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I already have a gorgeous little girl and we’d always planned to have two kids, but from the moment we first found out I was pregnant again, I had this little niggle. “What if things went wrong?” There was no reason to worry. I’d had a child before, so I quickly put the worry to the back of my mind.


I started telling a few very close friends, and my family knew from about six weeks. I personally feel that it’s good that a few people know as it’s good to have a support network around you when you’re pregnant. I got to 11 weeks and even told people at my workplace, especially as I had my scan coming up. All the symptoms were there throughout: awful sickness, exhaustion, swollen boobs.

A week before my scan, I started spotting. I was pretty scared. It wasn’t something I’d experienced in my first pregnancy so obviously alarm bells rang, even though this can be something completely normal and happens to lots of women who go on to have healthy pregnancies.

I called the early pregnancy unit and they booked me in a couple of days later. Those days before I was on a massive wave of emotion. Every time I went to the toilet, I panicked if anything was different. I spent most of the weekend in bed thinking that if I rested, it would all stop and everything would be okay.

My husband came with me to the hospital. I found the waiting room one of the most difficult places to be. You see some women visibly upset, obviously their worst fear confirmed. Some apprehensively clenching their partner’s hands, waiting for good or bad news, praying it’s the former. We all know why we’re there. You try not to catch each other’s eye as you wouldn’t know how to respond. It’s so surreal. You wonder whether you’re going to be relieved or devastated. Like a rollercoaster ride, your stomach is churning the whole time.

We were called in and I lay on the bed. I’d prepared myself to hear bad news, and it was. Something had gone wrong, probably fairly early on. I remember that, even though I’d prepared myself, it was still a massive shock. They had to check a few times to be sure (lots of probing) and even then I was told that, as my placenta was a certain size, I needed a scan again a week later to confirm it. It was pretty horrible. Part of me wanted to cling to the very small hope that it was going to be okay, but the rest of me deep down knew it was not. I wanted to know now. I did not want to wait for another week!

I was told I had to go back to the waiting room – back to that same place where others have been told the exact same news and some who had happier news – and a nurse would come and speak to me about my options. I’d not even thought about options. I was only just processing what had happened and was now about to be told all about the physical process I had to go through! As it’s something I’d never experienced before or ever thought about, I had no clue about all these options. It felt so matter-of-fact, cold, and procedural.

The nurse was helpful, telling me that it was very likely a chromosomal issue, the fetus would never have developed properly, and it’s just “one of those things that can happen.” That’s what many tend to say to try and make one feel better (I appreciate that for those who haven’t experienced it, it’s hard to know what to say), but something like this is difficult to accept.

I remember trying to be so practical and distance myself from it emotionally – “I won’t be pregnant on holiday, so I can drink” – almost anything to avoid the reality of the situation. When you’re told bad news, it’s amazing how the brain works to process things and all the different emotional stages you go through. You can never anticipate how you’ll react initially when you experience grief or loss.

We discussed my options. One – let it happen naturally. Two – take a tablet at hospital to speed things along. Three – an operation under general anesthetic. Four – an operation under local anesthetic so I would be awake for the whole thing. Err, none of the above, please! When I did think about it later, I knew I didn’t really want to prolong it. I just wanted to get it over with so I decided that, depending on the outcome of the following week’s scan, I’d have an operation. I really didn’t want to but was terrified about the prospect of going through it naturally, not knowing when or how long it would take.

When we got back to the car, I burst into tears. Looking back now, I’m glad I did. I’m not a machine. I needed to allow myself to just go through the motions, no expectations, and no pressure for feeling or not feeling a certain way.

It turned out that I didn’t have to wait another week. It started to happen naturally. I’m not going to lie, it was awful. It happened over four afternoons for a couple of hours and then stopped. The pain was really intense. It got gradually worse over the days. At one point I remember singing really loudly, to try and take my mind off it but, in a weird way, it helped me focus. Sounds silly, but it got me through it.

I was actually visiting my sister and new nephew when the worst of it happened, and I’m actually glad I was. It was strangely cathartic to go through it in a different house but surrounded by my family. Even though I physically experienced it on my own, they were there for me to talk through it if I needed to. Once I knew it was largely over, I was relieved. In the days that followed, I gradually felt better. I was off work a total of two weeks, which really helped, but I think in the end I needed to go back to some sense of normality. (That’s how I felt. Everyone feels differently, no one goes through exactly the same experience.)

When I went back for the scan the following week, they confirmed it was all gone. “It,” a weird word really. It was never a baby, it didn’t even get to be a fetus properly, but it still seems cold to say “it.”

I think the hardest thing for me was that I did feel very alone, even though my husband, family, and close friends were great supports. When you lose someone you love, like a friend or family member, you share the grief. It’s not easy to do this when you’ve had a miscarriage. It was never brought into the world but it’s still a great loss. I wanted to share how I felt but I wasn’t sure who to share it with. I needed a support network but felt like I didn’t know anyone who’d experienced this too. There were a few online stories but I didn’t know of any one specific place to go.

If one in four women have miscarriages, why isn’t it talked about more commonly? It’s so common! There’s a 25 percent chance you will miscarry in the first 12 weeks. When a statistic is this high, why does it still feel like such a taboo subject to talk about? I think there’s a whole stigma about not telling people before you get to 12 weeks, “just in case.” I understand why, if this statistic is anything to go by, but that doesn’t help you emotionally. 12 weeks is a long time. You go through perhaps the hardest bit in the first 12 weeks! All those awful symptoms, many of which are really difficult to hide. I think, if it feels right, you should be encouraged to let people know, helping to increase the knowledge about miscarriage if things, God forbid, should go wrong.

I found it more difficult, post-miscarriage, speaking to others. It must be difficult for people who haven’t experienced it to know what to say. I found that when I opened up about it, some people would almost recoil and seem uncomfortable. It made me feel awkward and very lonely, especially when I wasn’t with my husband. He’d been a massive support to me through it all and he had to go through how he felt about it too. I suppose in some way, you can’t dwell on it either but you need to work through things in your own way.

I can only imagine it must be even tougher for boyfriends or husbands to share how they feel. The focus is on the woman who’s going through it physically and mentally, but I feel strongly that the man in the situation should be supported too and have someone to speak to. You both experience the loss.

If I’m honest, the thought of getting pregnant again is scary. I know I’m going to worry that much more than I would if I hadn’t gone through a miscarriage. I know it sounds stupid but I felt like it was a waste of time. I’d got to 12 weeks (or so I thought) and will have to go through the same pregnancy symptoms again at some point, but I won’t give up on the things I want. That’s the key really. Don’t stop trying just because life’s thrown you a curveball. We all have a strength in us that is only realized when we go through personal tragedy, whatever that may be. Keep going. I know I will.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

BUY


This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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So many parents wish there was a way we could add more hours to the day. Unfortunately, we're stuck with just 24 of them, but we can try to make the most of the time we've got. One way more and more working mamas are maximizing the time we do have is by cutting out the commute and working from home.

It can add an hour or two back to your day, and (depending on your hours and circumstances) it can even make childcare arrangements easier. And with more big companies offering legit remote opportunities, it's easier than ever for parents to find these opportunities. As Motherly recently reported, Amazon is on a bit of a remote hiring spree ahead of the holiday season, and it's not the only one.

Williams-Sonoma is currently seeking Seasonal Customer Service Associates to work from home. It is looking for remote workers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Phoenix, Reno, Tulsa, and near Raleigh, Columbus, Braselton, and Oklahoma City.

These work-from-home positions are part of Williams-Sonoma's plan to hire about 3,500 associates for its Customer Care Centers. The company says a "significant portion of positions" for the Customer Care Centers will be work-from-home. They're looking for remote workers who live no more than an hour and a half away from one of the Customer Care Centers as "on occasion our Work From Home associates must come to the Care Center for meetings and training with advanced notice," the company notes in the job postings.


The positions are very similar to what Amazon is looking for: Basically customer service reps who can take inbound calls to help shoppers with orders, returns and issues with finding products or deliveries of products. Williams-Sonoma is looking for people who can work 30 - 50 hours per week, and the pay is listed at $12 per hour.

Another perk is a 40% discount on most merchandise, which great because the Williams-Sonoma umbrella includes brands like Pottery Barn and West Elm as well.

Sounds like this could be a great gig for a mama with customer service skills and a high-speed internet connection.

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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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Plenty of modern motherhood paraphernalia was made to be seen—think breastfeeding pillows that seamlessly blend into living room decor or diaper bags that look like stylish purses. The breast pump though, usually isn't on that list.

It's traditionally been used in the privacy of our homes and hotel rooms in the best case scenarios, and in storage closets and restrooms in the worst circumstances. For a product that is very often used by mothers because they need to be in public spaces (like work and school), the breast pump lives a very private life.

Thankfully, some high profile moms are changing that by posting their pump pics on Instagram. These influential mamas aren't gonna hide while they pump, and may change the way the world (and product designers) see this necessary accessory.

1. Gail Simmons 

Top Chef's Gail Simmons looked amazing on the red carpet at the 2018 Emmys, but a few days after the award show the cookbook author, television host and new mama gave the world a sneak peek into her backstage experience. It wasn't all glam for Gail, who brought her pump and hands-free bra along on the big night.

We're thankful to these women for showing that breast pumps belong in public and in our Instagram feeds.

[Update, September 21, 2018: This post was originally published on May 31, 2018, but has been updated to include a recent Instagram post by Gail Simmons.]

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I was feeling off the other day. Something wasn't right, and I couldn't seem to put my finger on it or kick it for that matter. As the day progressed, it didn't get much better. It was a typical day for us, with the usual 2-year-old meltdowns and chaos that happens when you have two babies close in age.

Nothing was out of the norm, but I just wasn't feeling completely like myself. And right after getting my daughters to bed, when I was alone with my thoughts, the feelings intensified. Through the silence, I heard a soft and familiar voice criticizing my mothering, telling me "You don't do anything right." "You are failing your kids."

My anxiety was attacking me, knowing I am weakest on my own. But I knew what I needed to do. So I took out my phone and dialed, listening to the ringing on the other end.

Waiting for the person who always comforts me.

Who always makes everything better.

Who has the magic words when it comes to calming my soul.

"Hi." She answered the phone.

"Hi Mom," I said, as my voice cracked. I can mask my pain for everyone—but her.

"Everything is going to be okay," she reassured me from over the phone as I broke down to her. I hung up feeling so much better. Because—truly—there is nothing in this entire world like a mother's reassurance. I know that not everyone has this kind of relationship with her mother. That, I am indeed one of the lucky ones—but we can all hope to become this for our own children.

And you, mama, contract that magic right when you give birth.

This magic doesn't make you perfect and all-knowing. No, you don't have all the answers. No one has that. You just need to be you—your sweet baby's mama. That title comes with that last push or lift out of the womb. It could also come if your baby is handed over through adoption or surrogacy.

It doesn't matter the means, the magic comes the second your baby is placed into your arms. It comes with a force so strong it leaves a mark on your heart. It transforms you into a mother. You are enough just by being that person who opens her arms and accepts this baby as yours forever.

Your soft-skinned newborn is placed on your chest, shrieking, tears dripping down her cheeks and onto her pout. The little muscles in her chin trembling with such force, her face is on the verge of turning bright red. Then you cuddle her close and feed her. "Everything is going to be okay." She finds peace in the warmth of your body, her skin on your skin.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When your baby becomes a toddler, and he falls and gets his first scrape, screaming, because it's a new kind of painful sensation—an open wound. "Everything is going to be okay," you say to slow his tears and scoop him up into your arms. You clean that scratch out and apply Neosporin.

You put a Band-Aid on, sealed with a kiss, and wipe away his tears. You will always be there to pick him up when he falls—literally, now...and figuratively, in the future when he is grown.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When she goes to her first day of preschool, and you have to separate from each other. She cries as you hold your tears back, as you assure her, "Everything is going to be okay. Mommy always comes back." And of course, you do, and you hold onto those words yourself—repeating them to stay strong.

Because when you are together, everything is right again. You let her go because it's the right thing to do.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When he gets his heart broken for the first time, he will feel like the only person that truly knew him has abandoned him. He'll feel as if he will never find that again. He may not have the proper coping mechanisms yet to deal with that level of pain.

He comes to you in tears over losing the love of his life. You comfort him and assure him "Everything is going to be okay." Because you know this as fact because he is the love of your life. And, one day, if he has a child—he will feel the same way.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When life kicks her in the rear-end. When she is struggling to find her place in this wild world, feeling so alone. When she needs support. She doesn't ask you directly, but your mom intuition whispers to you, pulling on that mark on your heart, and so—you make the call.

"Everything is going to be okay," you say into the phone. The sky won't fall and Chicken Little will not witness the world ending because she can't figure it all out right this second. Finding her place in this world will take time, but it will happen. Right now, and for always, you are her safe place, her landing pad.

One day our babies may have babies of their own. When they are sad they will say, "Everything is going to be okay."

They will know that sometimes all our children need is reassurance from us—their safe place. Their soul-soother. Their heart.

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