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Paul Budnitz is the founder of Kidrobot, Budnitz Bicycles, and most recently, Ello, the ad-free social network. (Learn why we love Ello here.)


When Paul met his wife, Sa, nine years ago, she was living in a spiritual community in rural Montana (where she had moved from her native Germany), while he was living a busy entrepreneurial life in New York City. The couple dated long-distance for a year, then got married in 2007 and decided to start building a life together in the city. Their daughter was born in 2008. 

It was a difficult transition for Sa, who had not only “given up on secular life,” she says, but also had to adjust to “the lifestyle of a big city, being in the United States, (and) being married.” For Paul, the leap from fast-moving creative type to fast-moving creative-husband type proved to be a challenging and important step in his personal growth.

Parent Co spoke with Paul and Sa at Ello’s Burlington, Vermont offices about keeping their relationship healthy and strong amidst the craziness of Paul’s creative career, as well as their philosophies for growing a healthy child.

Parent Co:  Paul, did you feel pressure having Sa move to New York and kind of folding her into your life there?

Paul: Totally. I basically had this burst of maturity. I had to grow up. I’ve been spending the last seven or eight years trying to catch up, so yeah.

Trying to deliver on certain promises or implied promises?

Paul: I think that there was a lot of compensation, like, pretty eccentric things that I did, and still do actually, to keep my life and myself feeling sane. I didn’t realize how much of that really was true until we were married and then there were all these things that I realized were not necessarily compatible with being in relationship. I think that that’s actually one of the great values in a relationship, is both learning how and where to give up your own preferences, and then also how and when you still need to do things to take care of yourself.

For me, it was a great challenge to discover both the stories that had been ingrained in myself about myself that were making the relationship difficult but had nothing to do with reality, and the realities about myself that were making the relationship difficult that I had to work through. So some of it is what we tell ourselves, and some of it is who we actually are and figuring out what’s one thing, what’s the other thing and what’s really both things overlapping. That’s really the great negotiation of relationships.

Sa: Love is a very abstract concept, but I think we have a very strong commitment to each other. We love each other, obviously, but how does that find its place in our day to day life? Why I think our relationship is working, at least for me, is that we both are committed to our personal growth. It’s not like we’re just living this life together. There is something more to it – seeing relationship as a field where we can explore that and grow instead of just having to keep putting expectations on a partner. I’ll look at the things that are challenging for me in the relationship (and ask) how can I use it for my own progress and maturation.

I can relate to the compromises you’re talking about and giving each other the space to grow. I think it’s such a positive and healthy viewpoint. How does that all factor into the way you parent? Are you parenting as a team or when you’re with your daughter individually do you think she has two very different experiences?

Paul: Totally, but I think it’s all held in a very similar context.

Sa: In the beginning, we had a very clear agreement that I was parenting, and Paul was out in the world making a living. That was very clear from the beginning. I feel like with a clear definition, it was actually – for both of us and definitely for me – useful because I felt I could rest in that.

I had very high expectations of myself as a mother. I think if I would have not been able to just take on motherhood as fully as I did, it would have been really hard. I have a lot of gratitude for Paul, that he was willing to, in that way, just be out there and take a stand and keep our family fed and things like that.

Paul: It’s oddly traditional. For two such radical people, it’s actually a very traditional setup.

That’s really interesting to hear because I think that conventional wisdom would assume that if you’ve got one partner who wants to just  rotate out into the world at all times or most of the time, that that would be a source of conflict. It sounds like you’re saying, because it was very clear from the beginning, the roles were defined, that gave you all the freedom you needed.

Paul: Yeah, but I think there is an important factor which is that we decided on a shared context for parenting which evolves and changes. It’s like a living thing. It changes all the time, and Sa really led that. But on all the decisions from how we deal with conflict, how we deal when our daughter is upset, what we do when she wants something for the tenth time, or when things are difficult, whatever, we created a context and then when we talk it out, even though Sa is actually doing a lot of the parenting work it doesn’t mean I’m not around.

Sa: I remember at one point Paul was giving me some input on parenting and I got really upset about it because I’m like, “Hey, hold on a minute. We agreed that I’m the pro here. This is my job.” It’s like when we kind of started emerging a little bit more in terms of parenting and I needed to find trust in Paul as a father, not just being out there in the world and not just as my partner, but also as a father.

Sometimes I think that when your identity becomes so wrapped up in the notion of motherhood, it’s extra damaging when someone is trying to tell you how to do it. Like, “No, I know this stuff!”

Paul: I’m here all day. Who the hell are you?

Yeah. I definitely understand how difficult it is to open up the space for that trust, and then how often you have to remind yourself of it.

Sa: Also, now that she is older, she’s almost seven, looking at her and seeing aspects of Paul in her, that actually in our relationship, in the beginning, they were aspects that would drive me crazy. Then when I see it in her I’m just, “Oh, look at this!” and like my whole attitude towards these things is changing.

I was just saying this to a friend. We were discussing schools and how structured schools should be. I’m a person … I love structure, I was raised with structure, I can totally be in it and then there is a lot of wiggle room and creativity within that given structure.

Paul is the opposite. He comes from a lot of creative, sometimes chaotic energy and then he finds structure through that. Our daughter is very similar. If we play a board game once and then a second time around she will make up totally new rules. It’s really interesting. I’m glad she has that because I don’t have it. I could never give that to her.

Yeah, and I think that’s a really exciting part of raising children with a partner is that you start to see all those traits that you lack, the reasons, probably, that you chose your partner, you see them developing in your children. Even though, like you said, those are things that drove you crazy in your partner, it’s all the good stuff.

Paul: This morning our daughter said, “See, Papa, here are all my pens and my pencils and they each have their own box.” This is like my German daughter. And I’m like, “I’ve never done that.” My stuff is always in big random piles. And now that I run my own companies I hire people to order things for me because I’m incapable of doing it. So she’s, like, keeping her pencils in the perfect place, and then at the same time she’s inventing new ways and places to put them, so she’s kind of taking both parts of ourselves. It’s neat. 

So what is the theory or thought at the heart of this shared context you’re talking about?

Paul:  The key thing about our parenting approach, which I really think comes from Sa, is that everything that a child feels, wants, desires, thinks, whatever, it’s okay. How they act isn’t always okay.

If you say, “You shouldn’t want this,” the minute you do that, you create a conflict within the child, and then they’re suddenly filled with shame… Shame creates trauma and trauma is – we can’t see the trauma in ourselves. When you get to be an adult it creates impulses that are opaque to us that we can’t really control. The key thing that we do in our parenting, and this was really hard for me to get, is that everything that our daughter feels and thinks is okay.

If she wants to do something, if she wants ten cookies and she’s only had one, we don’t say, “No, you shouldn’t want that cookie.” If she doesn’t want to go to bed we say, “No, it isn’t that you shouldn’t want to go to bed now. You have to go to bed now and it’s okay that you’re sad or heartbroken or angry about things,” and Sa’s been really amazing about that and has really taught me a lot. To me it’s like, that’s the biggest thing that we are doing that, when I look around I see hardly anyone holds that context well; the context that everything’s okay, even the feelings that we ourselves are not comfortable with. 

I remember when we were first together, Sa realized that she was uncomfortable with happiness. I was uncomfortable with sadness. I had a great time being angry; for me getting pissed off was not a big deal. But  getting sad and grieving has been hard for me. But Sa, as a person,it was harder for her to let herself just be happy. We realized that, and if that had continued, she could have passed on an inheritance where being really happy was not okay for a little girl and I could have passed on an inheritance where every time she was sad, I’d try to make her feel better. But instead, when she’s sad, we hold her and keep her close, then we let her cry. She cries it out, she grieves it – that she didn’t have nine cookies or that she needs to go to bed now – then she cuddles in our arms and falls asleep.

It’s hard. It’s really hard.

It is so wonderful that you both agree on that. It sounds like a pretty spectacular framework under which to raise kids. The fact that you are unified in that is pretty great.

Paul: It wasn’t easy.

Sa: No, it took a lot of work and a lot of discussion.

Paul: Yeah, Sa discovered this and I was resistant to it to some degree, and then I softened to it when I saw that it was working, but it was also very difficult for me.

Were you resistant to the idea of it or to the challenge of implementing it for yourself?

Paul: I think the type of person I am, I can understand things very quickly, but I can’t actually seem to apply them to my life until I can get them almost in my body.

Yeah, until it’s second nature.

Paul: It comes into me and then I’m like, “Oh! Okay, I get that.” It took me a while to see like, when your daughter is crying and crying and kicking and screaming in your arms, because she doesn’t want to go to sleep, she says, that’s what she says she wants but it’s not really what is going on. What she’s really doing is releasing a lot of pent up energy.

You know, it’s a bitch to be a little kid and be growing up, it’s hard, it’s very frustrating. People are telling you what to do, your body is changing all the time, your stomach hurts, you get sick, you feel powerless, and then you feel powerful. And then it all translates into, “I don’t want to go to sleep now,” or, “I just want another … ” whatever it is.

For me, to actually hold her and have her kicking and screaming in my arms, I would think, “Oh, I’m traumatizing her!” But after a while, and Sa pointed this out very early, I realized that she’s safe. She’s literally in my arms and I’m telling her I love her over and over, but she’s struggling and fighting. And all these feelings, I realized, are feelings that I’m uncomfortable with. She is the one having them. Yes, she would like them to end so she could have another cookie, but the fact of the matter is that I’m the one with the problem with those feelings, not her. She goes through them over and over and then I would watch her go all the way through and literally just run out of steam and then just cuddle her in my arms in a way that just makes me cry. Then afterwards she will just be so deeply focused and connected to us.

Sa: I remind Paul, connect before direct. It’s such a simple slogan but really, if you go and have the connection with the child, usually then they follow your guidance. The connection can be disrupted for various reasons, depending on the relationship or what happened during that day.

And Paul, I’ve seen you really make an effort to change and really coming home and connecting with our daughter first. Because her thing is like, “Hello! Will you tell me a story?” In the beginning Paul was like “No, no, no I’m tired from work,” or whatever. Now he’s like, “Okay, a short one,” and that little short …

Paul: Three minutes, yeah.

Sa: That little short story establishes the connection between the two of them and then she’s much more ready to take guidance from him. The whole evening is much more peaceful. But he had to feel that it actually  isn’t just a slogan, it’s actually something that works.

Yeah, that’s great advice.

Sa: If we look at the brain in a very simplified version, there is the spinal cord and the brain stem and the limbic system and then there is the cortex on top. The limbic system is where all the emotions are being processed and the pre-frontal cortex is where a lot of our thinking is happening. Usually there is good communication between those parts of the brain but if we’re emotionally overwhelmed or if our cup gets too full, then the firing of the brain doesn’t work right anymore, meaning you can’t actually think straight and then we act out in ways that don’t seem appropriate. We need to empty out that cup; the emotions need to be released and heard.

Paul: In a safe way.

Sa: In a safe way, not in a destructive way and then we can start thinking again and then we can start following directions again, and then we don’t need to show off-track behavior anymore.

Any kind of off-track behavior in a child, even though it might be disturbing to us because it’s aggressive or regressive or whatever, our understanding is that it’s an expression for a different kind of need. It’s not about stopping, I mean sometimes you need to stop a behavior because it’s hurting somebody or themselves, but it’s a sign that there is a need for an emotional release and building connection to a loving person.

Paul: That’s why timeouts are evil. Timeouts are like your most … Like, really? Basically your child is acting out because they need connection, so what are you going to do? You’re going to send them to the corner? Disconnect from them, send them to the corner and make them wrong and bad?

The only place I can see for timeouts is the parent takes a time out because they can’t handle it, and they take responsibility for it, which I’ve seen Sa do. Sa occasionally will say, “Okay, I just can’t handle this. I’m going in the other room. It’s not you, it’s not your fault,” even though our daughter’s losing it. Sa will go to her room, she breathes 20 times and comes back again and can finish handling the situation.

This is reminding me of something that’s come up recently for my husband and me in couples therapy. I’m curious, are you able to show a similar compassion for each other when you’re having the adult version of a tantrum?

Paul: Sometimes.

Sa: I think, over the years I would say we’ve been getting better and better with the help of therapists, too, along the way and a lot of dedicated practice. We had a therapist once who said, “You need to hug at least for 20 seconds in order for the resonance actually to happen,” so we tried it. She said 20 but we changed it to 30 because we felt like 20 wasn’t quite enough.

So we just sometimes say, “Do you need a 30 second hug”? It takes the edge off because sometimes when I’m in that state of “aaarrrrgh!” I don’t even want Paul to touch me. But if he says, “Do you need a 30 second hug?” I know we are in the same boat. It’s almost like a code word and it works.

Paul: I remember when the therapist said that, and I was like, “Of all the things that I could be asked to do, I know I can do that one.” Sometimes it’s really hard, but I know I don’t have to change who I am. I don’t have to say I’m right or wrong, I don’t have to let go of anything, I just have to give a 30 second hug. Okay, I can do that! And then afterwards it’s just like, “What were we talking about?”

… The thing is, I think it’s hard because what’s shifted for me only recently is this thing that Sa had been saying and other people had been saying and I’ve been listening to Buddhist teachers saying this shit to me forever, and I just never got it. I finally just got it. Like, oh! I am basically responsible for my happiness and everything else. I am responsible for all of it. She’s not responsible for any of it.

If she does something that pisses me off, it’s really not what’s going on. What’s really going on is that I am pissing myself off. I’m already carrying my pissed off around with me before she even showed up. She’s triggering it, and then I can decide what to do about it.

Sa: Also, what we’ve been doing, not so much recently but over the years, especially when times are hard, when there’s more conflict, what we do is a listening exercise.

Paul: It’s so great. It’s like, you’re talking about this thing with your husband, you should try this. It’s really good with Jewish men who’ve had fucked up relationships with their parents, especially their mothers (laughing). This exercise is like the best thing ever invented.

Sa: Yeah, and it takes a lot of practice to actually find the value in it. In really hard times we do, I think, every night 20 minutes. And what we do is we just sit in front of each other and we actually set a timer and one partner speaks for 20 minutes and everything is pretty much allowed but you try to speak as responsibly from a perspective of myself instead of blaming, blaming, blaming. Sometimes it happens, it’s hard but you try your best, I would say, to do that. The other partner does not comment, does not say anything. He or she is really trying to make themselves just …

Paul: Not a word.

Sa: Not a word.

Paul: You don’t say,”A-ha,” you don’t smile, you don’t nod, you just listen and then you switch.

Sa: Then you don’t discuss it afterwards.

Paul: You just empty. You can say, “When you did this, I felt like this and it was like this … ” and you know if you said it in a conversation the other person would react and lose it. You get to say it and they have to hear you, and then you feel you’ve been heard. You actually find yourself speaking a lot more responsibly after a while. You’re like “Oh, but I  realize that maybe I wasn’t very kind when I said this,” and after a while you’re empty, and then the other person just talks and empties.

Sa, do you ever feel that you are somehow facilitating Paul’s life?

Sa: Yes.

And how are you with that?

Sa: (laughs) It’s a good question.

Paul: It is a good question.

It’s a selfish question because I certainly feel that way about my husband a lot of the time. 

Sa: No, I totally get it. It’s interesting because about half a year ago a friend of mine was visiting from Germany and she asked me the same question. I would say that I never question it or it’s never challenging to me but it’s … how can I put this into words?

Ultimately, what it comes down to for me is I feel I have a wonderful husband who adores me and who is in this relationship with me, and in this adventure of life and raising a family with me. For me it’s actually not separate. I don’t know how else to describe this.

It’s like, so this is my life right now, it’s this family. Once our daughter leaves and goes off to college or whatever, then something else is going to come up, or when she becomes a teenager, becomes more independent, I don’t know. I think in this phase of our life right now, this is our family and I don’t feel like I’m separate. I feel like our family works with me facilitating Paul’s life in that way. So I don’t really question it because I feel the benefit, and this for me is what I want for my life… I feel like I get the commitment and the love and the adoration and the support that I want for me as a wife, as a woman, as a mother.

Paul: We’re both trying our best, and I’m really fucking immature in some ways, and she’s immature in some other ways, but I’m really much more immature, I think, than she is in certain ways. If our relationship is going to work, which it does, there’s no “should” left anymore. We look within the relationship for solutions and this is the condition of the relationship. So if she has to facilitate certain parts of my life to have this harmonious relationship, and yet she can still ask me to act differently – I don’t know if you can actually ask someone to change, but you can ask someone to act differently – she can ask me to act differently to my capacity and when it gets beyond my capacity she has a choice. If she takes responsibility for that choice, which I see Sa do over and over, 95% of the time, or 99, which I think is the most you can ask any human being to do, then it works.

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We spend a lot of time prepping for the arrival of a baby. But when it comes to the arrival of our breast milk (and all the massive adjustments that come with it), it's easy to be caught off guard. Stocking up on a few breastfeeding essentials can make the transition to breastfeeding a lot less stressful, which means more time and energy focusing on what's most important: Your recovery and your brand new baby.

Here are the essential breastfeeding tools you'll need, mama:

1. For covering up: A cute nursing cover

First and foremost, please know that all 50 states in the United States have laws that allow women to breastfeed in public. You do not have to cover yourself if you don't want to—and many mamas choose not to—and we are all for it.

That said, if you do anticipate wanting to take a more modest approach to breastfeeding, a nursing cover is a must. You will find an array of styles to choose from, but we love an infinity scarf, like the LK Baby Infinity Nursing Scarf Nursing Cover. You'll be able to wear the nursing cover instead of stuffing it in your already brimming diaper bag—and it's nice to have it right there when the baby is ready to eat.

Also, in the inevitable event that your baby spits-up on you or you leak some milk through your shirt, having a quick and stylish way to cover up is a total #momwin.

2. For getting comfortable: A cozy glider

Having a comfy spot to nurse can make a huge difference. Bonus points if that comfy place totally brings a room together, like the Delta Children Paris Upholstered Glider!

Get your cozy space ready to go, and when your baby is here, you can retreat from the world and just nurse, bond, and love.

3. For unmatched support: A wire-free nursing bra

It may take trying on several brands to find the perfect match, but finding a nursing bra that you love is 100% worth the effort. Your breasts will be changing and working in ways that are hard to imagine. An excellent supportive bra will make this so much more comfortable.

It is crucial to choose a wireless bra for the first weeks of nursing since underwire can increase the risk of clogged ducts (ouch).The Playtex Maternity Shaping Foam Wirefree Nursing Bra is an awesome pick for this reason, and because it is designed to flex and fit your breasts as they go through all those changes.

4. For maximum hydration: A large reusable water bottle

Nothing can prepare you for the intense thirst that hits when breastfeeding. Quench that thirst (and help keep your milk supply up in the process) by always having a water bottle with a straw nearby, like this Exquis Large Outdoor Water Bottle.

5. For feeding convenience: A supportive nursing tank

Experts recommend that during the first weeks of your baby's life, you breastfeed on-demand, meaning that any time your tiny boss demands milk, you feed them. This will help establish your milk supply and get everything off to a good start.

What does this mean for your life? You will be breastfeeding A LOT. Nursing tanks, like the Loving Moments by Leading Lady, make this so much easier. They have built-in support to keep you comfy, and you can totally wear them around the house, or even out and about. When your baby wants to eat, you'll be able to quickly "pop out" a breast and feed them.

6. For pain prevention: A quality nipple ointment

Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, but the truth is those first days can be uncomfortable. Your nipples will likely feel raw as they adjust to their new job. This will get better! But until it does, nipple ointment is amazing.

My favorite is the Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter. We love that it's organic, and it is oh-so-soothing on your hard-at-work nipples.

Psst: If it actually hurts when your baby latches on, something may be up, so call your provider or a lactation consultant for help.

7. For uncomfortable moments: A dual breast therapy pack

As your breasts adjust to their new role, you may experience a few discomforts—applying warmth or cold can help make them feel so much better. The Lansinoh TheraPearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Pack is awesome because you can microwave the pads or put them in the freezer, giving you a lot of options when your breasts need some TLC.

Again, if you have any concerns about something being wrong (pain, a bump that may be red or hot, fever, or anything else), call a professional right away.

8. For inevitable leaks: An absorbing breast pad

In today's episode of, "Oh come on, really?" you are going to leak breastmilk. Now, this is entirely natural and you are certainly not required to do anything about this. Still, many moms choose to wear breast pads in their bras to avoid leaking through to their shirts.

You can go the convenient and disposable route with Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads, or for a more environmentally friendly option, you can choose washable pads, like these Organic Bamboo Nursing Breast Pads.

9. For flexibility: A breast pump

Many women find that a breast pump becomes one of their most essential mom-tools. The ability to provide breast milk when you are away from your baby (and relieve uncomfortable engorged breasts) will add so much flexibility into your new-mom life.

For quick trips out and super-easy in-your-bag transport, opt for a manual pump like the Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump .

If you will be away from your baby for longer periods of time (traveling or working outside the home, for example) an electric pump is your most efficient bet. The Medela Pump In Style Advanced Double Electric Breast Pump is a classic go-to that will absolutely get the job done, and then some.

10. For quality storage: Breast milk bags

Once you pump your liquid gold, aka breast milk, you'll need a place to store it. The Kiinde Twist Pouches allow you to pump directly into the bags which means one less step (and way less to clean).

11. For keeping cool: A freezer bag

Transport your pumped milk back home to your baby safely in a cooler like the Mommy Knows Best Breast Milk Baby Bottle Cooler Bag. Remember to put the milk in a fridge or freezer as soon as you can to optimize how long it stays usable for.

12. For continued nourishment: Bottles

Nothing beats the peace of mind you get when you know that your baby is being well-taken of care—and well fed—until you can be together again. The Philips Avent Natural Baby Bottle Newborn Starter Gift Set is a fan favorite (mama and baby fans alike).

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

Our Partners

When you're a mama on the move, safe car seats are a necessity but can be a budget buster, especially if you're looking to upgrade or have to furnish multiple cars. Luckily, Target is here to fix that.

Target is bringing back their popular car seat trade-in program from Tuesday, September 3 – Friday, September 13.

Just bring your old car seat to the recycling bin near Guest Services and a Target team member will give you a coupon for 20% off a new a new car seat, booster seat, car seat base, travel system or stroller. And the coupon can also be applied to select baby gear, such as high chairs, swings, rockers and bouncers. 👏

The coupon is eligible through Saturday, Sept.14, 2019, so if you don't see the seat of your dreams in store when you drop off your old one, you'll want to check out the online selection and act pretty fast.

With the exception of the small format stores, all Targets will be taking car seats between September 3 and 13. (You can find a participating store near you here.)

Target has held several of these car seat trade-in events since 2016 in an effort to help parents recycle the seats, which are not eligible for curbside recycling and take up a lot of space when sent to landfills. The retailer hands over all the old car seats to Waste Management, and the materials are recycled to make grocery carts, plastic buckets and construction materials like steel beams.

The event is really a win-win—we get to keep our kids safe while giving the car seats that protected them a second life. Just another reason to love Target.

[A version of this post was originally published April 18, 2018. It has been updated.]

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This is birth: A surrogacy journey shares the incredible story of how one surrogate came to carry four children for a couple, and how they all became like family to each other in the process.

We had the honor of catching up with surrogate Jessica Pretz to learn more about how this incredible story came to be.

Five years ago, when surrogate Jessica met intended parents Sharon and Lake, she felt an immediate click. "It was like going on a first date and meeting with someone you knew you were supposed to be aligned with. We all just felt that connection."

Jessica had given birth to three of her own children, and had recently finished her first journey as a surrogate, carrying twins for another couple. Jessica agreed to be a gestational carrier for Sharon and Lake.

Throughout that first pregnancy, the intended parents, Jessica and her family all became very close. Jessica, who is currently a Surrogate Coordinator for Circle Surrogacy, clarifies that this is not always the case with surrogacy—this particular connection is unique.

"The relationship I have with Sharon and Lake is quite different than the one I have with my first intended parents. I respect the level of contact and communication that each intended parent desires. Their family was very involved with the pregnancy and wanted to take part in as many appointments as possible, help with fundal height measurements."

Watch their surrogacy journey captured by Jennifer Hamilton of Mamarazzi Photography here:

Sharon and Lake were by Jessica's side throughout the birth of their first child, Campbell, and even "caught'" him when he was born. When they asked if she wanted to carry a sibling for him just moments after Campbell was born, Jessica says she didn't need to hesitate before saying yes.

"There was no doubt in my mind that I would love to carry another for them. They are everything I could ask for in intended parents and they are a joy to go through pregnancy with."

Less than two years later, Jessica gave birth to Sharon and Lake's second child, Sailor, in what Jessica describes as an "amazing, fast water birth."

After carrying two of their children, she initially hesitated to take on another surrogacy journey.

"I knew after the second journey that they had remaining embryos left. I had six pregnancies under my belt at that point, all of which were vaginal and unmedicated births. I had no complications as of yet, and I was fearful of something going wrong. I tossed up the idea of them using another surrogate to carry their remaining two over the course of two more journeys. I only would have done one more pregnancy as I was ready to not be pregnant or pumping breastmilk and spend time focusing on my own family."

But after some discussion and consulting with her family, Sharon and Lake, her birth team and reproductive endocrinologist, they all decided to do one more journey together—and transfer the last two remaining embryos. Both took— and they became pregnant with twins. In their birth film, you can see the emotional moment when the twin pregnancy is confirmed, while Jessica is on the phone with Sharon and Lake from the ultrasound room.

Initial fears aside, Jessica explains how the decision itself was, ultimately, second nature: "Deciding to carry all four of their kids really wasn't a hard decision. I am a big part of their lives and most importantly their kid's stories. It would have been odd for me to not help them complete their family."

Watching the birth film, it is truly powerful to witness the love, support and familial connection between Jessica, Sharon and Lake while their twins are born. In one sweet moment, Sharon is embracing Jessica during labor as they both cry.

Even after the birth of their twins, Sharon, Lake, Jessica and her family have all stayed close—even vacationing together. Jessica says she and Sharon are close friends who talk about parenting, marriage and life in general. "It's really a beautiful connection we share."

On how it feels to be a surrogate, Jessica shares, "The best part of being a surrogate is getting to see a couple become a family and the look on their faces when they first see their baby or babies. It is truly an honor to carry these babies and be entrusted with their care."

As a mother of four children herself, we wanted to know more about how Jessica's family has reacted to her surrogacy journeys. "My family is extremely supportive of my surrogate pregnancies and quite proud of the joy I have been able to bring to others through surrogacy. The intended parents I have carried for have become family to us and my own biological family regularly communicates via social media with them."

She continues, "My kids are little advocates and educators on surrogacy. I feel that my children have learned selflessness and sacrifice through my journeys. I always say that while it is the woman who is pregnant, the journey of surrogacy takes the whole family's support."

We're so thankful to both of these families for allowing us to share their incredible surrogacy story.

This is birth: A Surrogacy Journey was captured by Jennifer Hamilton of Mamarazzi Photography.

We started our This is: Birth film series to give representation to the many varied ways women give birth. Watch more curated birth films here.

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Life

When women become mothers, they usually have two options: Go back to work or stay home with the little one. This is how it was when I had my first child, and I was angry that there weren't more flexible options for mothers who wanted to work, but on their own terms.

It can be tough to feel inspired when you're thrown back into (or continue to remain in) a 40-hour workweek that isn't flexible. Luckily, we can create better working options (and a happier life in general) for mamas, but we're going to have to do it ourselves, starting with our mindset.

Here are nine phrases we can tell ourselves to be productive and efficient mamas:

1. "My kids come first, but so do I."

It's okay to carve out time that's just for you, whether that means quiet time alone, meeting up with a friend or signing up for a class. At the end of the day, a happy, fulfilled mama leads to happier kids.

2. "My kids are young, but I can still achieve my goals."

If you want to start your own business, or move to another country or accept that promotion, do it now. Only you know when it's the right time, but it's a myth that your motherly duties require you to wait until your kids graduate from college before you can start doing what inspires you.

3. "It's never too late to make a change."

Maybe you invested time and money to get a degree, and you're afraid of veering off-course to do something you really love that's completely unrelated. Or maybe you're intimidated about rejoining the workforce after taking a break to raise kids. I've seen over and over that it's never too late to find out what happens when you follow your passion.

4. "I'm not ready yet, but I will be."

What does "ready" look like? Spoiler: you won't be ready for every challenge that comes your way. But that's okay. Figuring it out as you go is the only way to learn when you're in uncharted waters. Not feeling ready means you have some self-awareness about your weaknesses, and that's a great place to start. When you embrace the unknown, you learn more about yourself and will likely have a lot of fun along the way.

5. "I can do it all...with help."

Mothers are superhero multi-taskers, but doing it all can have a negative impact on your life and relationships over time. Establishing boundaries is key to a happy, healthy life. At work, giving someone else an opportunity to shine shows that you're a team player, not just in it for yourself. This applies to your children, too. You know what your kids are capable of and can help them build confidence by giving them responsibility.

When we're honest and open about our struggles, it draws people in. Leaning on a community will lighten the load and deepen your relationships with the ones you let in. Use Facebook groups and social media to find your village. Find your village today.

6. "I'm okay just the way I am."

People may look very polished and shiny when they post photos on Facebook or Instagram, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Comparing yourself to others is not helpful; you have to find what works for you and block out the rest. If it works for you, then you're doing it right.

7. "I have to leave early to take my kid to __________."

If you're leaving work early because your daughter's ballet recital is important to you, own that, and don't apologize, because you're not alone.

8. "I will be present in every moment."

I know it's tempting to check your phone while you're watching your kids on the playground, but dividing your attention doesn't make you more productive. Moms are awesome multi-taskers, but give your full attention and be present wherever you are. Whether at work or with your kids, quality is more important than quantity.

9. "I am good enough."

If you're having a moment of self-criticism, stop and ask yourself: Would I say this to a friend? If you would never utter bad words to someone else, don't say these things over yourself Be kind and give yourself the benefit of the doubt. You are good enough.

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Work + Money

As a parent, you might want to do the right things for our environment, especially knowing your children will inherit it. At the same time, with a tiny human relying on you, time is incredibly valuable.

What is a carbon footprint?

Your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon emitted as a direct or indirect result of an activity, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, fluorinated gases and others. Unfortunately, carbon is being released at a much faster rate than it can be absorbed by natural processes.

Currently, the average U.S. per capita carbon footprint is 18.3 tons, and the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project reports in order to hold the global temperature rise to 2˚C or less, everyone on earth will need to average an annual carbon footprint of 1.87 tons by 2050. This seems like a lofty goal, but there are things we can do to shift emissions in a more positive direction.

As a scientist focusing on sustainability, here are nine ways to reduce your carbon footprint in under five minutes:

1. Host a kids clothing and toy swap party.

It's no secret that kids outgrow clothing and toys quickly. Consider gathering fellow parents and friends, pooling together the items your kids no longer need, and going "shopping" for what you need.

Exchanging what you already have reduces greenhouse gas emissions in a few ways. It lowers the amount of power needed to produce brand new clothing and toys, and it shifts demand away from the plane and truck fuel used to fulfill online orders. Plus, it's an opportunity to socialize and save your hard-earned money.

2. Offer chores that save energy.

Recycling and turning off the lights, air conditioner and the heat may be simple tasks, but they'll teach your little ones how to keep a green household. Explain that the less power you consume, the lower your carbon footprint and that by properly sorting recycling and food scraps, the less greenhouse gas emissions there'll be in landfills. You can have kids help to place recycling in the right bins each day.

3. Encourage other modes of transportation.

Biking and walking are fabulous ways to reduce carbon emissions. Encouraging your kid to get on two wheels or to take a family walk to dinner. If you have to drive, see if you can carpool with friends or family to cut down on the amount of car time.

4. Use reusable diapers when possible.

Producing disposable diapers costs a lot of energy and emits greenhouse gases. While disposable diapers can be totally necessary, using reusable diapers even just a small percentage of the time (perhaps only on the weekends) helps lower our overall consumption and landfill waste.

But, if you must use disposable diapers, buy biodegradable ones that can be composted after you use them.

5. Switch to clean makeup.

Putting on makeup can be a moment of self-care, but clean beauty is more environmentally-friendly and healthier than traditional makeup, which can be made with harmful chemicals. Plus, many women love the peace of mind that comes with using makeup free of harmful chemicals around their children.

Most traditional makeup brands use ingredients derived from fossil fuels, while clean makeup companies use more plant-based ingredients. Going clean shifts demand away from non-renewable resources towards more renewable ones which ultimately helps the environment. Clean beauty companies are also much more likely to use energy-efficient manufacturing practices, use fewer resources including fewer ingredients, reduce packaging waste, and be more responsible about sourcing ingredients in a way that's kind to the earth.

6. Consider how you feed your baby.

Breastfeeding is great for the environment! You can make your impact even bigger by choosing eco-conscious products like reusable breast pads, or reusable breast milk storage items.

If you are bottle-feeding, opt for glass bottles if possible. And when you buy formula, see if you can find large containers instead of small—it will reduce the amount of garbage you throw out.

7. Encourage your kids to conserve water.

The more water-efficient your house is, the better as treating and pumping water uses energy. Teach your children to turn off the faucet when they're brushing their teeth, and get them in the habit of taking showers of a reasonable length instead of baths that require three times more water than a shower.

8. Use reusable grocery bags.

Producing paper and plastic bags takes energy. Find a few reusable bags–it's a bonus if they're cute and fun to use–and bring them with you to the store. If you forget to use the bags, store them in places you always see. For example, you might put the bags in the driver's seat next to your purse on your way to the store. And once you get home and unpack the groceries and put them in your entryway where you'll see them the next time you're heading to the car.

9. Join your energy provider's energy-saving program.

Many energy providers offer the free option to get your power from energy-efficient sources, like wind power. Place a quick call and ask about your options. They should be able to switch you over immediately and once it's done, you don't have to worry about it on your to-do list anymore.

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Learn + Play
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