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It’s 11 a.m. on a Monday morning and Ariel Swift is late. Five minutes to be exact.


The lobby of the Feinberg Pavilion in Chicago hums with movement, as doctors exit the large double doors leading to the attached hospital. They are dressed head to toe in blue scrubs, the only exposed skin is their hands typing methodically away on their phones.

The coffee kiosk I sit next to is the only source of noise as baristas yell out orders for pick up. Iced coffee. Caramel macchiato. Double shot Americano. A gaggle of preteens flood the entrance and laugh as they get caught in the revolving door.

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I look up from jotting down questions in my top-spiral notebook and someone is walking toward me with an outstretched hand. It’s Ariel Swift. She apologizes profusely, shaking my hand and introducing herself.

“I’m so sorry I’m late! I’ve been running around all morning.”

She is short, with dirty-blonde hair and nose ring. T-shirt, sweater, jeans. She has a warm laugh and as she pulls her chair out, I realize she is very pregnant. She reminds me of someone who always gets the compliment “you look like a friend of mine,” or a person who evokes life stories out of strangers. The moment before I dive into the interview and start simultaneously scribbling notes and quotes, I feel a wave of serenity wash over me. The professional reporter exterior I’ve crafted melts away, and I feel like we are catching up on old times. I realize Ariel Swift must be very good at her job.

Ariel Swift is a doula. Turn to any television show or movie for the definition of a doula and this is what you’ll likely get: A woman in handmade clothes with scarves and beaded jewelry dripping from every limb. Hair piled on top of her head, possibly barefoot, shaking incense around the room. She will walk in with a knapsack filled with herbs and oils, with techniques that have been passed down for generations “in her culture.” She will probably be racially ambiguous – this is the writers hoping you connect her work with the work of a bayou witch. She’ll asks you to “roar” your baby out and possibly suggests labor is the most pleasure one can have in their life.

Honestly? I equated doula to this stereotype too, before I embarked on this story. Unfortunately for Hollywood, that’s not what most doulas look like today. Many of them look like Ariel Swift.

Swift is the owner and creator of Doulas of Chicago, which services women for pre-, during, and postpartum maternal care. Doula businesses focus on all three aspects of giving birth in an intimate setting, which most health care providers can’t do because of the patient-to-doctor ratios. Prenatal care usually involves checking in with clients about fears or concerns, and how to talk to their doctor. During-care is the big day, where doulas provide phone support during early labor and their presence for active labor and delivery. Postpartum care can involve lactation consulting and visits with the family to see if everything is okay. New mothers can experience postpartum depression, and doulas can recognize those initial stages and facilitate a match with professional help.

What inspired Swift to become a doula was the birth of her first child.

“I didn’t think my doula was very good,” says Swift. “My only criteria was that she look like my mom.”

After that experience, she decided to train with ProDoula and start practicing as a doula. To become certified with ProDoula, you must attend a two-day seminar, which focuses on hands-on work and emotional support. Doula training programs vary and can cover several aspects of work as a doula. After certification, one is able to start taking clients. Since her first client in January of 2012, Swift’s attended 112 births. “Having a doula is like having a person to help you weigh the pros and cons,” says Swift.

Doula vs midwife

Before weighing pros and cons, we should clear something up first. There is the common misconception between doula and midwife. A doula is there to help you emotionally process these life changes and be there during birth to act as a guide. A midwife is medically trained to facilitate a birth, usually in a home birth. Doulas do not perform births, nor should they be advertising that they do so.

Midwife training is split into two categories: CNM (certified nurse-midwife) and CM (certified midwife). Both go through an accreditation process, but a CNM is a certified nurse, whereas a CM is someone in a medical field. Though midwives are trained in some medical aspect, there are still states that outlaw midwives to practice. Recently, Alabama changed its law to allow midwives to start seeing patients and attending home births.

Some question why modern medicine needs doulas and midwives. The United States boasts that we are at the forefront of medical advancements, but sit in a waiting room for two hours and you might think otherwise.

Birth in the US, then and now

The history of the midwife in the US goes back to at least 1660. Before modern medical advancements, home birth was all a woman had. Formal midwife training wasn’t created until 100 years later, and it was still a developing trade for women. Mind you, during this development midwifery was still being practiced in rural areas and low-income communities where it was a necessity to seek a midwife instead of a doctor. Modern medicine thought they were re-inventing the wheel when it came to midwives when in reality it was a practice as old as time. Hospitals weren’t even a thought until around 1751 when voluntary and public hospitals were being built.

Flash forward to the 1930s, when the boom of women going to the hospital for birth was started. At the beginning of the 20th century, most women knew someone who died from childbirth. Now women wanted to feel safe and comfortable, and sterile metal and baby nurseries gave them that. “The perception was that it was the modern way to give birth,” says Sarah Rodriguez, a medical historian at Northwestern University who focuses on women’s health.

Ironically, going to the hospital was a luxury, and not as commonplace as today. But still, this luxury was only for middle-class white women, because America was still in a period of segregation. Many women didn’t speak English or couldn’t afford the new way of birthing, which can even be seen today when it comes to insurance premiums and how costly it can be to have a baby in today’s world. And despite the sterility and perceived safety a hospital birth provides, the numbers paint a troubling picture.

Rising maternal mortality

A recent study by NPR and ProPublica reminded us that the United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality in any developed country, and it hasn’t been just this year. Since 1998, the graphs have been working their way to the top with no end in sight. “It’s embarrassing, horrifying, and sad,” says Maura Winkler, the owner of Chicago Birth and Baby, who is trained as both a doula and a midwife.

Google this issue, and there will be countless articles declaring it doesn’t exist, or or explaining it away because of X, Y, or Z. Putting criticisms aside – such as how the US defines maternal mortality different than other developed countries – there’s still a birth problem within our current healthcare system. Rising rates of maternal mortality currently claim 26.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. For a place like Presence Medical Center in the heart of downtown Chicago, commonly referred to as the “baby factory,” this covers a busy month.

“We have a quilt with lots of holes in it, we don’t have a system,” says Rodriguez. She refers to the various programs and sections of American health care, in place of a baseline care that can help everyone. There are veteran affairs hospitals, children’s cancer hospitals, and even labs where organs are being grown. But when it comes to general care, our system can’t provide safety for something as common and natural as childbirth.

When I tell her about our growing problem, she isn’t fazed.

“I’m not surprised about this,” she says, “If you compare the UK to the US, our maternal mortality stats are quite poor.”

Which many studies do. To grasp how strange it is that America would have such high mortality rates, studies compared our stats to those of other first-world countries. In the UK, maternal mortality rates are falling so drastically one journal claimed your husband is more likely to die during your pregnancy than you are.

Doctors and medical professionals speculate many reasons why women are dying during birth. Today there are more women with pre-existing conditions and high-risk pregnancies. Women are having children later in life and the farther you get away from your 20s, which is physically your most fertile years, the harder it can be to have a smooth pregnancy. That’s why most doulas agencies focus on women who are in their early 30s.

Doctors may label women over 35 as high-risk simply because of age, which can cause problems down the road. When women are labeled high-risk, it can justify a doctor’s desire to medically intervene, even though the woman may be as healthy as ever. These interventions can include C-section, episiotomy, or hooking up a fetal monitor during labor, which limits the mother’s freedom to move around. If active labor lasts longer than around six to seven hours, a C-section is usually the next step. Pushing C-sections on women isn’t putting health first, especially when perfectly healthy natural birth can last up to 16 hours.

“I think doctors don’t want to risk waiting and they go for the extreme quicker,” says Helen Stevenson, a registered nurse who is pregnant with her second child. “I think this scare has led to a rise in C-sections here in the US.” She’s right. C-sections in the United States have risen, from five percent in the 70s to 20 percent by 1996. Pitocin, a drug commonly used in the hospital to induce labor, creates contractions and speeds up the opening of the cervix. For some mothers, this is necessary. But often these drugs are used to start active labor, even though letting nature run its course is a viable option. A Pitocin-induced labor is often painful, forcing your body to start active labor when it’s not prepared for it. Other times it can affect a baby’s breathing during birth.

“Some of them [nurses] slam it into women,” says Kate Ritter, a doula with Chicago Birth and Baby. Ritter experiences birth rooms where women receive procedures like episiotomies and Pitocin. An episiotomy, where a cut is made to further dilate the cervix, was considered efficient when first invented in 1742. Now, it can cause painful healing and is used as a last result.

Ritter recalled an instance where an episiotomy was performed on a client without discussion and against her strict instruction. Ritter wanted to say something to the doctor but held her tongue because ultimately, she acts as an emotional support for the client, not to tell the doctor what to do. Doctors must make quick decisions when a baby is in distress, but for a doula these situations it can put them in a moral dilemma. “A lot of women just need to understand what’s happening,” says Ritter.

The role of the doula

There are ways a doula can facilitate those conversations between provider and client, like playing “dumb doula.” If the doula is the curious one, asking doctors what’s happening step-by-step, it takes the pressure off the mother to ask. Doulas can offer more than just emotional support and can help new mothers have control over what happens to them in childbirth. When speaking to women, that seemed to be the number one priority in their birth plan: having control over what happens to them in the birth room.

“Overall I wanted freedom in my birth plan,” says Reagan Weaver, who recently gave birth to her first child. “To let my body do what it was built to do and for me to find what worked best for me. This being my first child, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect; no one can really prepare you.” Weaver lives in Alabama, so she couldn’t use a midwife because she knew the state didn’t allow these practices yet.

Here’s the thing: There is a glaring discrepancy between the horror stories of childbirth gone wrong and the stories of these doulas. With a doula, the mothers-to-be understand what’s going on and they have someone in their corner during one of the most stressful event in their life.

These doulas can teach women how to speak to their provider and discuss with them all options for their pregnancy. The women who I spoke to whodidn’t use doulas lamented that “if they knew more” or “had enough money” they would have absolutely used a doula.

“I can definitely understand some women wanting more of an intimate/personal experience with their deliveries and the people involved with it,” says Claire Dansereau Auerbach, who recently gave birth to her first child Addie. This makes me wonder why these practices are falling by the wayside and shot down by women choosing birthing plans? Surprisingly, 95 percent of women in low-risk pregnancies can give birth without medical intervention, yet only two percent do.

Cost

It’s surprising to think doulas are what started it all, and yet today they are a luxury.

“Right now the expenses of just having a child are already overwhelming, so I don’t see how we could afford to add anything else,” says Valerie Tull, who works at The University of Alabama in the Center for Public Safety and is expecting her first child in a couple of months. “If doulas ever became an option covered by health insurance I’d definitely consider using one.”

Doula services are an out of pocket expense, not covered under major health insurance companies. Now that these holistic practices are legitimized, they are charging and acting like a business. The average doula service can range from $4,000 to $6,500. On top of the medical fees to give birth in a hospital, which can cost $3,500 or more, it’s easy to understand the financial reasons why women aren’t keen on hiring a doula.

Owners like Swift think doula companies aren’t charging enough. Being a doula is an involved profession that requires you to be on call for a pool of expecting mothers. But accounting for licenses and overhead, this business can cost the doulas quite a bit too. “Because it’s work that involves the heart, not everyone is open to know that it’s a job,” says Swift.

Doulas usually start off as independent workers, which can allow for some wiggle room in price if they let the connection to their client come before money. Which, on one hand, is a bit heart breaking. It’s hard to remember there is a business side to something so pure as helping a woman give birth. On the other hand, these services can’t go unpaid, and if doulas are undercharging their clients because of a soft heart, eventually that doula will go out of business.

Swift sees being a doula as an “altruistic” profession and a passion that is sometimes hard to put a price tag on. Money, passion, and compassion aside, there still is one major thing to consider when discussing holistic childbirth: insurance. Under the current Affordable Care Act, maternity care and child birth are an essential health care. With our disparaging political climate and the notorious health care bill trying to seep its way into congress, things could change. If the proposed healthcare bill were to somehow pass, a number of regulations would make it harder for many to handle pregnancy.

First off, it would gut Planned Parenthood. Regardless of what you think about them, they offer prenatal care for women who don’t have insurance. Not as many of their offices offer the care, but you can’t deny the help they are giving to people in need.

Secondly, it would allow states to regulate what is considered “essential care.” Like previously stated, the ACA considers maternity care and childbirth as an essential care, but in more conservative states that have already proven their lack of understanding of the female body (looking at you, Texas), those legislators could completely change the game for women, and not for the better.

Doing it right

On the flip side, you have facilities like the Presence Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center, located in Chicago, which has in-house midwives. Which means it’s covered under insurance. You can have your child in one of their swanky birth rooms with a midwife, with a team of doctors on-call if anything should go awry.

“It’s a very collaborative relationship,” says Mary Bauer, director of Midwifery Services at Presence and a nurse-midwife. “It’s very respectful, understanding that the two disciplines of midwifery and obstetrics have different philosophies.” Bauer started the midwifery program at Presence after nine years of practice as a midwife. The program has only been established for a year, but so far has proven to be a model that works with patients and providers. The midwives work eight-hour work days, with a lot of time spent with patients individually. It’s like having the backing of a hospital with the intimacy of a private practice.

These programs are popping up around the country, but they are few and far in between. On top of the shaky ground that is our healthcare and the overwhelming statistics, it can seem like right now (and the near future) is a terrible time to start procreating.

It seems to me the problem is a lack of education and understanding. These doula practices are doing the good work, but if people don’t know about them or can’t afford to use them, then more and more women will have difficult or deadly births. As a healthy child of a high-risk pregnancy, I have to believe hospitals want what’s best for you. But as a 23-year-old woman with hopes of children in the future, I am setting up a kiddie pool in my living room and calling nine midwives. When the holistic option seems to be the safer way, my trust in modern medicine fades. The facts speak for themselves: Medical intervention can irreparably damage or kill a mother. It seems hospital lawyers are more in charge of a birth room than mothers, and that’s something no legislation or regulation will stop.

As I dove into my interview with Ariel Swift, past the pleasantries and apologies, I felt a twinge of guilt. I was talking to an expectant mother about how often women die in childbirth. I watched her grab her stomach when I recited my findings on maternal mortality. Even she, a birth professional, isn’t safe.

This is fear. The fear that no matter what we do, things can still go wrong in a split second. It plagues us all, this fear of the unknown. Yet succumbing to fear is the easiest way to complete a self-fulfilling prophecy and put yourself in an early grave. It is the doula, the champion in our corner, who can provide courage, shine a light on the unknown, and lessen our fear as we women perform an act as natural and beautiful as the setting sun.

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We've all been there. You first hear those cries that don't sound like any other cries and immediately know what's happening. It's like our mama hearts know when our little ones need us the most. Having little ones feeling under the weather is hard. They can't tell you exactly how they feel. You can't explain to them that they'll feel better soon, and all there is for everyone to do is to take it easy and stay cuddled inside until you can get them to the doctor.

The issue, by this point, is that my son is old enough to know what's coming when we open the medicine cabinet, so giving him something for his throat ends up being like a wrestling match without the fun and giggles. My son especially likes spitting out anything as a way to protest how he's generally feeling, so we both end up covered in sticky syrup feeling defeated. Because, seriously, who thought that using a syringe or pipette to squirt out gooey liquid down an unwilling toddler's mouth was a good idea? (Probably not a parent.)

That's why when I found out there was an easier and more fun way to make these dreaded sick days better, I was all about it.

Enter: Lolleez.

Lolleez are organic throat soothing pops for kids—and adults!—that are made with organic ingredients that you can pronounce and understand like honey and natural fruit pectin. Plus, they're non-GMO as well as gluten, dairy and nut-free i.e. worry-free for all kinds of kiddos. The pops help soothe sore throats while acting like a treat for when kids are feeling under the weather. I also appreciate that the pops are actually flat and on a stick, as opposed to a lozenge or round ball lollipop. They were also created by a mom, which makes me feel a million times more confident about them since I know she knows exactly how hard sick days with a little one can be.

loleez

When I introduced my son to Lolleez pops, everything changed. Suddenly the battle to get him to take something to feel better wasn't... well, a battle. In the few times he's been sick since, he's been more than happy to pop a Lolleez, and I've been more than grateful that soothing him is now as easy as peeling open a wrapper. And, since they come in watermelon, strawberry and orange mango—strawberry is the favorite in this household—he never gets bored of getting a soothing lolly.

Also, they're easy to find—you can get them at stores like Target, CVS and online so I never worry that I'll be caught without in a pinch. After the sick days have run their course and my son starts feeling better, there's nothing like seeing that glow in his eyes come back and have him greet me with a big smile when I come into his room in the morning, ready for the day.

While our littles not feeling well is inevitable, as a mama, I'll do anything to make my child feel better, and I'm so thankful for products that make it just a little easier for the both of us. So here's to enjoying the snuggles that come with sick days, while also looking forward to the giggles that come after them.

This article was sponsored by Lolleez. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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It was never my goal to be a mama and a wife. As a teenager, I was completely fine with my decision not to have children. When someone would ask me how many children I wanted, my response would always be none. In my 20's, I traveled the world and focused on building my career. A family of my own was far from my mind. And I was okay with that. Then I hit 30 and something inside me changed.

I'm not sure what exactly changed. Or why it changed. But I started to long for a family of my own.

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Then as if my heart's desire had been answered I met him. We fell in love. And within a few years, I was married to this incredible man. Then we received the best news we could have hoped for. I was pregnant—with a baby boy. The family I had longed for was right here in front of me. I had become this child's mama.

Just like that my whole life's focus changed.

My mind wasn't on my career progression or where in the world I was going to explore next. It was focused on this little human. This little human, who was safely cradled in my arms. This little human who now relied on me to provide him with care, with comfort, with love.

I became defined by my motherhood. And that was okay.

Now I won't lie, as my son grew and we welcomed our second child to our family, there were moments of exhaustion. Moments of frustration. Moments of tears. Moments where I desperately needed some me time.

But here is the truth. Yes, right now I am defined by motherhood. And that's okay. I spent many years longing to be here at this moment. To have my family. To be my children's mama.

I know this is a finite period in my life. So I am choosing to embrace it. I am choosing to find joy in my motherhood journey.

I know my children need me now in a way they won't ever again. And I don't want to miss out on all the beautiful moments right here in front of me.

You see, one day they won't need me to rock them in my arms or lay with them every night till they fall asleep.

One day they won't need me to pick them up and carry them everywhere. In fact, one day they will be too big for me to do that even if I wanted to.

One day they won't need to help them get dressed and put on their shoes.

One day they won't ask me to sing them that song for the 10th time.

One day they won't need me to do all the things for them as they do now.

You see, right now my children are only little. Right now they need me. Right now they choose me.

I am their safe place. I am their comfort. I am honored to be the one that they turn to. I am honored to be the one they call home.

That is why, first and foremost, I am defined by my motherhood. And that is more than okay with me.

This article was previously published here.

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Life

Your to-do list is kind of under control. The kitchen is mostly clean. You just finished that big work project and to celebrate, you scheduled a lunch out with the girls tomorrow while your little one is at school. As you rest your head on the pillow you think to yourself, “Okay! I might actually sorta-kinda have this whole thing under control!"

And then you hear it from down the hallway: cough cough.

Your eyes shoot open. No. It's fine, just a little tickle in her throat. She's fine.

Cough cough cough.

Nope, it's fine. If I lay here and don't move nothing will be...

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“MOOOOOOMMMMMMYYYYYYYYY I don't feeeeeeel goooooooood."

Sigh.

You break out the humidifier, the Tylenol and the snuggles. And then comes the inevitable question—can they go to school tomorrow? It's not an easy question to answer, for sure.

On the one hand, kids are basically walking booger factories at all times—if we kept them home for every sneeze and cough they'd never go to school. On the other hand, we don't want to put our kids in a situation where they could get sicker—or make other kids sick.

When in doubt, you should always give your pediatrician a call for guidance. Most schools have policies on it as well.

But as a general rule of thumb, here's what to know when your child isn't feeling well:

On fevers

The most clear cut of all symptoms are fevers—if they have a fever, they stay home. A fever is any temperature of 100.4 Fahrenheit or greater. A child needs to be fever-free for a full 24-hours before they can return to school.

Note: If your newborn has a fever she needs medical attention right away. It could be an emergency.

On stuffy noses and coughs

A mildly stuffy nose, or an occasional cough isn't enough to warrant a day off from school. But if the mucus is really thick and/or the cough is frequent, loud, or just sounds “gross," it's probably best to keep her home.

Coughs can linger for a long time in children, but if it persists for several days, or she has a fever with it, give your doctor a call. If the cough sounds like a seal barking, and certainly if she is having any trouble breathing, get medical attention right away.

On tummy troubles

Or as my daughter's preschool teacher called it, “intestinal mischief." If your child is vomiting or has diarrhea, they should stay home (and should stay home for 24 hours after the last incident). Make sure everyone at home washes their hands really well, as stomach bugs tend to be very contagious.

Remember to encourage your child to drink lots of fluids. If they aren't drinking, call your doctor right away.

On skin issues

This can be tricky—between marker explosions, dry skin and rashes, it seems like my kids' skin looks different every day. Rashes are almost impossible to diagnose over the phone, so if you are concerned, they'll need to be evaluated by their doctor to help determine the cause (and contagiousness) of the rash.

If you suspect your child has lice, they should stay home as well—and you'll probably have to give the school a call so they can ANONYMOUSLY alert the other parents.

Along the same lines is the dreaded conjunctivitis, or pink eye. Usually your child (or lucky you) will wake up with their eyelids crusted shut, or they'll have a very pink eye with lots of goop (sorry—but we're all moms here, we can handle the eye goop convo right?)

This is highly contagious, so they should for sure stay home from school. Depending on if it's viral or bacterial, you doctor may prescribe medicine that clears it up quickly.

On pain

This one is tough—kids often complain about various boo-boos, especially when it means that they get a Frozen Bandaid out of the deal. If they complain of pain persistently, if the pain prevents them from playing, and of course if you witness a bad injury, keep them home and get medical help right away.

Remember that you know your child best. Ultimately, you get to make the decision. Your pediatrician will be there to guide you, and one day, ONE DAY, you really will get that whole to-do list tackled... we think?

You've got this.

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Learn + Play

Hilaria Baldwin has worn her emotions on her sleeve in recent months sharing the heartbreaking news of her miscarriage and then the happy news of her current pregnancy—and she's all about being her authentic self.

The yoga guru thrives on having her hands full. In fact, on top of raising her four children with husband Alec Baldwin and her work, Hilaria recently decided to foster a new puppy, because what is life without a little chaos!

Motherly caught up with Hilaria this week and she didn't hesitate to dish on a variety of things relating to motherhood. From how she and her husband juggle parenting duties, to how she handled introducing her children to their younger siblings when they were born, and, of course, how she deals with online criticism.

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Motherly: Congrats on the baby news! We loved that you got your four little ones involved with the reveal. Are they excited to have another sibling?

Hilaria Baldwin: They're really, really excited. Carmen is super excited not only because she not only has very much wanted a sister—she has Ireland [Alec's daughter from his marriage to Kim Basinger] but she lives far—so she wants someone who comes and lives in our house.

I've made a lot of people and finally, another one came out a girl. We never [intended] to have a big family… you know, I had Carmen and then I had Rafa and then I got pregnant pretty soon after I had Rafa and it was another boy, and then we said, 'Let's try!' and we had another boy. The three boys are within three years, so they're such a joy to watch [together]. As much as Carmen is a part of their little group, she's always sort of said, 'Hey, I would love to have a little sister.' So, it's been really exciting to see her get excited.

Motherly: So many parents struggle with introducing their kids to their new sibling and deal with the fear of the older child feeling jealous or left out. How did you handle that? Do you have any advice for parents going through these emotions?

HB: I think at this point we have such a crew that like, my kids are just used to a crowd all the time and it's like our house is super fun and there's always something going on. And so, you know, one to two [kids] was kind of difficult. And then for me, three we were a group and then four it was like nothing happened. You know, the kids, they love babies because they've been around so many babies. They love being together as they're always playing together and fight as well.

In terms of like introducing, one of the things that is like a ground rule for me is that— Alec and I have this on our wedding rings so it's long before we got pregnant— [it is the Spanish phrase] for 'We are a good team.' And that's our motto. It's like everything is a team in the house. There's no excluding, there is no toy that particularly belongs to somebody...They will have a blanket maybe that they sleep with or something like that, but it's not off limits to everybody else.

Of course, they break these rules at grab toys and don't want to share to do all the things that normal kids do, but the rule we keep coming to is that we want to keep everyone happy and accepted, so I think that helps. They all call the babies their babies, and I think that that helps, because it's not like mommy comes home and had this new baby and they're excluded.

Like everything else it's just embracing the fact that we're all scared. And kids really follow the guidance of the parents. If you make it fun and special, that we have the baby and it's about them, then they're gonna follow that lead. If you make it like, 'Oh, don't do that [to] baby, don't touch, be careful' and that kind of thing, it's not going to be as much of a group enjoyment thing.

Motherly: Busy Philipps recently opened up about how she almost divorced her husband over uneven parenting responsibilities. How do you and Alec divide the duties?

HB: I didn't hear about that, but I feel like that's very common…I am somebody who takes pride and am very specific about how I want things to be done. Like, I cook for my kids every night. I bathe them morning and night. When somebody gets into a fight, I want to be there to be able to deal with the dynamic. You know, with Alec, he'll sort of roll his eyes because I'm like, 'You're not doing it the way that I want it to be!'

I almost prefer to do it. I'll wake up with the kids at night. It's kind of my personality and I really enjoy it. You know, some people want support by saying, 'Hey, it's your turn to change the diaper.' But what [Alec] does for me that really, really means something is he'll look at me and he'll say, 'You're such a good mommy' and my kids will say that to me, and that's all I want in return. I'm somebody that I don't require a lot of sleep. I'm a busy body. I'm happy to check things off the list. I'm very type A, but I want to be the one who does this because I know how I want it to get done.

Motherly: You're so open about everything on social media. Do you ever feel like you want to hide more or is it therapeutic for you?

HB: I think it's a combination. I think that it's mostly therapeutic. I was always a very open person, and then all of a sudden I joined this really weird public life world and it was a very traumatic experience of everyday people are looking at you trying to find out your business. Alex was like a very old school celebrity in terms of 'this is my private life, close the doors'. We don't [have to] say anything. I mean he has been a little more outspoken than like the average sort of old school celebrities. And I tried to do that for awhile and it made me not like who I was.

And I really just started realizing, I was changing because this is how they're telling me to behave. And so I said, 'You know what, I'm not doing this anymore.' I said, 'I'm going to be open. And people are going to see that.' Once you marry somebody who is famous and your economics change...It doesn't mean that you have to be different.

And, yes, do I have my days where I really kind of want to close down and be more quiet? Sure. But in the end I realized that everybody has those days. And that's one of those the things that makes us common and connected. And that's what I've really enjoyed with this journey that we're on.

Motherly: Do you have ways that you personally deal with online criticism, or do you just kind of turn a blind eye and try to not focus on the negativity?

HB: I think I go through phases and I think a lot of it has to do with your philosophy, your emotions, where you are not just in that phase in your life. I've done things from literally copying the comment and posting it on my story. And I think that using that as a place of saying, 'Hey, this is bullying. This happened to me too and this isn't okay.' And if this person is bullying me, I guarantee you that they're bullying other people. So I'll do that. Sometimes I'll block, sometimes I'll respond.

This lady wrote me last night and [told me] I should be careful because with [yoga] twisting you can cause a miscarriage. And I had just suffered a miscarriage, so I basically should know better, and that that happened to her, that she twisted and then she had a miscarriage … Now, yes, in yoga you should not do the lower belly twists when you're pregnant, but that being said, if you twist, it's not going to cause a miscarriage...And that's one thing that, I mean I responded to her and I just responded to her saying, 'I lost my baby because my baby's heart wasn't good, not because I did something wrong.'

Too often women look at ourselves and point blame, we think, 'Well, we must have done something.' Let me tell you something from having a miscarriage: The first thing that all doctors tell you is, 'I want you to know that you didn't do anything wrong.'

Motherly: Can you tell us a little about how you're dealing with picky eating in your household?

HB: I was dealing with the pickiness of my kids and particularly Rafael, who's like my super, super picky eater. We had to sort of get very creative because he literally would prefer to not need, then to eat something he doesn't want to eat. And he is that typical picky eater where he wants he'll eat like four or five things and you know, they're good things, we're lucky with him, he likes tofu and lentils.

But at the same time, we're constantly trying to think of other things. So, I found Health Warrior bars when he was going through some really picky times and they were great because you can put them in your bag for on-the-go, and he would eat them and it wouldn't be a fight, and I know that they have really good ingredients.

The other thing we discovered from them—because getting kids to eat vegetables is really, really difficult as well —is a protein powder that it's like all plant based. So what I do is I'll make a shake for them every single day that has tons of kale and broccoli and all this kind of stuff in it. I'll put this chocolate protein powder in it and they call it a chocolate shake… So those have been like two life savers and so when they came to me and they said that they wanted to do something together, it just felt very natural and I wanted to spread the word because they've helped our family so much.

For more from Hilaria check out Season 2 of the Mom Brain podcast, co-hosted by Hilaria and Daphne Oz.

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After my son was born I found myself thrown into the darkest period of my life, overtaken by postpartum depression and anxiety. My days were awash in panic attacks from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed, with crying spells that hit without warning in between.

Most of my visitors didn't know any of this.

When they stopped by to deliver a meal or meet the baby, most people asked the question we all ask of new mothers: "How are you doing?" I answered with the automatic response we all give when asked this question: "I'm doing okay," adding with a sideways glance and shrug, "Tired, but that's just how it is."

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"How are you doing?" It's a great question to ask when we see a friend on the street or sit down for coffee to catch up on life. But when we ask it of a new mother, we subconsciously ask her to take the complex period after birth, with its hormonal shifts and emotional ups and downs, and boil it down to one sentiment.

The postpartum period deserves a better question.

The reality for each mother is different, and the answer to such a simple question may be kept private for fear of making her visitors uncomfortable if she senses they expect a glowing new mother, drunk on oxytocin.

A better question for any visitor, or even if you see a woman with a new baby on the street, is: "How are you feeling, emotionally?"

This question doesn't just invite a response, it shows a new mother that you are ready and unafraid to hear about her feelings, whatever they may be.

It shows her you understand that she may be delighted in her new baby, but are open to the possibility that she is also feeling grief for her past life, sadness at the lack of support, disappointment in the grueling and unforgiving schedule a newborn demands.

This question is even more important today, where most women are not surrounded by a village following the birth of a baby. They may be alone, doing the hard work with just the help of their partner, or if they're lucky, close friends and family. They may have no space to process what's happened to them and so they begin the habitual process of setting themselves aside for the sake of others.

A few weeks ago I was at a friend's cookout. A woman entered the backyard with a newborn. She sat down and I watched her carefully, as I do all new moms since recovering from my PPD. Scanning for signs that she might be in trouble, or struggling to maintain a facade of togetherness. I didn't see anything, but that didn't matter.

"Hey," I said. "How old is he?"

"Two weeks," she replied, shifting the peacefully sleeping baby from one arm to the other.

"That is such a crazy time," I said, painfully recalling the chaos of my own experience at two weeks postpartum. "And how are you feeling," I ventured. "Emotionally?"

I didn't even know her name. But it didn't matter. I saw a flash of surprise on her face, followed by a faint smile radiating from inside her. And with the door swung wide open, we talked for a long time about what it really feels like to be a new mother.

So how are you feeling today mama, emotionally?


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