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“Fear Can Terrify a Mother” read the marquee outside the meeting room on the NICU ward. The topic changed nightly for the New Moms’ Support Group, as did the attendees. Some women were here for only a handful of draining, harrowing days. Others were here longer. Weeks and months longer. Long enough to need a nightly meeting, where life after the hospital was the topic of professionally directed conversation.

I was going on eight days, but my circumstances were different.

I hadn’t given birth to my daughter. My husband and I were the adoptive parents in what is called a “gift baby” situation – a delivery with no prearranged adoption plan. Without any prenatal history, my daughter was in the NICU under observation and, so far, presented no medical problems. She was eating and gaining and eliminating WNL, or Within Normal Limits, as her chart stated.

Eight days anywhere will pull you into a routine, and finding a semblance of continuity from day to day is a survival skill. NICU parents are allowed 24-hour access to the ward, which meant the mothers stayed and the fathers ferried back and forth between home, work, and the hospital, bringing changes of clothes and take-out food and siblings.

The moms learned each other’s stories immediately and unintentionally, assimilating entire histories from the staged voices of the neonatologists making rounds, trying not to eavesdrop, but overhearing everything since the walls were merely fabric partitions.

At 9 p.m. every weeknight, after the dads and siblings left, any mom with a baby in the NICU was invited to the New Moms’ Support Group. Picture the group therapy scene in the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” – lulling music, strict seating arrangements. This was nothing like that. Picture Nurse Ratched, starched and unreasonable, again, nothing like our scrub-wearing group leader. The meetings were educational yet informal, with topics ranging from infant CPR to tips on making dirty hair appear clean. Sometimes, we just talked.

On this particular night, Not-at-All-Like-Nurse Ratched asked us to write down our biggest mothering fear on a piece of paper, which she would read one at a time for us to discuss. The other moms immediately began writing down what seemed to be very scary things. Legitimately scary things. I turned mine in last. Not-Nurse Ratched put it under the others and began reading the one on top:

“I’m afraid my baby will stop breathing during the night.” We looked at each other, nodding sagely. That was a good one, really scary stuff. Not-Nurse Ratched reminded us of the Safe Slumber Creed: back to sleep, bare is best, etc. She assured us that no baby would be sent home from the NICU before his respiration was given the WNL stamp of approval.

Not-Nurse Ratched read a second paper: “My biggest fear is that my baby will start crying, and I will not be able to stop it.” Everybody shifted in her seat with big nods and mmm-hms all around. Not-Nurse Ratched prompted us, “Now, Moms, why do babies cry?” We catalogued logical causes and cures. Not-Nurse Ratched leaned back in approval.

Another fear, “That I’ll hurt my baby,” and another, “I’ll run out of milk,” and another, “He’ll get sick at home and we’ll have to come back here.”

As they progressed, this somber parade of SIDS candidates and life-threatening scenarios, I had misgivings about what I had written, which was so foolishly not scary. Who was I, with my intact abdomen and non-engorged breasts, to assume anything about fear?

I felt guilty that my daughter wasn’t sicker. I was allowed to hold her, touch her, cleave her to me kangaroo style – and I hadn’t gone through any corporeal pain to earn this. I felt only relief that she was about to be discharged, and, with what I had written, I was about to cavalierly flaunt her health and my good fortune in their faces. The New Moms’ Support Group was soon to find out I was a fear-fraud.

Not-Nurse Ratched held the last paper. Mine. “Oooh, an existential one: I’m afraid I won’t ever love my daughter as much as I love my dog.”

A thick pause ended mercifully when one of the other moms said, “For me, it’s my son. Will I be able to love this baby as much as I love him?” No one laughed. Actually, many other moms spoke up, adding to the list of those who needed and deserved a portion of our affection.

Not-Nurse Ratched, who had systematically addressed each fear in the stack of papers with research-backed assurances, thumped the pile and said, “I hate to tell you this, but right now, in this hospital ward, your babies are the safest they will ever be. Once you leave, it gets real. The risks are real. But being afraid isn’t going to prevent any of that. It’ll just make you doubt yourself. Fear is a decision. Decide to leave your fear here with me. Decide you don’t have room for it.”

Three days later, my daughter was discharged from the NICU. I dressed her and packed the possessions now deemed “hers,” thinking how strange it was they were letting me take her home. How could they be sure I could handle this? I imagined the other new moms having the same thought – a collective incredulity, much like our shared fears, regardless of having given birth or not.

There was no qualitative measurement to being a mom.

The NICU nurses insisted my daughter and I get the customary send-off ride in a post-delivery wheelchair, even though I had nothing to recover from. Not-Nurse Ratched, herself, wheeled us to the main entrance, where I stood up holding my daughter and said goodbye, decidedly fearless.

This post first appeared on The Good Mother Project.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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I can vividly remember the last time I remember feeling truly rested. I was on vacation with my family, and my dad and I had started a tradition of going to sleep at 10 p.m., then waking up at 10 a.m. to go for a run. After five days of twelve hours of sleep a night, I remember actually pausing and thinking, "I am truly not at all tired right now!"

That was probably 15 years ago.

Of course, being tired pre-kids and being tired post-kids are two entirely different beasts. Pre-kids, tiredness was almost a badge of pride. It meant you had stayed up late dancing with friends or at a concert with your boyfriend. It meant you had woken up early to hit a spin class before gliding into work, hair still damp from your shower, for a morning meeting. Being tired meant you were generally killing it at life—and I was still young enough that, with a little concealer, I could look like it.

Tired post-kids is a whole other animal.

Tired post-kids means you probably still went to bed at a reasonable hour, but you're still exhausted. Maybe you even slept in past sunrise... but you're still exhausted. You may not have worked out in weeks... but you're still exhausted. And staying out late dancing with your girlfriends? (I mean... is that real life? Was it ever?) Nope, didn't do that. But—you guessed it!—you're still exhausted.

Sometimes I look at my husband and say, "I think if I could sleep for about five days, then I would feel rested again."

But considering the average new mom loses almost two months of sleep in her child's first year of life, even that is probably a low estimate of what I really need.

Because being a mom is exhausting.

It's exhausting always putting someone else's needs above your own. I often find myself actually giving my daughter the food off my plate (because, when you're two, mom's meal must be better even if you're eating the exact same thing).

Or I'll sacrifice sneaking my own nap to lie uncomfortably with her on the couch because it means she sleeps an extra 30 minutes.

Or I'll carry her up and down flights of stairs she is perfectly capable of scaling on her own because, well, she's tired or it's just quicker than nagging her to hurry up all the time.

I often end the day bone-tired, shocked at the physical exertion of just keeping this little person alive.

It's exhausting remembering all the things. The mental load of motherhood is so real, and sometimes I'm not sure it won't crush me.

I schedule and remember the doctor appointments, keep the fridge stocked and plan the meals, notice when my husband is low on white shirts and wash and fold the laundry, add the playdates and the date nights to the calendar, and add any assortment of to-dos to my day because, well, I'm the parent at home, so I must have time, right?

And when I drop one of the thousand balls I'm juggling, I writhe under the guilt of failing at my responsibility.

It's exhausting not getting enough sleep. The sleep gap doesn't end after baby's first year.

Studies have shown that parents lose as much as six months of sleep in their child's first two years of life. That sounds unbelievable at first...but I completely believe it.

Because sometimes I stay up later than I should just to get a few minutes of "me" time. Because sometimes my sleep-trained daughter still wakes up in the middle of the night with a nightmare or because she's sick or for no real reason at all and needs me to soothe her back to sleep.

Because sometimes I'm so busy trying to keep it all together mentally that I don't know how to turn my own brain off to get to sleep. And because sometimes (almost always) my daughter wakes up earlier than I would like her to and the day starts over before I'm ready.

It's exhausting maintaining any other relationship while being a mom. I try not to neglect my marriage. I try not to neglect my friendships. I try to make time for friendly interaction with my coworkers. I try to be there for my congregation. I try to keep all these connections alive and nurtured, but the fact is that some days my nurture is completely used up.

It's exhausting doing all of the above while being pregnant. Okay, this one might not resonate for every mom, but we all know being pregnant is hard. Being pregnant with a toddler? I'm shocked it's not yet an Olympic event. (I'm not sure if we'd all get gold medals or just all fall asleep at the starting gun.)

Most days, I'm so tired and busy I honestly forget that I am pregnant, only to be reminded at the end of the day when I finally collapse on the couch and the little one in my uterus wakes up to remind me. My body is doing amazing things, sure—and I have the exhaustion to show for it.

Of course, I know that this is just an exhausting season of life. One day, one not-so-far-off day, my children will be a bit more grown and be able to get their own breakfast in the morning. One day, they'll actually want to sleep in, and I'll be the one opening their curtains in the morning to start the day (maybe before they're really ready).

One day, they'll always walk up and down the stairs themselves and will stop stealing my food and I'll be able to nap without making sure they are asleep or with a sitter. One day, they won't need me to remember all the things.

And the really wild part? Just thinking about that day makes me miss these days, just a bit.

So, yes, I'm tired. I'm always tired. But I'm grateful too. Grateful I get to have these days. Grateful I get to have this life.

But also really grateful for those days I get to nap, too.

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For the first couple years of a child's life, their feet grow so rapidly that they typically need a new shoe size every two to three months (so, no, you're not imagining how many shoes you've been buying lately!).

Fortunately, things tend to slow down as they start walking and hit school age. Even so, it's important to make sure they're wearing the right size for maximum comfort and healthy development.

That's why we teamed up with the experts at Rack Room Shoes for tips on helping the whole family get back to school on the right foot.

1. Get professionally fitted at least once a year.

We love online shopping as much as anyone, but for the health of your child's feet, it's worth it to make at least an annual trip to a store to get them properly sized on a Brannock Device (yep, those old-school sizers you remember as a kid are still the most reliable indicators of foot length and width!). Back to school is a great time to plan a visit to a store with trained associates who can help ensure your little one is getting the right fit.

2. Remember not all feet (or shoes) are created equally.

Most babies have naturally pudgier feet that thin out as they get older, and many kids need a wider or narrower shoe than their peers. Visiting a store and speaking with a trained associate can help you gauge which shoe brand will best suit your child. Once you have that benchmark, shopping online will be easier.

3. Get good closure.

Shoe closure, that is. Nowadays, there's a variety of ways to fasten kids shoes, from slip-ons to velcro to elastic laces. Provide your child with a few options to find the closure that works best for you both.

4. Watch for tell-tale signs your child has outgrown their shoes.

Children will often be the last ones to tell you their favorite shoes are uncomfortable. If your child is tripping or walking funny, it may be time to size up.

5. Try the push-down toe method.

Think your kid has outgrown their kicks? Push down on the toe of their shoe with your thumb to see how much wiggle room they have. The ideal size is to have about half a thumb's width between the tip of the toe and the end of the shoe. (That space equates to about half a size.)

6. Pick a style they'll want to put on. (Here are some of our favorites!)

Most moms know the struggle of getting kids out the door in the morning—the right pair of shoes can help cut down on the (literal) foot-dragging. Opt for a fun style (consider shopping for their favorite color or a light-up design) that they'll be begging to wear every day. (But feel free to buy a second pair that's more your style too!)

You'll love that they're classic converse. They'll love the peek of pink.

Converse Girls Maddie, $44


7. Don't forget the sneakers.

Whether they're running through the recess or racing in P.E., school-age children need a pair of well-fitting, durable sneakers. Be sure to get them professionally fitted to ensure nothing slows them down on the playground.

8. Understand the size breakdowns.

Expert retailers like Rack Room Shoes break up sizing by Baby, Toddler, Little Kid, and Big Kid to make it easier to find the right section for your child. For boys, there's no size break between kids shoes and men's shoes. Girls, though, can cross over into women's shoes from size 4 (in girls) on—a girl's size 4 is a women's size 5.5 or 6.

Looking for more advice? Step into a Rack Room Shoes store near you or shop online. With a "Buy One, Get One 50% off" policy, you can make sure the whole family will put their best foot forward this back-to-school season. (We had to!)

Who knew Amazon had so many dreamy nursery must-haves? Maybe you have a friend or family member about to have a baby or you're preparing for your new bundle of joy—either way, you can save tons on grabbing some essentials on Prime Day.

We've rounded up our favorite nursery items from basics, like cribs and changing tables, to the essentials you never knew you needed (hint: lots of storage!).

1. 6-drawer dresser

This gorgeous dresser has plenty of space for baby's clothing and accessories—and will transition seamlessly to a big kid room one day. Even better? The top is large enough to be used as a changing table. The shade of white is great for any gender, too!

Dresser, Amazon, $239.99 ($329.99)


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