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It was nearly 9 p.m. when I got a text from my son who had decided, last minute, to come home from college for the weekend with his friend. A polar vertex had descended on the whole northeast and I was already headed up to bed. I stared at the text with a mixed set of emotions. Sure, it would be nice to see him. But leaving so late at night? That never seemed like a good idea.


At 9:45 p.m. I heard the chime of another text. Their car had broken down in Baltimore. They were in the midst of solving the problem and had pulled off to a side road to call a tow truck. But, in the meantime, he wanted me to know that he was not coming home now. And that it was cold in the car.

“Are you wearing a coat?” I asked.

He was not. I thought back to all those mornings that I sent him to school without nagging him to eat breakfast, wear a jacket, or remember his homework. I believed in letting kids learn through natural consequences. I believed that actually experiencing a little hunger or cold would be a better motivator than any nagging on my end, that my kids had to learn certain lessons themselves so that they would be memorable. I wanted them to learn to depend on themselves.

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On some accounts, it failed to take hold. When they were little, some of the consequences were barely noticed. Recess at school was only 20 minutes and often, on frigid days, they didn’t go out at all. If they missed breakfast at home, lunch was at 11 a.m. If they forgot their homework the penalties were minor. Maybe it meant they would get a slightly lower grade or stay in for recess. They could survive without a coat, breakfast or homework.

By 11 p.m. the tow truck had still not come. They were still cold. He admitted to me, on the phone, that he never took it seriously when his grandfather scolded him about his lack of jacket-wearing in winter and asked, “what happens if the car breaks down?”

I sighed on the phone, relieved they were not on the highway when the natural consequences of poor choices finally kicked in. There are some things that are hard to teach as a parent, especially when the goal is to protect. I had never provided the experience of being stranded in a broken-down car, nor did I ever want to.

I faced the dilemma head-on this past spring when we got his brother honeybees for his birthday. He was turning 17 and appreciated things with purpose. However, he also suffered from pollen allergies and sneezed through the entirety of every single spring. For eight weeks each year, he was barely recognizable.

When a bravado appeared in him during a particularly allergic early April, I started to get worried about our decision to get him bees.

“I am going to walk into that hive and just smear myself with the honey when I get those bees,” he said between sneezes. He had long-known about the research that eating local honey can reduce allergies. It appeared that he was planning to take things one step further. I imagined him covered in bees, overcome with multiple stings.

When the day came to pick up the bees and transfer them to the waiting hives, I was apprehensive. The bee suit was still in the packaging and my son was still telling me about how relatively tame these bees were and how he wouldn’t be needing any protection. Where he saw non-threatening bees, I saw a still-developing teenage brain.

He mixed up the sugar water as I chopped potatoes for dinner. I thought about how, in one more year, he would be going to college and facing other decisions and risks. In one short year, I would not be able to intercede.

As he headed out to the wooden hive in the back I decided to follow from a distance and watch him spray them with the sugar water.

“It calms them down,” he said.

I looked a little closer and they were still actively trying to escape. Not a calm bee in sight. He sprayed them some more and tapped the container against the ground.

“They will fall to the bottom,” he said as he inspected closer.

I looked as well. Not too many bees on the bottom.

He followed the protocol one more time. I could tell that he was getting ready to take off the lid and dump them in the hive. I thought longingly of the bee suit in the garage. I struggled to not interfere. I struggled with my own belief in natural consequences and where to draw the line. He knew the risks. He had done the research. But still I was uncomfortable.

My eyes were intently focused on his hand as tried to pull off the lid, my heart pounding as buzzing grew louder. The bees knew something was up. Once the top was off, there would be no turning back. The bees would be everywhere. I spotted a split-second hesitation in his fingers as I held my breath, my own heart pounding. My mother’s instinct took hold more powerfully than I could control. I yelled to him something about the woman who sold the bees: “She said they swarm after trips in the car.” I was lying out of my own desperation to protect.

He stood up. Our primal instincts clashed – my need to parent and his need to be unafraid, to grow up. He let out a sigh, the sigh I knew meant he was about to take pity on my worry.

“Go get the bee suit,” he said with resignation to his younger brother.

His brother and I zipped him in as he muttered about my annoying interference. But, for that moment, I didn’t care. He headed back to the bees and fully released them. I watched as the bees, now freed, covered the white of his suit, swarming around him. I thought of his bare arms and legs under the white cloth. I wondered what would have happened had I not intervened.

Back in the house I resumed making dinner. A few minutes later he came in. A bee had stung him on his eyelid when he took off the bee helmet.

“It doesn’t hurt,” he said.

“Get some ice from the freezer,” I replied, grateful for the honeybee that stung him, the one that proved me right.

A month later I would again be grateful; this time for a set of railroad tracks that knocked off a muffler on my oldest son’s car. He would learn how to secure it with a coat hanger at midnight. My words, “please don’t drive so late at night” would suddenly carry more weight. And I would be reminded again that sometimes life is a more effective teacher than a parent. Even when it is hard to watch.

Even when it stings.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Before I had a baby, postpartum depression (PPD) was something I only heard about on the fringes of motherhood. It would occasionally get brought up among mom friends, but only in the tightest of circles and usually in whispered tones conveying depths of shame I couldn't quite understand.

Every so often, I would see a magazine article citing women who admitted (again, in voices heavy with shame) that they didn't immediately bond with their baby. That they felt soul-crushing sadness after giving birth. That they felt wholly unable to mother properly.

When PPD was mentioned (which wasn't often), it always seemed to follow the same formula: a lack of bonding with the baby, followed by extreme sadness that could last for months―or even years after birth. And long before I ever had a baby, it was clear to me that the majority of women I knew who suffered didn't want anyone to know about it.

Years later, and with two births under my belt, I'm grateful to say that I've seen some things change. Slowly, but with increasing pace, I see more and more parenting communities shaking off the stigma of PPD. I see more and more women breaking the silence and coming forward with stories of their own. I see more and more compassion for the one in every seven moms who experience postpartum depression each year—that's over 500,000 mamas.

And, even more surprisingly, I see a greater understanding of just how varied the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety can be. Because, the fact is, PPD rarely looks the same for any mama―and it can be especially hard to explain feelings that feel unique to you. The experts at Allegheny Health Network get it. They've made it their mission to not only bring more understanding to postpartum mood disorders, but also to help every mom break their silence and remove the stigma of postpartum depression and anxiety.

Here's what some of the women they've worked with want you to know.

When I say "I'm feeling lonely," what I mean is... I feel alone in my suffering.

The trickiest part of PPD? You probably look exactly the same on the outside. In many cases, women continue to power through their daily routines so it can be easy to miss their suffering. "You feel like you're drowning," says Heather, a PPD survivor and an Allegheny Health Network patient. "[But] physically looking at me or at anyone that suffers from something like this, you can't see it. That's what makes it so difficult."

How to help: If you know a new mama, don't assume she's doing okay just because her life isn't obviously going up in flames. Check in. Ask about her health, not just her baby's. And let her know you're a judgment-free place to share.

When I say "I'm not feeling how I thought I would," what I mean is... motherhood isn't bringing me joy.

As moms, we're expected to feel an almost blissful happiness every second of pregnancy and motherhood. But for many women, that happiness seems to evade them―and it often doesn't come the moment they're handed their new baby―leading them to feel like they're already failing as a mother. "I felt so guilty because, here I am, I have this new, adorable baby who doesn't cry and is fantastic," says Ashleigh, a PPD survivor and Allegheny Health Network patient. "I didn't want to seem ungrateful."

How to help: Many mothers with PPD feel guilty for it. One of the best ways to lessen the load? Sharing your own story. It's normal not to immediately connect with your baby (you did just meet them, after all!), and the more stories we hear of strong connections that took a bit of time, the easier it will be for new moms to talk about it.

When I say "I don't feel like myself," what I mean is... I'm getting overwhelmed with anxiety and/or anger.

Sadness is just one of the possible symptoms of PPD. For many women, the condition manifests itself as extreme anxiety, OCD (especially worrying about bad things happening to their babies), and even rage. "Before I personally experienced postpartum depression, I thought, that's only for people that feel like harming themselves or harming their children," Heather says. But the truth is, PPD can look different for everyone―and it can affect anyone. "I never thought that I personally would have postpartum depression because I like to laugh and make jokes about everything," Ashleigh says.

How to help: Postpartum depression and anxiety doesn't discriminate―anyone can be affected. Look for signs that your new mama pal is feeling out of sorts. She might say she lost her temper or that she feels extra frazzled, not necessarily that she's feeling sad, but these can still be symptoms of a greater issue. You can have a more objective view of her feelings even when she can't.

When I say "I don't know how I feel," what I mean is…we still have a lot to learn.

So many symptoms of PPD are similar to general depression and anxiety, it can be scary for a new mom who isn't sure what's wrong with her. "I didn't know how to distinguish from it being...depression or anxiety versus it just being motherhood. I think part of the cure was just discovering that I had postpartum," says Chrissy Teigen, who is Allegheny Health Network's partner. "It was just such a sigh of relief that we can fix this."

How to help: Remember that you don't need to fix her symptoms―you just need to be there when she needs you. Be a listening ear, and remind her that there's no shame in needing help.

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Mama, you deserve more support and way less judgment. Because the truth is American mothers are carrying heavy burdens that are so ubiquitous and yet so secretive we can only assume we are alone in our struggles.

But, mama, it's society that's failing, not you.

Motherhood is way harder than it should be because the deck is stacked against women. We live in a culture that gives lip service to the importance of family, but sees investment in children and parents as an "entitlement" too far. We operate in a business climate that prizes consumption and profitability above all—leaving families, and especially women, behind in its wake. We're citizens in a country where "women's issues" are seen as side issues, rather than foundational challenges of our society.

We, as mothers, are all too often left to figure out the biggest transformation of our lives—one rife with physical, mental, financial and relationship stress—in the midst of a radically individualistic society that at times almost blames us for having children. Can't afford childcare? It's your fault for not making more money. Struggle to breastfeed? You're not trying hard enough. Coping with undiagnosed postpartum depression? Pull it together.

The finger pointing is everywhere except where it should be: at a society and structures that haven't evolved to support women, children and families.

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In order for change to begin we have to first understand the problem:

Motherhood isn't supported: In generations past, adult children typically used to settle near their parents and raise their own offspring in highly-connected, intergenerational settings. That meant grandma would watch the baby while mama recovered from childbirth or that sisters traded childcare duties to allow time for housekeeping. While multigenerational living is actually at a high point in recent American history for largely financial reasons, the elements that define our vision of a village have been overridden by demands that cause people to work longer.

We now stand in a time where the villages that used to define the experience of parenthood have largely gone away—yet no other support has been put in their place. Grandparents are busy working long into retirement. A transient generation often doesn't have support next door. People cannot rely on "traditional" sources of backup—or relief.

With such a dearth of support and a struggling economy, the American birthrate—once a fertile outlier in the Western world—in recent years has dramatically declined. Women are choosing to wait longer to have children, and then have fewer kids overall. In many cases, they're having fewer children than they would ideally want to have because motherhood is just that hard. Even before they have children, women sense a lack of support that makes motherhood overwhelming—it's this anxiety that sells books and fuels a never-ending debate over whether women can ever "have it all."

The lack of resources is only compounded by the abundance of pressure. From over-engineering children's activities to an abiding sense of guilt for not doing "enough," American mothers often place their self-worth on the degree of their involvement in the minutiae of their children's lives.

Giving birth in America is shockingly dangerous: Discrimination against women, and women of color in particular, has led to an appalling maternal health crisis—where women's voices are not heard, women's needs are not met, and they, as well as their children and families, suffer.

Statistics prove American mothers die in childbirth more than in any other country in the developed world—and the death rates are actually getting worse, not better. According to research in the New York Times, "Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts," with racism playing a direct role.

Sexism also plays a role with 26% of maternal deaths attributable to heart conditions, which may not display themselves with the same symptoms as among male patients. "Doctors may be more likely to attribute those symptoms to anxiety than heart disease," said Kim Lavoie, a professor of psychology at the University of Quebec at Montreal and co-author of a 2016 study on the topic. "So, in other words, a diagnostic bias may occur."

Postpartum women are left to fend for themselves: While newborns are typically seen at least four times in their first two months of life, their mothers routinely have no postpartum care from 48 hours after birth until six weeks. During these critical weeks of physical recovery and a psychological transition to parenthood, women are left to figure out the transition alone while navigating an exhausting, achy haze of postpartum bleeding, milk supply issues and financial stress.

The irony is this is perhaps one of the most vulnerable periods for mothers when support is often most needed. Case and point: Learning how to breastfeed, critical to keeping her baby healthy and alive for mothers who opt to exclusively breastfeed, is a learned skill. But, after her baby is born, a woman might see a lactation counselor right away, or might have to wait days to learn how to nurse — if she ever sees a consultant at all. Private lactation consultants often cost hundreds of dollars, an expense that is often out of reach during this financially stressful time in life.

No relief for working mothers: One in four new mothers returns to work out of economic necessity within two weeks of giving birth. Federally, American mothers are not guaranteed paid leave, making the United States an appaling exception in the global sphere. Recent statistics from the U.S. Labor Bureau indicate that only 12% of American workers have access to paid leave—the rest are left to fend for themselves.

The one piece of federal legislation that could make a difference, The Family Medical Leave Act, only guarantees that a new parent's job will be held for 12 weeks—but doesn't require any compensation during one of the most vulnerable times in their life. And that's only if the employee meets certain eligibility conditions to begin with, which include having worked on a nearly full-time basis for at least one year and the company having 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius.

After the initial adjustment, working women face the motherhood penalty—which amounts to a decrease in 4% of her earnings for every child that she has. That stands in stark contrast to the fatherhood bonus, which describes a 6% income boost the average father experiences for the birth of each child.

Motherly's 2018 State of Motherhood survey revealed that the majority of women scaled down their careers after the birth of a baby, while their partners often scaled up—a split that sometimes happens by choice, but other times happens by default, thanks to issues such as the incredibly high cost of childcare, which is not subsidized or covered fully as a tax credit, unlike in other countries.

The victims blame themselves: The worst part? Research shows American mothers largely blame themselves, experiencing waves of guilt and self-criticism for struggling to manage the inordinate task of working, raising children and maintaining a household. As it is, the burden is on these mothers in already vulnerable, challenging positions to ask for help—rather than how it should be done by offering resources and support in the first place. It's as if we're wading through a fog and cannot see that we're not doing it wrong, it's that modern American motherhood is just that hard.

But it is NOT our fault.

As Beth Berry wrote in a telling Motherly essay that has become our anthem, "It takes a village, but there are no villages. . . [mama,] you and I are not the problem at all. WE ARE DOING PLENTY. We may feel inadequate, but that's because we're on the front lines of the problem, which means we're the ones being hardest hit. We absorb the impact of a broken, still-oppressive social structure so that our children won't have to. That makes us heroes, not failures."

That bears repeating: It makes us heroes, mama.

Originally posted on Medium.

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Whether your family passports are full of stamps or you're planning your first adventure with the kids abroad, it's no secret that traveling with kids builds their heart and memories. One destination that might not be on your bucket list just yet is Norway—specifically, a small village tucked away in a western fjord called Flåm.

Although Flåm only has approximately 350 residents, this village has a ton to offer families. We were fortunate enough to explore everything it had to offer with Universal Entertainment in celebration of the digital release of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. (If your littles are a fan of Toothless or Hiccup, Flåm would be even more magical than it is on its own.)

Here are our favorite family-friendly activities that will make your littles feel like they're a part of The Hidden World.

1. Explore the fjords on Flåmsbana train or by boat

If you need any incentive to visit Norway, the views are sure to do it. But, with so much to see, you'll need to take either boat or train to explore these breathtaking views. The Flåm Railway takes you along a train journey (you can start from the main station at the bottom of Aurlandsfjord or join at the top of the mountains) that kids will adore. If your littles prefer the water, the Future of the Fjords boat is a zero emission vessel that will float you alongside sweeping landscapes, cascading waterfalls and unreal scenery.

2. Visit Viking Village

Take a step back in time—and into the How to Train Your Dragon series—by interacting with authentic Vikings at Njardarheimr. You can select a guided tours or opt to walk around on your own—whichever you choose, encourage your kids to talk with the Vikings about their lifestyle and come with an eagerness to learn something new. A few of our favorite activities? Storytelling, axe throwing, archery, and hair braiding. (Don't worry, mama: The Vikings are right there to make sure even the littlest kids are doing everything safely).

Pro tip: Take the boat from Flåm station and exit at Viking valley.

3. See Stegastein Viewpoint

More than 2,000 feet above Aurlandsfjord sits Stegastein Viewpoint, a spot designed to let you get as close to the panoramic views as possible. Walk to the glass edge for unbeatable views—and the perfect family photo op! It's about a half hour drive from the main area of Flåm. We recommend taking the bus or hiring a driver to take you up as the roads are narrow and curve around steep ledges.

4. Adventure on the Flåm zipline

Have thrill-seekers in your family? Head to Scandinavia's longest zipline for an adventure of a lifetime. This family-owned operation offers some of the best views in the Nordic region. You'll get safely buckled in at the top at Vatnahalsen and fly like a dragon all the way down. With two lines, a parent can ride adjacent to a child. And, because you probably have all of the things with you, the owners can take those backpacks and bags down on their own line.

Pro tip: Take the Flåm Railway to the Vatnahalsen stop, which is only a couple minute walk to the zip line.

5. Tour the Magic White Caves

We saved one of the best for last. The Magic White Caves of Gudvngen are hidden away in a mountain so once you step inside, you're transported to a surreal labyrinth. With variations of colors, shadows and sounds, your family can let your imagination run wild. The beauty of it is that each person's experience is unique, but you're sure to feel like you just found The Hidden World.

Pro tip: Wear the jackets offered at the front on top of your own as temperatures are *very* cold.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is now available on Digital platforms and on Blu-ray and DVD!

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One of the toughest parts of having the kids home all summer is finding activities that will keep everyone entertained. But, you don't have to go on a grand adventure or spend tons of money to do that, mama. 👏

Set aside one day (or night) a week for an at-home movie night. Make some popcorn, order pizza, lay out pillows and blankets in the living room and curl up with your favorites to watch a movie. Not only will a film keep the kiddos entertained for a couple hours, but they're great conversation starters and can teach valuable life lessons. Want to make it more special? Surprise them with a toy that will give them a hint of what you'll be watching that night!

We picked our favorites that both kids (and mama) will enjoy.

1. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Our toy pick: Toothless plush dragon

We're back with our favorite dragon and Viking, Toothless and Hiccup, for the final installment of this trilogy. On the search for the Hidden World to keep all of the dragons safe, we'll see how far Hiccup and Toothless will go for love, friendship and family. (Psst: The film is finally available on Blu-ray and DVD!)

We interviewed Jay Baruchel (the voice of Hiccup) and writer and director Dean DeBlois. One of Baruchel's fondest memories as a child was watching movies with his mom and having conversations about the themes throughout the films—he hopes HTTYD does the same for families.

DeBlois touched on a theme that every parent can relate to. "There's nothing quite like raising a child and then, despite wanting to protect them and shield them from all of the unknowns in the world, you have to let them go and follow their destiny—and that's a difficult process... that's one of the big topics we tackle in the movie." Now cuddle your littles a little tighter.

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2. Christopher Robin

Our toy pick: Winnie The Pooh

This film will bring your own childhood memories back as you make new ones with your kids. Grown Christopher Robin recieves a surprise visit from Winnie the Pooh and the two go on an adventure in the Hundred Acre Wood to find all of Pooh's friends. On this journey, you and your kids will follow along to see what happens when Christopher isn't excited about childhood wonder anymore, but focused on his own priorities... until his daughter encounters the beloved characters.

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3. Mary Poppins Returns

Our toy pick: Illustrated edition of the book

The original kids are now grown with their own children, but while going through a tough time and dealing with personal tragedy, Mary Poppins is back to lend a helping hand again.

Throughout the magical adventure, Mary Poppins has a surprise around every turn and the use of imagination is a necessity—but the bigger lesson isn't for the smaller Banks kids. There are valuable lessons about grief, dealing with emotions and becoming resilient throughout.

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4. Smallfoot

Our toy pick: Sticker pack

Migo is a Yeti who comes across something he's never seen before, a human. After seeing the 'smallfoot,' he goes back to his village to tell everyone, but when no one believed him, he was banished from his home. His quest to prove that humans do exist takes him on an adventure of a lifetime. Kids will learn about friendship, what it means to be a family, and how to deal when you're feeling different from everyone else.

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5. A Wrinkle in Time

Our toy pick: Space water coloring book

This fantasy film will take the entire family on an exploration through time. A young student, Meg, is having trouble accepting that her scientist father disappeared when she was a child. When three figures coming to visit her (Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which) she goes on a brave expedition to find out where her dad is in the universe. Along the way, she'll learn how to conquer her fears, persevere and the importance of kindness, no matter what.

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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.

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When you're pregnant there are so many medical appointments, and many moms look forward to each one. We want to know what is going on with our bodies and our babies. But once the babies are born, many moms aren't able to keep their own medical appointments and experts are worried.

New moms are missing key appointments in the critical fourth trimester, or the first three months postpartum, according to a new study from Orlando Health.

Nearly a quarter of new mothers surveyed admitted that they did not have a plan to manage their own health in the first weeks and months postpartum. The numbers are alarming as nearly half of new moms have admitted to feeling their most overwhelmed, anxious and depressed during that time period.

Worse, the incredibly stressful first few days and weeks of their baby's life is the time when many mothers have admitted to feeling the least supported by their doctors. According to a survey from Healthy Women and 2020 Mom, nearly 30% of women have felt "no support" from their health care provider. This even as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has recently adjusted their guidelines to suggest that women see their doctors within the first three weeks after birth, rather than the traditionally recommended six weeks.

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"Seeing your doctor within a few weeks of delivery and sharing any concerns is critical to getting the care and treatment you need," Megan Gray, MD, an OB/GYN at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, told Orlando Health. "The fourth trimester can be difficult and overwhelming for women as their bodies go through physical and emotional changes, and this time deserves the same support and attention as the first three trimesters," Gray said.

Yet, with many women going back to work at six weeks postpartum, up to 40% of moms are missing that first appointment entirely. For most mothers, that represents a rapid and drastic shift in their approach to maternal health care, as prenatal care is full of regularly-scheduled appointments and check-ups. Given that the US remains the most dangerous industrialized country to give birth in, the statistics can't be ignored. As the survey notes, it is impossible for mothers to take care of their babies without taking care of their own health as well.

Still, the onus shouldn't be placed solely on new mothers, who are already riddled with exhaustion and anxiety. With doctors and employers failing to support them, it's hardly surprising that they are struggling to keep up with their appointments or feeling comfortable enough with their doctors to open up about their physical and emotional changes.

In fact, a recent study from Maven reported that as many as 54% of new moms were never even screened for mental health concerns during their pre and postpartum care. Of those who did raise concerns, nearly 30% were not given concrete steps to get treatment.

All of this contributes to the cycle of shame that leads to nearly 60% of new moms experiencing depression and anxiety in silos, only furthering their feelings of extreme isolation. "I thought everything would come more naturally, but it was so much harder than I expected," one mama, Rachel Kobb, told Orlando Health. "Women have been raising babies forever, and I felt selfish for feeling like I couldn't handle it," she said. "I felt very lonely, but I didn't know how to ask for help," she added.

Still, there is hope for new moms, even during those incredibly difficult early months. Medical professionals like Gray and the ACOG are continuing to push for proper training for doctors, midwives and doulas to help new mothers cope with the emotional demands of motherhood, in addition to improved programs for mothers like lowering costs for mental health care and urging companies to provide paid maternity leave for at least the first half of the fourth trimester.

Moreover, simply reminding women that they're not alone is a critically important shift in how society treats new moms who are struggling emotionally.

"There is no perfect mom out there," Gray noted. "Taking some of that pressure off yourself will help you be the best mom you can be and help you better experience the many joys of motherhood."

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