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When the alarm on my iPhone dings, I push open my son’s bedroom door.


“Time’s up,” I say. “You’re a free man.”

Harry, my four-year old, ignores me. Wearing a neon orange soccer outfit, he’s sitting in the middle of the floor with a pair of oversized headphones on, the unattached chord snaking through, around, and over nine torn letter envelopes. On the ground beside my son is a faux wicker basket containing the other 268 missives I’ve been writing since 2013, each envelope addressed to Harry Huckleberry and numbered in the upper right hand corner.

“Read this to me,” Harry says holding up envelope number 45, which he’s already partially ripped open.

As I stand there looking down at four plus years of my hard work scattered among Lego pieces and stuffed animals and dirty underwear, I feel surprisingly calm. No flop sweat. No racing heart. No urge to scream obscenities. Even though my plan to present these letters to my only son on his 12th birthday has been ruined, I feel no ill will toward the lad. Quite the opposite. In fact, I’m happy he found them and even happier that he’s interested in the 18,000-plus words I’ve scribbled on paper for his benefit. Now granted, there is a chemical component to my reaction: I do take special medications, one to ensure that my heart remains in sinus rhythm, and another to ensure that I do not, as I have done in the past, wash my hands 96 times a day, drive over the same stretch of road 11 times, or stick my finger under my son’s (and sometimes my wife’s) nose to make sure he is still breathing. And, like Woody Allen’s character in “Hollywood Ending,” I am currently looking for a pill that will keep me dry when it’s raining out.

“Sit down, Daddy.” He removes his headphones, pats the ground beside him. “Read this to me.”

Waving the envelope, he looks up at me with those big brown eyes, and it seems that the hatred he felt for me just four minutes ago is completely gone. He has already forgotten about how he kicked me in the shins because I insisted that he empty the trashcans around the house. He has already forgotten that when I dragged him to his bedroom for a much-deserved Time Out, he said, “You’re a bad Daddy, and I don’t love you anymore!” But now, the expression on his face tells me that once again he loves me and, more importantly, he wants something: for me to read him these letters, which, his mother has told him repeatedly, are very important to Daddy and should definitely not be ripped open and littered about the floor like trash.

Harry tugs on my jeans again, and I take envelope number 45 from his hand and sit down. He crawls into my lap, and I kiss the crown of his head – something I do on average of 17 times per day.

“Stop it,” he says, swatting at my face. “Read!”

Unfolding the letter, I check the date to make sure I wasn’t in the midst of one of my existential funks, or, worse, listening to a ton of sad bastard music at the time the letter was written. Fortunately, I keep a mental tally of every single parenting and marital misstep I’ve ever made, and after scanning said database, I confirm that the date on the top of the page – October 17, 2014 – is okay.

“Can I read it in my Richard Nixon voice?” Did I mention I was, before the special medication, obsessed with Tricky Dick and not only read 11 different books on our 37th president, but also collected his campaign posters, including the 1972 presidential re-election poster stating “They Can’t Lick Our Dick?”

“Use your real voice, Daddy.”I clear my throat and read.

Dear Harry, 

Today during snack time, I read you a pop-up book called “Under the Bed.” At the end of the story, a scary monster pops up, and when it did, you roared like a lion and dumped a cup of Chex-Mix on the monster. I like that you weren’t afraid. In fact, I think you found the monster funny. 

After the story, you climbed on my writing desk and turned the printer on and off. You liked the noises it made when it started back up. You also ripped a few sheets of paper out of the printer.  You left a pool of drool on most of the sheets. The rest we used to make paper airplanes. There’s one inside this envelope. 

I love you, Harry. 

Sincerely,

Dad

Harry pulls the paper airplane out of the envelope and holds it in front of my face.

“Is this it?”

“Let me check.” I give it a thorough examination from bent wing to bent wing, cockpit to tail. I hand it back to him. “Pretty sure that’s it.”

Delighted, he throws the airplane across the room, where it crash lands in his toy box. Scrambling off of my lap, he picks up envelope number 111 and tears it open.

“Here,” he says handing it to me. This letter is dated March 6, 2015 and is only a few sentences long.

Dear Harry,

Last night, I was standing in your bedroom doorway while Mom was reading you a bedtime story, and you saw me and yelled, “Daddy!” You got out of bed, took my hand, and led me over to where Mom was sitting. “Stay,” you said as if I were a dog, and you gave me a hug, and then we both listened to the rest of the story. 

I’ll never forget that moment. Ever. 

I love you, Harry.

Sincerely,

Dad

“Is that it?” Harry asks.

“I wrote longer ones,” I say, the writer in me needing to defend himself. He looks inside envelope number 111 and frowns.

“Where’s the paper airplane?”

“I didn’t put an airplane in every one of these letters.”

“Oh,” he says after a lengthy pause. “Why did you write them?”

It’s a fair question – and a difficult one to answer. Should I tell him that while he was inside my wife’s belly I lost 25 pounds, dropping my weight below 100 pounds for the first time since I was a teenager, and because I was so riddled with anxiety, worry, and fear, I kept a journal of every single book I read to my wife’s belly at night in the hopes that my unborn son might recognize my voice and, miraculously, understand just how much I loved him already? Should I tell him that I was, at the beginning of his life, dead set against him being exposed to potentially corrosive technology like cell phones, so in lieu of taking pictures of my baby boy I wrote letters describing what he looked like and what he did every day? Should I tell him that I wanted him to be able to look back on his early years and see what he was like through my eyes?

Or should I tell him the unvarnished truth: that these 277 letters are as much about me as they are about him, that, after you strip away the cute observations and silly anecdotes and overly earnest fatherly advice, what you have left is Max Everhart, an intelligent but clueless, neurotic, yet well-intentioned obsessive compulsive attempting to not foul up the most important relationship he’ll ever have?

“Because I love you,” I say opting for a cheap Hallmark greeting card answer instead of hard truth. I kiss his head again. “I wrote them because I love you.”

“Read another one,” he says crawling back into my lap.

“Last one,” I say. “Then you clean up this mess. Deal?”

“Deal.”

Plunging my hand into the faux wicker basket, I select envelope number three.  I rip open the envelope and unfold the letter, which is dated July 6, 2013.  One month after Harry was born. I read.

Dear Harry,

Yesterday was Father’s Day, my first as a dad. Your grandma and grandpa came for a visit, and you had Tummy Time. We put you on your stomach, and you lifted your head up and lunged across the couch. I’m counting that as your first crawl.

Today, we took you to the doctor for your one-month check-up. You weighed 10 pounds and six ounces and measured 21 inches. You get a Hep B shot, and you only cried for a minute or two. When we got home, you were whiny and cried a lot, but good news: your eyelashes have grown in, and your belly is so round, and your eyes are turning brown, so I can’t get mad or frustrated when you whine. You’re too cute! Mom can’t get mad at you, either, especially your lower lip quivers. 

By the time you see this, you’ll be able to read, so I wanted to offer some suggestions on reading material. The “Encyclopedia Brown” series is very cool. Encyclopedia is a school boy who’s very smart, and he solves mysteries around his neighborhood. The “Hardy Boys” series is also fun to read as is Hemingway’s “Nick Adams Stories.” Later on, you should read “The Great Gatsby,” “The Sun Also Rises,” and “The Catcher in the Rye,” although that last one will begin to grate on your nerves as you get older and more mature. And, of course, you must read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Your mom and I named you after Huck Finn (your full name, in case you’ve forgotten, is Harry Huckleberry Everhart). We named you that because Huck is adventurous and moral and mischievous and independent. We hope that you will be all of those things someday, Harry.

Sincerely,

Dad  

“Who’s Huckleberry Finn?” Harry asks, and I explain as best I can. Nodding, he puts his headphones back on and asks me to read another letter.

“Not now,” I say.

“I want more Harry Letters!” He grits his teeth and stamps his foot.

“Not now,” I say again. “Right now, I need you to clean up this mess.” As I prepare for a duel, my son unclenches his little fists and says:

“Fine.” Then, miraculously, he begins cleaning up.

Standing in the doorway trying not to cry, I realize that my wife, as usual, is correct: those 277 letters are very important to me. But not nearly as important as the floppy-haired, Bambi-eyed, quick-tempered little dude now taking great care in placing each numbered envelope back into a faux wicker basket.

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

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

1. For covering up: A cute nursing cover

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

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

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

2. For getting comfortable: A cozy glider

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

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

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

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

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

4. For maximum hydration: A large reusable water bottle

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

5. For feeding convenience: A supportive nursing tank

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

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

6. For pain prevention: A quality nipple ointment

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

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

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

7. For uncomfortable moments: A dual breast therapy pack

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

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

8. For inevitable leaks: An absorbing breast pad

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

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

9. For flexibility: A breast pump

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

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

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

10. For quality storage: Breast milk bags

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

11. For keeping cool: A freezer bag

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

12. For continued nourishment: Bottles

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

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

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Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.

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A viral video about car seat safety has parents everywhere cracking up and humming Sir-Mix-A-Lot.

"I like safe kids and I cannot lie," raps Norman Regional Health System pediatric hospitalist Dr. Kate Cook (after prefacing her music video with an apology to her children."I'm a doctor tryin' warn you that recs have changed," she continues.

Dr. Cook's rap video is all about the importance of keeping babies facing backward. It's aptly called "Babies Face Back," and uses humor and parody to drive home car seat recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"Switching from rear-facing to forward-facing is a milestone many parents can't wait to reach," Dr. Cook said in a news release about her hilarious video. "But this is one area where you want to delay the transition as long as possible because each one actually reduces the protection to the child."

Last summer the AAP updated its official stance on car seat safety to be more in line with what so many parents were already doing and recommended that kids stay rear-facing for as long as possible. But with so many things to keep track of in life, it is understandable that some parents still don't know about the change. Dr. Cook wants to change that with some cringe-worthy rapping.

The AAP recommends:

  • Babies and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.
  • Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible. Many seats are good up to 65 pounds.
  • When children outgrow their car seat they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly, between 8 and 12 years old.

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[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]

Suicide rates for girls and women in the United States have increased 50% since 2000, according to the CDC and new research indicates a growing number of pregnant and postpartum women are dying by suicide and overdose. Suicide rates for boys and men are up, too.

It's clear there is a mental health crisis in America and it is robbing children of their mothers and mothers of their children.

Medical professionals urge people to get help early, but sometimes getting help is not so simple. For many Americans, the life preserver that is mental health care is out of reach when they are drowning.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg just released a plan he hopes could change that and says the neglect of mental health in the United States must end. "Our plan breaks down the barriers around mental health and builds up a sense of belonging that will help millions of suffering Americans heal," says Buttigieg.

He thinks he can "prevent 1 million deaths of despair by 2028" by giving Americans more access to mental health and addictions services.

In a country where giving birth can put a mother in debt, it's not surprising that while as many as 1 in 5 new moms suffers from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, more than half of new moms who need mental health treatment don't get it. Stigma, childcare and of course costs are factors in why women aren't seeking help when they are struggling.

Buttigieg's plan is interesting because it could remove some of these barriers. He wants to make mental health care more affordable by ensuring everyone has comprehensive coverage for mental health care and by ensuring that everyone can access a free yearly mental health check-up.

That could make getting help more affordable for some moms, and by increasing reimbursement rates for mental health care delivered through telehealth, this plan could help moms get face time with a medical professional without having to deal with finding childcare first.

Estimates from new research suggest that in some parts of America as many as 14% or 30% of maternal deaths are caused by addiction or suicide. Buttigieg's plan aims to reduce those estimates by fighting the addiction and opioid crisis and increasing access to mental health services in underserved communities and for people of color. He also wants to reduce the stigma and increase support for the next generation by requiring "every school across the country to teach Mental Health First Aid courses."

These are lofty goals with a lofty price tag. It would cost about $300 billion to do what Buttigieg sets out in his plan and the specifics of how the plan would be funded aren't yet known. Neither is how voters will react to this 18-page plan and whether it will help Buttigieg stand out in a crowded field of Democratic candidates.

What we do know is that right now, America is talking about mental health and whether or not that benefits Buttigieg's campaign it will certainly benefit America.

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[Editor's Note: Welcome to It's Science, a Motherly column focusing on evidence-based explanations for the important moments, milestones, and phenomena of motherhood. Because it's not just you—#itsscience.]

If you breastfeed, you know just how magical (and trying) it is, but it has numerous benefits for mama and baby. It is known to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and cuts the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by half.

If this wasn't powerful enough, scientists have discovered that babies who are fed breast milk have a stomach pH that promotes the formation of HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells). HAMLET was discovered by chance when researchers were studying the antibacterial properties of breast milk. This is a combination of proteins and lipids found in breast milk that can work together to kill cancer cells, causing them to pull away from healthy cells, shrink and die, leaving the healthy cells unaffected.

According to researchers at Lund University in Sweden, this mechanism may contribute to the protective effect breast milk has against pediatric tumors and leukemia, which accounts for about 30% of all childhood cancer. Other researchers analyzed 18 different studies, finding that "14% to 19% of all childhood leukemia cases may be prevented by breastfeeding for six months or more."

And recently, doctors in Sweden collaborated with scientists in Prague to find yet another amazing benefit to breast milk. Their research demonstrated that a certain milk sugar called Alpha1H, found only in breast milk, helps in the production of lactose and can transform into a different form that helps break up tumors into microscopic fragments in the body.

Patients who were given a drug based on this milk sugar, rather than a placebo, passed whole tumor fragments in their urine. And there is more laboratory evidence to support that the drug can kill more than 40 different types of cancer cells in animal trials, including brain tumors and colon cancer. These results are inspiring scientists to continue to explore HAMLET as a novel approach to tumor therapy and make Alpha1H available to cancer patients.

Bottom line: If you choose to breastfeed, the breast milk your baby gets from your hard work can be worth every drop of effort.

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