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You've seen the trailer. It seemed to spread like wildfire (or coxsackie) through online mom communities from the moment of its release, and for good reason. It features a nearly unrecognizable Charlize Theron in the throes of a harrowing fourth trimester.


A montage of relatable scenes (set to a track with an ironic carnival feel) runs us through the endless carousel of comforting, feeding, diaper changes, pumping and sleeplessness many of us associate with those early newborn days. It's equal parts funny and relatable.

The film itself hits both of those chords, but also moves to a darker, stranger place, one not expressly hinted at in the trailer.

This is Tully: The latest Diablo Cody-penned, Jason Reitman-directed collaboration, their third to date. They joined forces again to create the rawest (and at select moments, the funniest) portrayal of the postpartum period that I've yet seen brought to screen. All three Cody/Reitman films clock in around a tight 90 minutes, and all three are character studies of a uniquely (well, by Hollywood standards) complex female lead.

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Tully is not without its flaws, as the controversy currently surrounding the film and its portrayal of maternal mental health makes clear. But because I believe in my (hopeful, feminist, film-loving) heart that representation moves the conversation forward, I'm grateful for its release.

Theron plays (or, dissolves into the role of) Marlo, a woman on the verge. On the verge of having her third child, a pregnancy which by all accounts appears to be unplanned and at least a little unwelcome, and on the verge of mental, emotional and physical collapse. She enters scenes pregnant-belly-first, the weight of her world, and all she carries, made literal.

To put it lightly, she's overwhelmed—a feeling most moms can relate to, at least to some degree. She is a pregnant, working mother in her early 40's, with two children, one with undiagnosed special needs.

He is consistently referred to as "quirky," to the point where the script seems to be underlining the frustration of raising a child whose special needs are constantly reduced to euphemism. He kicks Marlo's seat and yells incessantly as they drive to his private school, a place that responds to the quandary of how to best support him with a shrug.

Marlo's husband (portrayed evenly, and toward the end, touchingly, by Ron Livingston) is a loving father, though he remains nearly oblivious to Marlo's struggle. She's touched out, and he's tuned out.

At times throughout this first act, notably in an early scene in a coffee shop, Marlo seems to be almost sleepwalking through her daily life. She has a chance run-in with a woman who barely recognizes this very pregnant, very tired, suburban-dwelling iteration of her old friend Marlo, shedding light on her free-spirit past (plus a drop of foreshadowing for a later scene).

The old friend lets Marlo know she's still living at "the loft" in Bushwick—a particularly hip sector of Brooklyn—before speeding off on her motorbike. As Marlo watches her pull out on that vehicular symbol of freedom, you can practically hear her inner monologue asking, "How exactly did I get here?"

Marlo's cartoonishly rich-and-hip brother (his dog is named Prosecco and his elementary-aged daughter plans to perform "pilates" for her school talent show) offers to fund a night nurse for Marlo as a baby gift, expressing concern as he alludes to her past struggle with postpartum depression.

He later confides he "just wants his sister back," saying that he feels like her flame has been snuffed out. This analogy lands perfectly—even from a formal perspective, the beginning of the film feels like we meet Marlo in this dimmed place. Her home is dark, dull and a little stained-feeling, the screen taking on a dim and yellowed tone, echoed in her wardrobe—all physical manifestations of the world, outlook and season of life she currently inhabits.

Marlo initially balks at the idea of a night nanny, put off by the concept of trusting her newborn's life (and precious early bonding days) to a stranger. Then, a particularly upsetting episode at her son's school leaves her screaming with frustration in the school parking lot. (I found this scene to be particularly effective, as her minivan seems to represent the trappings of her #momlife, and the world-closing-in feeling that is enveloping her). She calls the night nanny.

And just like that, we meet Tully, the 26-year-old Manic Pixie Dream Nanny, who pokes her head through the doorframe to change the course of the film. Though their initial encounter and baby hand-off is appropriately awkward, I felt actual bodily relief when Tully looked earnestly at Marlo and said the simple words, "I'm here to take care of you."

Marlo doesn't know how to react, admitting she's not used to being cared for, and pointing out that she hired a nanny to care for the baby, not the mama. Tully counters that at this stage in the postpartum game, mama and baby are more like parts of the same whole: Emotionally, but also on a biological level—down to the very molecules still present in Marlo's body.

Tully is prone to these kind of offhand, philosophical-with-a-touch-of-science musings, in response to a straightforward question posed by Marlo. This recurrent bit underscores the split between the two vastly different worlds they inhabit.

After one particularly funny exchange, Marlo shakes her head, telling Tully she's like a "book of facts for an unpopular fourth grader." I see this split between worlds echoed in a recurrent dream Marlo has—a deep, cloudy, underwater shot shows either a woman struggling, trying to kick her way to the surface, or a mermaid, gracefully cutting through the deep. To me, the mermaid seems like Marlo's younger, freer, aspirational self, and a lot like Tully, swimming through life. (The drowning is, well, where we met Marlo a few pages back).

Tully has that kind of warm, immediately-intimate nature that always makes me a little wary of a new acquaintance. She slides right into the night shift of Marlo's life, snuggling the baby and sending Marlo off to bed. She cleans the house and brings the baby to Marlo's room *only* when she needs to nurse, waiting patiently (and a little eerily) in the dark of the room until the baby is done. Buoyed by this increase in sleep and support, the fog on Marlo's life begins to lift.

Marlo's regard for Tully moves from head-tilting suspicion, to trust, to a real affection. As the women bond, we see the light begin to turn back on within Marlo, she starts to laugh again, and starts to look at her new baby and smile. She also starts to stay up later, spending personal time with the nanny as she reconnects with the parts of herself that weren't visible at the start of the film, buried as they were under exhaustion, stress and likely PPD.

Things take a darker turn when the lines become increasingly blurred between the two women, as things are taken to a far more intimate/personal level. One night, the pair spontaneously head out for a night out in Marlo's old Brooklyn stomping grounds, where Marlo hits peak nostalgia for the way things once were, before having to call it a night due to her aching, unemptied breasts. (S/O to Tully for being a real one, and helping Marlo cope with this issue in the bathroom of a grimy dive).

The night also signals the end for the pair, as Tully lets Marlo know it's now time for her to leave, explaining she was nearly a stopgap to help Marlo get through those rough early days. Marlo doesn't want to hear it, but she doesn't have a choice. Their wild night out comes to a literal crashing halt when they get in a car accident on the drive home, the car plunging deep into a river, pulling the visual of Marlo's earlier dreams through to nightmarish reality.

I won't explicitly spoil the film's twist and resolution in this little ol' write-up, though the curious can very easily access that info with a click. I will admit that I found the ending to be less-than-wholly-satisfying from a narrative POV, though I did like the very final sequence of the film, particularly the tender moments between Marlo and her son, and an understated exchange between Marlo and her husband. Both offer slivers of hope and seem to hint at the start of a new season for the family.

Though the film may ultimately fall a little short of it's early promise, I enjoyed it for a few reasons. For one: Tully made me reflect on the transition I went through after having my first baby, and the inevitable reckoning with my past, "pre-baby" self, as well as the need to let that actual past go. Marlo's relationship with Tully truly brings this reckoning to life—as she learns to re-embrace a representation of her younger self, and eventually, to let that younger self go and move on, in a real way.

After becoming a mom myself, it took me a while to navigate back to feeling wholly like "me." When I finally reconnected with that essential part of myself, it was like the kernel of my sense of self was still the same, but completely transformed.

The transformation (or, transformations) a woman will experience through on her journey as a mother are not readily addressed in our culture or in conventional media, and I am excited to see a film with broad release deal with the very realness of this reckoning.

Diablo Cody herself isa mother of three, and she wrote this script right after having her third baby. In a promo soundbite put out by Focus Features, she described why creating in that context was a unique artistic experience: "I don't think I've ever written anything in that super-vulnerable postpartum state before, and I'm glad I did...I was able to put those kind of raw feelings of fear and exhaustion into the script."

The maternal mental health community has been actively frustrated and angered by the film's ending, and what they consider an irresponsible depiction of perinatal mood disorders. I respect and understand these concerns, and think they're an important part of the conversation.

In the wake of this controversy, the New York Times asked Cody if she'd consulted a maternal mental illness expert before writing the script. She said she "absolutely did not," a decision she stands by. She explained that she wrote from her own experience, and her own research, offering that one movie cannot possibly tell everyone's story, positing, "So why can't we have 10 more movies?"

This spirit, right here, is why I'm glad this film was made, and why I'm glad it's being so talked about. As a mom, a doula and an all-around fan of women, I think the topic of maternal care—including both mental and physical health—needs all the attention it can get. The fact that this story was brought to screen, and that its encouraging such feverish debates, is to me, a positive. The fact that Cody wrote such a uniquely feminine piece, while in such a uniquely feminine state of body and mind, feels progressive.


Will this film singlehandedly flip the script on our culture's perception of the mental load of motherhood, postpartum depression, and provide concrete next steps for a massive increase of maternal support? No. It's just an idiosyncratic story. Like motherhood, it's messy and imperfect, a complicated blend of comedy and tragedy, love and pain.

But, the film is igniting a conversation. It's forward motion for how Hollywood portrays and considers the complexities of motherhood. It's unique insight into how becoming a mother can affect and transform a woman's sense of identity. I think that's a positive baby step.

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There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.

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"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!

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In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

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Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

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Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

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Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

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Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life
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