”

Right now, in the state where I reside and where I grew up, these opinions and ways of raising a child are thought of as either reasonable and responsible, or completely ridiculous and dangerous. North Carolina is the current epicenter of the fight for trans rights and, most basically, recognition that the old way of thinking about sex and gender – as a binary wherein men and women naturally have different interests, talents, and desires – is erroneous and damaging. 

My Facebook feed, a mix of my peers from high school, college, and grad school is split pretty evenly between those who are currently boycotting Target and those who express embarrassment at living in such a backwards state.

Though I attended a few rallies against HB2 and plan to advocate, campaign, and vote for politicians who will bring change, I haven’t been on the front lines of this fight. The battle over HB2 is largely in the hands of the courts and, as the legal system works, I will, like most people, watch from afar and vow to keep living my life and treating people in the way I think is right.

Is there such a thing as a feminist gender reveal method?

Just after HB2 was passed at the end of March 2016, I discovered I was pregnant. Getting pregnant was hard this time, and took longer than we’d hoped, so the joy of seeing the first heartbeat and hearing the familiar, fast-paced sloshing, brought extra sweetness.  

When the doctor told us that technology had advanced since my son’s birth and that an early blood draw designed to test for chromosomal issues could also tell us the sex of our baby, we were thrilled. Though we would never agree to extra testing just to find out the sex of our baby, the prospect of knowing if I was carrying a son or daughter before I’d even finished my first trimester was thrilling.

When you’re pregnant there is so little that you know about the person you’re carrying. You don’t know if they’ll be interested in art or science, or if they’ll like sports and the outdoors or prefer to spend their time inside with a book or a musical instrument. More pressingly, you don’t even know if they’ll be easily soothed or spend their first four months crying.

So, when offered a chance at information, even information that’s relatively insignificant to who they are (but certainly not insignificant to how the world will treat them) my husband and I decided to jump. 

I found out that my first child was a boy sometime around 17 weeks when we had our routine anatomy scan. The anticipation built and built and, when the technician finally revealed the news, my husband and I both grinned and teared up. We’d be having a son. In the darkened room, holding hands with my high school sweetheart and first love, it was a truly special and beautiful moment.

This time, with early testing we would have the opportunity to know our babies sex just before 12 weeks gestation. The doctor would call with the results over the phone and, if my husband wasn’t around when she called, I’d find out by myself.

Faced with the prospect of finding out by phone, and on my own, whether my baby was a boy or girl, I suddenly began to understand the power and the pull of the gender reveal party. I understood the allure of the suspense and the joy of finding out, with all those you love around you, whether a son or daughter will be coming your way.

The part of the sex-reveal I felt most drawn to was the part where you find out at the very same time as those you love what sex you’re baby is. To accomplish this, though, it seemed you needed to use colored symbolism or some other generic, socially understood “code” for either male or female.

Sure that there were others who wanted to hold a similar event without the sexist undertones, I spent hours looking everywhere I could think of online for a non-sexist idea. But when we’re asked to reduce a human sex to symbolism we are apparently, as a people, not very creative. Even after eschewing the most horrible themes (Touchdowns or Tutus, Camo or Pearls) each idea seemed reductionist and horribly stereotyping.

I considered following Jezebel’s (parody) advice of baking a vanilla cake stuffed with quotes on thin slips of paper, but when I looked for quotes about masculinity and femininity they, too, seemed rather reductionist. (Also it would be weird to eat a cake with paper in it.) 

“A slab of blue frosting or a gathering of pink balloons.”

As I puzzled over whether I would hold a sex reveal party my thoughts circled back, each time, to my son. It was him, and the desire to parent him right, that helped me decide there simply was no ethical way to hold a sex reveal party.

My son is already living in a world, and a state, that’s determined to keep things binary. I won’t be another person who does the same. There was no way to both tell my son that everyone likes different things and that he’s free to be whoever he wants, and then to reduce his little brother or sister to a slab of blue frosting or a gathering of pink balloons.

When the doctor called with my test results I found out that my baby is low-risk for any of the genetic issues we tested for. When she asked if I wanted to know the sex, I asked her to please write it down on a piece of paper and that I’d be by later in the day to pick it up.

Midday, my husband picked me up from work and we swung by the doctor’s office. As I ran back to the car with the envelope in my hand I grinned with anticipation. In the front seat, unbuckled and facing each other, I tore into the envelope. When I read the results, holding hands with my first love, we both teared up and grinned. It was a special and beautiful moment.

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

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

Pop-In@Nordstrom x Maisonette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It's never easy to give up a career and launch a whole new one, but when I decided to end my time as an opera singer and move into the field of sales, I knew I could do it. After all, I had the perfect role model: my mom.

When I was growing up, she worked as a dental hygienist, but when I started college, she took some courses in sales. She was single with two kids in college, which was a driving force to make more money. But above that, she truly had a passion for sales. In no time, she got jobs and excelled at them, ultimately earning her the title of Vendor Representative of the Year at her electronics company.

When I entered the field of sales, an unusual and unexpected twist followed. Several years into my career, I was hired by a different electronics company. My mom and I ended up selling similar products to some of the same businesses. (Neither of our companies realized this, and we have different last names.)

But rather than feeling uncomfortable, I saw this as a great opportunity. She and I were both committed to doing our best. More often than not, she beat me when we went after the same piece of business. But in the process, I learned so much from her. I was able to see how her work ethic, commitment and style drove her success. I had even more to emulate.

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Here are some of the biggest business lessons I learned from my working mom:

1. Use your existing skill set to differentiate yourself.

As a dental hygienist, my mom knew how to talk to people and make them feel comfortable. She had also served as a youth leader at three different churches where my dad preached. In each town, she found at-risk kids, brought them together and developed programs for them. She had learned how to help people improve themselves and make their lives better.

In sales, she did the same thing, focusing on how the products or services she was selling could genuinely make a difference in the lives of her customers. Those skills translated seamlessly into her new career.

2. Start strong from day one—don't wait for permission to launch your full potential.

From day one at a job, my mom showed up with energy and vigor to get going. She didn't take time to be tentative. Instead, she leaned into her tasks—the equivalent of blasting out of the gate in a race. Having seen how well this worked for her, I strive to do the same.

3. Have empathy, it's essential.

Many women have been falsely accused of being "too emotional" in business. However, empathy is a necessity and drives better results. As a businesswoman, my mom set herself apart by demonstrating genuine empathy for her clients and her colleagues. She loves getting to know people's stories. That understanding is a key component in her finalizing deals and helping her company reach higher levels of success.

4. Learn often—you're never done building your skill set.

My mom is the reason I spend at least three months out of each year getting a new certification or learning a new skill. She's always working to improve, harness new technologies or develop new competencies—and she's passed on that eagerness to learn to me. She knows that to stay on top, you have to keep learning.

5. Bring on the charm.

By nature, I'm analytical. I like to present the numbers to clients, showing the data to help sway their decisions. And that has its place, but charm is universal. Being someone people want to do business with makes a huge difference. If I had a nickel for every time a prospect told me, "I love your mother," I could retire now! Business, especially sales, is about the connections you make as much as the value you bring.

Our paths have taken our careers in different directions, but along the way, I've done my best to incorporate all these skills. Thank you, mom, for teaching me all this, and much more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Help them practice being nice

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

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

2. Help them see multiple perspectives

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

3. Model kindness

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

4. Teach kids to cope with destructive feelings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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