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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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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

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

Our Partners

For parents of babies and toddlers, diapers are a big expense that can represent a substantial portion of a family's monthly grocery budget, but when families fall on hard times and get support paying for groceries, diapers aren't covered. Programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are meant to fill families nutritional needs, not hygiene needs, so you can't buy diapers with a SNAP card (also known as food stamps).

This week San Fransisco county became the first county in America to offer free diapers to families who use SNAP, (known at the state level as CalFresh). Starting this month, parents in San Fransisco who use CalFresh qualify for a free monthly supply of diapers thanks to the San Francisco Diaper Bank, a partnership between the Human Services Agency (HSA) and Help a Mother Out (HAMO). This is made possible by a $2.5 million grant from the California Department of Social Services.

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It's good to see communities recognizing that diapers are as necessary as food. Studies indicate that when mothers don't have the diapers they need for their babies their mental health suffers, but that an "an adequate supply of diapers may prove a tangible way of reducing parenting stress, a critical factor influencing child health and development"

"It costs like $25 for one box of diapers. I remember the time when I had to decide between buying milk and buying diapers. No parent should have to go through that. You have no idea what this program has meant for me," San Francisco Diaper Bank participant Hanen Bouzidi explains.

Without the extra help, parents like Hanen end up at the mercy of convenience stores that separate the large boxes of diapers to sell them individually. It's one of those times when being poor means you have to spend more money: You can't afford a $25 box containing 96 diapers, so you have to spend $1 on one individual diaper at the corner store just to get your baby through the day.

And while many people are quick to suggest low-income parents take up cloth diapering, it is not practical for every family. If the only laundry machines you have access to are coin-operated and outside your home, you may not have the money or the time to launder them. Plus, most laundromats won't let you wash them and some childcare providers will only take kids who are wearing disposables. In short, cloth diapers are a wonderful solution for many families, but they are not a practical solution many families using SNAP cards. That's why San Fransisco's move to provide free diapers is so important.

Some lawmakers in other parts of the country are trying to introduce legislation to provide free diapers to families who need them, so we could see other areas following San Fransisco's lead in the coming years. This is important because no child should be at risk for the physical problems that can happen when parents feel they have no choice but to reuse or overuse diapers, and no mother should be forced to carry the weight of the guilt of diaper need.

Providing diapers to families who desperately need them improves the health of moms and babies, and removes a barrier that keeps moms from accessing childcare and early childhood education programs.

News

This week marked World Kindness Day, but in Pittsburgh, PA the hometown of the late Mr. Rogers, it was also Cardigan Day—a chance to celebrate an icon of kindness and his iconic knitwear.

That's what staff at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital were doing when they dressed all the babies like Mr. Rogers in hand-crocheted cardigans and sneaker-style booties made by nurse Caitlin Pechin.

Pechin says crocheting is something she does for fun and while making all the little outfits took several hours, she "really enjoy[s] making things for all the babies because they look so cute in them."

They absolutely do!

😍😍😍

The sweetest little neighbors

The babies looked so cozy and cute and they even got a visit from the woman who was closest to Mr. Rogers, his widow, Joanne Rogers. "She was so sweet and so sincere and just wished us the best of luck as new parents," Kristen Lewandowski, whose first child, Mary Rose, was among the cardigan-wearing newborns, told Good Morning America.

"She told us to support one another and we thought that was great advice," Lewandowski explained.

Mr. Rogers died in 2003 but his legacy lives on

The new movie about Mr. Rogers—A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks—hits theaters on November 22. Mr. Rogers has been gone for 16 years, but the new film and the way we talk about kindness today proves that his legacy lives on in 2019.

"When I was little, I watched Mister Rogers' Neighborhood with my grandmother, my grandma Mary, who we named our [daughter] Mary after," Lewandowski's partner, Michael, explains.

Mrs. Rogers reportedly loved getting to meet little Mary Rose and the other babies and told their parents she was sure her husband would have loved to meet them, too.

A Mr. Rogers sweater for Mrs. Rogers

The babies weren't the only ones donning cardigans at the event. Mrs. Rogers wore a cardigan that belonged to Mr. Rogers, and the nursing staff wore t-shirts designed to mimic the tie-and-cardigan look Mr. Rogers was known for.

The whole event was absolutely adorable and has us thinking a lot about the lessons Mr. Rogers taught us (and looking forward to seeing another beloved icon, Tom Hanks, play him.)

The movie hits theaters this Thanksgiving 

The reason why people are dressing babies up as Mr. Rogers 16 years after his passing is the same reason why Tom Hanks wanted to play him: He was the personification of kindness in a world that needs more of it. He brought love and empathy to a medium that is usually used to sell breakfast cereals and plastic toys. But Mr. Rogers wasn't pushing artificial ingredients and consumerism: He just wanted us kids to love each other and ourselves.

"I think that, when Fred Rogers first saw children's programming, he saw something that was cynical," Hanks said at the Toronto Film Festival, explaining why he wanted to take on this role.

"And why in the world would you put a pipeline of cynicism into the minds of a 2 or 3-year-old-kid? That you are not cool because you don't have this toy, that it's funny to see somebody being bopped on the head, that hey, kids be the first in line in order to get blah, blah, blah. That's a cynical treatment of an audience, and we have become so inured to that that when we are met with as simple a message as hey, you know what, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, [it's a reminder] that we are allowed...to start off feeling good," Hanks shared.

Mr. Rogers was a pioneer in using screen time to raise empathetic and kind kids and he made an impact on a generation.

Let's all take a look at these little neighbors and feel good today

There is something so pure about Mrs. Rogers visiting these babies, who are dressed like her husband because of the kindness of a maternity ward nurse. In a world where there is so much bad, let's look at all this good—and all these adorable babies who could become the next icon of kindness.

News

American humorist Josh Billings said something over a century ago, and it still remains today: "Advice is like castor oil, easy enough to give but dreadful uneasy to take." Advice is hard to take, but so easy (and often fun) to give. But, when it comes to parenting advice, most mamas are all ears. We're always ready to get the best tips on how to raise happy, successful humans.

That's why we looked to the parenting threads on Reddit where mamas discuss their cures for mom burnout.

Here's the best parenting advice Reddit mamas swear by to cure burnout:

1. Hire help

"Get yourself a mother's helper. They're someone who's there when you are for the most part. They can supervise, play with the kids, take to the park, make lunch, help with chores and sometimes if they're old enough watch them while you shop/run errands. I used to find them at the high school in my area that ran a child development class, they had background checks and training in child development. You could also try local daycares to see if anyone wanted hours outside of those. Everyone needs a break sometimes." — Mudd82

2. Don't be afraid to do nothing

"You need the time to rest in the evenings. After kid goes to bed, take a bath. Run an errand if you need to. Maybe husband can take over bedtime and bath every other day so you get to sit on the sofa and do nothing." — KatesDT

3. Share the load

"My wife and I go every other night with the toddler. I do bed time one night and she does bed time the next night.

Gives a few hours of alone time."— jonahsnarc

4. Take advantage of nap time

"During his nap time, try to do things that will help you recharge. Reading, a long shower, painting, gardening, whatever hobby you have that is fulfilling for you. I know for me that nap time is valuable time for chores or sleeping." — etherealbadger

5. Have a baby proofed room

"Aggressively baby proof one space in your house just for the kiddo. Get rid of all chokeables, protect the outlets, anchor the furniture. Having a room where the worst that can happen is they fall over of their own accord can give you a little mental peace." — avesmaria

6. Drink water

"Drink water. The health and beauty benefits are totally worth having to pee." —apotatopirate

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7. Encourage independent play

"Start teaching your child how to play alone. Maybe with a kitchen timer and start with small increments of time. They can play by themself for X minutes and then when the timer goes off, you play with him a little. Gradually increase the amount of time as you go. While they are playing, do something for yourself." —Domina_Mollia

8. Take a shower—alone

"My self-care consists mainly of uninterrupted showers! My husband knows that's my tiny slice of sanity." —moondruidmum

9. Find a quiet place

"Sometimes my self-care is as simple as going through the drive through at Starbucks, parking on a quiet street somewhere and watching Netflix on my phone while I drink it. I also enjoy baking, walking around places like Hobby Lobby or Target, or just taking a long bath." —MrFoxSox

10. Put on some music and let go

"I like to turn on Beyoncé and bake cookies while dancing and singing along." —MollyStrongMama


Life

Going through infertility let me know that there are some things in life that I just can't control. For someone who already has a hard time relinquishing control in life (call me a bit of a control nut!), entering the world of IVF was not only hard physically and mentally, but it also was incredibly difficult because it showed me things about myself that were at odds with this journey.

I realized how much I had needed to be in control of my life, how much I took for granted that my life path most often "always worked out" the way I imagined it would and I also realized how impatient I was.

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IVF treatment strips away a lot of yourself. You are forced to give up control and forced to wait….a lot. In our case, both my husband and I had potential issues and the two of us pulled away from the rest of our friends whose sperm romantically found their partner's ripe egg and impregnated them the old fashioned way.

While we were undergoing a lot of things physically and emotionally in a dark, isolating world of blood labs, doctor's offices and at many times, what seemed like barbaric tests. Something made me very "hush-hush" about it and I'm usually a wide-open book about everything. I guess you could say I was ashamed, I felt like it was a weakness or a flaw.

I only opened up about our struggle with fertility when I, finally, had a successful pregnancy and realized that once you go into the world of IVF there's no turning back. I was now an "IVF person." I became really passionate about the world of infertility especially once I started talking to others who went through it. This was one of the things that I felt now defined me, I had an "infertility journey," I was a #ttcsister, and because of IVF, I became a mom.

I embraced it and became proud of it. I launched my business by sharing my infertility story and it was so much a part of who I was. It motivated me to start to form an in-person community of women, pregnant, trying to conceive, or already moms based on my struggles with motherhood... before they even started! All while pregnant and then giving birth to my daughter.

Then a year and a half later I accidentally got pregnant.

The truth is, I never went back on birth control after having our baby because I didn't want to go through getting off of it again. Some people might not be able to relate to thinking you can't get pregnant on your own. They can't imagine the idea that you and your husband's test results indicate that the likelihood of pregnancy without IVF is basically zero.

But somehow, one of my husband's sperm in the millions of sperms that were morphologically corrupt found its way to my egg at the perfect time. The interesting part is that one of the most prominent thoughts I had when this happened was that I now felt like an imposter. How could I just get knocked up?!

I was helping and advocating for infertility and it was actually approaching National Infertility Awareness Week. I spent several weeks hiding just like I did during my last pregnancy.

Then, one day at work, I felt so sick from morning sickness and I couldn't tell anyone why. I went into the bathroom and just cried. Not just because of how debilitating the sickness was, but because of how alone I felt. Here I was trying to bring moms together yet I was isolating myself.

I was experiencing every IVF veteran's dream and I wasn't happy. I was feeling badly, torn, upset and just irrationally guilty and I needed support. I picked myself up, walked out of that bathroom and told every one of my colleagues at work "I'm pregnant, by mistake, and I need help."

The truth is, I've realized that just because I dodged IVF and some of those hardships this time around and truly feel like I was given the biggest stroke of luck, it doesn't change what I went through to get my first daughter. It also doesn't change my passion for advocacy in infertility and fighting with all my might for motherhood.

Life
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