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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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The holidays are quickly on their way, and while there are tons of ways to celebrate, you should feel free to get a little creative with it and make your own traditions (there's no law requiring you to dress everyone in matching red velvet jumpers to sit on Santa's lap). So instead of battling between getting the perfect picture and your baby's natural urge to wiggle, harness the power of those inevitable Hallmark moments—the first giggle, the budding personality, the two-toothed grin—to make your December super special.

Here are six new traditions you can start to meet your little one where they are and celebrate joy in this season—without all the stress.

1. Make DIY ornaments

Decorating the tree is a beloved tradition, and having a little one is all the more reason to get into the spirit of it. Get the baby—and the rest of the family—involved in the fun by letting everyone color or paint on an unbreakable, homemade ornament and hang them towards the bottom of the tree. And sure, your infant may not create any masterpieces at this age, but not only will the precious family heirlooms stay higher up (read: away from tiny hands), you'll also be creating keepsakes to build on for years to come.

2. Bring a holiday scene to life

Connecting your children to the spirit of the season is an important part of teaching them what it's all about, but it's not always so easy to do through books and stories alone. Instead, offer them the chance to live it out! Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas or another significant holiday, playing pretend is the ideal way to teach and have fun along the way for everyone in the family. Use a kid-friendly nativity book as a guide or make your own menorah as you explore the story of the oil that burned for 8 nights—whatever your religion, there's an important tale to tell.

3. Make video cards

There is joy in receiving physical mail and holiday cards are a wonderful way to make your loved ones feel special. But don't stop there! Record a video greeting to send to your nearest and dearest to keep even the most far-away relatives feel like they're right there with you. Everyone will love seeing the baby's latest milestones in live-action, and it's a great way to spread the season's warmest greetings.

4. Start a time capsule box

Making (and maintaining) a baby book is a fabulous idea, but sometimes keeping it up-to-date gets lost in the shuffle of parenthood. Use the holiday season as a time to reconnect with all those beloved memories for your kiddo by starting an annual time capsule box: Each year, have all members of the family add one item of their choosing (or your choosing, depending on age) to the box and label it with a little note. Things can range from a favorite holiday-themed blanket or toy to something they no longer need but aren't ready to throw away.

5. Begin a culinary tradition

Nothing says "cozy" like a yummy-smelling kitchen filled with laughter. While your tot may still be too small to really help in the kitchen, it's never too early to kickstart their love of cooking. Pick a recipe you'll make every year and get them "involved" with a spoon and an empty mixing bowl. You'll get to enjoy the fruits of your labor together and it'll help encourage them to cook with you more year-round, too.

6. Play king for a day

We all know that as babies grow up—independence is a priority, no matter how ready for it we really are. This year, give them the gift of being in charge. By allowing your little one to eat what they want, wear what they pick (a sparkly tutu? No problem. An adorable Christmas cape? Great!) and play with what they prefer, you'll be empowering them with a sense of self and giving yourself the gift of hilarious photo ops for years to come.

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As an ESPN anchor Kevin Negandhi talks to a lot of pro athletes. But as a parent he knows that sometimes raising kids is as hard as training for the big leagues (seriously, science proves that kids energy levels surpass endurance athletes' and parents are running after those kids).

Negandhi knows what it's like to be face-to-face with athletes that so many people idolize, but he also knows that a parent can be more influential than any big league idol, and that's why he's working with Dove Men+Care SPORTCARE to put real dads in the spotlight.

"We have a platform to showcase what they do as everyday athletes, but also as everyday men, everyday fathers," says Negandhi, who has three kids himself. He tells Motherly he tries to make sure he's active with his kids—playing sports with them so that they understand the importance of staying active—but also staying active with the kids when the touch football ends and the real parenting endurance test begins. Like many modern fathers, Negandhi is committed to doing more childcare than his own father did.

"My mom did everything in our house," he tells Motherly. "My dad worked, but my mom worked as well. And she did everything. She raised us. But at the same time she showed me another side. And many times growing up I said, 'How can I be different than my father?'"

Being involved with his kids and doing more of the unpaid work in his household than his own dad did is how Negandhi is doing it, and he's taking time to showcase three fellow dads who—while sharing their names with professional athletes—certainly don't get as much credit as the pros.

That is actually something of a problem in media right now. According to a recent survey by Dove Men+Care, 70% of men wish regular guys who are athletes (but not professionals) got more attention in sports media. Because as much as winning the Superbowl or making it to the major leagues should be celebrated, being a dad who is physically active and active in raising his kids should be celebrated, too.

Research shows that when kids grow up seeing dads exercise they are healthier, and while these three men happen to share their names with famous athletes, they don't get the same glory. So Negandhi and Dove Men+Care are giving these hard working dads some recognition.

Alvin Suarez

Alvin Suarez is teaching his kids that having a disability doesn't disqualify you from being an athlete. As a visually-impaired person, Alvin isn't the standard athlete we see represented in media. He plays Goalball, a sport that relies on keen ear-hand coordination, and he is certainly a keen father, chasing after his twin girls.

Alvin says the difference between sports and fatherhood is that you can train for sports, while parenthood takes you by surprise. "I try to be a good role model for my daughters and I want everyone to know that everyone has potential and that there is no such thing as a nobody."

Alvin has won championships as a Goalball player, but says holding his daughters in his arms for the first time was like winning a medal but multiplied by a million.

Sean Williams

Sean Williams is committed to his community and his kids. He uses physical fitness to connect with his kids and to, literally, save lives. A volunteer firefighter, Sean keeps fit so that he can use his body and energy to maximum impact. He isn't just changing the lives of people impacted by fires, but also his fellow dads.

The founder of The Dad Gang, an organization committed to celebrating and telling the real story of black fatherhood, Sean has created a space for dads to connect with their children and each other while staying active.

"One of the challenges we put out on social media is where you do pushups with our kids on our backs and that merges fatherhood and fitness," he explains.

If there was a Super Bowl for community service, Sean would be wearing the ring.

Chris Paul

A Marine Corps veteran, Chris needs a ton of energy to keep up with his blended family. It started out as an "all-girl Brady Bunch" he explains, as his wife and he had six daughters between them, but they've since added a boy to the family which now included seven kids. .

He's basically got his own sports team at home so it makes sense that Chris is super committed to staying fit for them. The Marine turned realtor takes time to help other dads in his community stay fit and knows when to draw boundaries to protect his time with his kids.

He's got some good endurance, but he's not going to work 15 hours a day when his kids are waiting at home for him. Chris says in former times dads were often passive figures in their kids' lives as the child rearing was done by others.

Like the other men, he's changing that. "I'm an active participant and I want to make sure that I can contribute to my children's lives."

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Back in 2017 when we learned Beyoncé was starring in a new remake of The Lion King I was thrilled. My son (my only child) was almost 2 years old and I told my partner I wanted The Lion King to be our son's first movie theatre experience. Going to see the original Lion King in a movie theatre was a big deal to me as a kid and I wanted to recreate that experience for my son.

Flash forward to July 2019 and The Lion King is in theaters—but my son and I are not. Turns out I really overestimated how long 3-year-olds can sit still. While my son loves watching 1994's Lion King at home (he always stands on the couch and lifts his stuffed animals to the sky during "Circle of Life") he's just not quite subdued enough for the cinema yet.

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So we have been waiting to see The Lion King at home, and now we finally can! October 11 marks the film's digital home video release, and the Blu-ray hits stores on October 22.

Rob Legato, a VFX supervisor on the film, tells Motherly that "the visuals are so well preserved on 4K and newer television sets that it is literally the mini theatre experience and you're not missing much by seeing it at home."

Basically, the digital version is going to be just as awesome as seeing it in theaters, except that we will be able to pause for potty breaks and my kiddo can stand on his seat pretending to be Rafiki without blocking anyone's view.

The movie is, of course, incredible, but so are the animals it's based on. Screening the movie at home is an amazing way to start conversations with your kids about the various animals in the film as they are of course more similar to the real animals they are based on then their animated counterparts were in 1994.

The filmmakers went to Africa to research the animals they were bringing to life and they also spent a ton of time at the Harambe Wildlife Reserve inside Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida watching various species to try to make their movements as realistic as possible. There, 34 species live on 110 acres and the filmmakers got to watch them closely, making this film incredibly detailed.

Some of the animal experts who work with these animals on a daily basis say that when they watch The Lion King, they can actually tell which characters are based on which of the animals they know in real life.

"This film presented a really wonderful and unique opportunity to bring the production crew to the animals here at Disney's Animal Kingdom. They spent about 6 weeks here collecting reference footage of the animals here and we partnered really closely with the animal care teams at Disney's Animal Kingdom to make sure that all of the filming that we were doing, the impact to the animals was minimized," says Jon Ross of Disney's Animals in TV and Film department

The film crew watched the animals from a distance, which is something families can also do at Disney's Animal Kingdom by taking the Kilimanjaro Safari or staying in Jambo House at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, where giraffes and other animals can be seen right from hotel balconies.

But the work Disney is doing with the animals is more than a tourist attraction. The company is serious about conservation and protecting the animal species featured in the park and in its films. "Tied to the Lion King film we launched the Protect the Pride initiative," Claire Martin of Disney's Conservation & Partnerships team tells Motherly. "We realized that we'd lost half of the world's lions since the first Lion King film debuted and we want to turn that around, so we're working with the Wildlife Conservation Network's Lion Recovery Fund to help their vision to double the amount of lions in the wild by 2050," she explains.

Marin suggests that parents watching The Lion King with their kids can use the film to talk to their children about conservation issues and continue the education long after the end credits roll. "We encourage people to learn more, visit the website, get involved and learn more about how they can make an impact on lions and other wildlife across Africa," says Martin.

Through the website, parents can even download an activity packet (you can print it and make your kids a cool book) with all kinds of information and cool activities and to help kids feed their lion obsession in an educational way even when screen time is over.

The Lion King is available to stream now and will be on Blu-ray October 22 (with even more educational features about the animals!)

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For those without a toddler glued to the screen, Blippi is the colorfully dressed, bespectacled YouTube alter ego of Stevin John. He delights children by acting like a little kid as he visits farms, indoor playgrounds, construction sites and more, teaching simple lessons and singing songs about everything he sees. His channel has 5.71 million subscribers, with hits like "The Excavator Song" racking up 50 million views.

This kind of success meant he was long overdue to take the show on the road. Earlier this week, he announced a 30-date U.S. tour with an interview on Billboard, as well as on his social media. But now parents of Blippi fans, are concerned that they won't get the "real" Blippi when they attend Blippi Live shows next year.

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Parents flocked to his site to purchase tickets, which cost $26-$70, for the shows running in February and March 2020. But some of them hadn't read the interview, nor did they notice the fine print on the FAQ page of the Blippi Live site that said Stevin John himself was not going to be on the stage.

"I won't be on the road, but I am obviously extremely involved with the whole process," John told Billboard. "Blippi is as a character and I'm the creative force behind it, but since YouTube is a monster and all of these platforms are really crazy I can't go on the road for many weeks or months at a time."

Some parents had even spent $40-$51 on the after-show meet-and-greet before they realized that their kids would be meeting an unfamiliar "performer" instead of John. Many reacted with outrage and immediately tried to get a refund, according to Buzzfeed News.

"I didn't find out until five seconds after I submitted my payment and Ticketmaster refused to refund me," Angelina Sakowski told Buzzfeed after she bought tickets to a New Jersey show.

Stephen Shaw, the producer and promoter of the Blippi Live show, told Buzzfeed that his company would be sending parents a letter informing them about the replacement performer and would offer refunds.

They have also since added this line to the Blippi Live site: "Stevin John is the creator of Blippi and acts as the writer and creative force behind the Blippi character. Now that Blippi has evolved as a character he is excited that a dynamic stage performer has been cast as Blippi to entertain and thrill audiences across all of the tour markets."

It's hard to guess whether Blippi's actual target audience—i.e., not the upset parents—would care that stage Blippi was a slightly different person than the one they see on screens. After all, the Baby Sharks in the live show are 3D and therefore slightly different from the animated versions we all know and love/hate.

Stevin John issued a statement on the official Blippi Instagram account this week, which reads, in part: "We tried to make it clear that I would not be the character at the live show (via Billboard Exclusive Interview + FAQ on BlippiLive.com) but I'm sorry it seems that wasn't enough. We have adjusted and continue to make it even more apparent that it's not going to be me on stage. I will be the creative force behind the live show, as a producer, a writer, and also I am personally casting the live theater performer to play the character on stage."

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Today, October 11th, is the International Day of the Girl. To celebrate, we curated our favorite books showcasing incredible girls from around the globe. These picks challenge the girl-boy binary by breaking gender stereotypes and demonstrate how gender intersects with race, culture and class. These books celebrate the power of girls, and inspire us to create a world where kids are free to be regardless of their gender.

Each of these books have been featured in the Little Feminist book club, and our subscribers have read and loved them all!

1. Rosa Loves Cars

Ages 0-4

What's more empowering than doing what you love? Cars, dinosaurs, dolls, dresses—all kids can love all of these and so much more! We love Rosa's joy in all things wheeled from fire trucks to car races. Celebrate the freedom to play with this adorable board book series.

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2. We are Little Feminists series

Ages 0-5

Babies love photos of babies. All kids deserve diverse books. Put that together and what do you get? Our book series!! These three books (Hair, On-the-Go and Family) feature amazing community-sourced photographs of all sorts of people moving, laughing and loving in all sorts of ways. You and your kiddos will want to look at them again and again!

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3. Big Mooncake for Little Star

Ages 2-6

Breathtaking illustrations and sweetest insatiable sweet tooth make this book unforgettable. Little Star keeps craving the big mooncake, and her sneaky bedtime nibbles will make you want a bite too! This #OwnVoices story draws on the author's Taiwanese roots to highlight the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. We love how this story perfectly captures love, anticipation and celebration for little readers.

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4. Drum Dream Girl

Ages 3-7

Gender minorities (read everyone who's not a cisgendered male) have been historically excluded from countless activities and institutions: schools, sports, and even drumming. We love this unique story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga- one of Cuba's first womxn drummers! The musical rhymes and colorful Cuban plants that adorn each page will have you dancing as you read.

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5. Reading Beauty

Ages 3-7

This is a fairytale done right! The princess's prince is not who you think it will be, in fact there's no male savior in sight. Princess Lex, with her awesome blue afro, is an adventurous problem solver who seeks peace and inclusion instead of revenge. If you have any aspiring little royals at home, this fantastical kingdom is the place for them!

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6. My Papi has a Motorcycle

Ages 3-7

Take a motorcycle ride alongside this little girl and her papi and discover what makes community so special. We love how seamlessly the Latinx author and illustrator blend Spanish and English in this #OwnVoices story. Watch out, your little reader might ask you to get a motorcycle after they see the illustrations of this dynamic ride.

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7. Separate is Never Equal

Ages 6-10

We all have heard of Malala and Ruby Bridges, but so many girls have fought for equal access to education including Sylvia Mendez. We love how this story puts the Mendez family's activism front and center—shining light on the rich history of self-advocacy in the Mexican-American community. Yes, this is another #OwnVoices stories, and yes those are our favorite.

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8. What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

Ages 6-10

Do you know who Barbara Jordan is?! GO, do all the Googling now! But also, read this book! Minds will be blown- how did we not learn about this powerhouse of a woman in history class?! Glass ceilings will be shattered- Barbara served as a Texas Senator in 1967 along with 30 white men! This book goes to show that children's books are not just for kids.

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9. Josephine

Ages 7-13

We are illustrator Christian Robinson's #1 fans! In this book he takes you on a beautiful journey through artist and activist Josephine Baker's life. Josephine felt fearful and angry about all the injustices in society, sound like a familiar feeling? She took all that frustration and transformed into amazing art. We love this book because we believe art is powerful, art is necessary, art is healing. And books about strong black woman without any white saviors lurking on the next page are always a win.

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10. Book Uncle and Me

Ages 7-13

A book about a girl's community activism in her Indian city written by an Indian author?! We're here for all these great #OwnVoices stories! We love how this story of Yasmin campaigning for change empowers kids to be changemakers- and also reminds adults to see kids as capable. Yasmin's tenacity will inspire you to channel your inner leader no matter where you live.

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While these books feature and celebrate girls, we believe all kids of ALL genders should read these picks. Each child deserves a joyful, healthy, free childhood where they feel safe being who they are.

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