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This film sheds human light on the surrogacy boom in the U.S.—specifically, in Boise, Idaho

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[Editor's note: Throughout this piece, the term "surrogate" is used as colloquial shorthand for gestational carrier (GC). The American Society of Reproductive Medicine defines a gestational carrier as "an arrangement where a woman carries and delivers a child for another couple or person (intended parent[s]). When using a GC, the eggs used to make the embryos do not come from the carrier. Because the eggs will be retrieved from one woman and implanted in another, this technique requires the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF)."]

It's a scene many adult women can relate to—two unacquainted women sit next to each other, eating lunch at a baby shower. They make small talk, one telling the other she's a coworker of the mother-to-be. "And how about you, what's your connection?"

"I'm just the surrogate!" replies the other, relishing the polite shock on her neighbor's face. They share a good-humored laugh.

This is Made in Boise, a film full of compassion, heart and an intimate entry point into the human side of commercial surrogacy in the U.S.—which has been on the rise for the past 20 years and is currently experiencing a boom in Boise, Idaho. Directed and produced by Beth Aala, an award-winning filmmaker and mother of two, the film follows four different women who have chosen to be gestational carriers as they navigate their agreement to carry a child (or two) for intended parents they met through an agency.

As the stories unfold and relationships develop on screen, it is immediately reinforced that these women are more than 'just' surrogates. All of the strong women featured have their own stack of responsibilities beyond their surrogacy arrangement—Nicole, the woman from the opening baby shower scene, is on her fourth(!) surrogacy journey. She is also a mother of two and the CEO of A Host of Possibilities, the local surrogacy and egg donor agency through which we meet our other subjects.

Chelsea, carrying twins on her second surrogacy journey, is a mother to four of her own children.

Cindy, taking on her first surrogacy pregnancy at 42, is a NICU nurse and a single mother of five (two biological, three adopted).

Sammie is a 26-year-old nail technician and single mother to a toddler.

All women choose to carry for different reasons, and each face different challenges and triumphs along their way— physical, emotional and cultural. (All are heroes, in my book).

See a clip of the film's youngest featured surrogate, Sammie, here:

We had the opportunity to catch up with the film's director and producer, Beth Aala, and the film's producer, Beth Levison, who both happen to be talented working mothers themselves.

Aala approached the story from a personal place. Shortly after having her second child eight years ago, a close friend who had struggled with many years of infertility and repeat miscarriages asked Aala to be a gestational carrier for her child. Though she was not personally interested in being pregnant again, Aala did say yes knowing the difficulties her friend had faced, and having firsthand experience with how life-changing motherhood could be.

Months after agreeing, her friend became pregnant, so Beth didn't end up acting as a surrogate. Regardless, the experience remained with her.

Aala explains, "The ask of it all framed my perspective when the story did come to me, and I thought—okay. I need to tell this story. I've had so many friends who have struggled getting pregnant and starting their families... and as a mom, I know what it's like to have a child. I know the joys of it all and how incredibly meaningful—it's something that has changed my life."

Jenni Morello

It is worth acknowledging that commercial surrogacy remains a divisive issue the world over, and was notably banned earlier this year in India due to exploitation concerns. This particular film does not seek to tell a story of exploitation. By contrast, these stories seem to present a cross section of better-case scenarios—these are empowered women making a very personal choice, and they all ultimately share the drive of helping someone else become a parent.

One of the most powerful elements of this film is how Aala alludes to the remarkable web of female support found in this particular surrogacy community. There's Nicole, who runs the surrogacy agency and is seemingly always fielding phone calls from surrogates, offering support, checking in on them throughout pregnancy and postpartum. There's a surrogacy support group where carriers find normalcy and connection, joking about how they love to be pregnant but don't want to raise any more kids, or how hard it can be to explain the carrier role to their own mothers. We see female lawyers and advocates helping surrogates navigate the logistical complications of their contracts.

When Aala first began researching the story, this web of women nurturing and supporting each other to make sure all parties are protected immediately came into sharp relief, drawing her further in. (She also intentionally staffed the film with an all-female crew, extending that web of female support behind the camera, as well.)

"That was really why I wanted it to be told from the point of view of the surrogates. Because one—I feel like their role is very misunderstood. Two—I wanted to have these female protagonists that make you think about these complicated decisions. And they are surrounded by these incredibly supportive female characters... that was just so inspiring to me."

For the first year of production, Beth didn't have funding, a restriction that forced her to do a lot of the shooting herself, often using borrowed cameras. But this stripped-down approach was also a strategic choice, and one that I believe impacts the outcome of the film in beautiful, emotionally-resonant ways. Her minimalist shoot profile enabled her to capture such intimate moments in intimate spaces—in family homes, doctor checkups, during the otherwise-private moments of in vitro fertilization and birth. (The film's intimate access is, of course, also a testament to the trust these women gave Aala, putting their stories in her capable hands).

Crystal Kulack

In one particularly poignant scene, surrogate Sammie is recovering from the C-section birth of the child she carried, while parents David and Todd excitedly (and a bit nervously, as is par for the course of any new parent) have skin-to-skin snuggles with their newborn in a nearby room. The moment brought me back to my own postpartum experiences, as I tried to imagine how it might feel to be seated in post-birth recovery when the baby you carried and delivered wasn't, in fact, yours.

Sammie tells the camera about how she felt a sudden wave of anxiety before the C-section procedure began. But lying on the operating table, she was able to calm herself by visualizing how David and Todd had played and bonded with her son on a playground just the day prior. By focusing on the trust she held that they were going to be great parents, she felt a subsequent wave of happiness and calm as she prepared to give birth.

As a viewer, I felt a comparable emotional reaction watching these two fathers finally meet the baby they'd dreamed of for the first time on screen. On a personal level, it was revelatory for me to acknowledge that Sammie's primary emotional connection seemed to be to the parents, rather than to the baby she carried for them. Through this process, these recent strangers had forged a unique, real and beautiful bond.

Crystal Kulack

In speaking about why she wanted to help shepherd this film to screen, producer Beth Levison explained how she was drawn to Beth Aala's clear vision for the film—noting the warm, inviting, and at times playful tone she crafted. (It's easy to grasp what Levison refers to. I especially enjoyed the buffer-bar graphics denoting how far along a woman is in her pregnancy, and the birds-eye flyover shots that seemed to emphasize an ordered, idyllic suburban oasis of homes, lawns and beautiful Boise vistas. These floating shots were a nice visual counterpoint to the complex human stories at play on the ground).

Levison added, "If this film is one that can get people talking about surrogacy and thinking more deeply about it—thinking about legislation, thinking about how we protect women, how we look out for unique families and think about them and provide for them, then I think it's really important. I think there's a tendency for us as a culture maybe to emphasize or talk about 'natural' births—whether that's the correct phrase or not—but you know, the narrative is very much about people having their own babies. And if this film can change that narrative, I think that's really important, because I think there are many other narratives at play in 2019."

In an early scene in the film that takes place in The Host of Possibilities agency office, there's a slightly-lingering detail shot on a piece of wall decor—an Idaho state map, striped in rainbow colors, inscribed with the beautiful words, "Ultimately, the one thing that makes a family is love."

This positive sentiment is woven throughout the film, which left me thinking about how the life-changing experience of becoming a parent can create a universal thread of connection to other humans who are parents, too—and how there truly are myriad ways to form your family.

"Made in Boise" is a sensitive, woman-centered and thought-provoking exploration of one of those ways.


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My experience watching the film as a mother brought up a lot of emotions for me. Having only carried and given birth to my own children, I find it endlessly fascinating to think of what these women sacrifice to carry a baby for another person—especially someone they just met. But the connections fostered in these specific surrogacy stories were certainly not transactional—these surrogates were connecting with their intended parents on a much deeper level.Made in Boise is a sensitive, woman-centered and thought-provoking exploration of one of those ways.

You can stream Made in Boise now through Sunday, November 10 on PBS.org + on the PBS app.

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

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


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There's no denying that Christmas trees bring the joy of the holidays to life into our homes. They make us happy and decorating them creates moments of happiness with our family. And now during these trying times, people are finding that same joy decorating Easter trees.

Some parents are digging out their faux Christmas trees and redecorating them for Easter.

"Given the current situation and the craziness of it all, I thought we'd try and cheer the house up a little bit, because we're all stuck here for the foreseeable future," says mama Louise Connolly.

"And it gave the kids something to do. They thought it was hilarious! I just want to make this time memorable for them in nice ways," Connolly says.

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While the trend is fairly new in the US, Germany and Sweden have followed the trend for centuries. Known as Ostereierbaum, the tradition symbolizes the start of the spring season.

Some mamas are opting for minimalist versions while others are going full Christmas with faux evergreen trees.

From whimsical pink and farmhouse to sparkled and rustic, there are a rainbow of Easter tree varieties to buy or DIY. Just don't forget a pair of bunny ears at the top!

Need ideas? Here's what to put on your Easter tree for a cheerful pop of color:

  • Plastic dyed eggs
  • Rabbit-themed stuffed animals
  • Feathers
  • Faux peonies + roses
  • Pastel-hued lights
  • Faux carrots
  • Paper bunnies + chicks
  • miniature birds or bugs
Instagram mama Ania Krezalek says her kids had so much fun with their indoor minimalist version that she's now doing her outdoor trees, too.

Krezalek tells Mothery some moms in her neighborhood suggested outdoor Easter trees as a way to cheer up everyone's kids.

"A lot of moms are resorting to drives with the kids to get out safely, and for the kids to spot out homes with trees decorated for Easter I'm sure would put a smile on their faces," she explains.

From outdoor trees to indoor lights, mamas are making the most of anything festive right now.
Grey's Anatomy star Camilla Luddington dug out her Christmas lights (sans tree) to cheer up her daughter.
She tweeted "We've renamed them Easter lights :)"

During these hard times, we all need something to smile about, and if you're one of the people who can't wait to get their Christmas decorations up you now have the perfect excuse to get them back out.


News

With kids home from school doing more of their learning online—and parents across the country just trying to get a little bit of their own work done at home—kids are getting record amounts of screen time these days. Preschoolers have jam-packed video conferencing schedules, kindergarteners are watching read-alouds on laptops, and elementary and middle school kids are suddenly turning in every assignment online.

How can we help kids adjust to spending so much time on screens, especially when they may have a strong association with screen time as playtime? And how can parents adjust to letting kids have so much more screen time when we've been told we should cut back on how much time our little ones look at our phones?

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Here's how to help kids adjust to being on devices more than usual:

Create separation between learning screen time + play screen time

In the big picture, screen time is screen time regardless of how it's being used, and there are always risks to overusing something. However, it's helpful to differentiate between screen time used for learning activities and screen time for play activities.

For example, reading a book online or participating in a Zoom class meeting is different than playing a game or chatting. Establish clear expectations around what constitutes "learning time" and "playtime" on devices. For each type of activity, be clear about the where (maybe learning always happens at the kitchen table, and play is usually on the couch) as well as the when (learning in the morning and play during the hour before dinner).

It's important that kids aren't media multitasking by using multiple devices or apps at one time when they're trying to learn. Keep them on one screen at a time, which will help them stick with their activity until completion.

Set healthy limits around using devices, even for school

Use a timer or parental controls to set and enforce time limits for devices, even when your kids are using a computer or tablet for school activities. Children are used to having scheduled blocks of time at school. You can schedule your child's learning screen time so that there's a defined block of time for working on an online math lesson or for watching a video of a science experiment. This makes the expectations clearer for the kids—and makes screen time easier for parents to manage.

Parents can also use parental control apps like Qustodio to see what kids are doing on their devices and how long they are using different apps and websites for. The app allows parents to set a limit on how much time kids are spending on entertainment and recreational apps and websites and allow unlimited use for educational tools.

Include screen-free learning time

Creating a balance of screen time and other non-screen activities is important. Going back and forth between activities can help avoid the problems associated with using devices for lengthy periods of time.

Make sure kids get physical movement throughout the day, give them time to engage in hobbies and activities without devices and have them participate in tasks around the home, such as helping make dinner or folding the laundry. Including kids in activities like cooking, cleaning and organizing gives kids practice with reading, writing and math while encouraging the development of necessary life skills.

Give yourself a break

Ultimately, parents need to give themselves some grace during this time to try to do the best they can with finding balance. A recent study suggests that active screen time, such as playing an educational game or interacting with friends or family online, can have a positive impact on child development. Even if you were previously opposed to screen time for your kids, take heart: This situation isn't forever.
Learn + Play

This year Passover will be from April 8th to the 16th—and, in the middle of a pandemic. This means that beloved traditions may be harder to make happen. Gathering with family and friends for a Seder likely is not possible, and you may find yourself feeling pretty upset about the changes.

First, allow yourself the space to be sad. Passover is a very important holiday, and it's understandable to feel disappointed that so much may need to change this year.

Next, consider how you might be able to use virtual connections—can you FaceTime your family into your living room?

This might also be a wonderful time to incorporate new traditions, especially ones that allow your kids to participate in the Seder.

Here are 8 kid-friendly ways to celebrate Passover this year:

1. Review the meaning behind the traditions

Kids are naturally curious, especially where stories are involved. Before their questions start coming in, it would be helpful to review the story of Passover, along with the meaning behind the traditions, on your own. This article from Time Magazine gives a great overview of Passover (and will likely reignite your own curiosity, too!).

2. Find a kid-friendly Passover story

The Passover story is beautiful...and pretty scary, especially for a younger audience. Luckily, there are some excellent kid-friendly versions of the story out there that convey the meaning, but leave out the frightening details—we'll save talking about the plagues until they're a little older. Here are a few to check out:

3. Bring the story to life

passover_story

With Love, Ima

Kids love stories—especially when they can visualize what's going on. These adorable finger puppet templates are so fun, and will help your child appreciate the magic and power of the Passover story.

4. Explain the Seder in a way kids can understand

The Seder is, of course, at the center of the Passover holiday. There are so many unique ways to have a Seder so feel free to get creative and make it work for you. If your child will participate in the Seder, they'll likely want to understand what's going on! Chabad's brief overview of the Passover Seder is perfect for concise, easy-to-understand answers.

5. Make matzo ball soup! 🥄

Matzo ball soup is the quintessential Passover food—and your kids will love helping roll the balls! If you don't have a traditional family recipe, this matzo ball soup recipe from the New York Times gets stellar reviews. And, this lemony-twist on the traditional recipe looks unreal, if you are looking for something a bit different this year.

6. Make a cup for Elijah

cup for Elijah

Tori Avie

One of the beloved traditions of the Seder is to set out a cup of wine for Elijah. Why not let your kids make it? We love this DIY cup (and totally understand if you want to make one, too.)

7. Find the afikomen

afikomen

Creative Jewish Mom

When a Seder starts, a piece of matzo is broken, and hidden for your children find. This activity is fun on it's own. Enhance it by making a DIY no-sew Afikomen pouch.

8. Read a child-friendly Haggadah

kids_haggadah

The Haggadah is the book used during the Seder to guide the telling of the story and the traditions. Finding a children's version of the Haggadah is a great way to get them involved and keep them interested.

The Kveller Haggadah: A Seder for Curious Kids (and their Grownups) is an awesome choice.

Lifestyle

During a recent coronavirus press briefing at the White House, Dr. Deborah Birx, a leading physician on the federal coronavirus response team, emphasized the critical importance of social distancing over the next two weeks. Referring to the guidelines issued in March by the White House, Dr. Birx has been widely quoted as saying:

"This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe, and that means everybody doing the 6 feet distancing, washing your hands."

Dr. Birx's comment has been interpreted as advising Americans to avoid grocery shopping in stores for the next two weeks. While most people already know the importance of doing their part to slow the spread of coronavirus, following this particular advice may be a challenge for many families.

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Snagging a grocery delivery spot or curbside pickup slot has become next to impossible in most areas (assuming delivery is available), and online grocery services are struggling to keep up with demand. And with a growing number of at-risk delivery service workers demanding better on-the-job protections, you may be having second thoughts about using delivery services, even if you can find a slot.

You may find, despite your best efforts, that you just have to go to the store.

If you do need to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy during this time, here's what you should know in order to shop safely.

1. Have a plan

Minimize your trips to the store as much as you can, and time your shopping trip for a day and time that foot traffic is as low as possible (so, not on Saturday afternoon, if you can avoid it). Early in the day is a good time to go, since aisles tend to be less crowded, and stores are at their cleanest right after opening. Many stores are offering special hours for older and immunocompromised customers—if you're pregnant, consider shopping during these hours. Shop by yourself if at all possible.

2. Make a detailed list

In order to complete your shopping as quickly as possible, make a detailed list in advance, and organize your list by grocery section—produce, dairy, meats, baking needs, household items, and so on—so that you can move swiftly through each section of the store. For in-demand items such as bread, meat, sauces and pasta, think of alternatives in advance so you can grab "plan B" if you need to. Experts suggest making a paper list that can be disposed of rather than using your phone in the store.

3. Wear a mask

The CDC and the White House have advised Americans to wear homemade masks to add an extra level of protection when out and about. To protect yourself and the grocery store staff who are working hard to provide much-needed supplies during a stressful time, wearing a mask is now the recommended (and considerate) choice.

4. Follow hygiene and social distancing guidelines

You know the drill, mama. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after you shop. Many stores are offering wipes for shopping cart handles, so make sure you use them to wipe down the cart handle. (You may want to bring your own wipes just in case, if you have them.) Bring hand sanitizer, and use it after you touch freezer case handles or other surfaces. As you can guess, now's not the time to squeeze half a dozen avocados to check for ripeness—touch only the items you intend to buy. Maintain physical distance between yourself and other shoppers as well as grocery store workers.

5. Bag your own groceries

Follow your store's guidelines for reusable bags (which have been temporarily prohibited in some stores), but whether you bring your own bags or use the bags provided by the store, be prepared to bag your own purchases.

6. Don't make yourself crazy with disinfecting purchases

Should you wipe down every last strawberry and Cheerio when you get home? The good news is, it's probably not necessary to disinfect every item you buy. Experts still say that the virus is much more likely to be transmitted person-to-person, rather than surface-to-person.

While there's a lot that's not yet known about the virus, here are the steps experts recommend when you bring your groceries home:

  • Wash nonporous containers: According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), "Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19." But Consumer Reports suggests that there's no harm in washing or wiping cans, plastic containers and glass based on its interviews with epidemiologists and experts.
  • Wipe cardboard containers: A March 2020 study by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases suggests that the coronavirus can survive on cardboard surfaces for up to 24 hours, and on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to 3 days. So while experts say the odds of a box of pasta transmitting the virus are slim, wiping boxes with a disinfecting wipe can't hurt.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables with water: Experts say that food is unlikely to transmit coronavirus, but you should always wash produce anyway to remove pesticides.

7. Wipe your counters after you unpack and wash your hands.

Once all your purchases are stored, clean your counters with a disinfecting spray, and wash your hands again.

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