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I think all good parents worry that one of their children is being shortchanged in some way. This fear increases exponentially when you have a special needs child.


Some days it feels as though everything is about Kevin – keeping him calm, keeping him happy, or keeping him from harming himself and us. There’s not a day, not a single moment, that I don’t worry my girls are being cheated.

We just returned from Universal Studios in Orlando Florida, and what an amazing place, especially for families with disabled children. We were able to bypass all the lines and, not only did the staff allow Kevin to choose his seat on every ride, they weathered each of his outbursts as if it was nothing out of the ordinary.

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I planned this trip over a year ago for Dana. It was all for her. Dana is a bonafide “Harry Potter” junky, and I couldn’t be more proud of my self-proclaimed “nerd.” She has sorted each of us into our prospective “houses.” Chris, Papa, Kevin, and I are Hufflepuffs, Godmommy and Dana are Ravenclaws, and Kayla and Grammy are Gryffindors.

I know it won’t last. Puberty is just around the corner and, before I blink, I know the robe, wand, Ravenclaw T-shirts, and Marauder’s Map will be replaced with lipstick, Teen Vogue, and God knows what else. They told me years ago to hang on to every precious moment but, like many parents, I didn’t listen until two years ago when I finally saw her childhood slipping through my fingers.

Two years ago (she was 10), I thought Dana still believed in Santa Claus. I figured it would be the last year, so I planned a vacation to Disney World on Christmas Day. When the kids woke up, the only things under the tree were suitcases and an agenda written by Santa to Dana detailing every moment of the trip. It was all for her – this last Christmas I thought she believed.

We had a great time, but when we got home, Dana sat me down and said, “Mommy, I know it was you. I wanted to believe, but deep down, I knew it was you. Thank you.”

It was one of those moments when you can actually hear your heart break. She knew I did it all for her, she knew I loved her, but my baby didn’t believe in magic anymore. I became cognizant of every moment I’d lost, because I was so busy with Kevin.

This time I wanted things to be different. “Okay,” I thought. “She doesn’t believe in Santa, but she still believes in wizards and witches, so the magic isn’t gone!” This time, I let her plan everything down to the last detail and spent way more money than I should have, but it would all be worth it because for once, everything would be about Dana and what she wanted. For once, my darling girl wouldn’t be in second or third place.

We got home yesterday and, all in all, it was a great trip. But there were moments that nearly crushed me. Everything with Kevin is hard. There were meltdowns in the park where he hit us, screamed at us, bit us, and pulled our hair. There was a tantrum in a restaurant that silenced the whole place. It seemed a thousand eyes were bearing down on us with either pity or disdain.

There was the day he didn’t make it to the toilet in time and pooped all over the bathroom floor, and Dana had to bar the entrance to the men’s room while I cleaned the mess and Chris found new clothes.

I’ve taught my daughters to be honest about what our life is like, but sometimes the truth hurts. For example, our first day in was rough. Kevin was confused, overstimulated, and extremely agitated. After dinner, he finished his desert and then demanded Kayla give him hers. When she refused, he started screaming and hitting her.

Dana’s godmother, who isn’t used to seeing him meltdown like that, politely suggested we bring him outside, and Dana responded with, “Oh you’re embarrassed? Seriously?! Welcome to my life. I deal with this every day.”

Ouch. I’d never heard her say anything like that before. But it was the cold, hard truth, and I understood exactly how she felt.

Our last day we spent swimming in the pool. Chris and I were holding Dana when Kayla swam over to us. (Kevin was with Grammy.) We each put a girl on our back, and Kayla said, half-jokingly, “It’s like we’re a perfect family!”

Translation: We’d be a perfect family if only we didn’t have Kevin.

Then there was the day I caught Dana’s Godmother and my mother talking about me. “I heard you two!” I said jokingly. “What are you saying behind my back?”

But my mother put her head down as if making a confession and said, “I was just saying how, sometimes, when Kevin explodes like this, I just have to walk away it’s so hurtful to watch. I hurt for you and for him, and I just have to get away.”

Ouch, ouch, double ouch.

As wonderful as the late night talks with Dana’s Godmother were, one night she confessed to me, “You have a very hard life. I wouldn’t want it for myself.”

I must have asked Dana a million times in four days, “Is it everything you dreamed it would be?” Every time she replied with something along the lines of, “It is, Mommy, it really is, and if Kevin wasn’t here it would be perfect.”

I can remember thinking, “You know, Dana, all the honesty I’ve heard this week didn’t hurt quite enough. How about we get some lemon juice or salt or something?”

Which begs the question: “Rachel, have you done the right thing encouraging the girls (and everyone else you love) to be honest about their feelings? Shouldn’t you be responding to all these comments with something along the lines of, “Don’t say that about Kevin!”

Maybe.

I’m sure there are those who would say I’ve made a mistake allowing my girls to speak so freely about their feelings and thoughts, but you know what? They don’t have to live the way we do. We’ve had to survive things most people can’t imagine. So yes, we live by our own set of rules over here, and part of that is admitting you’d rather not get slapped in the face in line for “The Hulk” because Kevin wants to go first or telling strangers they can’t go into the bathroom right now because Mommy is busy cleaning poop off the floor.

My girls speak some harsh truths, truths heavy with anger and resentment, but we’ve all learned something the hard way: When you speak those truths, it sets you free to love when loving seems impossible.

I can’t count how many times (after she said she hated him) the following conversation took place.

Kevin: “I hit you!”

Dana: With all the empathy and patience in the world, “Please don’t hurt me?”

Kevin: “I want to!”

Dana: “Okay, Kevin, if it will make you feel better, you can hit me.”

Kevin: “Sawney.”

Dana: “It’s okay, thank you for making the right choice. Let’s go on another ride, you can go first!”

And Kayla, who said we’d be the perfect family if only it weren’t for Kevin and took more physical abuse than any of us, returned every blow with a firm hug while softly whispering, “It’s okay, buddy, I’m here, I’m right here,” as she held him.

What is it she always says? Oh yes: “Bad thoughts and feelings are like weeds, Mommy. You can’t pretend they’re not there. Pull them out by the root and let them die, or they’ll kill everything you’ve worked so hard to make beautiful.”

So we’re home now. Kevin has been so peaceful and pleasant all day, obviously relieved to be where things are familiar. I ask Dana to sit in my lap, and she agrees, which is rare. She’s almost 13 now, and sitting in Mom’s lap is sooooooooooooooooo not cool.

Me: “Why did we go to Universal?”

Dana: “Because you love me, and I love Harry Potter.”

Me: “What was your favorite part?”

Dana: “Getting my Godmother all to myself in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.”

Me: “Was it just like you dreamed?”

Dana: “Better.”

Me: “Do you still wish Kevin hadn’t come?”

Dana: “No, I was just mad. Sometimes you have to let yourself be mad or you’ll never be happy, right?”

Me: “Right. I’m sorry he takes up so much of my attention.”

Dana: “It’s okay. He takes up a lot of everyone’s attention, even mine.”

Me: “I love you.”

Dana: “I love you more.”

Me: “Not possible.”

We’re home. Dana is in her Ravenclaw robe, wand in hand, re-reading “The Order of The Phoenix” while munching on a chocolate frog. Her friend just texted to ask how the vacation went, and she replies, “The best time I’ve ever had in my whole life.”

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We've all been there. You first hear those cries that don't sound like any other cries and immediately know what's happening. It's like our mama hearts know when our little ones need us the most. Having little ones feeling under the weather is hard. They can't tell you exactly how they feel. You can't explain to them that they'll feel better soon, and all there is for everyone to do is to take it easy and stay cuddled inside until you can get them to the doctor.

The issue, by this point, is that my son is old enough to know what's coming when we open the medicine cabinet, so giving him something for his throat ends up being like a wrestling match without the fun and giggles. My son especially likes spitting out anything as a way to protest how he's generally feeling, so we both end up covered in sticky syrup feeling defeated. Because, seriously, who thought that using a syringe or pipette to squirt out gooey liquid down an unwilling toddler's mouth was a good idea? (Probably not a parent.)

That's why when I found out there was an easier and more fun way to make these dreaded sick days better, I was all about it.

Enter: Lolleez.

Lolleez are organic throat soothing pops for kids—and adults!—that are made with organic ingredients that you can pronounce and understand like honey and natural fruit pectin. Plus, they're non-GMO as well as gluten, dairy and nut-free i.e. worry-free for all kinds of kiddos. The pops help soothe sore throats while acting like a treat for when kids are feeling under the weather. I also appreciate that the pops are actually flat and on a stick, as opposed to a lozenge or round ball lollipop. They were also created by a mom, which makes me feel a million times more confident about them since I know she knows exactly how hard sick days with a little one can be.

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When I introduced my son to Lolleez pops, everything changed. Suddenly the battle to get him to take something to feel better wasn't... well, a battle. In the few times he's been sick since, he's been more than happy to pop a Lolleez, and I've been more than grateful that soothing him is now as easy as peeling open a wrapper. And, since they come in watermelon, strawberry and orange mango—strawberry is the favorite in this household—he never gets bored of getting a soothing lolly.

Also, they're easy to find—you can get them at stores like Target, CVS and online so I never worry that I'll be caught without in a pinch. After the sick days have run their course and my son starts feeling better, there's nothing like seeing that glow in his eyes come back and have him greet me with a big smile when I come into his room in the morning, ready for the day.

While our littles not feeling well is inevitable, as a mama, I'll do anything to make my child feel better, and I'm so thankful for products that make it just a little easier for the both of us. So here's to enjoying the snuggles that come with sick days, while also looking forward to the giggles that come after them.

This article was sponsored by Lolleez. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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There is little new parents obsess over as much as sleep. We go to great lengths to help our babies sleep because when they sleep we finally can, too. For exhausted parents who are warned against bed sharing but want their baby close, in-bed sleepers are intriguing products—a compromise between the convenience of co-sleeping and the separation of a crib or bassinet.

They make parents feel safer when bed sharing, but are in-bed sleepers safe?

This week, Consumer Reports published an investigation into in-bed sleepers which linked the product category to 12 infant deaths between 2012 and 2018. This investigation was published the same day as a new study in the journal Pediatrics which found less than a third of American babies are only put to sleep in the products the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends: firm and flat cribs, bassinets, or Pack N' Plays which meet the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Dr. Ben Hoffman is a pediatrician and the Chair of the AAP's Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention Executive Committee. He tells Motherly he feels a lot of compassion for parents who choose not to follow the AAP's safe sleep recommendations in the hope of getting more sleep, but he's also gravely worried for them. "I'm afraid that what's going to happen is exactly what we saw with the Rock 'n Play," he says.

A baby registry staple, the Rock 'n Play was an inclined sleeper, the design of which went against the AAP's recommendation that babies sleep on a flat surface. Earlier this year, a Consumer Reports investigation into infant deaths linked to inclined sleepers prompted a recall of the Rock 'n Play and similar products. Many fans of the Rock n' Play criticized the recall efforts, suggesting supervision, not the design, was a factor in the deaths of 59 babies in inclined sleepers.

The CPSC eventually hired a third party expert (a specialist in infant biomechanics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to conduct a study. According to the CPSC, that study "examined how 10 infants move and use their muscles on flat, inclined surfaces, and in selected inclined sleep products, and whether such product designs directly impact safety or present a risk factor that could contribute to the suffocation of an infant."

The study concluded that the inclined sleep products that were tested were not safe for sleep, and the expert behind the study says the kind of testing she did (after millions of inclined sleepers were sold) should be done before products go to market.

Dr. Hoffman agrees and worries that because there are currently no federal safety standards for in-bed sleepers and boxes "it's sort of the Wild West" for manufacturers. He worries parents are being taken advantage of by companies and compares sleep products that are hailed as miracles to snake oil.

"Every parent struggles with sleep and they are desperate for something…they sell hope to a family," he explains.

The 'Consumer Reports' investigation

Consumer Reports examined data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and names three in-bed sleeping products in its investigation: The popular DockATot, the Baby Delight Snuggle Nest Infant Sleeper and the SwaddleMe By Your Side Sleeper.

Rachel Rabkin Peachman, an investigative reporter with Consumer Reports, notes that the CPSC "inadvertently disclosed information about the specific products involved in the incidents."

Motherly has reached out to all of these brands for comment on the Consumer Reports investigation. As of this writing DockATot has not responded.

SUMR Brands, the parent company of Summer Infant, maker of the SwaddleMe By Your Side Sleeper has responded with the same statement it provided to Consumer Reports.

The company states, in part: "The Summer Infant By Your Side Sleeper is not responsible for any deaths. Independent medical examiner reports of two incidents where a Summer in-bed sleeper was present in 2014 and 2015 concluded the in-bed sleeper was not a contributing factor to a child's death."

A spokesperson for Baby Delight stated in an email to Motherly that the "Consumer Reports article is a bit misleading since it equates our Snuggle Nest products with inclined sleepers." The Snuggle Nest is not an inclined sleeper and that's not what Consumer Reports or Dr. Hoffman are suggesting. Both, however, suggest parents stop using the product.

Consumer Reports states it identified two deaths that involved the SwaddleMe By Your Side Sleeper, two deaths involving the DockATot as well as three deaths that involved the Baby Delight Snuggle Nest Infant Sleeper.

Baby Delight tells Motherly that "based on the information from the CPSC Investigations, each incident was apparently a result of caregiver behavior contrary to safe sleep practices and warning labels present on product and in instruction manual." The AAP points out that the very existence of the Snuggle Nest Infant Sleeper is contrary to safe sleep practices.

The backstory on in-bed sleepers

Two of the products named in the Consumer Reports investigation, the Baby Delight Snuggle Nest and the SwaddleMe By Your Side Sleeper are comprised of a mattress with low, mesh walls. (Baby Delight describes its product as having "breathable mesh walls along with solid plastic inserts for stability.")

The third product, the DockATot, is softer, a product in a category sometimes known as baby nests or baby pods.

That's the language the FDA, the UK's Lullaby Trust (with support from Public Health England) and Health Canada have used when warning parents not to put babies to sleep in products that have soft bolsters on sides, like the DockATot does. Such bolsters pose a suffocation risk, the FDA notes.

On its website DockATot states the company "recognizes that many people believe strongly that infants and young children should never sleep with adults in their bed, while others believe that such co-sleeping provides benefits. Many who choose to co-sleep with a DockATot dock find that the sides help establish a separate space for the baby that is close by to the parent(s)."

DockATot also states its product should never be used in a crib or playpen.

Safe sleep recommendations

But a quick Instagram scroll through #dockatot proves that many parents are using the DockATot in cribs, and that is not the only way in which parents are ignoring safety recommendations from the makers of sleep products and from pediatricians.

A study released this week in the journal Pediatrics found that while most new parents put their babies to sleep on their backs, only 42% follow the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation against soft bedding, and just 32% were using a separate, approved sleep surface.

Less than a third of American babies are only put to sleep in the recommended products firm cribs, bassinets, or Pack N' Plays which meet the safety standards of the CPSC.

This follows research published in 2018 which found the number of American babies dying by suffocation has been on the rise in recent years. The majority of these suffocation deaths happened while these babies were in bed. In an email interview with Reuters last year, one of the study's co-authors suggested that the rise in suffocation deaths could be because parents are ignoring safe sleep recommendations, but suggested "It may also be that we have dangerous items on the market and in our homes, and they need to be removed."

The recent CPSC study found that was the case with the Rock 'n Play, but even though the product was the subject of a widely publicized recall, some caregivers and parents and still choosing to use the inclined sleeper.

Calls for change 

A parent himself, Dr. Hoffman does not want to minimize how much parents struggle with sleep in the early weeks and months of parenthood, calling it "one of the hardest things many people will go through in life."

It really is that hard, he says. But he also says in-bed sleepers are not the solution exhausted parents are looking for. "I've testified a couple of times before the Consumer Product Safety Commission about them, and I feel about them, honestly, the way that I felt about the inclined sleepers—that there's really not a safe way that they can be used," he tells Motherly.

And as much as Dr. Hoffman feels for parents going through sleep deprivation in early parenthood, he knows that losing a child to SIDS is so much harder and he wants lawmakers, manufacturers and the end consumers to think about that when considering infant sleep products.

"Parents are desperate for something because their child is unhappy and it makes them unhappy and everybody's miserable. But the fact of the matter is...it's just not worth the risk."

Hoffman is calling for regulatory change, but he says parents can keep their babies safer by sticking with products that meet the CPSC's standards and by always putting babies to sleep on a flat, firm sleep surface with no soft bedding, bumpers, bears or blankets. "Buy a crib or bassinet that conforms to the Consumer Product Safety Commission crib and bassinet standard. Absolutely. Anything that does not is not a safe place for a baby to sleep unattended."

[Correction: October 23, 2019: A previous version of this post stated the expert behind the new Rock 'n Play study is a specialist in infant biomechanics at the University of Arkansas. She is with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.]

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Shawn Johnson East is set to welcome her firstborn any day now, and she's taken us along on all the ups and downs she's faced on this journey. Now she's revealing how much she wanted to have this child and the role her first pregnancy, which ended in miscarriage, played in that realization.

"I don't feel like we ever felt ready [to have kids]...and then we accidentally ended up pregnant. It was a surprise for both of us and we ended up losing that pregnancy," Shawn says during a recent appearance on the Miraculous Mamas podcast. "It was after the miscarriage we both just kind of had this switch flip...it was a rude awakening of like, 'holy, crap we're going to have a kid,' but all of a sudden it was like "we're ready to have a kid and like we want nothing else.'"

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Shawn says that even though she's so close to giving birth, she still doesn't feel 100% ready to have a kid (which is a completely normal sentiment). She also explains that she and her husband, Andrew East, worry most about how becoming parents will affect their marriage, but ultimately, they just wanted to experience parenthood together more than anything in the wake of their miscarriage.

"As soon as we did miscarry, I went through that whole phase of...it was almost like a postpartum depression," Shawn reveals. "Because you have all these hormones leaving your body, which you have to deal with on top of the mental side of processing what did you just go through. With my husband it was a year-long, not battle, but back and forth. As soon as I miscarried I was like 'I want to try again. I want to still be pregnant, I want to do this.' And my husband was like 'I think we need to take a break. I think we need to heal from this and process everything. That causes tension between a marriage."

It took the couple a little over a year to figure things out, heal, work on their marriage and finally get pregnant again and while Shawn says she still doesn't feel completely ready for motherhood, we know she and her husband have got this.

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Giving birth is NOT easy. It's painful, messy, terrifying and an emotional roller coaster...but it's also pretty darn incredible. And, according to Jennifer Garner, it's also incredibly romantic.

Then again, it might not be—at least if you're anything like Kristen Bell. Jennifer and Kristen sat down together for an installment of Momsplaining with Kristen Bell to tackle this topic.

One of the moms who joins Kristen's roundtable in this episode is five months pregnant and tells the two famous mamas that while she's feeling pretty good, she is starting to get a little nervous about going into labor. "I think it is the most romantic day you'll ever experience," Jennifer declares.

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But Kristen isn't buying it. "You're a better person than I am," she says after her jaw drops. "I was going to say, 'It's going to look like a homicide...way more blood than you think there should be."

Jennifer Garner Talks Motherhood: #Momsplaining with Kristen Bell www.youtube.com

Luckily, Kristen has a piece of advice for the expectant mama. "My best advice—and I even brought an example 'cause I knew you were pregnant— is make a birth plan. Put a lot of thought into it, take a deep breath...and then just [rip it up]. It's never going to happen like that so get rid of it. And that is kind of what labor is like."

It's true...and to be fair, some may find romance in all that craziness. You also may discover your own ability to laugh at yourself and your circumstances. Take for example, Kristen Bell's story about thinking her water broke during her pregnancy. She headed to the hospital convinced she was having her baby, only to learn she had likely peed herself. Raise your hand if you've been there.

This inspired the ladies to play a game where they stuck water-filled condoms between their knees and ran around the restaurant. The game's name? "Did my water break or did I pee my pants?" 😂

It goes to show that motherhood is usually not pretty...but if you really stop to examine it, you can see the humor—and yes, even the romance—in those messy moments.

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I always knew I would marry someone from another culture. Growing up in the Dominican Republic and then moving to Miami in my early 20s, I was curious and attracted by looks, accents and customs different than mine. I started studying English when I was six and added Italian classes at age 16, so marriage was still far from my mind, but little did I know that becoming trilingual would definitely mark my life and my family's when the right time arrived.

My husband is Italian, born and raised in Palermo, Sicily. When we started dating, I was excited to learn that he had two of my non-negotiable musts in a guy: He could speak Spanish with my parents and he could dance merengue! Bingo!

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Shortly after we got married ten years ago, we started daydreaming about our future mixed kids. We could almost see and hear our child running free and jumping for joy around us. Beyond any gender or looks, all I wanted was a healthy, happy and wholly baby.

Our son is now 2 years old. I gave birth with my Italian husband-become-doula reminding me to breathe and push in Spanish, my Puerto Rican ob-gyn coaching me with his Boricua accent, and three nurses—Indian, British, and Cuban—all cheering me on in their own version of English.

The moment my son was born, I just remember telling him: "I love you! I love you! I love you!" A hundred times. English was the language that I heard myself speaking to him.

Even before he was born, we were spontaneously and intentionally looking for ways to include our cultures in his life. We debated between names that had the same spelling and pronunciation in Spanish, English and Italian. We asked his grandmothers to bring children's books from home so they could read to him in the only language they speak. We included multilingual toys in our baby shower registry and started talking and singing lullabies in my native Spanish and Daddy's Italian when he was in the womb.

Even though we often sound like an episode of Dora the Explorer, I do my best to only speak Spanish at home, and his dad speaks Italian to him 100% of the time. He loves pasta, maduros, and pancakes.

When it was time to look for a preschool, diversity was our number one priority. We chose a Montessori school where he is now learning English as a third language and where we thoughtfully share traditional desserts from our homelands when we are invited to potlucks.

When he is out of school and we have run out of ideas, I admit that he watches and dances to merengue videos on YouTube, and loves them. As a result, our boy is now growing up trilingual in the United States, in a multicultural environment filled with all Latinx experiences.

At the same time, I like to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that he was born in the United States. I make a point of having a traditional menu for Thanksgiving dinner even though none of us enjoys turkey that much.

We alternate our holiday travel between the Dominican Republic and Italy every year, and no matter where we are, he gets gifts from El Niño Jesús and Santa Claus on Christmas and then from La Befana (the old woman bearing gifts from Italian folklore) and Los Reyes Magos (the Three Magic Kings) on January 6th.

He made me feel proud when he came back from camp this summer holding a red, white and blue boat while jumping and screaming, "Our flag!" on the days leading up to the Fourth of July. And on the Fourth, he surprised us by lying on the grass to enjoy the fireworks, making us feel grateful for him and for this land that we call home.

Being a Latinx parent in the US today is a blessing and challenge at once. As an immigrant, I am aware of how fortunate I am to be able to raise my child with all the benefits this country offers, while still embracing my roots. Every day I challenge myself to keep growing, to become a better citizen and to be more visible so that we continue to break stereotypes and defy statistics.

Most of all, I want my little one to be free to express himself, to see the world and appreciate all the colors, rhythms and flavors beyond our own.

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