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Want to help NICU mothers? Support paid maternity leave.

We must find ways to support our mothers and fathers, particularly those with babies who need a little extra TLC.

Want to help NICU mothers? Support paid maternity leave.

I’ve always been a planner — building spreadsheets and crossing items off my to-do list. So when I became pregnant, I naturally sought to plan every last detail so that I would be fully prepared by the time the baby arrived. I gathered lists of friends’ product recommendations, bought every parenting book, and signed up for birthing classes for a month before my due date.


I thought I was perfectly prepared. And then my water broke at 33 weeks, and my whole life changed.

My daughter spent the first four weeks of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. For me, this time was marked by a blur of meetings with doctors, pumping incessantly to increase my milk supply, and delicately holding my daughter for brief moments when the nurses said it was alright. I quickly became versed in the vocabulary of prematurity: words like DSATS and Brady’s rolled off my tongue and I could tell you my daughter’s oxygen level and heart rate at any given moment. Overnight, those “normal” first moments of motherhood became so foreign to me — I’ll never forget being turned away from the post-partum breastfeeding lesson since I didn’t have a baby with me, or singing Happy Birthday with my husband through tears when the nurses brought us the 0th Birthday Cake while our daughter slept alone in an incubator many floors below us.

One of the hardest days of my life was the day that my husband and I checked out of the hospital and had to leave our baby behind. I couldn’t face the questions from neighbors who meant well, but didn’t understand where my baby was, or answer my friends’ congratulatory calls, because what had transpired didn’t feel like cause for celebration. As someone who lives to plan every moment of every day, I had messed up the plan on the most important day of all.

I took comfort in the people I met in the NICU and the community of mothers and fathers who were sharing my experience. We spent hours in the pumping room together, learned to breastfeed on top of each other, and had difficult conversations with our families only inches apart. Privacy didn’t exist during those four weeks, and we learned to navigate parenthood in the most exposed and vulnerable way possible. We all shared in the joy when our daughters would go 24 hours DSAT-free, or when one of them drank a whole bottle without having a BRADY, and would comfort each other when another one’s graduation date got pushed back yet again.

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As difficult as this time was, from the beginning I knew that I was very lucky.

As I spent hour after hour watching my daughter’s every breath in the NICU, I thought about the babies whose families couldn’t visit. The first baby next to us never had a visitor until, late one night, I saw her mom arrive, fresh off her shift as a bus driver, coming to check in on her baby after a long day of driving around New York City. Or the twins down the row who had been in the hospital for more than two months, whose mom had gone back to work so that she could take her maternity leave after they came home. She commuted from her home in Staten Island to her job in Brooklyn to the hospital in Manhattan as much as she could, but too often she just couldn’t make it in time.

That’s when I realized that my privilege didn’t start with my short commute to the hospital or our incredible pediatrician and family members who visited my daughter daily. It started with having paid maternity leave and working for a company where I never once thought that being in the hospital with my daughter would threaten my job security. Where my paycheck still came every week, even if I had to leave early for a doctor’s appointment or work from home because I wasn’t feeling well.

Unfortunately, my ability to spend time with my daughter during those first crucial weeks is something that remains out of reach for many new parents. The United States is one of the only countries in the world that does not guarantee the right to paid family leave, which forces many new parents to make the heart wrenching decision to go back to work earlier than they want to — often while their babies remain in the hospital if they were born prematurely.

Fortunately New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, recently announced the new Family Leave Plan, which will provide up to 12 weeks of paid family leave. This should serve as a model for the rest of the country so that more mothers and fathers can spend those first few weeks at home bonding and caring for their babies.

When people hear the story of my daughter’s birth, they remark about how difficult those early days must have been — and they certainly were. It was rare if a day didn’t start and end with tears. But I knew the whole time I was so, so lucky. I had the best nurses caring for my daughter, world-class doctors, and an incredible support system. But I also was able to spend every minute of the day with my daughter in the hospital, and nothing could replace that.

I hope that the New York Paid Family Leave Plan only begins the conversation about family leave and that we as a country can continue to find ways to support our mothers and fathers, particularly those with babies that need a little extra TLC.

Follow Carolyn Tisch Blodgett on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ctbgiants

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In This Article

    Ara Katz/Seed

    We spoke to Ara Katz, co-founder and co-CEO of Seed, who shared her journey to (and through) motherhood—and gave us the lowdown on how probiotics can benefit mamas and children alike.

    Chances are, you're aware that probiotics can help us digest the food we eat, keep inflammation at bay, synthesize essential vitamins and more. But here's the thing: When it comes to probiotics, there's a lot of misinformation… and because of that, it's hard to know what's actually a probiotic and which is the right one for you.

    That's why we chatted with Ara Katz, who is a mama to son Pax and the co-founder of Seed, a company disrupting the probiotics industry. The entrepreneur told us about her motherhood journey, what led her to start her company and what she wants other parents to know about probiotics.

    Q. What was life like for you before you became a mama?

    I was bi-coastal after co-founding a mobile tech company in New York City with a partner in LA. My life was, for as long as I can remember, consumed by creating and work. I was fairly nomadic, loved to travel, spent many hours reading and practicing yoga, being with friends [and] waking up at the crack of dawn. [I] was fairly sure I would never marry or have children. And then something shifted.

    Q. What were some pivotal moments that defined your journey to motherhood?

    Ha, that makes it sound like motherhood is a destination when at this very moment, more than ever, it evolves daily. I lost my mom when I was 17 and spent most of my life believing I didn't want to be a mother. I had a lot of wiring about its limitations and constraints—I'm sure relics of grief and the fear of loss.

    My journey started with a physiological wanting to be pregnant and have a baby. There was a kind of visceral sense that my body wanted to know what that was like and a strange curiosity that, at least for that period of time, usurped my ambivalence about motherhood.

    Then I had a miscarriage—a beautiful inflection point in my story. I resigned from my company, chose a coast, committed to be more committed to my (then) boyfriend, now husband, and tried again. I got pregnant shortly after that and found pregnancy to be a profound journey within, a reshaping of my life and the tiniest glimpse of how motherhood would unfold.

    In the 55 months since giving birth (and I like to use months because I have learned in the moments that I am most frustrated as a mom that he has only been on this planet for less than 14 fiscal quarters), I have realized and surrendered to a definition of motherhood that is a process. One of cultivating, creating, recreating, shapeshifting, learning, feeling, healing, hurting and experiencing the most potent form of presence I have ever experienced—and an aching, expansive love I didn't know possible—not just for my son, but for all living things.

    Q. How did motherhood change your approach to your career?

    Becoming a mother is certainly a persistent lens on all of my choices, but it was really my miscarriage that recalibrated my path. My pregnancy rekindled my love of biology and health and led me to my co-founder and the microbiome. My breastfeeding experience incepted our first product focus, and the newfound accountability for a human inspired our brand.

    Q. What inspired you to co-found Seed?

    I met my co-founder, Raja, during my pregnancy with Pax. [I] was immediately awestruck by his ability to both deeply understand science and to methodically break down a product, dietary question or piece of advice in a way that's educational (you actually learn something about your body), actionable (you understand what to do with the information) and foundational (you can build on that knowledge in the future to continue to make better choices).

    As we spent more time, our combined passion for microbes, their potential impact on both human health and the environment, and how to set up a child for a healthy life became increasingly clear. And through birth, seeding (the process by which we get our foundational microbes and the inspiration for the name of our company) Pax and my struggles with breastfeeding, my entrepreneurial spirit was lit to build something with Raja. His deep experience in translating science to product, and mine in consumer, community-building and translating through storytelling, culminated in a shared vision to set a new standard in health through bacteria.

    Q. Probiotics have been trending in recent years, but they're nothing new—can you talk a bit about the importance of probiotics?

    Interest in gut health and probiotics increases month by month. However, despite the quickly growing number of "probiotic" supplements, foods and beverages out there, there's still a lot of consumer confusion—particularly around what they are, how they work and why we should take them. Probiotics have been studied extensively across various life stages, body sites and for many benefits. Digestion is an obvious and immediate one (and the primary reason most people currently take probiotics). But other strains have also been studied for skin health, heart health and gut health (including gut immune function and gut barrier integrity). But this doesn't mean that any and all probiotics can do these things—this is the importance of 'strain specificity.' In other words, ensuring that the specific strains in your probiotic have been studied for the benefit you desire is critical.

    Seed Daily Synbiotic

    Seed

    Seed's Daily Synbiotic is a 24-strain probiotic + prebiotic formulated for whole-body benefits, including gut, skin and heart health.


    Q. How do probiotics play a role in your life?

    I mean, I take them, I develop them and I work with some of the leading scientists from around the world advancing the field—so they play a big role. As for my personal health, I take our Daily Synbiotic daily and my son also takes specific strains for gastrointestinal health and gut immune function. Beyond that, it's the re-orientation around my microbiome that guides many of my choices: how important fiber is, specific compounds like polyphenols found in berries, green tea and other foods, avoiding the use of NSAIDS like ibuprofen and antibiotics when not needed, exercise, sleep and time in nature [are] all aspects of our daily life that impact our microbiome and our health.

    Q. What are some misconceptions about probiotics that you would like to set straight?

    There's one main myth on from which all the other stem: that probiotics aren't considered a serious science. On the contrary, it's a field of inquiry that demands incredible rigor and extensive research. And when anything and everything from chocolate to ice cream to fermented food and kombucha to mattresses can call itself "probiotic" due to underregulation in the category, that grossly undermines the science and their potential.

    The term 'probiotic' has a globally-accepted scientific definition that was actually co-authored by our Chief Scientist, Dr. Gregor Reid ,for the United Nations/World Health Organization.

    At Seed, we work to reclaim the term for science, through the development of next-generation probiotics that include clinically validated strains and undergo the most rigorous safety, purity and efficacy testing procedures. Because why would you invite billions of unknown microbes into your body without asking "what's in here, is it the correct dosage that was studied, and has that strain in that amount been studied in human clinical trials to do something beneficial for my body"?

    Q. Can you tell us a little bit about what product you plan to launch next?

    We are developing a pipeline of consumer probiotics to target specific ecosystems of the body and life stages, including a synbiotic for children. Our next product will reflect a unique breakthrough in the field of pediatric probiotics, which we are excited to announce soon.

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

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