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Everything feels worse at 3am, doesn’t it? 3am is always the time your brain will not turn off and anxiety sets in. It feels like something is nibbling on my brain in these small hours. Over the years I have zoomorphized those weird little nibbly critters into “Madness Hamsters.”


In the autumn of 2014, thanks in part to the Madness Hamsters, I realized I was never going to get anywhere at the insurance company where I worked. I had an administrative job and it was boring me to tears. After eighteen months there, the Hamsters were out in full force. They whispered things like, “You’re not a corporate person” or “What’s the point in having a salary if you have no time to enjoy it?” Or “The more bored you get, the more we will steal your brain” and so on. They are very annoying. I also tend to think they are right with irritating frequency.

I didn’t want the Hamsters to steal my brain, but I was resigned to what I thought was the sensible option – working the secure, decently-paid, and non-stressful job for a number of years in order to save up enough money to start a coffee shop. The coffee shop was and always had been my dream, but there were other factors to contend with too: as a new immigrant, I had to sort out my permanent residency status in Canada, build up a good credit rating, and not rush headlong into enormous financial risk, ill-prepared. I had only emigrated from the UK with my small family two years previously.

However, a lot of things happened extremely quickly. It was not always a deliberate effort, but I have often found that as soon as I make a conscious decision to do something, things start falling into the place to make it happen. In this instance, I met a very smart, ambitious guy at our office party. Matt was new to the company, and my first impressions were that he was conservative, straight-laced, and a model corporate employee – and thus someone I would have little in common with. Fortunately, our boss engineered the introductions despite my reluctance. Matt is a graduate of the University of Regina business school and had a very keen interest in entrepreneurship, but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to actually start a business of his own. We suddenly had a lot to talk about.

Over the next three months, we emailed each other back and forth between the insurance company departments, met on our lunch breaks to walk around town looking for venue inspiration, and drank a lot of coffee. Something about him coming to work on Halloween dressed as a six-foot hotdog set me at ease. By the fall, we had formulated a plan to do something together.

My newcomer status in Canada and my total lack of capital meant I had no way of funding a new start-up, especially one on this scale. Matt did not have these problems: he is young, local, and solvent, and he did not have huge bills like painful townhouse rent or childcare to contend with, as I did. Spurred on by this, he summoned the confidence and applied for a very large loan.

We then scouted for a building, and after a lot of disappointments and frustration, I found a near-perfect one. We negotiated the lease with the landlord (who I just happened to have made coffee for a few years ago at another job). A lot of phoning around got us a general contractor company to turn the huge empty building into a pleasant social space with two bathrooms and a coffee bar. Thanks to some luck, some bravado, and a great deal of chatting up random people in our different social circles, it finally all came together.

Then a huge spanner hit the works just two weeks after we had signed the lease. The Madness Hamsters were finding new and ingenious ways of keeping me up all night, and I had a sneaking suspicion that something major was coming my way. I was right: I was pregnant!

This wasn’t entirely unplanned. In fact, my husband Carl and I had been trying for a while, long before I’d even met Matt or got serious about a new business. We’d had problems, though, including an utterly miserable experience over the summer when I miscarried at thirteen weeks. With the advantage of hindsight, I can see that I was deliberately throwing myself into complicated projects like the café as a way of avoiding dealing with that grief and frustration. Possibly not the best basis for starting a new business. As is often the case, though, the simple act of not thinking about pregnancy resulted in pregnancy.

Carl and I kept it to ourselves for as long as we could manage, not wanting to in any way jinx it. I told Matt, though, and tried to reassure him that I was still completely committed to the cafe. In some respects, going solo at this point worked to my advantage. Setting my own hours and my own schedule gave me the freedom to handle pregnancy on my own terms. Additionally I thought that I’d also be able to take the baby to work with me and not worry about childcare. By the new year of 2015, I was blissfully happy with the world, extremely excited about everything to come, and throwing up every day.

Soon enough, the time came and I gleefully quit the day job. This was a momentous occasion. Leaving at this point (on Friday 13th, no less) was either very brave or very stupid. Had I stayed, I would have gotten the generous Canadian one year paid maternity leave, and a job to go back to afterwards. Now, of course, I would get diddly-squat except the state Employment Insurance benefits. Was paid maternity leave worth hanging around being bored for another few months and passing up the opportunity to open the cafe? I’d like to think not.

Not having the office job meant plenty of time (ahem) to work on “Dr. Coffee’s Cafe.” Even then it definitely was not easy, and many unanticipated events meant we didn’t manage to open exactly when we’d hoped. I was exhausted, but otherwise, the New-Human Growing process was going fairly well. As we neared opening day, I was feeling slightly less sick and disgusting now that I was over halfway through the pregnancy. We may not have opened quite to schedule, but even Wonder Woman needs a nap sometimes, I’m sure.

We finally got Dr. Coffee’s Cafe open on 13th April, 2015, when I was 26 weeks pregnant and two months to the day since I’d left the office job. The initial response to the place was so positive that I was convinced I must be on the right track finally. That went for everything else in my life as well. I had my cafe business, and my wonderful husband and brilliant beastling daughter to share it all with. There was another tiny daughter kicking me from inside my belly, my fantastic friends were all rooting for me from both sides of the Atlantic, the sun was shining after the long Saskatchewan winter, and all felt right with the world. For these moments, I felt very, very lucky.

However, I was getting larger and larger by the day, and more and more exhausted with pregnancy. I honestly do not know what possessed me to carry on as I did. I was still pulling sixty hour weeks right up until three weeks before my daughter was born. I can see now that that there was no need for me to actually be there myself as we had hired excellent staff, but I couldn’t accept that at the time. It’s only when I stopped and detached a little that I could see clearer.

Eventually, I gave in and took my maternity leave. Matt took over the general worrying and the shopping, and our baristas handled the summer amazingly well on their own. Why oh why did I not just let them get on with it prior to that? Put it down to stubborn arrogance. On some level, I wanted to feel indispensable. As wonderful as the staff were, my own ego wouldn’t let me trust them enough for me to let go of my business-baby, even while I was incubating my real baby.

I also felt like I had something to prove, to myself, but also to a lesser extent to Matt, who had seemed panicked when I told him I was pregnant so soon after signing the lease. Of course, growing a tiny human can’t slow me down! I can do everything! I can have it all!

Nope. That isn’t empowering. That was just stupidity. And it took me a full year to realize it.

I somehow expected my maternity leave to be a peaceful, idyllic, and “instagrammable” period. I could picture it, spending all day in pajamas, sipping my coffee with an adorable chubby baby sleeping angelically on my lap. Maybe I’d catch up on all those books I’d been wanting to read for so long.

This naive fantasy was very far removed from the reality.

Baby Theia exploded into the world within two days of her due date, and even as I was heading into hospital I was still getting text messages from the cafe asking where the hazelnut syrup was, and whether ‘BabyCoffee’ had arrived yet or not! It took 28 agonizing hours of labour, but arrive she did at over nine pounds, which rendered me out of action for the best part of the next month. My midwife released me from the hospital but forbade me from leaving my bed for a week, as I had lost a dangerous amount of blood. I was supposed to be taking it easy, and she didn’t advise walking too far for as long as possible. Needless to say, I got very bored very quickly: I wanted to go and show off my beautiful new baby!

And then there were the joys of entrepreneurship. Even if I was not actually pulling espresso shots, there were always at least a dozen emails waiting for me, or the website needed updating, or Facebook needed to take its daily slice of my soul, or it was time for payroll. At least while I was bed-bound, I could work from my laptop, I reasoned.

I’m not complaining; I honestly wouldn’t have had it any other way. Being self-employed and having the freedom to take my children to work with me allows me all sorts of benefits which few parents with conventional jobs can afford. Whereas I could have done with making far more money than I was at the time, I never had to sit in an office away from my kids, and never had to try and pump breastmilk while hiding in a stationary cupboard (as a friend once described having to do when she went back to work). Better still, I had caffeine on tap to cope with Theia’s 4am feeds and newborn sleeplessness, and most importantly I could run my own business and take care of my wonderful girls at the same time. That summer, I really did have it all, and it was well worth the sleep deprivation.

Sometimes it’s worth listening to the Madness Hamsters.

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While breastfeeding might seem like a simple task, there are so many pieces to the puzzle aside from your breasts and baby. From securing a good latch, boosting your milk supply and navigating pumping at work or feeding throughout the night, there's a lot that mama has to go through—and a number of products she needs.

No matter how long your nursing journey may be, it can be hard to figure out what items you really need to add to your cart. So we asked our team at Motherly to share items they simply couldn't live without while breastfeeding. You know, those ones that are a total game-changer.

Here are the best 13 products that they recommend—and you can get them all from Walmart.com:

1. Medela Nursing Sleep Bra

"This fuss-free nursing bra was perfect for all the times that I was too tired to fumble with a clasp. It's also so comfy that, I have to admit, I still keep it in rotation despite the fact that my nursing days are behind me (shh!)." —Mary S.

Price: $15.99

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2. Dr. Brown's Baby First Year Transition Bottles

"My daughter easily transitioned back and forth between breastfeeding and these bottles." —Elizabeth

Price: $24.98

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3. Multi-Use Nursing Cover

"When I was breastfeeding, it was important to me to feel like a part of things, to be around people, entertain guests, etc. Especially since so much of being a new mom can feel isolating. So having the ability to cover up but still breastfeed out in the open, instead of disappearing into a room somewhere for long stretches alone to feed, made me feel better."—Renata

Price: $11.99

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4. Lansinoh TheraPearl Breast Therapy Pack

"I suffered from extreme engorgement during the first weeks after delivery with both of my children. I wouldn't have survived had it not been for these packs that provided cold therapy for engorgement and hot therapy for clogged milk ducts." —Deena

Price: $10.25

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5. Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump Wipes

"Being a working and pumping mama, these quick clean wipes made pumping at the office so much easier, and quicker. I could give everything a quick wipe down between pumping sessions. And did not need a set of spare parts for the office." —Ashley

Price: $19.99

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6. Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter

"This nipple butter is everything, you don't need to wash it off before baby feeds/you pump. I even put some on my lips at the hospital and it saved me from chapped lips and nips." —Conz

Price: $12.95

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7. Medela Double Electric Pump

"I had latch issues and terrible postpartum anxiety, and was always worried my son wasn't getting enough milk. So I relied heavily on my breast pump so that I could feed him bottles and know exactly how much he was drinking. This Medela pump and I were best friends for almost an entire year" —Karell

Price: $199.99 Receive a $50 gift card with purchase at walmart.com

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8. Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads

"I overproduced in the first couple weeks (and my milk would come in pretty much every time my baby LOOKED at my boobs), so Lansinoh disposable nursing pads saved me from many awkward leak situations!" —Justine

Price: $9.79

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9. Haakaa Silicone Manual Breast Pump

"This has been a huge help in saving the extra milk from the letdown during breastfeeding and preventing leaks on my clothes!" —Rachel

Price: $12.99

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10. Medela Harmony Breast Pump

"Because I didn't plan to breastfeed I didn't buy a pump before birth. When I decided to try, I needed a pump so my husband ran out and bought this. It was easy to use, easy to wash and more convenient than our borrowed electric pump." —Heather

Price: $26.99

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11. Milkies Fenugreek

"I struggled with supply for my first and adding this to my regimen really helped with increasing milk." —Mary N.

Price: $14.95

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12. Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags

"I exclusively pumped for a year with my first and these are hands down the best storage bags. All others always managed to crack eventually. These can hold a great amount and I haven't had a leak! And I have used over 300-400 of these!" —Carla

Price: $13.19

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13. Kiinde Twist Breastfeeding Starter Kit

"The Kiinde system made pumping and storing breastmilk so easy. It was awesome to be able pump directly into the storage bags, and then use the same bags in the bottle to feed my baby." —Diana

Price: $21.99

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This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Orange Is the New Black star Danielle Brooks is pregnant and frustrated. The actress took to Instagram this week to lament the lack of plus-sized options for pregnant people.

"It's so hard to find some clothes to wear today....Although I get to pregnant I still can't find no clothes. It's so hard to find some clothes when you're pregnant," she sings in a lighthearted yet serious video.

"It's so hard to find cute plus size maternity fashion while pregnant, but ima push through," she captioned the clip.

Brooks has been talking a lot this week about the issues people who wear plus size clothing face not just when trying to find clothes but in simply moving through a world that does not support them.

"I feel like the world has built these invisible bullets to bully us in telling us who we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to look like. And I've always had this desire to prove people wrong—to say that this body that I'm in is enough," she told SHAPE (she's on the new cover).

"Now that I'm about to be a mother, it means even more—to make sure that this human being I'm going to bring into the world knows that they are enough," she said.

Danielle Brooks is the body-positive hero we need right now. Now can someone make her some cute maternity clothes, please?

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In prior decades, body image issues usually didn't hit the scene until kids reached adolescence. But thanks to social media, and our culture's relentless pursuit of thinness, we now have to find creative ways to teach young children how to develop healthy body images.

Before I dive into some practical tips to help kids improve body image, I want to first diminish any shame that you might be feeling if you have body issues of your own. It's so important to remember that you downloaded every internal message from somewhere else. Of course, it's critical to work on your own issues, but it's also important to know it is not your fault that you developed them in the first place!

So, whether you are struggling with your own body image, or you love your body, here are some tools to help your child feel better about the precious body he or she lives in:

1. Break the spell

How do you know if your child has a bad body image? Perhaps they've begun making negative comments about their size or shape. Maybe they are comparing their body to others. Maybe they are avoiding foods or activities they once enjoyed because they feel uncomfortable about their body.

Often the most common response a parent has is to reassure their child that they are “fine," or “beautiful" or “perfect." And while there is certainly nothing wrong with some reassurance, it simply may not be enough to overpower the cultural messages kids are surrounded by. Reassure them that they are perfect just the way they are.

2. Unkind mind, kind mind and quiet mind

This little menu of options encourages kids to identify and differentiate between three different thinking states within themselves. I refer to them as “mind moods." Try teaching your child about these three states of mind and brainstorming examples of each. For example, unkind mind = “I hate my thighs." Kind mind = “I love singing." Quiet mind = Peacefully resting or playing.

This will raise their awareness of their thoughts and help them to choose their mind moods more consciously. As they learn to turn up the volume of their kind minds and spend more time in their quiet minds, they begin to feel more present and peaceful.

Once you have helped your child identify their unkind mind as a distinct voice, they can then try on some different responses and see which ones help bring them some relief. Try asking them to write or say all the messages their unkind mind is saying and practicing using strong, soft, silly or silent responses. Kids can learn that their unkind mind is not all of who they are, and that it doesn't have to run the show.

3. Get to the root

This concept helps kids discover what triggers their body dissatisfaction. You can help your child by asking questions or taking guesses about what might have started their bad body image. For example, I helped one 7-year old get to the root of her body obsession by noticing it started when there was a death in her family. Right around that time, her best friend started talking about dieting, so she latched onto food obsession as a distracting coping tool.

Once we uncovered this, she was able to learn about healthy grieving and truly healthy eating (as opposed to what the diet culture deems as healthy—which can actually be unhealthy).

4. Mind movies vs. really real

Try asking your child to show you some things around them that are real (i.e. things they can see, touch or hear). Then ask them if they can show you one single thought in their minds. You can playfully challenge them to take a thought out of their head and show it to you or fold it up and put it in their pocket. This tool teaches kids how to be more present.

Of course, they might use their imagination to do this, but with some finesse, you can teach your child to distinguish between the mind movies that cause them stress and the really real things around them. This is an immensely helpful tool that will not only help them with body image (since body image is one long mind movie) but will also improve the quality of their lives in general.

5. Dog talk and cat chat

Many kids cannot relate to the concept of being kind to themselves but ask a child how they feel about their favorite pet, and a doorway to their compassion, kindness and unconditional acceptance opens. For non-pet lovers, you can ask your child to imagine how they would speak to a baby or their best friend.

Dog talk and cat chat can help teach youngsters how to take the loving words and tones they use toward a beloved pet, and direct these sentiments toward themselves and their bodies.

6. Do an internal upgrade

In addition to helping your child combat the messages they receive out in the world, you can also work on the messages they get in your home. Again, if you struggle with body image, it is not your fault, but you can work on healing—and not only will you feel more peace, but your child will benefit as well.

To the best of your ability, refrain from talking about foods as “good" or “bad." Refrain from making negative comments about your (or anyone else's) weight or looks. Refrain from praising someone (or yourself) for weight loss.

Practice welcoming your child's tears and anger without trying to change their feelings before they are ready. Practice eating all food groups in moderation. Foster a positive, grateful attitude about your body.

May you and your child feel comfortable in your bodies, eat all foods in moderation, move and rest in ways that feel good, and find abundant sweetness and fulfillment in life.

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Learn + Play

After a long day of doing seemingly everything, when our partners get home it kind of becomes a habit to ask, "How was your day?" In between prepping dinner, handing off the kids, finishing your own work, we don't exactly get much value from this question. Sure, it may open up the opportunity to complain about that awful thing that happened or excitedly share that presentation you killed at work—but it usually stops there.

I could do a better job of really talking in my relationship. After 12 years and two kids, sometimes all we can come up with post bedtime routine is, "You good? I'm good. Fire up the Netflix."

Here are 21 questions to dig deeper into your marriage after a long day—see where they take you!

  1. Did you listen to anything interesting today?
  2. If you could do any part of today over again, what would it be?
  3. How much coffee did you drink today?
  4. Will you remember any specific part of today a year from now? Five years?
  5. Did you take any photos today? What did you photograph?
  6. What app did you open most today?
  7. How can I make your day easier in five minutes?
  8. If we were leaving for vacation tonight, where do you wish we would be heading?
  9. If you won $500 and had to spend it on yourself today, what would you buy?
  10. If your day was turned into a movie, who would you cast?
  11. What did you say today that you could have never expected to come out of your mouth?
  12. What did you do to take care of yourself today?
  13. When did you feel appreciated today?
  14. If you could guarantee one thing for tomorrow what would it be?
  15. If we traded places tomorrow what advice would you give me for the day?
  16. What made you laugh today?
  17. Imagine committing the next year to learning one thing in your spare time. What would it be?
  18. Did you give anyone side-eye today? Why?
  19. What do you wish you did more of today?
  20. What do you wish you did less of today?
  21. Are you even listening to me right now?

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Love + Village

Alexis Ohanian has made a lot of important decisions in his life. The decision to co-found Reddit is a pretty big one. So was marrying Serena Williams. But right up there with changing internet culture and making a commitment to his partner, the venture capitalist lists taking time off after his daughter's birth as a significant, life-changing choice.

"Before Olympia was born, I had never thought much about paternity leave and, to be honest, Reddit's company policy was not my idea. Our vice president of people and culture, Katelin Holloway, brought it up to me in a meeting and it sounded O.K., so why not?" Ohanian writes in an op-ed for New York Times Parenting.

He continues: "Then came Olympia, after near-fatal complications forced my wife, Serena, to undergo an emergency C-section. Serena spent days in recovery fighting for her life against pulmonary embolisms. When we came home with our baby girl, Serena had a hole in her abdomen that needed bandage changes daily. She was on medication. She couldn't walk."

The experience changed the way Ohanian viewed paternity leave. It was no longer something that just sounded like a good thing, it was a necessary thing for his family. It was crucial that he take it and now he is advocating for more fathers to be able to. In his piece for the NYT Ohanian points out something that Motherly has previously reported on: It is hard for fathers to take paternity leave even when their government or employer offers it.

A report from Dove Men+Care and Promundo (a global organization dedicated to gender equality) found 85% of dads surveyed in the United States, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands would do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months after their child's birth or adoption, but less than 50% of fathers take as much time as they are entitled to.

Dads need paid leave, but even when they have it social pressures and unrealistic cultural expectations keep them from taking it and they choose not to take all the time they can. Ohanian wants lawmakers and business leaders to make sure that dads can take leave and he wants to help fathers choose to actually take it.

"I was able to take 16 weeks of paid leave from Reddit, and it was one of the most important decisions I've made," Ohanian previously wrote in an essay for Glamour.

Ohanian recognizes that he is privileged in a way most parents aren't.

"It helped that I was a founder and didn't have to worry about what people might say about my 'commitment' to the company, but it was incredible to be able to spend quality time with Olympia. And it was perhaps even more meaningful to be there for my wife and to adjust to this new life we created together—especially after all the complications she had during and after the birth," he wrote for Glamour.

In his NYT piece, Ohanian goes further: "I get that not every father has the flexibility to take leave without the fear that doing so could negatively impact his career. But my message to these guys is simple: Taking leave pays off, and it's continued to pay dividends for me two years later. It should be no surprise that I also encourage all of our employees to take their full leave at Initialized Capital, where I am managing partner; we recently had three dads on paid paternity leave at the same time."

The GOAT's husband is making the same points that we at Motherly make all the time. Research supports paid leave for all parents. It benefits the baby and the parents and that benefits society.

By first taking his leave and then speaking out about the ways in which it benefited his family, Ohanian is using his privileged position to de-stigmatize fathers taking leave, and advocate for more robust parental leave policies for all parents, and his influence doesn't end there. He's trying to show the world that parents shouldn't have to cut off the parent part of themselves in order to be successful in their careers.

He says that when his parental leave finished he transitioned from being a full-time dad to a "business dad."

"I'm fortunate to be my own boss, which comes with the freedoms of doing things like bringing my daughter into the office, or working remotely from virtually anywhere Serena competes. My partners at Initialized are used to seeing Olympia jump on camera—along with her doll Qai Qai—or hearing her babbling on a call. I tell them with pride, 'Olympia's at work today!' And I'll post some photos on Instagram or Twitter so my followers can see it too," Ohanian explains.

"The more we normalize this, on social media and in real life, the better, because I know this kind of dynamic makes a lot of men uncomfortable (and selfishly I want Olympia to hear me talking about start-ups!)," he says.

This is the future of family-friendly work culture. Take it from a guy who created an entire internet culture.

[A version of this post was originally published February 19, 2019. It has been updated.]

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