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This is a submission in our monthly contest. December’s theme is Growth. Enter your own here!


When I first saw the topic for Parent Co.’s December writing contest, I quite literally threw my hands in the air, scoffed aloud, and closed my laptop. Of course, I promptly reopened it to do what I always do in times of trouble; I Googled it. “Growth: development, maturation, growing, germination, sprouting; blooming…” The words glared off the bright screen into my tired eyes and made the dark surrounding of my rarely quiet living room seem just a shade or two darker. I closed my laptop again. What did I know of growth? As I fought the sleep that I so desperately look forward to each evening, my thoughts drifted back to my first conscious memory of growing.

When I was seven years old, I suddenly began waking up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in both of my legs. My tiny unshaven legs throbbed from calf to thigh with a type of pain that I had never experienced. Night after night, I would wake up sobbing and my mother would come into my room to comfort me and wrap my legs with steaming hot towels. After what a felt like a few weeks (but more likely was just a few very long nights) of waking to this excruciating leg pain, my mom took me to the pediatrician to confirm that which she had suspected all along. I was having growing pains. Eat more dairy and take a daily vitamin. Needless to say, my desperate pleas for a second opinion went unrequited.

Growing pains? I certainly thought not. How could it be? I had been growing my entire life and it had never hurt before. I didn’t buy it. It was too obvious; too cliché. Surely, I was very ill and not a soul in this world cared enough to take a closer look at what was truly ailing me before it would inevitably be too late. But, miraculously, over the next few weeks, the aching in my legs dulled and the memory of what it felt like to grow faded until it was an indiscernible and unremarkable moment in time.

While admittedly naive and embarrassingly precocious, my own seven-year-old logic remains sound 25 years later. I had been growing for seven years, yet I had never experienced the slightest awareness of it. Not one muscle twinge or tummy ache had ever been attributed to growth. So why, when my legs had stretched far longer and grown far thinner in past years, was I so suddenly and abruptly made painfully aware of my body’s struggle against its own to desire to change? It was a good question for a seven-year-old girl; it remains a good question for a 33-year-old woman.

As I sat in the darkness, still temporarily blinded from growth’s blaring definition into my optic nerve and its recently revived memory fading once again back into the surrounding darkness, I still did not know why sometimes it hurts to grow while other times it does not.

As 2017 comes to a close and I look back at this year, I see that precocious seven-year-old girl on the ground with two scraped knees. She has fallen down. The few short moments that she’s been on the ground feel like a lifetime. Her shock and pain have quickly shifted to embarrassment and self-loathing. She mistakes the help that she is being offered for mockery and condescendence. Surrounded by people who love her, she feels alone. But she is just shaken up; she took a very rough fall and briefly lost sight of the fact that she is just fine. It’s not too late in the day for her to get back up, with the help of others, forgive her clumsy self and anyone who might have accidentally gotten in her way. As I sat in the darkness, I could see her stubbornly refusing to get back up again.

I spent 2017 angry on the ground, wondering whether I tripped or if someone pushed me and how the hell I was going to take them down in return. But I didn’t take anyone down; I just kept myself there for almost an entire year. Time and time again, I pushed away familiar hands that reached out to help me. Hands that had fed, bathed, and clothed me. Hands that had wrapped my throbbing tiny unshaven legs in steaming hot towels night after night and that had never asked a single thing in return from me. I refused their help because my pain had somehow convinced me that someone or something had to be to blame for it. I was still subscribing to that same futile concept that pain can be explained; that growth can be understood.

The scuffs and scrapes that I accumulated in 2017 will undoubtedly leave me with scars. And while I may be sore for a while, I am finally ready to admit that no one is responsible for the pain that I have and will experience in this lifetime; I very well may never understand why sometimes, some years, it hurts to grow, while others it does not. The pain that I confronted this year will not be resolved with a daily vitamin or increased calcium intake. I can’t Google it and instantly understand it. But I am weary of waiting for understanding. It’s not too late in the day to reach out to the tired hands that always linger nearby in times of trouble. It’s not too late to let them pull me back up, dust me off, and tightly wrap me in their tired love. It’s never too late in the year to get back up after falling from grace. And even if you don’t understand it, it’s never too late to grow from pain.

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There are certain things that get less challenging with each child you have—like changing diapers or figuring out how to tie a Moby wrap—but breastfeeding just isn't one of them. Breastfeeding is different for every woman, and it can even be different for the same woman at different times in her life.

Mom of three Jessica Alba knows how true that is. She tells Motherly she's no longer nursing her 6-month-old son, Hayes, and while she's been through the end of breastfeeding with her older daughters, 10-year-old Honor and 6-year-old Haven, this experience was different and challenging in its own way.

"Emotionally, I know kind of what to expect. But every time, with all the hormones, it's so overwhelming. It doesn't get any easier," she says.

Alba and her husband Cash Warren welcomed little Hayes on December 31, 2017, and in the months that followed Alba shared several sweet breastfeeding photos on social media. In one, the Honest Company founder nursed during a board meeting, in another she breastfed Hayes in a Target fitting room. To her social media followers it seemed like she was always breastfeeding—and now we know that's because she was.

"I felt like he wanted to nurse 24/7, which was obviously really challenging when you're trying to go back to work," says Alba, who wasn't just busy with the Honest Company in the early weeks and months of Hayes' life, but also shooting her upcoming TV series with Gabrielle Union, 'LA's Finest.' The timing of the opportunity wasn't ideal, but the project was.

"I was actually bummed about it, I really did want to take four months but I got the pilot offer and it just happened to be shooting, so it cut into my maternity leave."

Alba was used to juggling the demands of working and nursing, having brought Honor to movie sets a decade ago and having welcomed Haven right when she was launching the Honest Company, but this time there was another hurdle, one many moms can relate to.

"Also my milk supply was challenged with him. I felt like I had the most milk with Honor and then it got less with Haven and even less with Hayes. And so that was just tough for me," she tells Motherly.

Although she had more milk supply back when she had her daughters, she's never been able to exclusively breastfeed for as long as she would have liked. She wrote about this challenge in her 2013 book, The Honest Life: Living Naturally and True to You.

"I breastfed as long as I could, but not as long as I wanted. I had to get back to work, and I wasn't able to keep it going. But I am proud to say I did the best for my daughters and I'm proud of all of my mom friends for doing the best they can on this issue."

Alba is hardly alone in having to stop breastfeeding earlier than she wanted. According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, "Although most infants receive some breastmilk, most are not exclusively breastfeeding or continuing to breastfeed as long as recommended."

More than 81% of American mothers start out breastfeeding, but less than half are exclusively breastfeeding by the time their baby is 3 months old and fewer than a quarter make it to the 6-month mark without formula.

Studies show that although it is incredibly common, supplementing with or switching to formula is a decision fraught with feelings of guilt, failure or "shattered expectations" for a lot of moms.

But you don't have to breastfeed for a full year or two for your child to benefit from the cuddles and the antibodies, and no mother should feel guilty about doing what is best for her child and herself.

Take it from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: The organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding but also recognizes that a mother "is uniquely qualified to decide whether exclusive breastfeeding, mixed feeding or formula feeding is optimal for her and her infant."

A bit of advice Alba wrote in her book echos the ACOG's statement:

"Whatever you do, trust that you're doing the best that you can for your baby."

Still, weaning earlier than you wished to doesn't get easier even if you've experienced it before.

Years after writing that line in her book, Alba tells Motherly, "The only thing you kind of know the third time around is that it will pass."

Alba is an amazing mama, and she is obviously doing what's best for Hayes. And by being so honest about her breastfeeding struggles, she's also doing a great service to other mothers who are facing similar challenges.

Thanks for the honesty, Jessica.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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I have a confession to make.

I once completely ruined a (rare) date night out over... popcorn. Seriously.

Who knew such a delicious, buttery treat could be such a catalyst for drama?

So, we were at the movies and after sitting down in our seats I asked my husband if he could go get me some popcorn. I mean, I didn't want to miss the beginning of the movie… He said something along the lines of, "Ugh, can you just go get it?" And I said something along the lines of, "You better sleep with one eye open tonight." 😜

I sulked off and got my popcorn. Then, I proceeded to watch the movie with a scowl and a bad attitude, similar to the combo my 2-year-old threw me a few days prior because I wouldn't give her my hot coffee (logical). This nonsense carried over into the car ride home. The evening that could have been a light, carefree night out with my partner turned into a bit of a dud.

But the thing is, it was never about the popcorn.

It was about my stress levels of being a work-from-home mom. It was about my exhaustion around having children who weren't sleeping well during the time.

It was about the mental load of motherhood that I carry around like a boulder in my brain. It was about feeling burnt out by all of life's responsibilities. It was about the fact that we hadn't been out on a date in over a month.

It was about the fact that our lives are consumed by preschool pickup and decisions about childcare and guilt over parenting fails and to-dos. It was about the pressure. Of parenting. Of adulting. Of date night.

Who has time to think of a new place to try for dinner? Who has the energy to shower, do their hair, put makeup on, and pick out a cute, flattering outfit on a Friday night after a long, long, long week? Who has the determination to make sure your date checks all the boxes—Is what we're doing exciting enough?

Are we going to the perfect restaurant? Does it matter that these Spanx are making me feel miserable? Should we do something spontaneous after dinner? Should I come up with some options for our spontaneous activity so we are prepared for spontaneity? 😂

The only question we should be asking ourselves is—what do we WANT to do on our date? The only goal we should have is to ditch the pressure and Just. Have. Fun.

The point of a date, especially as parents, is to connect. To have some alone time together. It's not to plan some magical, unicorn, non-existent "perfect" night out. This isn't The Bachelor. This isn't a planned-by-ABC one-on-one date involving a helicopter and bungee jumping. We both have already accepted the rose—we don't need perfection. What we need is to get out.

We're talking a meal at a restaurant and a rom-com. Sometimes we get wild and throw in an after-dinner drink somewhere. We go on dates to get away from poopy diapers and screaming toddlers. To go somewhere for a couple of hours so we can speak to each other at a normal decibel without pausing to answer questions like "WHERE DID YOU PUT MY WITCH HAT, MOOOOOM? I CAN'T FALL ASLEEP WITHOUT IT!" or "CAN YOU WIPE MEEEEE?!"

After more than a few dates like the popcorn-drama-night, we both have learned our lesson.

The recipe for a great date night is simple:

1. Leave your children home with someone you trust.

2. Exit the house and go somewhere together.

3. Wear clothes that are comfortable.

4. Have a good attitude.

5. Talk to each other.

(Bonus points if you can leave your kiddos home with a family member you don't have to pay!)

Recently, my husband and I went on a day date, to the beach, just the two of us. We left our girls home with their aunt (thanks, Liz!) and hightailed it outta there. We got iced coffees and sat on the sand under the warm sun.

We chatted and laughed and even just relaxed, laying there, closing our eyes—enjoying the peace and quiet. No one was eating sand. No one was complaining of the heat. No one had to go potty.

It was pretty amazing.

There was no bickering and no disappointment. It just worked.

I think we've found the secret to the elusive perfect parent date night: decrease your expectations and then you'll decrease the pressure. By doing that, you'll automatically decrease the chances of something or someone sabotaging your date, like an adult-sized tantrum caused by slick buttery popcorn.🍿

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While we love the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale for clothing and accessories for the fam, some of the biggest savings are on cult-favorite baby gear items.

We're talking Nuna, Joolz, Maxi-Cosi and Bugaboo, mamas. 🙌 These pieces rarely go on sale so if you're in the market for one, grab it while supplies last.

Here are our team's favorite picks:

1. Nuna convertible car seat

This convertible car seat will take your little from their first day well through toddlerhood. It offers a little extra legroom for you toddler as they grow and features ventilation panels that allow baby to stay cool.

Fave features: 10-position recline and head support, one-handed use harness, flip-open cupholders (on both sides).

RAVA™ Convertible Car Seat, $374.90 (after sale $499.95)

BUY

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