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Wireless Motherhood: When Social Media is the New Village

Hey, mamas, anyone else awake? I’m having a really tough time tonight with anxiety, and have no one to talk to.

I wrote that when my son was five-weeks-old. It was 3 a.m. He was sleeping soundly on my chest, and I remember wondering why I couldn’t just enjoy this moment with him. It was so quiet, even the crickets had stopped their incessant chirping. My son’s breaths whispered across my skin with each exhale: it was a completely pristine moment.

Yet there I sat, anxious and alone. There were so many unknowns, and in the middle of the night, as a new single mom, I had no one to talk to. Within moments, women from around the world were commenting that they were thinking of me, sending positive thoughts, hoping everything was okay, there to talk if I needed. They were awake too, facing their own struggles.

In those early weeks and months, I remember feeling more than once that social media was my lifeline. The harsh glare off my phone was a beacon of hope, there in the dark with my son cradled against me.

Anxiety is just one of several perinatal mood disorders (PMD) commonly experienced by women during and after pregnancy. Postpartum depression is the most renowned, but PMDs also include psychosis, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies, to name a few. An estimated 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression alone.

Despite their prevalence, women who experience these disorders can feel incredibly isolated. Depression, insomnia, and panic attacks do not fit the socially constructed mold of blissed-out new motherhood. This sets the stage for mothers to be riddled with guilt and shame for not being able to connect, or sleep, or leave the house. There were so many moments when I sat with friends, smiling and nodding, all the while wanting desperately to say: “I am so overwhelmed. I need help.” It’s hard to show the rawness of motherhood, because it still feels so taboo.

Perinatal mood disorders have been the dirty little secret of motherhood for far too long. It’s becoming easier to talk about, as celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Drew Barrymore, and Kristen Bell come forward and share their experiences. Actress Hayden Panettiere’s personal struggle was even mirrored in her character’s storyline on the TV show “Nashville” last year.

And that does help. Yet hearing that these seemingly perfect women have also struggled doesn’t necessarily make a mama feel less alienated as she watches the hours tick by in the night, alone and anxious. This is true largely because our society is highly autonomous. We prize individual triumph and the ability to succeed on your own above a group mentality. This mindset has its benefits, but also tends to alienate new mothers. In fact, this has become such a big issue that psychologists have wondered if postpartum depression is a misnomer, and should instead be called postpartum neglect.

Parenting takes a village

The old adage that it takes a village to raise a child is used frequently because it’s true and relevant. Parents are trying to navigate raising children in a society that has lost its village mentality. The idea that the collective is watching out for the best interest of the child, fostering his growth, and supporting his parents, is truly lost to us. If I didn’t make a concerted effort to get out of the house, I could easily spend day after day isolated at home with my son. This leaves parents, and new mothers especially, feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and alone, which is why the Internet can be such a useful resource – there at your fingertips you have access to a modern virtual village.

Memories of the earliest days of my son’s life are foggy, at best. Though I clearly remember the way his soft little body curved against mine, twitching in his sleep, the nights are a blur of monotony and sleeplessness. Midnight cries and grunts were the new soundtrack of my life. Three o’clock in the morning was my son’s party time, and when I had finally convinced him to fall back to sleep, I was usually too wired to sleep myself.

These moments were both miraculous and torturous – watching him sleep I wondered (as many parents do) how I had managed to make a complete human, but also how such perfection can cause such exhaustion. Shrouded in the darkness, my mind racing, I found myself turning more often than not in those early days to my phone for company. I took my motherhood wireless, and connecting online saved me.

I was lucky enough to stumble across an online mom group aimed at women with a similar due date. In its infancy, the group had hundreds of members, and was a place to turn to during those early, unknown days of pregnancy with questions about spotting and first ultrasounds. After almost two years together, we have whittled the group down to less than 100 members.

Together, we have suffered miscarriages, lost loved ones, divorced, and gotten married or engaged. We have supported each other through surgeries, pediatric scares, and domestic violence. We have cheered on, disagreed with, and learned from each other. We have encouraged mamas to seek medical help for warning signs of postpartum depression. We have laughed and rejoiced, shared stories, and marveled at each other’s little ones as they have grown and learned new skills. Most importantly, we have supported each other, despite our parenting differences. This group, to me, is the epitome of what the virtual village can offer.

I’m also part of some online mom groups that I rarely participate in: ones that are area specific, ones that are for working moms, for single moms, for breastfeeding moms, for writing moms. When it comes to types of mom groups, possibilities are endless. This can be a critical lifeline for mamas who do not have like-minded moms near them: LGBTQ moms, moms who adopted, single moms, moms who formula feed, moms who breastfeed, moms who struggled with fertility, moms who work-out, moms who co-sleep, moms who sleep train – the list goes on.

With access to these groups, you have the ability to contact women with vast experiences and knowledge from your very own living room, and can get support and advice without having to travel 5,000 miles to get it. For many, these online forums can be the first place they realize that they might have a PMD, and that they are not alone.

Moms can be bullies, too

There is, of course, the darker side of virtual villages: mommy shaming and the mommy wars. After experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsion after the birth of her daughter, Jessica Hanlin, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owner of Mama Bird Wellness in Colorado, dedicated her work to helping mothers and families through their own experiences with these struggles.

Her postpartum support group has its own private Facebook page for mamas to connect after-hours. She sees the benefits of the virtual village firsthand, but also warns about the division that can be reached with such easy connection: “More input means more opinions, and often a more direct, less compassionate communication of these opinions.” This is also why it’s important to remember that the mamas we turn to online only hear a snippet of your stories; they do not know your or your baby’s social, personal, or medical histories. They have a window into your life, but their responses are deeply reflective of their own stories.

It’s easy to anonymously deride a mother who is parenting differently than how you would. This is always a risk with online interactions, and mom-bullying should not be taken lightly. Parenting decisions are so personal, and we tend to think that someone is doing it wrong when they are doing it differently than us. A question about supplementing with formula for a baby who isn’t gaining weight can quickly be met with derisive comments about how your body should provide enough, formula feeding ruins your child, why haven’t you done your research, I can’t believe you are going to do that to your child. In other words, you’re a bad mom. And those are some of the nicer comments I’ve seen. These comments can further isolate and alienate a mother who is already deeply struggling. This is why face-to-face interaction and support, from loved ones and professionals, is such an integral part of a successful postpartum existence.

So, what about real life?

I was part of real life groups, too, but rarely spoke up when I went. This was partially because I felt that the other moms just weren’t having the same issues as me. I was the only single mom in most of the groups that I tried out, and the only one dealing with the legal and emotional repercussions of an absent co-parent. I felt that sharing my story would garner more pity or curiosity than useful advice. In this regard, the relative anonymity of my Facebook group made me feel safe – safe to say, “Hey, I’m really struggling,” without feeling that I was a freak show for other moms to gawk at. My virtual village allowed me to show up and be vulnerable when I was struggling the most, when I didn’t want to face anyone or when my real life mama tribe was inaccessible.

For me, in-person mom groups filled a different need: one of camaraderie, and adult conversation. It was rewarding to get out of the house every week and sit in a circle of women who would show up at your door in a heartbeat if you asked for help. Kerry Stokes, doula, childbirth educator and founder of the Full Circle Doula Cooperative, leads a new mom group in her town. Several of the mamas in that group, myself included, have benefited greatly from having a tribe of mothers in their community.

From help packing and moving, to babysitting, play dates, and meal trains, real life moms can offer help where your virtual mamas cannot. Stokes agrees: “I don’t think online support groups are enough for any one mom, but it sure is a start. Motherhood and postpartum is a very raw time, and it needs to be represented and validated as such.” She began her new mom group after struggling herself and not finding the local, in-person tribe that she needed.

Can the Internet stop postpartum neglect?

Of the professionals I spoke with who specialize with the postpartum population, all agreed on the need to balance online and real-life support. Shelly King, a psychotherapist who works with women and couples during pregnancy, postpartum and parenting, believes that virtual villages can and do provide instant access to input, advice, knowledge, and support that mirrors what was once provided by family and extended support networks.

She notes, however, that technology, despite providing instant access to people and resources from around the world, can leave one feeling very disconnected. “Technology is amazing,” King says. “Online networks are so supportive, and yet nothing compares to being seen, heard, and felt in the presence of another kind, caring, nonjudgmental human being.” Going online can certainly help you overcome the stigma and guilt associated with PMDs, but sometimes being truly seen in the moment, in person, outweighs the vast advice you can find online.

It’s no secret that motherhood is a huge and vital job, and one that cannot be accomplished single-handedly. It really does take a village, and after centuries of raising children with that mentality, we are still instinctually driven to find our own personal village.

Yet, at the end of the day, can virtual villages replace real-life help? The short answer is no.

There are benefits of face-to-face interactions that you cannot get online. They are, however, an important fabric of the postpartum support system that can truly help a struggling mother. When it comes to the health and wellbeing of mothers, the more positive support the better. As King points out, using social media as part of the support network is not an either-or situation, but a both-and. Turn to them when you need a little extra support at four o’clock in the morning, or have an issue you want input on from been-there-done-that moms. Then, when the sun finally rises, and the rest of nearby humanity wakes up, find your real-life tribe. 

What do you think: Can the virtual village replace a physical community and help with perinatal mood disorders? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Just weeks after announcing her pregnancy and letting the world know that's she's determined to keep working while she's expecting, Amy Schumer dropped some bad news Thursday.

She posted a photo of herself in a hospital bed with her little dog Tati, and spelled out the details of her health issues in the caption. "I have hyperemesis and it blows," Schumer wrote, noting that she's had to cancel upcoming shows in Texas due to the condition.

Poor Amy. Hyperemesis gravidarum (also known as HG) is a rare but serious pregnancy complication, and it's really tough.

Kate Middleton, Ayesha Curry and Motherly co-founder Elizabeth Tenety are among those who, like Schumer, have suffered from this form of severe morning sickness that can be totally debilitating.

As she previously wrote for Motherly, Tenety remembers becoming desperately ill, being confined to her apartment (mostly her bed) and never being far from a trash can, "I lost 10% of my body weight. I became severely dehydrated. I couldn't work. I couldn't even get out of bed. I could barely talk on the phone to tell my doctor how sick I was—begging them to please give me something, anything—to help."

Thankfully, she found relief through a prescription for Zofran, an anti-nausea drug.


It looks like Schumer is getting the medical help she obviously needs. In her Instagram post she wrote, "the doctors and nurses taking great care of me and Tati."

She seems to be getting IV fluids (she's probably super dehydrated) and hopefully her team can find a way to get her some relief with Zofran or another form of therapy.

Schumer says she feels very lucky to be pregnant, but HG can make a mama feel downright unlucky. As Schumer notes in her post, most mamas feel better in their second trimester, but HG can make it feel even worse than the first. "I've been even more ill this trimester," she says.

We're glad to see Schumer is getting help, and totally understand why she would have to cancel her shows. Any mama who has been through HG will tell you, that wouldn't be a show you'd want front row seats for anyway.

Get well soon, Amy!

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There's a lot on a mama's to-do list, from running around with the kids to managing her mental load. That's why we love subscription services that do the remembering for us... because mom brain is real.

There are so many on the market that'll fit just about anything you need. Maybe it's a recurring option so you never run out of your household goods—or coffee—or it's toys that streamline your little's learning during the first year. Or, you just want to treat yourself to a little goodie each month.

Whatever you're looking for, here are some of our favorite services:

1. Monti Kids

Sure, it seems like you could just gaze at your newborn all day—but sometimes it's nice to mix it up. With toys tailored to the development of children from the age of zero up to three, the quarterly subscription box from Monti Kids helps integrate Montessori-style learning into the home through a series gradually advancing toys.

Not only are the items premium quality, but they are also thoughtfully selected to stimulate your child's development. Win-win.

Monti Kids, $297 every 3 months

SUBSCRIBE

[In partnership with Monti Kids]

2. Audible

While you might want to devour a good book, finding the time to sit down and have a few minutes of quiet isn't always possible. That's why we're obsessed with Audible, a service by Amazon that lets you download audiobooks and listen to them anywhere—in the carpool line, during a workout, while you're in the shower.

Each month you'll get a new credit that can be used towards an endless array of options. Use this link to score two free audiobooks with a trial.

Audible Subscription, $14.95 per month after 30 day trial

BUY

3. Stitch Fix Kids

Kids grow out of clothes so fast so instead of running to the store to purchase new items every few months, Stitch Fix sends 8-12 handpicked items to try. Tell them about your kids' personality, style and budget, then get your box. Pay for what you like and then send back the rest!

Stitch Fix Kids, Stitch Fix, $20 per box, items are typically $10.00-$35.00

SUBSCRIBE

4. WePlenish

While this one isn't technically its own subscription service, it's pretty similar. The smart container stores your favorite coffee and once you connect it to your Wi-Fi, it begins to update product levels.

Simply link to a consumable (we love using Amazon) and it will automatically reorder it when supplies run low. No more morning panic that there's no coffee left or having to remember to add to your cart.

WePlenish Java, Amazon, $39.99 (consumables prices vary)

SUBSCRIBE

5. Happy Legs Club

If you always seem to forget to pick up new razors, Happy Legs Club is there to help. You'll get to select from one of their premium razors, select your ideal delivery schedule, and never have to add 'razors' to your shopping list again. Plus, we love the free shipping!

Happy Legs Club, starting at $12.00 a cycle

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6. Little Feminist Book Club

For the littles in your life, this book club membership will give them something to look forward to each month. Each box features one or two books about strong female characters and/or people of color, hand-selected by a team of teachers, librarians and parents. Then you get various activities that encourage kids to explore and guide conversations.

Little Feminist Book Club, $63.00 every 3 months

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7. KidPass

Finding new activities for your little has never been easier. A KidPass membership works with thousands of brands so you can enjoy indoor playspaces, sports, museums, zoos, and classes with your child.

We love the flexible plans so you can choose ones that work best for your family—plus, credits rollover for 90 days for those busy months. You can enjoy a free month trial here.

KidPass, KidPass, $49.00-$189.00 per month

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8. Shaker & Spoon

For the cocktail lovers, this is such a fun subscription. Each month, they'll send you everything you need to make about 12 fabulous drinks, including recipes, syrups, bitters, mixers, garnishes and citrus—all centered around one type of alcohol. No alcohol is included in the box, but one bottle will be enough so you can work with what you have at home.

Shaker & Spoon, Shaker & Spoon, $40-50 per month

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9. New Wash

For a cleaner, greener new way to cleanse your hair, New Wash combines essential oils and natural saturated cleansers to keep your hair fresh. Most shampoos use detergents, which strip your hair of the good oils that your hair actually needs (which is why you probably have to use conditioner, too). We love the canister and travel bottle that comes with it!

New Wash Subscription Option, $90.00 per ship (you select frequency)

SUBSCRIBE

10.  Disney Princess Boxes

If you have a princess (or prince) in your life, they're sure to obsess over Disney's new Princess Boxes. Every other . month, a box of magical treasures will arrive at your door with Disney store costumes, a read-along storybook and CD and stickers and surprises.

Disney Princess Enchanting Experience Box, starting at $49.99

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Childcare was the number one stressor for me as I prepared to return to work. It's something I had to think about early on because if I wanted to go the daycare route, I had to get on waiting lists... a YEAR in advance. Yes, you heard that right... ONE YEAR in advance to find childcare. Daycare was always what I thought I wanted for my baby—I didn't even consider a nanny mostly because of the cost.

However, once I started touring daycares, my heart was breaking. I couldn't imagine leaving my baby with strangers at 4 months old. Strangers that didn't know what each of her cries meant, strangers that wouldn't pay attention to her 24/7 because there were eight other babies in the room, strangers that I didn't know or trust.

These are all the wild thoughts that went through my head:

"What if she cries and no one picks her up to soothe her?"

"What if they pick her up and can't soothe her?"

"Will they remember that she needs her pacifier to fall asleep?"

"What if she gets hand, foot mouth?"

"Will she be sick all the time? Daycares are germ fests right?!"

"Will she be happy and loved?"

"Why am I letting strangers spend more time with my baby vs. me?"

"Shouldn't I stay home to take care of my baby for at least the first year?"

"She's so helpless--she can't talk or tell them what she wants--she's only 4 months!"

I could go on forever. I was a mess. I remember finally finding a daycare my husband and I liked. I went back to give them a deposit and when I walked in, I saw a baby laying in her crib crying and no one paying attention to her.

I ran out of there so fast, security deposit in hand and in tears telling my husband, "I can't do this!"

I took a break from the daycare search and tried to focus on enjoying every minute of maternity leave with Liv. About a month before I was heading back to work, I got a call from the daycare I originally wanted (a nice little year-plus waitlist).

We immediately signed up and secured our spot and I felt so much better. I still hated that I had to leave my 4-month-old baby in the care of someone else, but knew this place had a good reputation. It also gave me comfort to know my sister-in-law worked at a daycare when she was younger, and I knew how much she loved and cared for each of those babies (thank you for helping reassure me Allison).

To prepare for heading back to work, I did a couple trial daycare runs. For the first trial run, I planned on finally doing some self-care—getting my nails done, doing some shopping and maybe even working out. I walked out the door after dropping her off and immediately burst into tears. I made it to one store, got a coffee and was already headed back to the daycare 45 minutes later. The second time was a little better because I had a plan. I went to an event and it helped get my mind off worrying about her 24/7. I made it three hours that day... baby steps right?

I had so much anxiety about leaving her for the full day that I made the daycare employees in the infant room a "instruction manual" on Olivia. I remember emailing it to my mom and sister saying, "Is this okay to send to daycare? Will they think I'm crazy?"

My sister Lindsey said, "No why would they think that?! It's perfect. Olivia is your baby and you say whatever you want."

My mom said "No that's great! At the bottom put 'first time mother'—they will laugh but can use your info." Their responses were perfect and exactly what I needed to hear at the time. Thank you both.

For your viewing pleasure, here is a copy of the doc:

Once I was back at work, I thought about Liv 24/7. Is she okay at daycare? Is she crying? Does she miss me and need me? I counted down the minutes to get back to her and spent the evenings holding her.

Daycare was harder than I thought; coordinating pick up/drop offs, trying to get us out the door to get to work in time, planning bottles and her food for the day, etc. I was a hot mess and in tears most days.

Yes, I forgot bottles and jackets and extra clothes frequently. Yes, she got sick A LOT the first year she was there. I started to wonder if I had chosen the right option for Liv so I started looking into a nanny option.

I started a Nanny vs. Daycare pros and cons list (for those of you that know me, you know I do this for all important life decisions) which went a little something like this:

Pros of Nanny:

  • 1:1 interaction
  • Sick less often!
  • Less stress for mom
  • Help with house + meals
  • Cheaper if I ever have a second child
  • Not overstimulated
  • Another adult that loves Liv
  • Help with grocery shopping
  • Consistency for Liv
  • Works with my schedule
  • Not learning bad habits from other kids
  • Better quality food/more control
  • High turnover at daycare
Pros of Daycare:
  • Interaction with other kids at daycare
  • Social skills
  • Safety in numbers
  • Structured space and hours
  • More cost efficient

Everything except cost was leading me towards a nanny (double what daycare was), but in my gut I always knew I wanted to go the daycare route. It was the stress of figuring out this new working mom life that made me want to change my mind (along with some outsider's opinions).

I decided to stick with daycare and we moved Liv to one closer to our house. My husband and family members were able to help now with pick up/drop off so it wasn't all on me. As she got older (she's 19 months old now), she didn't get sick as often and I loved watching her play with the other kids. While it was hard in the beginning, it HAS gotten easier and I know I made the right choice.

For any moms struggling to choose childcare, I want you to know that whatever choice you make, make the best choice for you and your baby. No one else. And there is no wrong choice. You will figure it out, you will get through this, and your baby will thrive either way. Some days will be harder than others, but the most important thing is that you love your baby.

Originally posted on The Returnity Project.

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Once Thanksgiving arrives, everyone's lives get a little more chaotic. There are holiday concerts and parties coming up and in between are the visits to family, the gift giving and all of the meals.

If you're already feeling a bit overwhelmed, here's a simple strategy to follow, mama.

1. Lay out your plan for the next 6 weeks

Your plan should include:

  • A calendar with all the events you and your family are signed up to attend. You might want to color code them by priority. Green could mean "must attend" while red could mean "optional attendance." You want to give yourself some wiggle room for the unexpected. After all, it's only when you are at your busiest that something will happen to throw a wrench into your plans.
  • To-do items that aren't date-sensitive, but can't be forgotten in the schedule. This could be making time to go to the Christmas tree farm, if you're getting a fresh tree, or putting up outside decorations. Or, it might be letting extended family know your plans for Christmas morning.
  • Gift shopping list, including where you will get each item from. The sooner you can start shopping, the more likely you are to find what you're looking for at the right price and in stock. If you're shopping some Black Friday deals, online or in person, the list can guide you so you're not overspending. If you're hiding gifts from the kids, make sure you note where you put them! There's nothing worse than getting to Christmas Eve and you have no idea where you stashed the presents.
  • Meal plan for days that you have friends or family at home. This can mean your own family, too. It's not just about planning the family dinner on a certain holiday, like Thanksgiving or Hanukkah, but also the days before and after. The more you can have at the ready for busy days, the less likely you will be to rely on the local pizza delivery place.

2. Stock up on what you can

Make a list of items you know you use each year and stock up on those. For example, if you burn the cranberry sauce Thanksgiving morning, you'll be glad that you stocked up on two cans of it and have extras handy in the pantry.

Some ideas of what to add to your cart:

  • Canned goods
  • Water
  • Wine, beer, drinks and mix
  • Wrapping paper, tape and gift bags
  • Extra gifts—have a few bottles of wine or chocolates in gift bags handy for that unexpected gift from the neighbor or crossing guard.
  • Extras of most-used items, like toiletries or favorite snacks
  • Firewood for the fireplace

3. Strategically decorate your home

Making the switch from autumn Thanksgiving decor to holiday mode may leave you scrambling, but it doesn't have to. Ideally, have plastic bins with decorations for each holiday in separate ones so you can put away one set while pulling out the next one, quickly and easily.

They'll also be that much easier to find next year. These can be stored away when they're not being used in a basement closet or storage area, safe and sound. For minimalist mamas, select only your favorite decorations and find ways to incorporate them throughout various holidays.

4. Be realistic when it comes to buying gifts

If you have a large family, you can suggest a Secret Santa method of gifts so your list will be more condensed. But even if you have to buy for everyone, you can plan to get it done in advance.

Leverage online shopping so you don't have to arrange childcare or deal with crowds, or plan to set aside a day that's just for you. Don't overbuy for kids too soon if possible. Kids might change their wish list in the weeks before the holiday. Many mamas found that implementing a three gift Christmas, or an experience gift, can lessen the stress and leave the kids happier.

5. Prepare for gatherings + in-law visits


If you host family or friends during the holidays, get some things done in advance so you're not worrying about them in the moment.

  • Have extras of toothbrushes and toiletries
  • Set aside guest laundry (towels, sheets, etc.) so you don't have to worry about laundry
  • Check with family about allergies or foods that they don't enjoy before you set the menus and buy ingredients
  • Make room in closets for extra coats, boots and clothing
  • Give yourself a present and have a cleaning service come in and do a thorough job of cleaning the house in the days before your mother-in-law arrives
Pro tip: A really nice way to greet people and make them feel at home is to have a basket of slippers in their space or lay out chocolate on their pillow.

Originally posted by Modular Closets.

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