A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

This is: Birth

This is birth: A powerful first cry

"Sweet Addison made a big entrance. The moment in between her delivery and her first cry was powerful. Mom and dad spoke to their tiny love telling her how glad they were that she was here as the midwives worked to help her take in and release her first breath. Then came the most perfect cry that held the room captive." -Videographer Eucharisteo Films

This is birth: An adoption story

Watch the incredible moment when a family meets their newborn for the first time in the hallway of a hospital.

The videographer explains, "This experience was so different from other birth sessions. More than just the fact it was an adoption, the connection was so moving. This mother had spent months waiting for the opportunity to be Adela's mother and wondering whether it would even happen. All of the fear and excitement just melted away when she held her daughter in her arms." —Johnny TJ Cheramie of Something Southern Photography

This is birth: A hypnobirthing story

Watch this mama give birth at home while practicing hypnobirthing, which focuses on specific relaxation and calming techniques that help manage pain during labor.

"I remember how calm and relaxed the mom was. During the labor, classical music was playing and she moved to the music. I know other women who have tried hypnobirthing, and they weren't impressed, but she mastered it. I believe it's really important to not compare birth experiences. Every woman is free to express herself during labor; there is no competition, you can scream or you can be calm." - Videographer Chiara Doveri Photography Familien- und Kinderfotografie in Berlin

This is Birth: A C-section gender reveal

Watch the precious moment when this mama wakes up and finds out the gender of her baby.

"Due to some health complications, Joyous needed to have a C-section performed. One of the good unknowns with this labor was that the parents decided to not know the gender of the baby until after the birth. When they both find out, they are totally overwhelmed with emotion. It was amazing to witness their love for their newborn, and also the relief that everyone was healthy after so much uncertainty."
- Videographer K+A Films

This is birth: A midwife birth story

Watch these skilled midwives help baby Ezra take his first breath.

"The midwives were fantastic. They remained very calm and quickly grabbed the equipment needed to help Ezra breathe. The room was calm, and it was clear the midwives had everything under control. Megan calmly spoke to Ezra and gently rubbed his stomach until she heard his first cry, she then brought him up to her chest with a look of complete relief." Kailee Riches Photography

(Content warning: this film includes a tense moment before baby takes his first breath—but with skillful care, it quickly becomes clear he is perfectly healthy).

This is birth: An unmedicated hospital birth

"The moment of becoming a mother is a feeling that really can't be described. So many emotions rush to you and before you know it, you have this beautiful baby in your arms."

In this birth film, captured by Stephanie Shirley Photography, a first-time mama has an unmedicated hospital birth with her supportive husband and doula by her side.

This is Birth: A rainbow birth story

Watch this strong mama and her supportive husband work as a team to bring their rainbow baby into the world.

The videographer Rebecca Cantrelle Photography explains, "After battling infertility, loss, and a tough pregnancy—with hyperemesis gravidarum, gestational diabetes, and concerns of preeclampsia—this mama was induced on her due date. On the second day of induction, active laboring began. She finally welcomed her baby boy, Avery, at 4 a.m. on the third day! The experience was so serene, so powerful, and there was so much love."

This is birth: A boy mom story

Watch this family welcome their third boy—all, amazingly, delivered in the same hospital room—room 303. The proud big brothers will melt your heart.

"I think it's great for other women to see what different births look like—whether it's a home birth in water, a hospital birth with an epidural, a c-section, or somewhere in between—all births are beautiful, unique, and special!" - Videographer The Grays Photography

This is birth: A home waterbirth story

Watch as this sweet family of three becomes four.

Videographer for Birth Love Story on why capturing birth is important:
"The reason I find capturing birth is important I say as a client, as a mother: I married to create a family. I invested in lasting memories from my wedding day and I wanted no less from the day my babies joined our family. I wanted all the raw emotion, all the pain and tears, all the smiles and tears of joy. And I got it all. So I want all moms to have the same treasure I am lucky to have!"

This is birth: A NICU twins' journey

See the NICU through this mama's eyes, as she beautifully captures her twins' journey.

"I'm pretty sure everyone in the hospital thought I was crazy when I was wheeled in and started recording my labor. But when so much is out of your control, it's nice to have something to do. And hiding behind my camera was a comfort. There is nothing harder than leaving the hospital empty-handed, with your brand-new babies staying behind. I bawled every time I had to leave. Capturing my NICU babies on film allowed me to take a little piece of them home with me each day." - Videographer + mama Sarah Krieg Photography

This is birth: A family hospital birth

"I love how different and sweet every mama's emotions are after pulling their baby to their chest. Some are in shock, some weep, some laugh...nothing compares to that feeling of finally holding your baby in your arms!" - Videographer Alma Heirlooms

Watch this fierce mama work through the unmedicated birth of her second child with the support of her husband and firstborn.

This is birth: A delivery room gender reveal

Watch this mama welcome her 6th—but first "team green"— baby into the world!

These parents own a videography company —Eran and Aubs Photography and Videography— so dad captured the birth film himself:
"It was the first time out of 6 pregnancies that we didn't know the gender. We facetimed some family members (our children included) so they could watch the birth and find out the gender along with us... Its something that I still go back to watch often. Video and audio has a way of bringing back all of the memories of that day in a way that pictures can't do."

This is birth: An epidural birth story

This quietly beautiful birth film features a strong mama laboring in a birth center with epidural pain management.

Candice MacDonnell - Family Films and Photography says, "The thing that struck me the most was Ariel's persistence. Even though her little girl's birth didn't go quite as planned, she still gave it her all, and was a warrior in bringing her earthside. As soon as she held her baby and became a mom for the first time, I could sense her instant, overwhelming love for this tiny little human."

This is birth: An HBAC story

Watch this intense, inspiring video of a strong mama calmly catching her baby herself during her HBAC (home birth after cesarean).

"I remember how uniquely quiet it all was, as mom was using the Hypnobabies method. She said two things while I was there before birthing her son—'I'm ready to get in the tub' and 'his head is out.' Witnessing how she trusted her body so much showed me how peaceful and powerful birth can be." - Tampa Birth Photographer - Dear Little One, founder of Birth United

This is birth: A birth center story

"Birth is intense. It's beautiful. It's transformative. It's both an immense biological process AND an incredible emotional process. You can't find the same heights and depths of emotion in any other type of photography."

In this birth film, captured by Monet Nicole - Birthing Stories, this first-time mama arrived at the birth center already 8 cm dilated. She labored and delivered with her husband by her side the entire time.

This is Birth: A Home Birth Story

"Birth is not always the hurricane many times portrayed in the media; it is not a physical ailment, it is beautiful, to be respected, to be studied in a balanced way and the complications that can arise prepared for - but allowed safe space to happen naturally when things go normally; our bodies are designed perfectly for it."
- Videographer Impressions - Birth & Lifestyle Stories on the importance of sharing real representations of birth.

Watch this video of a strong, second-time mama working hard through a VBAC delivery in her home.

This is birth: A NICU birth story

After arriving 5 weeks early and spending 15 days in the NICU, we're happy to report Henry is now 8 months old and thriving. (Stick around until the end to see the cutest update photos.)

"Our culture fantasizes the perfect birth and bonding experience. When your baby is in the NICU following birth, there are so many bittersweet emotions that accompany this experience. Many mamas (including myself) have faced this situation, and yet, we see so little representation of it through media. I believe it's important to see how that love is still shown and is still felt by your baby, even when they need extra help in the NICU." - Videographer http://sma-photography.com/

This is birth: A first-time mama's hospital birth

This beautifully shot video captures the nerves and joyful anticipation of giving birth for the first time.

"Torie was realistic, strong, and leaned on her birth team throughout the experience. With every worry of 'how much longer' or 'how much harder will it be,' she was able to refocus her energy into knowing that with each surge, her baby was getting closer. Emotions were high among everyone present, and I think we all could relate to her eagerness to meet her son." - Videographer Forevermore Films

This is birth: A waterbirth story

Watch a second-time mama's peaceful water delivery in a birth center, while surrounded by her loving family.

The videographer explains, "I got a call early that morning that the mother had been laboring throughout the night. The birth was like a dance—her family supported her though each contraction. The midwife thought she was in early labor so she left to get a snack but heard her start to push and came back. The baby was born maybe 10 minutes later." — Zura Lagarde Photography

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Student loan debt is a major problem for many mamas and their families―but it doesn't have to be. Refinancing companies like Laurel Road help families every year by offering better rates, making payments more manageable or helping them shorten their loan term.

If you're ready to start taking control of your student loan debt, here are five steps that could help you conquer your student loan debt and get a loan that works for you.

1. Understand your refinancing options.

Like motherhood, managing student loan debt is a journey made much easier by experience. If your eyes start to cross when you hear variable and fixed rates or annual percentage rate, start your process with a little education. Laurel Road offers a user-friendly resource hub with student loan refinancing guides and articles that can help explain your options and get you started on a more informed foot.

2. Potentially improve your credit score.

Your credit score is important because it provides an objective measure of your credit risk to lenders. It also has an impact on many aspects of your finances, so it's a good idea to understand and track your score regularly. To try and improve your score, pay your bills on time—your payment history is one of the most important factors in determining your credit score. Having a long history of on-time payments is best, while missing a payment may hurt your score. Another action to improve your credit score would be to keep the amount you owe low—keeping your balances low on credit cards and other types of revolving debt, such as a home equity lines of credit, may help boost your score. Remember, good credit scores don't just happen overnight, but taking positive financial steps now can lead to more positive outcomes in the future.

3. Get a better understanding of your current loan benefits.

Different loan types have different benefits and you want to make sure you don't lose any valuable benefits by refinancing your current loan. Before you're ready to apply for a better option, you need to know what you have. Determine your loan terms (how long you have to pay off your loan and how much you're required to pay each month) and find out your current interest rate.

When you took out your original loan, especially if it was a federal loan, everyone who applies is given the same rate regardless of their personal credit. When you look to refinance, companies like Laurel Road look at your credit score and other attributes to give you a personalized pricing option―one that's often more competitive than your original terms. However, it is important to know that federal loans offer several benefits and protections, including income based repayment and forgiveness options, that you may lose when refinancing with private lenders (learn more at https://studentloans.gov). Try Laurel Road's Student Loan Calculator to get a bigger picture perspective of what it will take to pay off your loan and the options available to you.

4. Pick the terms that fit your lifestyle.

Your long-term financial goals will determine what refinancing terms are right for you. For example, a 3- or 5-year loan means faster payoff times, but it will mean a higher monthly payment―which might not be possible if you're planning to purchase a home or looking to move your toddler to a more expensive school. A loan with a longer term will have lower payments, but more interest over the duration of the loan.

Want to see what your options are? Check your rates on Laurel Road. They'll perform a "soft credit pull" using some basic information (meaning initially checking your rates won't affect your credit score ) so you can make an informed decision. If you do proceed with the application Laurel Road will ask for your consent on a hard credit pull.

5. Don't miss out on discounts.

With a little research, many people can find opportunities for lower rates or discounts when refinancing their loans. For example, if your credit isn't the best, look into the possibility of adding a cosigner who may help boost your rate. There are also many associations and employers who offer student loan benefits. Laurel Road partners with a number of groups and employers who offer discounts on rates―so check with your professional associations or HR to see if any options are available to you. Finally, talk to your financial institution, especially if you're planning to take out another major loan like a mortgage. In some cases, having another product with an institution can get you a preferred customer rate.

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

The bond between sisters is special, but Jill Noe and Whitney Bliesner have a unique bond that goes beyond just being siblings. As twins, Jill and Whitney shared a lot throughout their lives, and when Jill became Whitney's surrogate they even shared a pregnancy.

As first reported by Today, Whitney has a rare disease called NF2 (Neurofibromatosis type 2). Because of NF2 she lost the vision in her left eye and hearing in her right ear, along with partial hearing loss in her left ear. The condition makes pregnancy risky, and the disease is hereditary.

Whitney and her husband, Pete, wanted to start a family, but adoption and surrogacy fees seemed to be putting parenthood out of their reach. Until Jill stepped in as their surrogate.

"We have always had a strong connection, I do think this experience made our connection stronger, for sure," Whitney tells Motherly, adding that she's sure that when Jill eventuallu has kids of her own the sisters will likely bond over motherhood, too.

Through IVF, Jill carried donor eggs fertilized with Pete's sperm to make her twin sister's family, and on June 7 Jill delivered Whitney and Pete's son and daughter, little Rhett and Rhenley.

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"Going through this with Jill was so easy," Whitney tells Motherly. "We both had no idea what was going to happen or how we would deal with stuff during this journey. We had our ups and downs, but I think that's life, and in any situation you would experience that. But with my sister, there was a sense of everything was going to be ok, like always. We always get over our annoyance and disagreements with each other very fast with no hard feelings. It was just a great experience to have with my best friend, my twin sister."

Rhett and Rhenley are keeping Whitney super busy these days (with twins, someone is always hungry!) but she's making time to share her story because she wants other people who can't physically be pregnant to not give up on their dream of being a mom.

"It's not about blood or biologically carrying a kid that makes you a mom, it's the unconditional love, care, and security you give a child that makes you a mom," she explains.

Whitney continues: "Even though you aren't carrying or blood-related, you still have those feelings of babies being yours!"

Whitney calls Jill her best friend and Jill says the feeling is mutual, telling Today that she knows Whitney would have done the same for her if the roles where reversed.

"She's always wanted to be a mom and her disease has already taken so much from her. I wasn't going to allow (NF2) to take this opportunity from her, too," Jill said. "It just felt like the right thing to do. Our family is so strong and so supportive of one another, especially since Whit's diagnosis in 8th grade."

Thanks to Jill, Whitney is now living her dream, taking care of her two adorable babies.

Jill is an amazing sister, and Whitney is already an amazing mom.

[A version of this post was originally published June 14, 2019. It has been updated.]

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A dad's first Father's Day is always special, and Prince Harry is no exception. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex released a new photo of Baby Archie clutching his father's finger.

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It's been just over a month since little Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor came into the world and changed his father's. Shortly after the birth, Prince Harry described new fatherhood as "the most amazing experience I could ever possibly imagine."

This sweet Father's Day Instagram post is the first look at Archie the public has had since the royal family did their post-birth photoshoot in May.

While Archie's mom and dad recently attended the Queen's birthday celebration, Trooping the Colour, little Archie is still a bit too small for such a big party. His older cousin Prince Louis made his first Trooping appearance this year, so we can expect to see Archie at the Queen's birthday parade next year.

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Baby Archie and Prince Louis will likely be together soon for Archie's christening. Reports suggest the event will take place next month at Windsor Castle, the same venue where Archie's mom and dad got married, and where Prince Harry was baptized back in 1984.

We can't wait to see more photos of sweet baby Archie on his big day!

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Do you feel guilty when you don't want to play with your kid? I do.

Do you give in and play with them anyway, all the while checking your phone and wondering exactly how long you have to pretend to be a dinosaur? Or do you say "no" to play time and endure the inevitable whining, coupled with mom-guilt that ensues?

Neither of these options is particularly tempting.

So what's a mom, with a fully developed intellect and adult interests and subsequent lack of interest in playing with toys for 10 to 12 hours a day, to do?

Here are six phrases to try next time your kid wants to play and you need a break.

1. "I will be cleaning the kitchen. You're welcome to join me."

This is my personal favorite and one I use daily. The next time you need to get something done and your child is clinging to you, offer an invitation instead of a dismissal.

Try asking your child to join you instead of saying, "go play." The beauty of this phrase is that it gives your child a choice—they can either be with you and help with what you are doing, or they can go play independently.

Often my toddler will join me for a while and then drift off to play on his own.

2. "I'm not available to play dinosaurs right now. Would you like to read with me?"

While sometimes we simply need to get something done, other times we just honestly do not want to play whatever our child is asking us to. And that is okay.

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There are only so many hours in the day that you can reasonably be expected to play dinosaurs or princesses. If you are available to spend time with your child, but find yourself cringing at the idea of one more game of superheroes, offer an alternate activity.

It's important for children to get the chance to choose the activity sometimes, but it doesn't have to be all of the time. Offer one or two activities that you would genuinely enjoy doing with your child and give them the choice of whether to join you.

3. "I'm going to read for 20 minutes and then I will be able to play Legos with you."

Let your child see your interests too. You don't have to cram your own life and hobbies into nap time and after bed. It's okay, and even valuable, to let them see that you are a whole person with your interests.

Tell them that you want to read or garden or workout for 20 minutes. Invite them to sit nearby, or to play on their own. It helps to start with a very manageable amount of time, like 15 or 20 minutes, and stretch it as your child's ability to play on their own grows.

Your child may sit and whine for the entire 20 minutes. While this can be annoying, it is best not to respond in anger. Try to acknowledge their feelings, but don't give in to their demands. You might say, "I see that you're having a hard time waiting for my attention. Reading is important to me. I'm going to read for 15 more minutes, and then I would love to play with you."

If you do this consistently, your child will get used to the idea that you have needs and interests too.

4. "I don't want to play right now, but I would love to sit and watch you."

Be honest with your child. It's okay if you want to be with them, but don't feel like actively playing. This can be an excellent way to observe how your child plays when left to their own devices. It is also a way for them to share their favorite games with you, without you feeling forced to play something you don't enjoy. Children can tell when we're not having fun, even if we try to fake it.

5. "I would love to play for a few minutes. Then I will need to fold the laundry."

Sometimes children need help getting started. It often works well to play with them for 10 or 15 minutes and then back away to do something else nearby. This allows your child to play independently while also saving your sanity.

6. "Sure, I'll play! You choose the game today, and I'll choose tomorrow."

While we naturally do not share all of our young children's interests, it is important for children to get to choose what we do together some of the time. Create a system where your child chooses sometimes, and you choose other times. Once your child is confident that they will get to decide what you play together sometimes, they will likely let go of the need to always demand that you play certain games.

Bottom line:

The beauty of learning to say "no" to your child's requests to play is that you will enjoy the time you do spend playing together. No one has fun when they feel like they're being forced to do something, even if it's by a 4-year-old.

And the thing is, they can tell. Children know when we want to be there and when we're just phoning it in—we're not fooling anyone.

When I force myself to play, I imagine my toddler feels sort of how I feel when I drag my husband to the farmers market. Yes, we're doing what I wanted to do, but I can tell he's not into it and that kind of takes all the fun out of the experience.

Once you feel the freedom to decide whether or not you want to play, you can choose the times when you do feel like being silly, playing pretend or merely dropping everything to build the tallest tower ever in the whole full world.

And your child? They will know the difference. Their little heart will be so full of playing with you when you want to be there. That's what will stick with them, not all of the times you said no.

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Sleep is one of the most talked about and debated topics out there for parents. It is almost as if how good our babies sleep is some sort of weird competition between exhausted parents.

We think that if our baby is sleeping well or "through the night" then we must be winning in the parenting department, yet if they are waking up more often then we feel ashamed and somehow open ourselves up to opinions from our friends, parents, neighbors and the lady at the grocery store with ways to help them sleep better. It is frustrating and disheartening at times.

The competition creates a divide between us instead of allowing us to support each other through this rollercoaster ride of parenting. "Hey mama, sounds like your baby needs some extra cuddles through the night, so how about I come and bring you coffee in the morning?" is what we need to be saying versus the sad puppy eyes look while saying, "Aww, that is too bad, have you ever thought of sleep training?"

"How do they sleep?" seems to be the perfect ice breaker question when meeting a new parent. As a mom of three, I've been asked this question a lot. As a sleep consultant, I've been asked this question even more!

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My response is always the same, "My baby sleeps like a baby." I have come to realize over the last five years of working as a sleep consultant that it has less to do with how our baby actually sleeps and more to do with our expectations on sleep. There could be two babies that sleep exactly the same and one family claims their baby is a "bad" sleeper while the other states that their baby is a "good" sleeper.

This has changed how I have parented because I now know that it is more about how I feel versus reaching a goal of perfect sleep. What does "perfect sleep" even mean? Is there an actual definition? No. It is all about reaching your own individual goals no matter what they might be.

My youngest baby is 18 months old now and I would say that she is a pretty good sleeper. I would say this both from a parenting perspective and from a sleep consultant perspective but I want to share with you how we achieved this outcome through breaking all of the sleep "rules."

We co-slept at the beginning. I say at the beginning because it ended up not working well for us but not because I didn't want it to or because I thought it was bad. The first few months were wonderful and it helped me establish a positive breastfeeding experience and helped us all get more sleep at the time. I followed her cues and still to this day she isn't much for cuddling and so maybe it was just her personality that made her do better beside me in her own bassinet.

I often nursed her to sleep. With my first two babies, I was always so nervous about starting any "bad" habits until I finally understood that there is no one way to put your baby to sleep that is right or wrong. Everything works differently for different babies. I could nurse her to sleep and we, as a family, felt that there was no disruption in our sleep that was out of the ordinary. As she got older, we found different ways to help her fall asleep so that dad could be involved too.

I fed my baby when she woke at night. When she would wake up throughout the night I never thought of her as being spoiled, trying to manipulate me or that she was a bad sleeper. I simply thought that she was hungry. When she woke up at night, I went in and fed her and then we both went back to sleep happy.

I didn't try any type of "cry it out." In fact, I never could handle much crying right from the start. If she was crying then I would be crying so we found different ways to work on new sleep cues. My favorite way was having dad go in and rock her. This helped us eventually move away from the nursing to sleep so that we could gently work on consolidating some night sleep so I could have a little freedom (I was needing it after baby #3!).

My favorite thing to tell families is "sleep is only a problem if it is a problem." What I mean by this is that you are the only one who can determine if what you are doing is working for your family or not.

We all have parental instincts for a reason and need to trust them. If you feel rested, happy and overall like everything is going just fine, then it is. Even if this means you are breaking every sleep "rule" in the book. It took me some time to practice what I preach and when I did it felt like such a relief.

Finally, I could just do what felt right and in the end, everything worked out just fine. My baby sleeps well. Does she wake up sometimes at night? Yes, because she is human. Not every night is perfect but it is balanced which is exactly what it should be.

All of you mamas and papas out there with little babies who feel like this exhausting period of time is never going to pass. It will, and you will long for it back. Soak in the moments and do what feels best. You've got this.

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