A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

How One Year in a Muslim Country Helped Me Quit Drinking and Become a Better Parent

14 months ago I quit drinking while residing in Abu Dhabi with my family.


Not only was I tired of the cycle of being hungover every morning and craving booze every night, my alcohol use seemed magnified in close proximity to a non-drinking Muslim population. Today, I credit a region of the world that confounds most Americans with bringing me clarity and ending my 11-year run as “Mommy Drunkest.”

How did I come to live in the desert and arrive at the decision to go dry? The answer is a perfect storm of identity and landscape. We moved to Abu Dhabi for my husband’s work and a family adventure, despite all that we’d heard about conflicts in the region at large. I stopped drinking because it was starting to kill me. The Middle East helped me reach the conclusion that I was my own worst enemy.

Part of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is actually a peace-loving and quiet oasis on the Persian Gulf, although a number of hostile nations and situations are located nearby. Airspace is closed over the surrounding countries of Syria and Yemen as battles rage below. Iraq and the frontlines of ISIL are a mere 605 nautical miles away. Ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya add to the region’s complications. Living in Abu Dhabi is akin to being a minnow in a fishbowl next to a tank of piranhas. You’re safe unless the glass breaks.

I began to rely on multiple glasses of wine to silence my fears about being in the Middle East. Truth is, I’d been relying on alcohol to assuage the worries I faced everywhere. Getting drunk seemed to mitigate a lot of things, including my family history of Alzheimer’s disease and my angst about raising my son in an increasingly dangerous world. Being in Abu Dhabi gave me added reason to up the booze ante despite challenges in obtaining my version of “mother’s little helper.”

U.A.E law prohibits the consumption, purchase, or possession of alcohol by Muslims. Expats from Western countries can imbibe in hotel bars or private clubs, and buy booze at a handful of liquor stores. Local society is divided along a number of lines, including the drinkers and the drink-nots. Falling firmly (and deeply) into the former category, I frequently found myself in the dubious position of instructing a Muslim cabbie to take me to a liquor store.

A concerned driver from Islamabad, Pakistan, once asked me if I drank every day. He sipped from an imaginary bottle to be sure I understood. Annoyed, I told him no. But I was drinking every day, with a vengeance. 

Inside the dark confines of Spinney’s — windows and doors blackened with plastic bags and duct tape — I’d load up on my favorite demons: chardonnay and Smirnoff. Buying liquor in Abu Dhabi typically requires a license verifying non-Muslim status, but at 5-feet-10-inches, blonde, and blue-eyed, it was so blatantly obvious that I was an American Christian the proprietor never asked for my license, which I never bothered to obtain anyway. The only thing that stood out more than my giant appearance was my huge purchases.

I’d emerge from Spinney’s with clanking black bags chock full of forbidden spirits. I’d try to muffle the telltale sound with my purse or jacket but because Abu Dhabi was hotter than hell, I’d walk quickly — and therefore noisily — back to the air-conditioned cab where my son was waiting for me. Yes, I repeatedly left my son in the company of a stranger while I bought booze to go.   

At precisely 5 p.m. every evening — an hour before the city’s sunset call to prayer — I’d pour vodka over ice and sit down to scare myself even further by watching the evening news. Meanwhile, my husband Allan worked late as the artistic director of the New York Film Academy campus and my son David played video games to unwind from a long day in fifth grade at the American International School.

By 8 p.m., I’d consumed a second cocktail and an entire bottle of wine. By 9 p.m. I was passed out in bed, claiming exhaustion from the heat and stress. I woke up feeling like I’d been run over by a war tank and swearing that I’d never drink again, but praying for happy hour to come quick.

My “come to Jesus” moment in the Middle East arrived on March 28, 2014, when my anti-depressant prescription ran out. Yes, I was taking Celexa and drinking chardonnay in tandem, a toxic cocktail considered by doctors to be a big no-n0. 

When I showed up to a hospital clinic to see about getting a refill, the nurse measured my blood pressure and body weight. Both were significantly elevated. The attending physician, who could only provide a 30-day supply of my meds in accordance with local healthcare regulations, wanted to run a battery of tests. What was the source of my soaring weight and BP?

Of course, I already knew the answer.

Then and there, I vowed to change the trajectory of my life. I had become a raging alcoholic in the Middle East. I was determined to un-become one in the same region. When I told my son about my decision to give up alcohol for good, his response cut me to the core.

“That’s good,” he said flatly. “You liked wine more than me.”

When David was born in 2004, I thought he was the most terrifying thing on Earth. Overwhelmed by the responsibility of keeping him safe, I discovered that a little wine in the evening helped push back the fear. The older he got, the more wine I needed to shield against the increasing threats facing us both. But my need to drink was making my son less safe and me less of a mother. It was moving to the Middle East — a hotbed of conflict — that led me to this conclusion. 

I went cold turkey in Abu Dhabi. For weeks, I endured cold sweats in the soaring temperatures. I lost control of my bowels in the back of a cab. I cried all night and slept all day. But I found strength and inspiration in the Emirate people, who enjoy existence without cocktails. I became a more engaged, present mother who likes nothing more than spending time with her son.

I’ve been sober for 15 months, perhaps one of the greatest and most difficult periods of my life. Recent family trips to Italy and France — landscapes filled with the grapes of my wrath — didn’t threaten my newfound, hard-won identity. 

These days, the words “courage, faith, and hope” seem to come out of my mouth as frequently as coffee seems to go in. Wherever I travel now, I still finds myself saying “shukron” (Arabic for thank you) for the privilege of being alive in the world.

Nancy’s brand new memoir, DRYLAND: One Woman’s Swim to Sobriety is currently climbing the memoir rankings on Amazon. Travel, murder, intrigue, and a life story that’s so fascinating it’s almost impossible to believe it’s true. 

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

When a baby is born, for many families, the vacations stop. And while it can be intimidating to get out and just go with a little one in tow, with the right preparation, family vacations can be a rewarding, memorable experience for everyone.

All it takes to make your next adventure a success is a little planning―and a great, grab-and-go carrier like a BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier One Air. Simply pop your little one into the breathable mesh carrier, secure the straps, and you're ready to take on your destination like a pro―all while providing a fresh perspective for your baby or toddler (it's suitable for children up to age three!).

Next, pick your destination. Thanks to easy-to-access beaches, a host of incredible museums, and a variety of outdoor and indoor activities, Chicago is a popular vacation hot spot for families year-round.

Not sure where to start? Leyla Tran, Chicago native and blogger behind Second City Mom, filled us in on her favorite kid-friendly spots around the Windy City.


Do

Leyla Tran, with her husband and twins at Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory in front of one of her favorite features.

Chicago Children's Museum
Sure, you'll have to battle a throng of tourists to get through Navy Pier most times of year, but it's worth it to reach this gem. From a dinosaur dig to arts and crafts areas, there's something to satisfy every interest at the Children's Museum. Plus, you can face baby out in the BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier One Air so there will be plenty to hold their attention while they ride along! Check the museum's calendar to find out what special events and exhibits are open during your visit.

Garfield Park Conservatory
If you're visiting during the colder months, the Garfield Park Conservatory is the city's largest botanical conservatory. It's a great place to explore, play, and learn indoors during the Midwestern winter months. To get around hassle-free, check the stroller and take in the sights hands-free with the Baby Carrier One Air. You can carry bigger babies on your back starting at 12 months old. "My favorite thing at the conservatory may not be all the plants but the mosaic fountain in the Horticulture Hall, which was gifted to the city of Chicago from sister city, Casablanca," Tran says.

The Sod Room
Speaking of indoor activities, The Sod Room is another great indoor playspace located in the South Loop neighborhood where the design, toys, and activities are all put together with the Earth in mind. "The play space teaches kids to be creative to reuse things and the importance of being eco-friendly," Tran says. "There are so many different events for parents, caregivers, and kids to enjoy throughout the week such as baby yoga and music concert."

Galt Baby

While you probably won't get to do as much shopping on the Miracle Mile as you might without littles in tow, you should try to squeeze in a visit to Galt Baby for any must-haves. From travel gear (like the Carrier One!) to replacement sippy cups should yours get lost (the horror!), Galt Baby has you covered on the go.

SEE

Leyla Tran with her family in front of the iconic Cloudgate at Millennium Park.

Millennium Park

A trip to Chicago isn't really complete until you've taken a family selfie at the Bean. And while you're there, take advantage of the cultural events, exhibitions, and landscape design (hello, wide open spaces for toddlers to run!). Many events are free, so be sure to visit the park's website to find out what's on the calendar. "Although it is a tourist destination, we love it as locals because there is so much to do here from summer concerts to fun kids events," Tran says. "From the iconic Cloudgate (AKA, the Bean) to Crown Fountain to the Lurie Garden, there's something for everyone in our family. Our six-year-old son loves Crown Fountain, with the changing faces on the LED screens waiting for the water to spray out."

Harold Washington Library

The Harold Washington Library is a book worm's dream, no matter your age. Explore the Children's Library, which is broken up into "neighborhoods" based on age with an interactive puppet stage, STEAM-based activities, a digital media center, and more. Parents will love the indoor Winter Garden (with free wifi!) and taking in the local art throughout the library. Let your little one fall asleep in the Baby Carrier One Air while you enjoy the interior architecture—quietly.

Seasonal festivals

From holiday markets to beerfests to parades, there are seasonal activities to take advantage of year-round in Chicago―and many are free! Check the city's calendar during your trip to find out what's available. With so many wearing options on the Baby Carrier One, little ones from newborn to 3 years can stay close while you stroll, sip, or shop. Partner it with the Cover for Baby Carrier and baby will stay warm in all seasons.

EAT

Little Beans Cafe

All the best family vacations start off with a little caffeination. We love Little Beans Cafe because it doubles as an indoor playground for kids, meaning parents get to enjoy a good cup of coffee while kids get to play and learn. "We've had so many fun playdates here with our first child that we're looking forward to more playdates with the twins," Tran says. "It's a great place for new moms to meet during the week."

Giordano's
If you go to Chicago and don't eat deep dish pizza, did you ever really go? Don't take the chance. Book a table at Giordano's and indulge in a slice of Chicago's finest slice. Besides, how often is the local delicacy something you don't have to beg your kids to eat?


Making the time for travel is one of the greatest gifts you can give your family―and yourself. And thanks to BabyBjörn, now everyone can come along for the ride.

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

The temperatures are dropping and that can only mean one thing. Whether we like it or not, winter's cold chilly months are upon us. As a born-and-raised Alaskan, and mama of three, I've got a lot of cold weather experience under my belt, and staying inside half the year just isn't an option for us. As my husband likes to say, "There's no bad weather, just bad gear."

Here are some of my favorite picks to keep your family toasty warm this winter.


1. Bear bunting

This sherpa bear bunting wins winter wear MVP for being a comfy snowsuit for your littlest babe, or base-layer under another snowsuit for the chilliest of winter outings. Bonus: your baby bear will never look cuter!

Sherpa Hooded Bunting, Carter's, $15.20

BUY

2. Patagonia Capilene base-layers

Speaking of base-layers, for any prolonged winter activity outside in the cold, it's best to layer up to create air pockets of warmth. These moisture wicking base-layers are a family favorite.

Baby Capilene Bottoms, Back Country, $29.00

BUY

3. Arctix Kids limitless overall bib

These adjustable snow pants keep kids warm and the bib style keeps snow from going down the back of their pants. Bonus: the price is excellent for the quality and they can grow with your child. The Velcro strap also makes bathroom breaks for kids so much easier.

Arctix Kids Limitless Overall Bib, Amazon, $14.99-$49.99

BUY

4. Hooded frost-free long jacket

Keep your little one warm and stylish in this long puffer jacket. Great for everyday outings.

Hooded Frost-Free Long Jacket, Old Navy, $35.00

BUY

5. Patagonia reversible jacket

This jacket is windproof, waterproof and the built-in hood means one less piece of gear to worry about (or one more layer for your little one's head). It's a best buy if you live with cold winter temperatures for many months of the year and still love to get outside to play. It also stays in great condition for hand-me-downs to your next kid.

Reversible Down Sweater Hoodie, Nordstrom, $119.00

BUY

6. Under Armour Decatur water repellent jacket

Made of waterproof fabric and lined with great insulation, kids will no doubt stay warm—and dry—in this. It features plenty of pockets, too, so mama doesn't always have to hold onto their items. We love that the UGrow system allows sleeves to grow a couple inches.

UA Decatur Water Repellent Jacket, Nordstrom, $155.00

BUY

7. Stonz mittens

Ever tried to keep gloves on a 1-year-old? It's a tough task, but these gloves make it a breeze with a wide opening and two adjustable toggles for a snug fit they can't pull off! Warm and waterproof, and come in sizes from infant to big kids.

Stonz Mittz, Amazon, $39.99

BUY

8. Sorel toot pack boot

Keep their little toes warm with these cozy boots from Sorel. With insulated uppers and waterproof bottoms their feet are sure to stay warm. They're well constructed and hold up over time, making them a great hand-me-down option for your family.

Sorel Kids' Yoot Boot, Amazon, $48.73-$175.63

BUY

9. Stonz baby boots

These Stonz stay-on-baby booties do just as their name says and stay on their feet. No more searching for one boot in the grocery store parking lot!

Stonz Three Season Stay-On Baby Booties, Amazon, $29.99-$50.29

BUY
Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

You might also like:

We make a lot of things this time of year. Gingerbread houses. Christmas cards. New traditions. Babies.

Yes, December is peak baby making season. It's a month filled with togetherness and all the love felt in December is what makes September the most statistically popular month for American birthdays.

According to data journalist Matt Stiles, mid-September is the most popular time to give birth in America. He did a deep dive into the birth stats from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Social Security Administration collected between 1994 and 2014 and found that the most common American birthdays fall on September 9, 19 and 12. In fact, 9 of the 10 most popular days to give birth fall in September.

If we turn the calendar back, we're looking at Christmas time conceptions. Stiles illustrated his findings via a heat map, which presents the data in a visual form. The darker the square, the more common the birthday.

The square for August 30 is pretty dark as it is the 34th most common birthday in America. It's also 40 weeks after November 23, and the unofficial beginning of the United States' seasonal baby boom.


And while the Christmas holidays are common times to conceive, they're not common days to give birth, for obvious reasons. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and the fourth of July are all represented by light squares on Stiles's data map, meaning they're among the least popular days to welcome a little one into the world (Boxing Day is just a smidge darker, still a pretty rare birthday).

OB-GYNs are not likely to schedule C-sections on major holidays, so that might point to the low birth rates on these special days.

As for the September baby boom, it probably has less to do with the magic of the holiday season and more to do with the fact that many Americans take time off work during the holiday season. It's not that mistletoe is some magic aphrodisiac, but just that making babies takes time, and at this time of year we have some to spare.

This Christmas be thankful for the time you have with your loved ones and your partner. That time could give you a gift come September.

[A version of this article was originally posted November 21, 2018]

You might also like:



When I gave birth the first time, I had two doulas—one for me, and one for my husband. (I wasn't messing around!) They worked hard to support me in what ended up being a long labor. About 20 hours in, I remember hearing my doulas whisper to my exhausted, hard-working husband, “Go lie down. We can take care of her."

This was absolutely true. They were more than capable of helping me through contractions, which up to this point I'd been handling really well. So upon their urging, my husband walked about three feet away and lay down on the daybed in the labor and delivery room. And then the strangest thing happened—

I completely lost my rhythm and my ability to breathe through contractions. It was as though I'd lost my way. The next handful of contractions were unbearable and caused me to cry out in anguish. My husband hurried to my side and held my hand once more.

And then, just as quickly, I found my rhythm, my breathing returned, and I was able to to handle my contractions until I gave birth several hours later.

In a recent study published in Nature, it was discovered that when a partner held the hand of a woman during labor, the couple would begin to synchronize their breathing and heart rate patterns, otherwise known as physiological coupling.

In addition, the women reported that their pain lessened while holding hands with their partners. If they were just sitting next to one another, but not holding hands, their pain levels weren't affected.

This study has obvious implications for the families I teach in my Childbirth Preparation classes, and it's important to share this news far and wide:

Everything you do for your partner while she's in labor makes a difference. Even if all you do is hold her hand.

Labor is not just something that a birthing woman experiences. Her partner experiences labor too, just in a very different way. For far too long, we've either diminished or ignored the partner's experience of labor—to everyone's detriment.

I realize that it makes sense to pay close attention to how a woman moves through her pregnancy, labor and birth. But if we're not paying equal attention to her partner's experience, we're not setting this new family up for success. In fact, we might be doing the exact opposite.

If partners don't realize the importance their words, actions and touch can have on the laboring woman's experience, many may freeze up and feel helpless as they witness the power and intensity of labor and birth. They may end up feeling as though all of their efforts and suggestions for comfort measures are without any effect. But this couldn't be further from the truth!

Every little thing a partner does to make the laboring woman more comfortable matters immensely. Every sip of water offered, every new position suggested, every word of encouragement, every reminder to breathe, every single touch, provides comfort to the laboring woman. And partners need to know this and believe in the power that their undivided attention and connection can bring to the laboring woman.

Here's why I think the findings from this latest study are so important—it's that feeling of shared empathy between the laboring woman and her partner that causes the physiological coupling and pain relieving effects that help a woman when she's experiencing pain.

That's why I've always told the partners in my classes that even if they hired an army of the world's greatest labor doulas, their unwavering, focused and empathetic attention during birth, is the reason why she'll tell everyone that she couldn't have made it through labor without her partner! Even if all they did was hold her hand.

It's a conundrum many parents wrestle with: We don't want to lie to our kids, but when it comes to Santa, sometimes we're not exactly giving them the full truth either.

For Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, lying to daughters Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 3 just isn't an option, so everyone in the Bell-Shepard household knows the truth about Santa.

"This is going to be very controversial," Shepard told Us Weekly earlier this month. "I have a fundamental rule that I will never lie to them, which is challenging at times. Our 5-year-old started asking questions like, 'Well, this doesn't make sense, and that doesn't make sense.' I'm like, 'You know what? This is just a fun thing we pretend while it's Christmas.'"

According to Shepard, this has not diminished the magic of Christmas in their home. "They love watching movies about Santa, they love talking about Santa," Shepard told Us. "They don't think he exists, but they're super happy and everything's fine."

Research indicates that Shepard is right—kids can be totally happy and into Christmas even after figuring out the truth and that most kids do start to untangle the Santa myth on their own, as Lincoln did.

Studies suggest that for many kids, the myth fades around age seven, but for some kids, it's sooner, and that's okay.


Writing for The Conversation, Kristen Dunfield, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Concordia University, suggests that when kids come to parents with the hard questions about Santa, parents may feel a bit sad, but can take some comfort in "recognizing these challenging questions for what they are—cognitive development in action."

Kids aren't usually the ones who are upset when they figure it out, researchers note. Typically, kids are kind of proud of themselves for being such great detectives. It's the parents who feel sadness.

Some parents may not choose to be as blunt as Shepard, and that's okay, too. According to Dunfield, if you don't want to answer questions about Santa with 100% truth, you can answer a question with a question.

"If instead you want to let your child take the lead, you can simply direct the question back to them, allowing your child to come up with explanations for themselves: "I don't know, how do you think the sleigh flies?" Dunfield writes.

While Dax Shepard acknowledges that telling a 3-year-old that Santa is pretend might be controversial, he's hardly the first parent to present Santa this way. There are plenty of healthy, happy adults whose parents told them the truth.

LeAnne Shepard is one of them. Now a mother herself, LeAnne's parents clued her into the Santa myth early, for religious reasons that were common in her community.

"In the small Texas town where I grew up, I wasn't alone in my disbelief. Many parents, including mine, presented Santa Claus as a game that other families played," she previously wrote. "That approach allowed us to get a picture on Santa's lap, watch the Christmas classics, and enjoy all the holiday festivities so long as we remembered the actual reason for the season. It was much like when I visited Disney World and met Minnie Mouse; I was both over the moon excited and somewhat aware that she was not actually real."

No matter why you want to tell your children the truth about Santa, know that it's okay to let the kids know that he's pretend. Kristen Bell's kids prove that knowing the truth about Santa doesn't have to make Christmas any less exciting. Pretending can be magical, too.

You might also like:


Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.