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The Dangers of Selfie Culture and How You Can Help Your Kids

“I only got 10 likes in the last 5 minutes. Do you think I should take it down? Let me take another selfie.”

– Lyrics from “Let Me Take a Selfie” by Chainsmokers

Let me take a selfie.

Oxford Dictionaries declared “selfie” the “Word of the Year” in 2013 because the frequency of the word’s use had increased 17,000 percent over the previous 12 months. Now, just three years later, mental health professionals, educators, researchers, and parents share increasing concerns of the impact of the selfie culture on children and teens.

With more than 1.5 billion human beings owning smart phones, almost all of which are equipped with a rear-facing camera, it’s not surprising that the selfie is part of our language and culture. And kids learn from those around them, especially their parents and siblings, according to Rachel Annunziato, PhD, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at Fordham University in New York.

“It seems like taking selfies is ubiquitous and therefore kids most certainly are learning that this is what trusted loved ones do,” Annunziato says.

Taking the occasional selfie isn’t necessarily a bad thing and Annunziato suggests that the practice can be just a game young children play. “It’s mainly to have fun taking pictures and making funny faces,” she says.

“But I think the pitfalls occur when kids become unduly focused on how they look and how others perceive them. Then I’d start to be concerned about the threat to self-esteem or body image. And certainly there are additional concerns if they are posting selfies on media where they can be picked apart or bullied.”

Body image issues and eating disorders.

Dr. Allison Chase, executive director of the Eating Recovery Center in Austin, Texas, says that the introduction of the selfie culture has resulted in kids comparing and evaluating themselves against their peers constantly.

“This is particularly challenging for kids and teens as they are trying to figure out who they are and what their identity is,” she says. “Therefore, having to try to stage themselves constantly to look a certain way or keep up with other peers can be challenging.”

The other problem lies in the fact that we live in a society that promotes beauty, the thin ideal, success and popularity according to Chase.

Chase says that while eating disorders are caused by a number of factors – both biological and environment – it does appear that the obsession with social media and the selfie culture is contributing to more focus on appearance, and increased criticism and pressure on kids to appear as they would like to be perceived. She adds that research has shown constant viewing of social media to increase negative feelings about oneself.

“The pressure for an ideal body image can lead to unhealthy eating patterns,” Chase says. “Younger children, not just adolescents, are engaging in eating disordered behaviors.”

Travis Stewart, LPC, MATS, director of regional outreach for Castlewood Treatment Centers, also says that while the selfie culture is not responsible for causing eating disorders, it does create a rather pervasive venue for comparison.

“It used to be that our comparison for body image was the other people around us or the media images,” Stewart  says. “Now, girls will take picture after picture of themselves until they get the perfect selfie, constantly comparing themselves to their best self.”

Self-esteem and bullying.

Damaging blows to self-esteem – whether the hits are direct or indirect – are another pitfall of the selfie culture, according to Katie Schumacher, author/lecturer, former teacher, and mother of three. Schumacher launched the “Don’t Press Send Campaign” and app in response to the bullying she was seeing in the cyber world and she did 40 school presentations last year alone on the topic.

“One of the reasons kids take selfies is to post those pictures online. And the purpose of posting online often is to get ‘likes’,”  she says. “The “like” is similar to Pavlov’s dog. If you post something and get a lot of “likes,” it reinforces the feeling of importance and the sense of approval from others. The “like” is the reward. But if you don’t get enough “likes,” you will keep trying to get a better picture from a different angle or with someone more popular.”

Additionally, Schumacher says kids often take selfies and post them with someone in mind who they want to like their post. “They think, ‘ah, the cool kids like me.’ Popularity has now become an actual number game based on likes. That’s real power.”

Unfortunately, it works the opposite way, as well. When a child or teen posts a picture and doesn’t get likes or worse, gets ridiculed, their sense of self worth declines. 

Chase agrees, saying that our cultural norm has resulted in less boundaries for people and others. “All of which are setting up the desire to share more readily and create the illusion of feeling more connected and more “liked,” in a way that is controllable and often times, staged. The end result is a competitive environment with increased self-focus, less true connection and, more often than not, increased self-criticism,” she says.

Schumacher worries that even if kids aren’t critical of themselves, someone else almost certainly is going to be critical for them if we don’t help them navigate the online world more effectively.

“Part of my mission is to teach kids to be kind online and that what they say and write online matters,” Schumacher says. “I’m a grown woman and I couldn’t handle it if someone told me online to drink bleach and die. Young kids psyche’s definitely aren’t strong enough for that.”

Loss of connection.

The world of social media, smart phones, and pictures are contributing to “virtual distance” —  something that Professor Karen Sobel-Lojeski, Ph.D. of Stony Brook University’s Department of Technology and Society discovered in her research.

“Virtual distance is a measure of what is lost when human beings gets translated through the machine,” she says. “My data shows that the more time we spend with mediated technology, the more emotionally disconnected we can get with ourselves and each other.”

Sobel-Lojeski says the biggest downside to kids taking too many pictures of themselves is that they are missing out on so much of their lives.

“Kids need to be having these experiences to draw on later in life, and they are trading off valuable time having direct experiences in exchange for indirect experiences.”

Additionally, the virtual world is designed to be custom made for us, to send us the stuff that we prefer to see. “The web is already a hall of mirrors, showing us the products and advertisements it knows we want to see. So when we are constantly taking pictures of ourselves and reflecting those back to us, our real self gets lost in the translation.”

She actually created a course that she teaches college freshmen called, ironically, “How Technology Saved My Soul.” It’s a one-hour seminar class that helps her students understand themselves in a different relationship to technology, the world, and themselves.

The 11-week class teaches the students about virtual distance through a series of assignments that compare how they feel with, and without, their devices.

“Kids give a presentation at the end and many of them will break down crying. One guy, through tears, told the class how he realized he couldn’t have a conversation with another human being without holding his phone. Many others have said they never realized they could live their lives in a different way because the devices have always been there.”

What can we do?

The good news from Sobel-Lojeski’s research, and the results of her class? Her students experience a significant shift in behavior and perceptions in just 11 weeks.

She is not critical of social media, per se, nor does she think we need to refer to kids as “addicted” to their phones or selfies.

“No one did anything wrong – this is an unintended consequence we never saw coming,” she said of the smart phone/selfie/social media culture.  “It’s not rocket science, it’s just tilting things in another direction.”

How you can help your kids.

1 | Watch impact and frequency.

Annunziato says that just like we correct, but don’t become alarmed by, a child who swears every so often, the same should hold true for selfies.

An occasional selfie isn’t a problem. But if your child is taking lots of selfies and viewing his/her selfies consistently in a negative light, then this may be amplifying or triggering poor self-esteem, she says. In this case, she would recommend intervening.

2 | Start early.

Schumacher says that whenever she gives a presentation to a school district, she encourages school officials to invite parents of kindergartners as well as high schoolers.

“Pick your hard,” I tell parents. “You can have the battles when they are younger or you can have them when they are older. I think it’s easier if you set the hard rules up when they are younger. Once they get to high school, sometimes we’re in damage control mode.”

3 | Be positive and help kids anchor.

Sobel-Lojeski says it does not necessarily help to take away kids phones or to be critical.

“Encourage them to leave the devices at home and go for a walk. Help them anchor to a new set of value systems, anchor to the fact that what is important are those real life experiences,” she says. “But to anchor, they need to know why and how those things are important to you. To do that, we expose them to direct experiences with the world and marry that experience by sharing stories about our own lives. We relate the experience and they will start to see that life lives beyond the screen.”

She adds that, in some ways, we’ve unwittingly deprived our children of what they need – connection to real world experiences and anchors from our own life – and that when we give them those things back, the devices become less powerful and less important.

4 | Have conversations.

Schumaker says that parents need to acknowledge that the “selfie” practice is normal and something kids do.

“But remind them that your job is to make them feel good about who they are. If they like a picture of themselves and want to post it, that’s good. But if they are posting it for reinforcement and they won’t be okay if they don’t get that reinforcement, then maybe they shouldn’t post it. It might be weakening their self-confidence muscle.”

5 | Help them take the power back, give them permission to step away.

Schumacher says she tells kids that when they like a post or a photo, it’s like they wrote it or posted it. “The same goes for not liking it,” she says. “If you don’t like a mean or critical post, and if you speak out against those types of things, that gives you real power.”

Another empowering behavior is to unplug and step away from the device. “Tell your kids that if they are partaking in social media and it’s not making them feel good, they have an escape hatch. They can unfriend, unplug, or step away. Doing those things doesn’t mean you’re unpopular. It means you’re saying that you matter, and you’re exercising your self-confidence muscle.”

6 | Watch for changes in behaviors related to food, eating, or exercise.

Chase says to pay attention to changes in behavior like limiting certain foods and choosing to not eat any meals with the family “In addition, increased exercise can become unhealthy, especially if there is a reduction in food intake,” she says.

“Be aware if they are increasingly more negative about themselves or their appearance.”  Changes in mood and spending less time doing activities they enjoy can also be indicators of a problem.

Of course, if parents suspect serious threats to the physical and mental health of their children, they should contact a professional.

7 | Set boundaries and limits.

In the end, it’s important for parents to set boundaries for their children. “Parents need to remember that having a phone is a privilege and while it may be important for safety or communication, setting limits around other uses is absolutely acceptable,” Chase says.

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Toddlers can alternatively be the sweetest and most tyrannical people on the planet. Figuring the world out is tough, but it is possible to teach them how to care for and respect others—and the first steps start with you.

Here are five tips from Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting Dr. Azine Graff on teaching empathy through modeling and playtime, with some of our favorite dolls from Manhattan Toy Company.


1. "I wonder if she's sad." 

Think about it: The first step to understanding the emotions of others is being able to recognize them in yourself. Graff recommends looking for opportunities to label emotions throughout the day by helping your child identify sadness, anger, happiness, and fear.

You can do this by pointing to someone smiling in a book or noticing a baby crying in the grocery store. Try saying, "The baby is crying. I wonder if she is sad." Over time, your little one will learn to label emotions on their own.

2. "How can we take care of her?" 

Dramatic play can be a great time to model care and compassion for others. That's one reason why baby dolls make such great toys for toddlers—not only are they great for open-ended play, they also provide the opportunity to teach caretaking.

For example, you can ask your child, "The baby is yawning and seems very tired. How can we take care of her?" We love the award-winning Wee Baby Stella doll from Manhattan Toy Company to turn playtime into a time for empathy teaching.

3. "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower."

You can set the best example of empathy by taking time to notice and validate your child's feelings. Instead of trying to immediately shush crying, react from a place of compassion.

For example, if your child throws a tantrum over a fallen block tower, try saying, "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower." This demonstrates the importance of understanding feelings, even if they are not our own.

4. "Do you want to try with me?"

Once your child is better able to identify their emotions, they're in a better place to find solutions with your help. "When we can help our children through challenging feelings, especially when they are struggling, we are modeling care for others," Graff says.

The next time your child gets upset, you can say, "It is frustrating when something falls apart. It helps me to take a deep breath when I'm frustrated. Do you want to try with me?"

5. Express your own feelings

It can be tempting to hide your feelings from your child, but when modeled appropriately, it can teach them that feelings are a normal part of life. Over time, you will see them use the same strategies of empathy on you, like kissing your "boo-boos" or suggesting you take a deep breath when you're upset.


This article is sponsored by Manhattan Toy Company. Thank you for supporting that brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Dr. Azine Graff is a Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting, which is based in Los Angeles and offers groups, classes, therapy and consultation services informed by the latest research on child development.

We've all been there. In a very public place with a child who is melting down. They're in full kicking and screaming mode, can't be reasoned with or even easily moved. It's frustrating, embarrassing and it can make you question yourself as a parent.

We've also all been the mama to watch it happen to someone else, wishing that we could stop a fellow mother's child from freaking out in aisle six. Wishing that we could let that mother know that we get it, that she's doing a good job, that this happens to all of us.

Sometimes, the lessons we've been taught throughout our lives keep us from acting in those moments when our words could be the life preserver another mother needs. And that's why Katie McLaughlin, a writer and mom of two, recently shared her story in a Facebook post that is now going viral.

She hesitated to speak to a fellow mama, but is so glad she listened to her gut, because that mama (and all of us from time to time) needed to hear what McLaughlin had to say: "I know it doesn't feel like it now, but you are rocking this."

McLaughlin was in the middle of a Target run when she noticed a fellow mother who she sensed could use a kind word.

"Behind me at the checkout, this 3-year-old was kicking and screaming and flopping around on the floor like a fish out of water. I tried to catch the mom's eye and give her an empathetic look, but she was too busy wrestling with her daughter to notice me," McLaughlin wrote, noting that the mom behind her was using all the 'right' tantrum taming techniques, but it just wasn't working.

"She remained calm. She spoke to her child in a gentle, reassuring tone. She was as attentive as she could be while also attempting to pay for her assortment of $10 tees and seasonal decor. But despite her best efforts, the meltdown only got bigger and bigger. The mom still stayed calm, but I noticed her cheeks were very flushed as she apologized profusely to the cashier," McLaughlin wrote in the Facebook post that has now been shared more than 12,000 times.

As the child's tantrum continued, so did the conversation McLaughlin was having with herself. She knew what this mother was feeling, and she wanted so badly to let her know that she's not alone.

"Say something kind to her, I thought. She's embarrassed and alone and feels like a terrible mother. Remind her that none of those things are true," McLaughlin wrote. "But then I thought, No, it's none of your business. LEAVE THE POOR STRANGER ALONE."

McLaughlin walked out of Target with her purchase, and so did the mom of the mid-meltdown toddler. She watched as the mama tried to buckle a flailing, frustrated toddler into a car seat, and then summoned the courage to follow her gut and talk to a stranger.

She said: "Sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to say you're doing a great job."

The mom could have told her to mind her own business, but McLaughlin took that risk. The mom looked up at her, blinked twice, and the tears started flowing down her face. "I think I feel as bad as she does," she told McLaughlin, who replied, "I know it doesn't feel like it now, but you are rocking this."

Through more tears the mom of a very upset toddler told McLaughlin: "You have no idea how much I needed to hear that."

McLaughlin says the reason she spoke up was that she does understand how much the mother needed to hear that, and she hopes other parents who read her viral post can take the risk she did.

"Since the post went viral, I've heard from so many moms who say they wish another mom had offered a supportive word or an understanding glance," she tells Motherly. "So often we stay silent because we're not sure what to say or we're afraid to be seen as 'butting in' or not minding our own business. But the chances are much higher than our act of kindness will be appreciated. So if your gut is telling you to reach out and be supportive, don't overthink it; just do it."

So the next time you find yourself at Target hearing frustrated screams of a toddler, don't mind your business. Offer a supportive verbal comment like McLaughlin did, or offer to help her with her other children, like Tiffany Jones-Guillory did when she encountered a mom with a baby and a melting toddler at her local Target.

Jones-Guillory accidentally went viral back in May, after stepping in to help mom-of-two Rebecca Paterson when her 2-year-old and 2-month-old both melted down at Target. Peterson was about to give up on her shopping trip and was putting items back on the shelves when Jones-Guillory offered empathy and a pair of arms.

"She walked with me while I got the essentials needed for the day and kept hold of my toddler while he calmed down," Paterson recalled in a Facebook post. "She saved me today moms!!! I am so sleep deprived and was running on empty. A little kindness and understanding go a long way."

What the world needs are more people like Jones-Guillory and McLaughlin. Unfortunately, we don't have enough of them. If your child melted down in public today and there was no one around to offer you an empathic word, here's a few more from McLaughlin. When asked what she wants mid-Target-tantrum mamas to know, she told Motherly this:

"I know you're embarrassed. I know you're ashamed. I know you feel totally judged. But here's the truth: for every one person who's judging you, there are so many more that are empathizing with you."

Remember that, mama. And don't be afraid to say it to yourself or someone else who needs to hear it.

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It's the news many royal watchers have been waiting for since their history-making wedding. Today, Kensington Palace announced the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, are going to have new titles in Spring 2019: Mom and Dad.



"Their Royal Highnesses have appreciated all of the support they have received from people around the world since their wedding in May and are delighted to be able to share this happy news with the public," a Palace spokesperson wrote in a media release.



Meghan's been planning for kids 

We are thrilled for Harry and Meghan, who have both been open about one day wanting to start a family.

Back in 2015, before rumors of the couple's relationship made their way into British newspapers, Markle told Hello! that she had bought herself a Cartier French Tank watch to celebrate her accomplishment as an actress when her show Suits was picked up for a third season.

"I totally splurged and bought the two-tone version," she said. "I had it engraved on the back, 'To M.M. From M.M.' and I plan to give it to my daughter one day. That's what makes pieces special, the connection you have to them."

Prince Harry's always wanted to be a dad 

Seeing the watch as an heirloom proves that long before the Royal wedding, Markle was already thinking of her future as a parent. And so was Prince Harry.

In 2012, during ABC's coverage of the Queen's Jubilee, Prince Harry told Katie Couric, "I've longed for kids since I was very, very young. And so … I'm waiting to find the right person, someone who's willing to take on the job."

Now that the job has been filled, the Prince's lifelong dream is coming true, and history is being made once again.

The citizenship question

People who are born in the UK after 1983 become British citizens if the mother or father was a British citizen or was settled in the UK at the time of their birth. This royal baby will be British for sure, but will they also be an official American?

It's a complicated question.

Meghan Markle is royalty, but she's not quite a British citizen yet. As Prince Harry's communication's secretary told the BBC before the couple got married, Markle (who is still an American) "intends to become a U.K. citizen and will go through the process of that, which some of you may know takes a number of years."

It's a long process to get British citizenship, but eventually, the Duchess will be an official Brit. When all that red tape has cleared, she'll have a decision to make: Whether or not to keep her American citizenship as well.

Royal expert Marlene Koenig told Town & Country that if Markle "remains a U.S. national, her children will have dual nationality just like Madeleine of Sweden's children."

But other royal watchers say it's more likely that Meghan will renounce her American citizenship when she becomes British to avoid having to divulge royal finances in accordance with U.S. tax laws.

That said, because this baby is likely going to arrive while Markle is still an American, they will probably be a dual citizen. According to the State Department, "a child born in a foreign country to U.S. national parents may be both a U.S. national and a national of the country of birth."

This is truly a unique situation, so we will have to see how it shakes out. No matter if the baby is American, British, or both, we are so happy for the Duke and Duchess.

Here's to another royal baby! 🎉

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It's not unusual for a mother's spouse to be next to her during labor, holding her hand and encouraging her. But in almost all cases, that partner is not also recovering from giving birth themselves less than 48 hours earlier.

But when Anna and Renee McInarnay spoke to Motherly this week, that was their plan. The married couple were getting ready to go to the hospital, planning to spend their weekend supporting each other through the births of their daughters, Avonlea and Emma.

The two women share a love story, a home, a profession, and a due date (although their medical team is hoping to give them at least 36 hours between births).

"We actually we don't really know who's gonna go first, it's kind of whoever's ready to go first, but they're thinking it's Renee," Anna told Motherly the morning before the pair checked into the hospital where they would spend their first weekend as parents.

The McInarnays live in Mississippi, a state where they know their chances of having a child placed with them through adoption are not good. They both have stable jobs as elementary school teachers, and having been together for 17 years they certainly have a stable relationship, but adoption workers were honest with them about their chances of having a child placed in their home through foster care or adoption.

As Anna recalls, one worker was warm but frank, telling her "Mississippi I think would probably go through placing everyone else before they would place a same-sex couple", she recalls. "At that point I just appreciated the honesty."

With adoption off the table, the McInarnays started exploring fertility at the urging of Anna's brother, a medical professional who gently nudged the couple, at 35 and 36 years old, to explore the option sooner rather than later.

And so, the McInarnays found themselves in the waiting room at Audubon Fertility in New Orleans. At first, they just wanted to find out if either of them would be likely to conceive. When they found out that it was possible they both could, they didn't quite know how to answer the next question.

"They asked us, 'Okay so who wants to carry for your family?' And Renee and I, because we had so expected them to say 'neither one of you can conceive' or 'you waited too late,' or 'your eggs are dried up,' we didn't know the answer," Anna recalls.

The fertility clinic suggested both women move forward with the process if neither were opposed, as it typically takes multiple cycles for a patient to conceive. When Renee was diagnosed with PCOS, it seemed like Anna would likely be the one to carry the couple's child, but when both women ovulated at the same time, they continued to move forward.

Renee and Anna remember asking their nurse what the chances would be of them both actually conceiving at the same time. She told them it would be a first for the clinic and a statistical miracle. "'Of course it's possible,' she said" Anna recalls. "But that's not the possibility that you should bank on. What you should hope for is that one of you is gonna be able to carry for your family."

And then a statistical miracle happened.

The McInarnays were in their living room when the clinic called and told Anna she was pregnant. Thrilled and excited, Anna got a jolt when the voice on the other end of the phone asked her to sit down.

"I had this moment where I thought 'Oh my God they're gonna tell me that all three of them took and we are gonna have triplets, and I'm going to die.' That was literally what I thought. And so they said 'Are you sitting down?' We said 'Yeah.' I sat down, and they said 'Anna, you're pregnant. But so is Renee.'"

Tears of joy flowed that day, as they will this weekend when Avonlea and Emma enter the world, but before the girls entered the world, their families got to experience another magical moment.

Renee says both her mom and Anna's mom were thrilled to hear of the pregnancies, but as the couple was open about going through fertility treatments, it wasn't exactly a shock.

"There was not this big moment that you get to do where you give 'em a onesie that says 'you're gonna be a grandparent,'" says Renee, who was instead able to plan another surprise with the help of her twin sister.

That's who took the call from the fertility clinic to learn if Anna and Renee were expecting boys, girls, or one of each. Even Anna and Renee didn't know, so when they drove from Mississippi to Florida and shot off confetti cannons, everyone was surprised and thrilled.

As a lesbian couple, this wasn't a moment Anna and Renee—or their parents—were sure they would get to experience, and it was doubly special. "Our whole families, siblings, nieces and nephews, they all drove in and we all were in the yard together and popped [the cannons]. And then just the pink confetti falling, it was really great," Renee recalls.

Getting here wasn't easy.

When Anna and Renee fell for each other as teenagers, reconciling their attraction and love was difficult. It was the first time either had non-platonic love for another woman. "We were a young couple, we were from really conservative areas, and initially we really struggled with, you know, what is this going to look like in our lives, what does this even mean, does this mean we're gay? You know as young people back then really, you had no context for any of that," Anna recalls.

They stayed together, but briefly broke up a few years later, each wanting to protect the other from the discrimination they knew they would face. "I think we were just really scared to come out. I mean to tell you the truth, when we think about that time that we weren't together, it really wasn't because there was love lost between us, it was just fear, you know?" Anna told Motherly.

When they reunited they decided they would never live in that fear again, and would do what was best for themselves and now, their family.

This has meant correcting folks around Hattiesburg, Mississippi who mislabel them as roommates, sister or "really good friends." In a community where LGBTQ rights are a contentious topic, these two award-winning teachers have won the respect and admiration of many parents, and changed some minds in the process.

"That's not to say that we haven't received hateful comments, that's not to say that explaining this to parents every year is not really, really tricky, and the way that we kind of have to phrase things is not tricky," says Anna. "We have to be very clear and be very direct, and be just very loving, you know. And we also have had to accept that as deeply as we want people to understand us as a couple, and to be loving and supported, for some people it's going to take some time for them to open up their thinking a little bit."

And it's why they're being so open with the story of how they are starting a family. Besides, there's no hiding the fact that the two married, female teachers both have baby bumps.

The McInarnays want to give hope to anyone who is afraid of loving who they love, and they want to give hope to anyone going through the ups and downs of trying to conceive with reproductive assistance.

"In that [fertility clinic] there were gay couples, there were straight couples, there were interracial couples, there were every type of couple that you could imagine. Sitting there, all with the same goal, trying to start families, and some of them had been there for years," she recalls.

"It's not lost on us that we had this really rare experience in fertility where we got pregnant on the first try, and that that's something that the people that kind of became our friends, our family in the [fertility clinic] lobby, that they never got or that they're still waiting for."

The McInarnays are humbled by and so grateful for their double pregnancy. It takes a strong mama to be up and holding her wife's hand 36 hours after giving birth herself, but we've got no doubt that both these women have that strength in them.

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