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Jimmy Kimmel’s recent monologue about his son Billy’s heart condition and the whirlwind that was his birth, diagnosis, and surgery has struck a chord with many of us. I know that it pulled at my own congenitally defected heartstrings.


Let me explain: I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve (BAV). Basically, the aortic valve of my heart looks like a fish mouth (two leaflets) instead of a Mercedes symbol (three leaflets), which is, incidentally, a pretty good metaphor for my life. I am not all that special. An estimated one percent of the population has BAV, making it the most common congenital heart defect. Though some are diagnosed at birth, many, like me, do not find out until they experience symptoms or a catastrophic event later in adulthood.

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I found out when I took way too many decongestants my senior year in college because sometimes nurses make mistakes on prescription bottles. Sometimes mistakes result in a trip to the hospital to understand your tachycardia. Sometimes that isn’t so bad (really) because you get to leave in the middle of a final exam and by that point you had run out of things to say about Beethoven anyway. Luckily for me, a full cardiac work-up sometimes results in life-saving incidental findings.

My diagnosis is cataloged in a file in my brain where I store memories that make me want to take a time machine back to kick myself. The cardiologist who told me the news could not have been more blasé. I was twenty-one years old and alone at the appointment with no expectation of bad news, watching as he looked mindlessly at my echocardiogram report and said big powerful words in the distracted monotone of a man who could use a vacation, “You have a blah-biddy blah…in ten years get a cardiologist…it just might kill you when you’re in your 60s or 70s…oh and take antibiotics before the dentist…blah-bitty blah symptoms mean go right to the hospital…any questions?”

Naturally, in my recently college-educated empowered voice I chirped a devil-may-care, “Nope, sounds good!” 

The whole interaction took only a few minutes, and all I said was sounds good?! Time machine. Kick. Kick. Kick.

I never gave my condition too much thought, particularly after the demands of motherhood took over. Weird palpitations and periodic anxieties that my valve would someday get worse were assuaged at my yearly cardiology appointments. That is, until 2014. My first echo with a new doctor revealed an aneurysm in my ascending aorta. Like stenosis (thickening of the valve), and regurgitation (leaking), aneurysms (aortic enlargement) are among the complications of BAV along with scarier things like heart failure, endocarditis (infection of the heart), and aortic dissection (tearing of the aortic wall) or rupture.

My aneurysm became quite the a-hole in my life. It made it dangerous to pick up my snuggly four-year-old daughter or get pregnant again as we’d hoped. It had to go, and thus began our preparation for open heart surgery. Not the least of my concerns was protecting my preschooler from being traumatized by the whole thing. Having a sister and friends who are Certified Child Life Specialists® made all the difference. Together we came up with developmentally appropriate words, activities, and distractions that helped immensely.

These Child Life angels among us use evidence-based practices to help kids of all ages understand, cope, and play during difficult medical encounters. Their services are really needed, too. According to the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the federal government, nearly twenty percent of all children in the U.S. under the age of 18 have special healthcare needs. Chances are you already know at least one family whose child needs clinical supports, in some capacity or another, and most of those families are carrying much heavier loads than they let on.

Tough times have a way of highlighting all kinds of strengths. My husband is a man of many talents, not the least of which is his carnival-act ability to guess weights and measures. He can eyeball the poundage of a pumpkin from across the patch, that kind of thing. I’m not bragging, but it’s like a superpower. So after several rounds of imaging gave us the exact size of my aorta, we began playing a game I called, “Would this fit in my aneurysm?” Sure it’s morbid, but it’s a lot more fun than you would think.

For those playing at home here are some items that would have fit:

  • My lip balm
  • My daughter’s toothbrush holder (even sideways)
  • My aspirin bottle (a cardiac gal’s best friend)

My BAV and pending open heart surgery now had my full attention. It turns out doctors and researchers had been hard at work in the 15 years since my diagnosis learning all sorts of new things.

For example, it appears to be a family affair. About 30 percent of immediate family members are likely to also have BAV or other cardiac malformations (with names like aortic coarctation, ventricular or atrial septal defect, abnormal mitral valve, aortic root dilation, or hypoplastic left heart syndrome). A study published in 2009 reinforced that idea and added that immediate relatives might also develop an aneurysm in their aortic root (where the aorta connects to the heart) even if their valve has three leaflets. There is still so much to be learned.

My six siblings (yeah, six, it’s a lot, I know) were encouraged to be screened, and so far all have been negative. Then, there was my daughter. There is a famous quote attributed to Elizabeth Stone, “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Here she was twirling, skipping, and dancing outside of my body. This idea of her being my heart held new weight for me now. As a mom, I do not like anything messing with my children, especially when that anything happens to be my own genetics. Even so, I work in the field of public health where we deal with the idea of increased risk with measured caution. My little girl seemed healthy, and if she wasn’t, she would be in excellent hands.

So I didn’t panic about taking her to Boston Children’s Hospital to be checked. Thanks to the awesome staff and her spritely spirit, my daughter enjoyed getting EKG leads stuck to her little body and giggled during blood pressure hugs. She even lay perfectly still and quiet during the part the echocardiogram when they shoved the wand into her neck presumably to get a peek inside her soul. The girl was a champ! And her heart looked perfect.

Of course, it did. I knew it would. That is why the absolute relief that washed over me nearly knocked me off my feet. To say that our little girl is a better version of her parents is an understatement, and I could not be more grateful. (According to the National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs there are roughly 335,000 kids in the U.S. with cardiac conditions, and nearly half of those children experience daily limitations in their lives.)

Soon her baby brother will have to be checked too. He bounced into our family, a ball full of energy and vivaciousness, a little over a year after the open heart surgery that spared my diseased valve but replaced my ascending aorta. I hope that he too will avoid the diagnosis I may have passed along to him. If he doesn’t – if he takes after his mother – I just don’t know how my little fish-mouthed heart would bear it.

You come and mess with me, BAV! I can take the multiple open heart surgeries, the complications, the insurance battles, the silent fears, and the changed life. But you do not mess with my kids.

To all of you parents already in the fray, with your strengthened mom-armor and your sharpened swords: I am over here on the sideline with the others who are rooting for you. We are advocating for insurance coverage and research funding, hoping it will help. And if I join your ranks, I hope that dozens more spill in from every direction to take my place of support on the side, because none of us can do this alone.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

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

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There's a lot of discussion about the importance of early education—but what about soft skills like respect and kindness? How can mamas teach children important values like cooperation, gratitude, empathy or politeness?

These values are basic, foundational beliefs that help us know right from wrong, that give balance and meaning to life and that enable us to form community bonds with one another. These soft skills are crucial for kids to learn at any age, and it's important for them to be reinforced, both in the classroom and at home, throughout their childhood.

Here are fundamental ways to build character in your young children:

Kindness

Performing random acts of kindness can have a positive influence on both the individual showing and receiving the kindness. As a family, think of ways that each one of you can show kindness to others. Some ideas may include baking cookies for the mail carrier, donating an unopened toy to a local charity, purchasing canned goods for a homeless shelter or leaving notes and drawings for the neighbors. Include your child in the process so they can see firsthand the joy that kindness can bring to others.

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Responsibility

Children have a strong desire to mimic adult family members. Encourage your child to help complete simple chores in and around the house. Children feel a great sense of accomplishment when they can do their share and feel that sense of responsibility. Two-year-olds will enjoy folding towels, putting books away, putting paper in the recycling box and tending to the garden. Older children may enjoy helping out in the kitchen or with yard work.

Patience

Patience is the ability to demonstrate self-control while waiting for an event to occur. It also refers to the ability to remain calm in the face of frustration. This is a skill which develops in children as they mature. While it is important to practice patience, adults should also be realistic in their expectations, evaluate daily routines and eliminate long periods of wait time from the schedule.

Politeness

Schedule a time when the whole family can sit down together for dinner. Model good manners and encourage older siblings and other members of the family to do the same. Use phrases such as, "Can you please pass the potatoes?" or "Thank you." Be sure to provide your child with guidance, by explaining what to do as opposed to what not to do.

Flexibility

Change your routines at home to encourage children to be flexible in their thinking and to try new things. Try being flexible in the small things: enjoy breakfast for dinner, eat ice cream with a fork, have your child read a bedtime story to you or have a picnic in the living room. Let your child know it is okay to do things in a different way.

Empathy

Children are beginning to understand different emotions and that others have feelings. Throughout their childhood, talk about their feelings and share one's own feeling with them as well. By taking the time to listen to how children are feeling, you will demonstrate to them that you care and reinforce with them that you fully understand how they are feeling.

Cooperation

Coordinate playdates or take your children to events where they can practice introducing themselves to other children, and potentially with adults. Find games and other activities that require turn-taking and sharing.

Gratitude

Encourage your child to spend five minutes every day listing the things they are grateful for. This could be done together just before bedtime or after dinner.

Respect

As parents, our goal is to teach children to recognize that even though people have different likes and dislikes or beliefs and ideas, they must treat each other with manners and positivity. Respect should be shown when sharing, cleaning up, and listening to others. Always teach and model the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. Also remind children that respect can be shown towards things in the classroom. Treating materials and toys correctly shows appreciation for the things we have.
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Medical researchers and providers consider a woman's postpartum period to be up to 12 months after the delivery of baby, but too often, health insurance doesn't see it the same way. Nearly half of the births in the United States are covered by Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and while the babies who are born during these births are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP for a year, their mothers often lose their coverage 60 days after delivering their child. There is clear data showing 70% of new moms will have at least one health complication within a year of giving birth.

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This week, members of Congress' Subcommittee on Health met to mark up H.R. 4996, the "Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services (MOMS) Act of 2019, and it was favorably forwarded to the full Committee.

What does this mean? It means that while this bill still has a ways to go before it potentially becomes law, its success would see states get the option to provide 12 months of continuous coverage postpartum coverage to mothers on Medicaid. This would save lives.

As we at Motherly have said many times, it takes a considerable amount of time and energy to heal from birth. A mother may not be healed 60 days out from delivering. She may still require medical care for perinatal mood disorders, breast issues like thrush and mastitis, diabetes, and the consequences of traumatic births, like severe vaginal tearing.

Cutting off Medicaid when her baby is only 2 months old makes mom and baby vulnerable, and the Helping Moms Act could protect families from dire consequences.

The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and according to the CDC, "about 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications." This is not okay, and while H.R. 4996 is not yet signed into law this bill could help change this. It could help address the racial disparities that see so many Black mothers and Native American mothers dying from preventable causes in the first year of motherhood.

A report from nine American maternal mortality review committees found that there were three leading causes of death that occurred between 43 days and one year postpartum: cardiomyopathy (32.4%), mental health conditions (16.2%), and embolism (10.8%) and multiple state maternal mortality review committees have recommended extending Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum in order to prevent these deaths.

Basically, making sure that moms have have continuous access to health care the year after a birth means doctors can spot issues with things like depression, heart disease and high blood pressure at regular check-ups and treat these conditions before they become fatal.

The Helping Moms Act is a step forward in the fight for maternal health and it proves that maternal health is truly a bipartisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the value in providing support for mothers during the postpartum period.

The Helping MOMS Act was was introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Illinois, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. It was co-lead by Texas Republican Michael Burgess (who is also a medical doctor), as well as Georgia Republican Buddy Carter, Washington Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ayanna Pressley from Massachusettes and Lauren Underwood of Illinois (both Democrats).

"Incentivizing postpartum Medicaid expansion is a critical first step in preventing maternal deaths by ensuring new moms can see their doctor. I'm proud that my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, came together to put an end to the sad reality of American moms dying while growing their families," said Kelly. "We can't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. This is a good, bipartisan first step, but it must be the first of many."

It doesn't matter what your political stripes, reducing America's maternal mortality stats should be a priority.

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Whether you're having a low-key Friendsgiving with your closest friends or prepping to host your first big Thanksgiving dinner with both families, figuring out all of the menu details can be the most overwhelming step. How much should I cook? What ingredients do I need? How does one actually cook a turkey this big?

But, don't worry, mama—HelloFresh is lending a helping hand this year with their Thanksgiving box in collaboration with Jessica Alba. Because you already have enough on your plate (and we're not talking stuffing).


Here are the details. You can choose from two Thanksgiving boxes: Turkey ($152) or beef tenderloin ($132). The turkey box serves 8-10 people while the beef one will serve 4-6 and both are $6.99 to ship. We got to try both and they're equally delicious so you can't go wrong with either one, but the turkey does require a 4-day thaw period so keep that in mind. And if you're wondering what the sides are, here's a sneak peek:

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  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Green bean casserole with crispy onions
  • Ciabatta stuffing with chick sausage and cranberries
  • Cranberry sauce with orange, ginger and cinnamon
  • Apple ginger crisp with cinnamon pecan crumble

While someone still has to do the actual cooking, it's designed to take the stress out of Thanksgiving dinner so you can focus on spending time with your loved ones (or watching Hallmark Christmas movies). You don't have to worry about grocery shopping, portion sizes, recipe curation or forgetting that essential thing you needed to make the meal perfect. Everything is super simple to make from start to finish—it even comes with a cooking timeline.

Orders are open through November 21 and can be delivered anytime through November 24. Even better? You don't need a subscription to order.


ORDER A BOX

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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My mother's death propelled me to start the process of becoming a parent as a 43-year-old single woman. As my connection to her remained strong in spirit after her death, I was ready to experience the same bond with my own child. I began the journey with Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI), and after three failed attempts at getting pregnant, I decided to adopt.

The adoption process is a lengthy and humbling one—one that includes fingerprints, background checks, references, classes, doing a profile of yourself and your life that birth parents eventually use to choose adoptive families.

After my application was approved, a young couple chose me just a month later. I couldn't believe my fortune. But I had to get to work and prepare the house for my baby's arrival. I bought the best of everything—bassinets, clothes, diapers, car seats… the list goes on. I told close friends and family that it was finally happening.

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But all of this was in vain. The day I was supposed to pick my daughter up, I learned that the birth parents had changed their minds. They no longer wanted to give their daughter up for adoption. As time passed, it was difficult to endure no interest from potential parents but the faith in believing what is meant to be continued. To increase my potential, I enrolled with a second adoption agency.

A few months later, as I was getting ready to try IVF for the first time, I received a phone call to let me know that a woman had selected me to adopt her child. So I opted out of IVF and found myself in a hospital delivery room with the birth mother, assisting her in the delivery of MY child. It was a boy! I was so thrilled, and he was just adorable.

After six years of losses and disappointments, I was able to bring him home and awaited the final word that the mother and father have given the needed consent. I was getting ready to watch the Super Bowl with him dressed in football gear, I got a phone call.

Once again, the adoption agency informed me that the birth mother had changed her mind. That evening, I had to return the baby to his birth mom. I was heartbroken, and my hopes were shattered.

What now? Going back to IVF meant starting from scratch, and that would take a minimum of six months before being able to really start getting pregnant. I was 49 years old, and the clock was ticking. I really wanted to be a mom by the age of 50.

I was in Chicago, recovering from a collapsed lung, when I received yet another phone call from the adoption agency. An expecting mom had chosen me and had already signed over all of her rights. This little girl was mine. For real, this time. But I had to get to Southern New Jersey by Thursday to pick her up from the hospital.

After negotiating with my doctor to give me the green light to leave while recovering from my condition, I hopped on a train, and 22 hours later, I arrived to New York City in a massive snow storm. I took longer than expected to get to her, but after navigating the icy roads of New Jersey, I met my daughter!

She is now 2 years old, and she has changed my life in ways that just can't be fully described. What I can say is that I now understand my mother's love even more and her devotion to me and my siblings, and as I am sharing the same with my daughter, my bond to my mother keeps on growing.

Becoming a mom at 49 was never what I had envisioned. But whether you are trying to conceive or have decided to adopt a child, the road to becoming a parent is rarely easy. I know that inner strength and believing in what was meant to be kept me moving forward.

Life
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