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Five months before the birth of my daughter, my days became consumed in bulbs, blooms, and denial. I studied Burgess and Burpee catalogs and trembled at “What to Expect When Expecting”. There was, however, a missing chapter: “Your Husband Will Be Consumed in Stuff Not Remotely Related to Child Rearing.”


For some men, it’s simonizing the car. For others, it’s crafting a pub shed to hide and drown anxiety in craft brews. For me, it was turning over very suitable and mowable grass for organic veggies and flowers of every shape, size, and ethnicity.

I was to be the Noah of the plant world, my yard, the ark, and my soon-to-be baby dove would have a lifetime helping me weed and classify and debug every miracle of God.

My dear, patient, and exceptionally pregnant wife Mary Jane did not share my affinity for dirt, sweat, and sunburn. “If it was up to me,” she said, “I would have a concrete garden or a bamboo backyard.”

I was shocked. When we were courting, she loved the outdoors and courtyards full of blossoms. She loved leisurely strolls in Cape May, admiring the gardens, but never the hydrangeas, which she deemed, “old lady plants.” She loved picnics by the pond near her apartment, after, of course, I cleared enough toxic Canada goose poop for my floral blanket and graduate-student feast of baguette, jam, and shame. And she loved nothing more than getting lost in the loveliness of Longwood Gardens.

When I think of us in heaven, we are sitting forever entwined near the Chimes Tower with the hint of lavender and lilac surrounding us with the gentle murmur of the cascading stream. For some reason, I thought this love of gardens would one day translate into her wanting to help make our own This Side of Paradise. Alas, such Adam and Eve communal digging and planting and reaping were not to be. Whatever shambles I made of our new yard was my mess. No wife would kneel to the rescue in bonnet, gardening gloves, and denim blue overalls (no matter how sexy I made this image appear).

I was soon over my head in enthusiasm. Alone. With only my spade as a dance partner.

One Saturday, I found “the perfect” garden center, and I spent hours with two carts, hunting and dreaming and planning my garden. I had an eighth of an acre, but in my mind’s eye, I had most of Mullica Hill, like some Southern gentleman farmer.

Before I turned solid green to mushy brown, I even considered installing a year-round greenhouse somewhere by the grill. I stacked my small sedan into a nursery, sealed with every imaginable pollen. My nose tingled. My neck tightened. My head got dizzy. Was it the fear of being responsible for a child that made me so light-headed?

“I think I’m allergic to plants,” I told my wife.

She looked at the trail of mud on the white tiles in her new home.

“I got you some beautiful roses,” I said as my apology.

She looked at the twigs doubtfully. The twigs, she knew, were not for her.

As the due date was approaching, I underestimated not only the weeds and the aphids and the Japanese beetles, but this thing called “husbandly duties,” – not the sexually enticing duties. For some reason, this baby was draining my wife’s energy, so I did more shopping and caressed more feet. I made dinner and I washed the dishes. No pregnant wife of mine was going to bend over to scrub toilet and tub.

Okay, when the great outdoors called, she did sometimes scrub and bend. I have since learned that nothing, even digging out an overgrowth of mint, should ever come before dirt inside the home. Then came the breathing classes and the birthing classes and the lectures with the lactation expert and this thing called a forty-hour a week job.

Nothing stubs more green thumbs than full-time jobs.

Madeline broke on through at the end of October, our own Halloween pumpkin, but no pumpkins grew in my patch of despair. Death and decay festooned the yard she inherited. So from her brand-new painted “Children of the World” nursery, in fire-engine red, I held Madeline and showed her her kingdom. “This looks like a scene from The Waste Land now,” I said, “but next spring… Just you wait, girl. You’ll be the prettiest flower amongst a rainbow of flowers!”

Then, as if on cue, she spat up breast milk all over me.

After a few months home with Madeline, Mary Jane started to work two days a week. On Tuesday nights, she even dared to spare two hours to renew and rejuvenate away from the demands of Old MacDonald. Her notes read something like: “Please keep lotion on Madeline’s butt! Clean in a downward motion. There’s frozen breast milk in the freezer. Reheat in boiling pot. I’ll be thinking about you guys!”

When Madeline was able to stay upright, I would place a bonneted and sun-screened slathered baby by the garden beds and show her the difference between “good plant” (petunia) and “bad plant” (chickweed).  My daughter would be my accomplice, which lasted thirty seconds. She pulled out a mum and raised the kill proudly, grinning all three teeth, to show me.

(It turns out she was her mother’s accomplice.)

I made great use of nap times. There was no need to ask why dirt covered the baby monitor, or why there was grime on Madeline. In the midst of a baby meltdown, there was no time to rinse and wash. “I don’t use any bad chemicals in my garden,” I said. “It’s all organic!”

“So Madeleine may have manure on her?”

“It’s certified organic!”

A bountiful garden may have mitigated such unfortunate encounters. After all, Mary Jane is a dietitian, and impressing her with several varieties of beans and tomatoes and cucumbers may have been a successful bargaining cornucopia, especially since I was becoming quite the culinary star in the kitchen. I had come a long way since my infamous Flaming-Scallop-and-Hazelnut Creamer-Shepard’s-Pie days.

Alas, once again, my gardening failures far outweighed my successes. Those beautiful, flaming red bushes in the spring were sticks stuck in the ground by fall. My carrots were the size of pacifiers. My peppers had no pep. And those promising hybrid tea roses in the colorful packaging? One or two blooms, and then mildew, fungi, black spot, Japanese beetles, Dengue Fever, The Black Plague, and some pest called The Wiggles.

I am, however, not one to be daunted. Those tempting seed catalogues would arrive, and I would plan my Wonderland, and then months later, I would survey my Land of Indifference, the time when time slips away, a day here, a week there, then the horrifying yellows of August and the ragweed and the sun brutal on crops and ego and pride. Season after season, year after year, that spiteful August sun spotlighted my failures. Then, at dinner, I would say, “You know, babe. Maybe next year I’ll just fill in everything with stone and start a Zen garden!”

I forgot what she said. Many words are not fit to print in a family publication, but it nearly rhymes with neuron and rings to the key of “irrational exuberance” and “dead rose bushes in old pots.”

And let me tell you: dead roses are not romantic. A running refrain in our home is: “Time to put some plants in pots and forget about them.” I hate throwing anything out. Placing plants in pots allowed hope for better behavior, at least until winter. That hope always went to compost.

Compost is a good metaphor: present failures will yield future successes. Gardeners know more about failure than most… no, after writers. Gardeners know that we only get better the more we fail: Too much potash, not enough acidity, too much wood ash in the compost, too little nitrogen, pruned bush too late, too early, hay instead of straw for compost, too much description, too much overcrowding of adverbs. Well, there’s a consequence. Dead plants, bored readers. To gardeners and writers, it’s all trial and error and Youtube tutorials.

Gardeners carry on a long tradition of failures. I take this knowledge of failure, however, and I am, not only, better prepared for the next season, but I am better prepared as a father. An infected watermelon plant that I rushed to the county co-ed for immediate consultation is much better than a neglected, infected child.

The lessons in the field carried over into the nursery, onto the playground, and into the classroom. I was able to see the big picture, to nurture when needed, and to let the damn thing alone, too, to grow at its own pace. I can anticipate what too much watering will do for my child. I know when to let the pot go dry. I know when to power wash an aphid off a rose, like a bad boyfriend.

Over time, over many seasons, I learned about south facing and north facing. I learned about nitrogen. I started composting. I started to understand science. My blueberry bushes flourished in the acidic soil, and Madeline loved the blueberries. Then the birds devoured them, and so I used netting. Then they got caught in the netting, and nothing saddens a child more than a frantic bird. 

Over time, over many seasons, and an additional, lovely child, Nancy – who loves flower arranging and cutting, but not dirt and bugs – I learned even more. Now with more land, and some more time, I am inching closer to that coveted title… Master Gardener.

Now at forty-seven, I realize that gardening and parenting are not all that different. While it is true that when you plant a carrot, you get a carrot, when you plant a kid, you never know what’s going to spring up. Thirteen years later that simple carrot could turn into a cayenne pepper. A plant placed in a time-out pot will never call you a “bad, bad gardener!”

My daughter Nancy once asked me recently if I started gardening as a distraction or as a stress reliever. “I started gardening to become a better parent,” I said. “Do you think it worked?’

She gave me a late summer bouquet from the garden. She spent a long time selecting and cutting and arranging. She called it “Remnants of Glory.” I think she answered my question.

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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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