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I have strung words together for The New York Times, Vice, and more. I write and shoot people (with a camera, you guys) from my home in upst...

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    Post by Jeanne Sager.



    Abby Theuring was willing to pay Facebook good money to promote breastfeeding to more of her fans. Instead the Chicago-area mom -- who goes by the name
    The Badass Breastfeeder on Facebook -- got a warning that a photo showing her nursing her 4-year-old son had "sexual undertones" and showed "excessive skin." Theuring's ad had just been denied.

    Facebook made a big deal of its new breastfeeding photo policy back in 2014. The site called breastfeeding "natural and beautiful" and promised moms they would "always allow" breastfeeding. 

    Well, except in advertising, it seems ... 

    Theuring tells CafeMom she'd been trying to do something called "boosting" on a Facebook post that links to an article on her website about nursing her 4-year-old. Boosting is one of the options Facebook offers for advertising: A page manager pays the social site to show the post in more people's feeds. Boosted posts, like other ads, have to undergo a screening process at Facebook to ensure they meet site guidelines. 

    More from CafeMom: Badass Breastfeeder Nurses Toddler & Newborn: You Gotta Problem With That?

    That's where the Badass Breastfeeder got caught up in anti-breastfeeding issues. 

    Facebook's ads carry a range of guidelines, from restrictions on promotion of illegal substances to bans on "adult content." Theuring's boost was denied, and she received a warning from Facebook. 

    "They need to knock it off with the offensive, subjective language," she tells CafeMom. "Sexual undertones? What the f--k is that? Who decides that? How can anyone decide for anyone else if a sexual undertone exists? I mean, isn't a sexual feeling the business of the looker?"

    As for the excessive skin complaint, check out the full photo of her breastfeeding:


    Abby Theuring

    "I feel like I'm banging my head on a wall," Theuring says. "Haven't we been through this? We got like six hours to celebrate their policy update for photo shares, then it was right back to this. And they don't care. Why should they? They don't make big bucks off of us."

    Theuring has appealed the boost denial, but so far to no avail. She's since posted Facebook's ban to her page, and fans have been angry on her behalf ... and quick to point out the site's hypocrisy.

    "I reported a picture of a dog whos [sic] ears had been cut off and facebook says this is allowed but feeding your baby/toddler is offencive [sic]!" reads one comment. 

    "I reported a pic of a person who's head had been blown open, and Facebook said it didn't violate anything," said another. 

    More from CafeMom: 

    The contradictions are endless, and they're not lost on Theuring. It's exactly why she started her blog and her vibrant Facebook community of more than 250,000 fans. 

    "Becoming a mother has been my fast track to feminism," she says. "I have never seen so much disgust of the female body as [I have while] being a part of the breastfeeding community. No one ever had a problem with my boobs before. But now they have made me f--king famous. It makes me sad that so many men and women hate the female body." 


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    You don't have to look hard to see my daughter's preexisting condition. The scar spreads, red and angry in a half moon shape just above her left eye. When she frowns, the bottom half pops out, evidence of the damage that lies in the tissue beneath.

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    She rubs her fingers across it sometimes when she's stressed. She was rubbing it as we broke the news that her father had just lost his job and, with it, health insurance for our entire family. Less than 24 hours had passed since Senate Republicans began dismantling the Affordable Care Act, voting to rip away protections for those with preexisting conditions, when we got the news. As of right now, the ACA is still standing, but Republicans have already rejected an amendment crafted by Democrats to protect insurance for people with preexisting conditions, which has millions of Americans on tenterhooks -- including my family.

    We now face trying to gain coverage via the Obamacare marketplace.

    More from CafeMom: My Daughter With Autism Relies on Public Education & I'm Terrified for the Future

    And we now face another heart-wrenching fight as parents to end a nightmare that began for our daughter more than a year ago, five days before Christmas, when a dog we'd just adopted from a shelter lunged for her face, tearing his teeth into the muscles of her forehead.

    We went to three emergency rooms that night, trying to find a plastic surgeon who could repair the devastation on my 10-year-old's face. Our home is in rural upstate New York, where specialists are especially hard to come by. We drove for hours before finding a surgeon on call on a Sunday night at a hospital over the border in New Jersey, a surgeon who spent more than an hour winding small threads through the edges of the silver-dollar-sized flap of flesh hanging above her eye. She was a lucky kid, he told us. Just a few inches lower, and the dog would have pierced her eyeball.

    Lucky isn't a word we've been able to use much.

    First the insurance company that covered us at the time refused to pay the surgeon's $9,000 bill. Despite repeated appeals, we were denied again and again, with United Healthcare -- one of the richest companies in America, with Fortune 500 estimating its revenues topped $130.5 billion in 2014 -- insisting that the fee didn't fall within its estimation of what it should cost to give a 10-year-old a chance at normalcy.

    An appeal to the doctor brought our bill down to $4,500 (not counting our emergency room co-pay, co-pays to visit our primary care physician for follow-ups, and the other odds and ends that would crop up to treat the wound). We were (are) in debt up to our eyeballs.

    And her fight wasn't over. My husband and I spent much of the winter and spring working our fingers across the scar several times a day -- scar massage is supposed to help reduce scar tissue from building beneath the skin's surface and also help with fluid build-up caused by the damage to the body's drainage system. Coating our fingers in massage oil, we pushed into the scar two to three times a day, running our fingers up and down and sideways, while she held tightly to the toilet lid beneath her and sucked in her breath to handle the pain.

    We did the best we could. But the best isn't enough to return her face to what it was. Her surgeon has recommended laser scar removal, a procedure necessary because of the damage beneath the skin and the evident scarring.

    More from CafeMom: Here's What It Costs to Raise a Child Today (You Might Want to Sit Down)

    Let me be clear: She needs this procedure, and when we changed insurances last year, escaping United Healthcare, we were able to carry her "condition" over. We were going to get pre-approval for the procedure this time (which we couldn't do in an emergency situation). We were going to get help from the insurance company we have been paying exactly for this purpose: to step in when our child's health dicates help is needed.

    Now her condition is preexisting. If the Republican promise to repeal Obamacare (and, with it, preexisting-condition protection) comes true, health insurance companies -- for-profit entities that make up a chunk of the Fortune 500 list -- will have carte blanche to say "nah, we don't wanna" when it comes to covering matters of life and death ... simply because they have a trail that begins before the patient landed on their roster.

    More from CafeMom: I Can't Handle Any More Kids -- So My Extreme Birth Control Choice Has to Happen Now

    That is if we even have insurance for our child -- an iffy proposition as the ACA is further dismantled.

    My now-11-year-old leaned over and patted me on the back as I sobbed on our couch on Thursday night. She'd overheard me talking to her father about what our health insurance status could mean and come to comfort me. "It's okay, Mom," she said. "I don't need it. I'll be okay."

    I sat there, realizing I had two choices. I could tell her we'll make it happen, because every kid deserves to know his or her health is going to be taken care of when needs arise. I could deal with the fallout later on. Or I could begin preparing her for the worst: that it may very well never happen because kids and their health are the last thing some rich guys in Washington are thinking about right now.

    I chickened out. I changed the subject. I wrapped my arms around her and told her that she was oh so loved, and we were all going to be okay, because that's what moms are supposed to do: make their kids feel safe, secure, and loved.

    At least I know the last part is true.


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    formula feeding

    File this under not surprising in the least: The author of an article recently published in the Guardian calling for baby formula to be available only by prescription has never breastfed, nor could he. That's right, the call for a global treaty to "phase out" this "unneeded product" is from a man named Erik Assadourian. And the way he sees it, women all make breast milk, so we better lock up all the formula, STAT! 

    If you're looking at the breast vs. formula debate from the outside, maybe it seems that simple. Women make milk, and studies have shown the milk is superior to the factory-made stuff, so if we cut off the supply line to formula, surely we can drive women back to breastfeeding.

    More from CafeMom: Pregnant Women Are Living, Breathing, Feeling Humans -- Not Just Baby 'Hosts' 

    It's one of the basics of economic theory -- limiting supply of one product can force demand of another. But women and babies aren't theoretical, and this reeks of a social engineering program that wrests women's control over our own bodies away from us based on someone's idea of what's best for us-- and our babies. 

    Assadourian, who is the Transforming Cultures project director at the Worldwatch Institute, proposes the creation of a global treaty. He calls it the "Framework Convention on Formula Control" -- which he suggests be modeled on the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (yes, he's comparing baby formula to tobacco). Formula would become available only by prescription, and the formula industry would "shrink like an unmilked breast" (his words). 

    But any mother who has struggled to breastfeed and turned to formula knows that the fact that formula is widely available on the shelves of your local grocery store is not the reason 20 percent of new moms don't breastfeed, nor is it the reason why two thirds of the women who plan to breastfeed past the three-month mark don't make their goal. 

    Some women don't want to breastfeed, and that's their right ... her body, her choice.

    Some women do, but they're challenged by health issues, by postpartum depression, by the work it takes to juggle multiple kids without a whole lot of help, by the fact that in this nation working moms are either the sole or primary breadwinner for 40 percent of families, by the fact that paid maternity leave is not mandated in the United States. 

    More from CafeMom: This Baby & 295 Ounces of Breast Milk Are Here to Prove 'Fed Is Best' 

    Assadourian pays lip service to the latter with his suggestion that paid maternity leave be mandated, but he glosses over the rest in favor of striking out at the formula companies, which he insists create an "unneeded product" that can be "replaced by breast milk, free and available to nearly all mothers."

    Whether you love formula companies or hate them, breast milk is neither free nor available to all mothers. All the other aforementioned issues that keep moms from breastfeeding remain, and they're not going away anytime soon.

    If Assadourian and his colleagues really want to help moms and babies, they could step away from the formula, stop mansplaining to women how our bodies lactate, and let us decide what's best for our families. 

    Because at the end of the day, what matters isn't whether moms are breastfeeding or using formula -- but that we can take care of ourselves and our babies.


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    beautiful baby

    Today, most parents have to wait until their child is at least 2 years old before they can get a solid autism diagnosis and (hopefully) dive into early intervention. But what if doctors had a test that could spot autism much earlier, based on how your baby's brain is changing? And what could the possibility of such a test mean for the vaccine-autism debate? 

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    Doctors at the University of North Carolina have just published a study in the scientific journal Nature which suggests signs of autism may begin to appear in a baby's brain at as young as 6 months -- well before the appearance of the more recognizable symptoms that send parents to the doctor with questions, and well before American kids get the much-debated MMR vaccine

    Debunking the vaccine/autism link wasn't the main impetus for the study, lead author Dr. Heather Hazlett tells CafeMom. "But it does prove there are changes to the brain before anything is seen," she says. "It does kind of break that link -- or weaken that link."

    More from CafeMom: 'Expert' Wants Formula to Be 'Prescription Only'

    The study is a follow-up of sorts to one Hazlett and colleague Dr. Joseph Piven of the IBIS (Infant Brain Imaging Study) Network completed several years ago that showed brain enlargement in toddlers with an autism diagnosis. The doctors decided to look at younger children who have older siblings on the spectrum -- kids who are considered "high risk" for their own diagnosis. 

    They began studying the brains of 150 infants, measuring how the brain changed from MRIs at ages 6 months to a year to 24 months. Faster growth rates of the brain were associated with autism eight out of 10 times, with evidence of advanced growth as young as the six-month mark. What's more, Hazlett said the enlargement seemed to coincide with social deficits, although ones that might not otherwise have been indicative of an autism diagnosis. 

    "The more enlargement, the more symptoms," she says.

    Big news, but don't go booking an MRI for your baby anytime soon. 

    More from CafeMom: The New President's Ignorance About Autism Is Dangerous for Kids Like Mine

    The study will have to be replicated with larger groups of kids and with kids who aren't considered high risk, Hazlett says. What's more, MRIs are both expensive and difficult to do on small children (the IBIS researchers have to wait for babies to fall asleep, as they don't use sedation), so any test that could come out of additional study would still be limited in its practical use. It's unlikely to become de rigueur for pediatricians.  

    That said, Hazlett says there are a number of reasons for parents to take heart with this news. Aside from putting another nail in the vaccine/autism coffin, the study provides boundless information for other studies.

    For example, she says, there are genes associated with the portions of the brain that showed enlargement in this study, something that geneticists can now look at. "We're really far from the time there might be a medicine or a drug trial, but this tells those kinds of researchers what to look for," Hazlett notes. 

    More from CafeMom: 10 Moms Share What They Want You to Know About Autism

    The researchers have also collected DNA from the children in the study and their families, which can be used by scientists who are reviewing possible environmental impacts (such as toxic metal exposure or air pollution) on autism. 

    So while the study may not help families who have newborns today, it could help countless families down the road. And so can you! The folks at IBIS are currently recruiting subjects for their next study. Enter your details, and your family could help pave the way for the next autism breakthrough. 


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    mom roar
    If you've ever stubbed your toe or banged your knee and yelled out reflexively, you know that a good scream does wonders for your pain tolerance. Now think how good it feels to let loose with a roar when you're giving birth. 

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    Call it a mom roar or a birth roar, that sound echoing in the maternity ward is just a bit more proof that birthing women are some of the most powerful beings on earth. As they do the hard work to bring a baby earthside, they're not afraid to make themselves heard. And birth photographers from around the world have captured the magical moments when moms have found that power deep down within and brought it forward. The images aren't just powerful ... they're primal.

    And if you listen closely as you take a peek, you might just hear them roar. 


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    woman period cramps
    If you're on the market for a new product to help you through that time of the month, here's one you might want to skip: Mensez, the labia glue one Nebraska chiropractor promises will seal up your vagina during your period, loosening only when you urinate so the backed up menstrual blood can drain out into the toilet. While you're busy gathering your jaw up off of the floor, just wait ... it gets worse. 

    In a post on Facebook (removed since Mensez -- which is still apparently being developed -- began going viral), creator Dan Dopps defended his bloody awful idea by insulting menstruating folks for not coming up with it our damn selves:

    Yes, I am a man and you as a woman should have come up with a better solution than diapers and plugs, but you didn't. Reason being women are focused on and distracted by your period 25% of the time, making them far less productive than they could be. Women tend to be far more creative than men, but their periods that [sic] stifle them and play with their heads.

    Pardon us, but we're so busy having our heads played with that we must have missed the time we decided we hated pads and tampons so much that we asked some random dude who has never had a visit from Aunt Flo to create vagina glue.

    mensez

    More From CafeMom: Our Periods Cost Us Too Damn Much -- & This Woman Wants to Change That

    Oh wait ... that didn't happen. 

    Because tampons and pads— while not perfect — actually work pretty darn well. Used by an estimated 42 percent of American women, tampons absorb blood, they're easy to use, and they even allow you to swim. Pads -- which are used by 62 percent of women (some women use both, accounting for the number higher than 100) absorb blood and are easy to use, and they're an option for the menstruating types who aren't up for tampons. 

    Millions of women use them every 28 days or so without thinking, "If only I had some glue to trap the blood in my vagina until I pee and my urine leaks down from my urethra, unseals the labia and presto, change-o, I'm freed of all that mess ... or at least the amount of blood that's backed up since the last time I went pee and glued myself together."

    More from CafeMom: 16 Women Share the Bittersweet True Stories of Their 'First Period'

    And if they're not so happy with the old standbys, the market is glut with other options. The Diva Cup. Thinx undies. Heck, you can even call up your OB/GYN and discuss birth control options that will diminish or even put an end to your period. 

    In other words: We're not helpless, distracted beings waiting for some white knight with a glue stick to save us from our anatomy. We've been doing just fine on our own with options that address the legitimate needs of menstruation. 

    But don't take our word for it. OB/GYN Dr. Jen Gunter points out in a scathing take-down of Mensez that any glue that would be dissolved by urine would just as easily be dissolved by sweat and other bodily fluids, and the glue would likely cause abrasions to the labia, along with other complications. 

    If only we had other solutions to avoid all that ... 


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    mom gives birth in car

    Stephanie Knowles was on pins and needles waiting for the call to photograph her first birth. She never expected to end up in a parking lot with her camera in hand as a baby entered the world. But then neither did the mom and dad whose photo -- snapped in the moments after their
    son arrived in the world, in the front seat of their car! -- has quickly gone viral. 

    The Florida photographer and owner of Jaiden Photography tells CafeMom she arrived at Noah and Lauren Strunk's home to dim lights and classical music. Forty-five minutes later, the trio were headed to the hospital. But when they hit the circular driveway at the main entrance, and Noah ran to the passenger door to help his wife, time ran out. 

    More From CafeMom: 11 Photos of Badass Moms in Labor Giving Their 'Birth Roar'

    "As soon as he opened the door, she said, 'Something's happening; you have to deliver him,' and he did!" Knowles says. "They are both so amazing, in this moment and in general. They were planning on a natural birth, just not in the parking lot."

    woman gives birth in car

    Says Knowles, "When he opened the door, I immediately jumped out and grabbed my camera. I didn't know whether I should help or start shooting ... debated it for a split second to help, but my photographer instinct came in, and I just started capturing every moment as it happened!"

    mom delivers baby in car

    Lauren and the little guy are both doing just fine, despite the dramatic entry. We can't wait to see more photos from this photographer -- wonder how her next birth will go!?


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    Iskra Lawrence
    There's a lot to love about the body-positivity movement that's gained traction on the Internet in recent years. But if you're not on the "love every inch of myself" train just yet, you're going to love
    model Iskra Lawrence's first post using Instagram's new carousel photo feature (the one you can test out with those itty bitty white bubbles at the bottom of photos). The Aerie model behind the hashtag #everyBODYisbeautiful and ambassador for the National Eating Disorder Association snapped three photos of herself wearing the same exact bathing suit -- albeit shown from different angles -- and posted them with the new gallery option.

    Her basic message: Look, you guys, angles can be pretty darn deceiving, so don't get too caught up in what someone looks like in a photo.

    More from CafeMom: Our Periods Cost Us Too Damn Much -- & This Woman Wants to Change That

    Just look at the difference from the sitting photo (above) to this one of Lawrence standing up:

    Iskra Lawrence

    And when she turns to the side:

    Iskra Lawrence

    As Lawrence notes: "You can see how in the second I look less thick than the third - poses can change a lot!" 

    Good message? Absolutely. But the real gem in Lawrence's viral post might be the one at the very end of her lengthy caption:  

    Finally for anyone whose [sic] not comfortable looking at these pics or posting their own photos in swimwear or lingerie I get it. It's not for everyone & no one should ever feel pressure to do it. And especially not for social validation, likes or follows. Our bodies are magical and imperfectly perfect but they do not define us and we are so much more than just the way we look.

    One more time for the people in the back, Iskra!

    More from CafeMom: 13 Body-Positive Instagram Stars That Will Inspire You to Love Your Body ... As Is

    When we talk about embracing our bodies and beauty at every size, women like Iskra who are content with their "curves" are wonderful to see, not least in ad campaigns like Aerie's.

    But as important as it is to talk about the tricks of photography, it's heartening to hear her acknowledge the elephant in the body-positive room.  

    You can tell people they're beautiful and tell them to embrace their bodies as often as you want, but we're facing decades upon decades of hate for bodies that don't fit some very strict societal standards ... standards that the body-positivity movement is pushing out of the forefront but still exist.

    What's more, body dysmorphic disorder -- which is intrinsically tied with this issue -- is one of those medical conditions that may not be seen but is no less real. You can't back slap someone out of a medical condition, as nice as that would be. 

    More from CafeMom: Period Problems? Duh, Just Glue Your Vagina Shut! (Says Man)

    We need to remain cognizant that just as Rome wasn't built in a day, people who struggle from different forms of body dysmorphia, whether they've risen to clinical levels or not, are not going to "better" overnight. These folks don't need to be shamed or shut out of the conversation just because they're not up for hashtagging a photo of themselves. They should be encouraged to take part in their own way.  

    If someone is comfortable sharing photos of herself on Instagram in her bikini, that's pretty dang fantastic. But supporting each other means not forcing our own ideals on someone else. 

    Thank goodness we've got Iskra Lawrence leading the way. 


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    Emma Watson

    If there's one thing society hates, it's female child stars who grow up and start expressing strong opinions about the world and how women are treated in it. Even more reviled are female child stars who shed their innocence and take pride in their sexuality. Emma Watson has long been known for the former, and the star of the upcoming live-action version of Beauty and the Beast has been sucked into controversy over the latter, thanks to a
    Vanity Fair photo shoot featuring the actress in a loosely crocheted Burberry top cut to reveal a significant portion of her stomach and breasts.

    One of the kinder insults hurled at the former Harry Potter star since the shoot is "hypocrite," with Twitter trolls taking the depressing but expected route of attacking Watson's role as a feminist activist because she dares show the underside of a breast.

    Perhaps most depressing is that the sturm und drang seems to be coming largely from other women -- women whose understanding of what it means to be a feminist is severely lacking. 

    Take this tweet, which British journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer‏ paired with a photo from the Vanity Fair shoot that appeared in a British tabloid with the cringeworthy headline "Beauty and the Breasts":

    Emma Watson Vanity Fair tweets

    It's like playing that old college drinking game, two truths and a lie. Truth: Emma Watson is a feminist. Truth: Emma Watson is a sexual being. Lie: Emma Watson is a sexual being and thus shouldn't be taken seriously as a feminist. 

    More from CafeMom: 18 Absurdly Offensive Postcards About Women That We'd Never Let Fly Today

    Why stop there?

    Let's throw in another, particularly uncomfortable truth: Feminism is the audacious notion that women shouldn't have to jump through hoops to be "taken seriously." We're humans. That should be enough. 

    A fair amount of feminists have come to Watson's defense this week, decrying those who question a woman's worth based on the amount of flesh she shares, noting the unfortunate tendency for women to tear apart other women, and celebrating her female empowerment. It's all true, and as Elle writer Jaya Saxena points out, "We have both minds and bodies, and denying one in favor of the other denies the wholeness of any person."

    There is nothing wrong with the photo of a 26-year-old consenting adult wearing very little in a magazine directed at adults. Watson's not harming anyone, least of all herself. If she enjoys that photo and felt comfortable with the shoot, then she should be proud of the results. 

    But whether or not Watson was right to appear in those photos (and again, her body, her choice) is irrelevant. 

    She is still a human being. 

    She still retains her rights to speak up for herself and to demand that she be treated equally to men and that other women receive the same equal treatment. 

    Because feminism isn't about nailing the audition for the role of "being taken seriously." It's about getting called in for the part, based purely on your own merits. 


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    boy playing with doll

    Kirsten McGoey started taking photos of little boys in dresses and little boys dressed all in pink as a love letter to her son. "He doesn't walk; he twirls," she says of her middle child. The Canadian photographer knew her photo project, A Boy Can Too, would give her 8-year-old a way to connect with other little boys who are just like him. She could only hope at the time that it would do the same for all the other little boys out there who like pink and ponies and sparkles ... just like her son. 

    Based on the letters Kirsten's gotten from as far as Australia, New Zealand, and other spots around the globe, it appears that's exactly what's happening. 

    "The project is not going to change someone's mind," Kirsten says. "It's to support the people who are changing someone's mind." 


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    Kellyanne Conway

    For as long as there have been mothers who have worked to bring home the bacon (and then, been responsible for frying it up in the pan, serving it, and cleaning that pan after dinner), society has thrown hurdles in the paths of the women who juggle career and motherhood. So, when
    Kellyanne Conway showed up on CBS Sunday Morning this weekend, it was almost refreshing to hear her serving up some actual facts instead of the alternative flavor she seems to prefer.

    Conway says she's having a tough time being both mother of four young kids and the highest ranking female on the president's staff, to which working moms all across the nation said, "Gee, ya think?"

    "They're great kids, but they're really the worst ages for a mom to be here and away from them: 12, 12, 8, and 7," Conway told CBS, later adding, "They're struggling, because it's just different to not have a mom there as much as they're used to, even though I've always worked. This is an entirely different level."

    It's really and truly sad to hear that the Conway kids are having a rough time. No matter the issues at hand in this divisive political climate, we're talking about four little people right here. They didn't ask for any of this, nor do they deserve to suffer. 

    But let's talk facts for just a second ... the pesky, real kind again.

    Not only did she see this coming -- last year Conway denied that she'd be taking a job in the West Wing precisely because she said she was worried about her kids -- but this is less personal anecdote and more the way of the world for women in the workplace who have children at home.

    Conway's a working mom in a society that ranks working moms just slightly higher than "paying taxes" and decidedly lower than "hate-watching celebrities and tweeting nasty things at them." 

    More from CafeMom: 23 Female 'Firsts' Who Broke Glass Ceilings in Their Fields

    This is America, after all, where moms in households with two working parents still do the lion's share of household chores, where a woman's pay decreases an average of 4 percent per child (while men see a pay boost as they spawn), where moms are more likely to be regarded by employers as less competent and poorly motivated to succeed than non-moms, regardless of actual experience. 

    This is America, home of the worst parental leave coverage in the industrialized world. 

    This is America, where 71 percent of moms with children at home work in some fashion, and 40 percent of mothers are either the sole or primary breadwinners for their families, but still face the omnipresent wage gap separating women from men. 

    This is America, where the highest ranking woman in the White House staff is on a leave of absence from a Koch Brothers–linked organization called the Independent Women's Forum, a group that warns against the "disruptive consequences" of paid leave on its homepage and boasts YouTube videos that blame women for their bosses not paying them the same as someone with a penis. 

    This is America, where the aforementioned highest ranking White House staffer will help a man become president, even after he's called pregnancy an "inconvenience for a business" in a televised Dateline interview and told MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski he understands why employers pay mothers less than men with the same job. 

    This is America, where the aforementioned president has just proposed a childcare program that tax experts say will be wholly unhelpful to the majority of low income and middle class families, who don't earn enough to take advantage of its proposed tax benefits.

    More from CafeMom: 5 Ways Parents Can Protect Their Public Schools From Betsy DeVos

    And all of this is just working mother–specific. We'd be remiss to ignore the rapid erosion of women's rights in general going on in this country at the moment -- from the movement to defund Planned Parenthood to the personhood bills popping up in state legislatures across the nation -- that hurt all women, including mothers in the workforce, or the troubles for their kids, including the attack on public education at hand with Betsy DeVos at the helm of the Department of Education.

    Kellyanne Conway is right. Working motherhood sucks. 

    If only there were someone working side-by-side with the president of the United States who could talk to him about that. 

    Oh, right. 


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    Photos by Lei birth photography

    Since last week, moms have been debating a viral text exchange between a pregnant mom and a disapproving birth photographer. The mom was reportedly told that her birth -- a scheduled C-section -- wasn't "natural" by the photographer, who then refused to document the big event. Some can't believe the exchange is real, while many others say it's all too believable, and just another example of the birth shaming we experience ALL. THE. TIME. No matter what, it's not hard to see why the birth photographer community has come together to issue a powerful response, not just to this controversy, but to the very idea that some births are more worthy than others ...

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    When you get a bunch of women who have given birth in a room with a new mom or a mom-to-be, birth stories will start spilling out. It's a way of connecting, of sharing our truths. Unfortunately, all it takes is using magic words like "C-section" or "epidural," and suddenly you could be watching relationships go off the rails. 

    If babies have any sense of what their moms are yakking about, what they're hearing in these birth-shaming conversations is, "Welcome to the world, little one! You're eating, you're sleeping, and you're pooping up a storm just the way you're supposed to, but now we're going to make your mom feel like crap for how she brought you into the world!" 

    If you're thinking it's ridiculous, you're right ... and you're not alone.

    A group of birth photographers has had it up to here with the folks who insist births should go one specific way, and they've got a message for moms out there: Your birth is beautiful, no matter what ... and as photographers, they've got your back. 

    Take a peek:

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    Alright, we'll give you a second to clear your eyes.

    I've been birth shamed plenty over the years by the sorts of moms whose strong feelings about the way women "should" welcome their children into the world are about as useful as a birth plan when the feces hit the fan in the delivery room ... which is to say "not very." Babies will be born the way babies want to be born, and the decisions about how it happens come down to the person doing the birthing and her birth provider. 

    More from CafeMom: 13 Breathtaking Photos of One Mom's Unplanned, At-Home VBAC

    So I reached out to Nicole Burmeister, the Virginia photographer who put the video together, to ask her a little about where it came from. 

    The owner of Nicole in Bold has been a photographer for nearly a decade, but it was her own birth three years ago that made her begin chronicling births. Since then she's also become part of a vibrant community of photographers who share a focus on helping moms tell their stories, no matter what that story may be. It may be a C-section. It may be a home birth. It may include an epidural. It may come of an induction. Whatever happens, Burmeister says, "your birth is still very much worthy of being documented."

    Nicole in Bold photography

    Texas photographer Leilani Rogers, one of several who contributed to the video, agrees. "Birth photography is beautiful and empowering. But where empowering women really comes from is allowing their choices to not be shamed or judged," Rogers says. "As a photographer, I remind my clients that I have no opinion on how they choose to birth or end up birthing. I believe a mother's intuition is powerful and carries through in these choices. I tell them that in this moment their birth is the most important, beautiful, perfect story I have to tell!"

    Burmeister hopes moms who've been shamed for their means of birth take comfort from the video. After using her own birth photos to help work through postpartum depression, the mother of a toddler says the photos themselves often help moms work through births that didn't necessarily go according to plan. 

    More from CafeMom: 15 Fascinating Photos That Celebrate the Placenta in All Its Gory Glory

    "It's super healing both physically and emotionally to see everything in those photos, because life goes by so quickly," she adds. 

    Indeed it does, and as your kids grow, the joke's on the birth shamers, because no one can tell which kindergartner was born at home, who was born via C-section, whose mama had an epidural!

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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    hairspray

    Pregnant women hear the word "no" almost as much as their future toddlers do. "No, you can't drink coffee." "No, you can't eat soft cheese." And there's a new one this week: "No, you can't use hair spray." 

    Wait, what?

    Yup, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in late 2016 has surfaced, positing a link between moms who use hair spray during pregnancy and hypospadias, a birth defect that shows up in about five out of every 1,000 boys born in the United States. 

    More From CafeMom: 11 Surprising Tricks to Getting Pregnant Fast

    Past studies have linked hair spray usage by pregnant cosmetologists to the condition, but scientists in Amiens, France, reviewed cases of babies born with hypospadias and say there is a link for moms who use hair sprays at home as well because of the endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are contained in the sprays.  

    So should you throw out the bottles of spray? It may be worth it if you just found out you're pregnant, says Dr. Mark Cain, a pediatric urologist with Riley Children's Health in Indianapolis, but it's not the end of the world if you've been spraying up a storm. 

    The penis stops developing in babies with hypospadias sometime between 10 to 14 weeks in utero, resulting in a urethra that isn't located at the penile tip and often a curved penis.

    "Moms barely know they're pregnant when the penis is developing," Cain points out. "You almost have to have a planned pregnancy to know." 

    What's more, the research into how endocrine disruptors affect fetal development is promising but still in very early stages. "We don't have enough data right now," Cain says, although there is plenty of suspicion that environmental factors could be playing a role.

    It's something the researchers in France say themselves in their study, noting, "A larger study with more accurate exposure assessment should evaluate the impact of [endocrine-disrupting chemicals] in hair cosmetics on the incidence of hypospadias." 

    In the meantime, if you work around hair spray or you've been spritzing your head all pregnancy long, don't freak out. Hypospadias is still limited to less than 1 percent of male births. And while ultrasounds may pick hypospadias up in late pregnancy, there is nothing that needs to be done in utero, Dr. Cain says. 

    More from CafeMom: The Story Behind These Incredible Shots of a Mom Giving Birth in Her Car

    Typically it's caught at birth, at which point doctors recommend parents avoid circumcision but otherwise send them home from the hospital with their new little bundle. Depending on the severity of the hypospadias, a simple outpatient surgery may be scheduled by a doctor sometime after the little boy is 7 months old.

    Best of all: Cain says little boys typically go on to have healthy lives after surgery with no side effects.


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    female worker

    The
    Day Without Women planned to coincide with International Women's Day sounds luxurious. Could I really step away from it all? Wash my hands of all I do for 24 hours along with the rest of the females of the world and our allies to show how much we really matter? I'd love to say yes. There's just one problem. 

    Women and gender-oppressed people don't just matter. We matter so much that even a day away from it all causes some of our worlds to shatter. 

    If it sounds hyperbolic, consider this: I'm the sole breadwinner in my family of three. I've always worked a full-time job plus two more on the side, but since my husband lost his job, I've had to throw myself fully into my "second shift," picking up side gigs that will keep us afloat and that keep me tied to my computer late into the night. 

    More from CafeMom:'A Day Without a Woman' Strike Is Leading to School Closings: What You Need to Know

    If I don't work all of my jobs on Wednesday, we will be forced to play a game of pick and choose. Which bill can we go without paying?

    Should I let them turn off my electric in order to prove to the world that I, a human being with feelings and a pulse, count? Or maybe I should fall behind on my car insurance in order to be "taken seriously"? 

    This is the dance the organizers of the Day Without Women expect women across the country to play, women in a nation where 40 percent of households have a female breadwinner at the helm -- a figure that includes includes 8.6 million single moms who do all the heavy lifting for their families and another 5.1 million moms in two-parent families who are either the primary or sole earner. 

    Nyssa C. has two kids. Until two months ago, when her partner went back to work, she was her family's sole earner. And while leaving the house to do something other than drive directly to work no longer sends her into a panic over whether she can afford the gasoline to make the trip, the family is still facing the little-discussed aftermath of unemployment: debt. 

    Skipping work is something she only does if her youngest child is sick and cannot go to school. That's it. There are no other days off. She's one of the four in 10 private sector workers who do not have paid sick days. If she doesn't work, she doesn't get paid. 

    "Me missing out on work would be like a punishment to my family," Nyssa told me.

    More from CafeMom: Kellyanne Conway Admits Working Moms Struggle -- If Only She Could Change That

    Mesa G. shared a similar story. While her husband makes more money, her salary as a teacher's aide is crucial to paying their bills. But even stepping away from family obligations as a form of protest would leave their child hungry. Her husband works until late in the evening, so it's not that he doesn't prepare dinner because he thinks women belong in the kitchen. It's because he simply can't, timing-wise. And their son still needs to eat. 

    Overall, Mesa supports the idea of a day without women to drive home the points the movement stands for, but she can't help but notice its tone-deaf presentation. 

    "The idea of this strike is great, but it's definitely white privileged feminism," she says. "Maybe not just white, but income-stable feminists, which leaves out a lot of people of color, since many of them are working low-paying jobs without personal days or sick leave. In some places they could be fired for not showing up." 

    She's right. Employers can't punish you for using paid sick time, but only 33 percent of earners in the lowest wage bracket in America get paid sick days. It's perfectly legal to fire people for calling out sick if they don't have sick time to protect them. 

    That's a risk most women can't take while their sisters are enjoying a day in bed with a book or even out marching in the streets, basking in the camaraderie of the sisterhood. 

    A Day Without Women is a movement meant to empower women, but for women like me, for women like Nyssa and Mesa, there's a disconnect. We can't participate for the very reasons the movement exists. 

    And so we are left out in the cold. 

    To be fair, the movement has made efforts to mention us -- a FAQ on their website notes:

    We recognize that some of the 82 percent of women who become moms, particularly single mothers, may not have the option of refusing to engage in paid work or unpaid child care on March 8th. Many mothers have always worked and in our modern labor force, almost half of all households are women-lead, yet motherhood remains the number one predictor of poverty and a woman's earning potential is diminished further with each child. We strike for them.

    But there's something disquieting about the notion that they're charging forward with something that so clearly shuts out so many, many women in the name of equality. They tell us we count while counting us out in their method of planning. 

    Sure, we can wear red that day or we can "support female businesses" instead of taking an actual day off. But the movement is predicated upon the concept of "unity," all the while leaving hundreds of thousands of people behind. 

    Well-intentioned as the strike may be, there remains an undercurrent of exclusion, splitting those of us who cannot from those who can. 

    Even as I say this, I recognize my own privilege. I can step away from my home responsibilities for the day and leave them to my husband. In that sense, I'm luckier than countless women who aren't just sole breadwinners but sole caregivers. I can see them, and I salute them.  

    I just wish we were all seen. 


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    medal for man who gave seat up for pregnant woman
    Ricky Barksdale/Facebook

    Anyone who has been pregnant knows that society is all too eager to live down to our very low expectations about how pregnant women are treated. So when New York City mom Yvonne Lin posted a photo of a trophy she'd created to award the first man who actually stood up to offer his seat on the subway, it's no wonder it quickly went viral. 

    Lin posted the trophy -- and a photo of her awardee -- on Instagram last week, where she explained that eight months into her second pregnancy was the very first time a dude bothered to get out of his seat and offer her a spot to rest her weary body. Said dude, whose name is Ricky Barksdale, admitted on Facebook that he wasn't even sure if Lin was pregnant when he hopped up to give her a seat, but he proudly shared his prize.

    More from CafeMom: Mom Invents Glue You Can Use to Decorate Your Baby

    "I'm sitting on the train and there was a lady standing in front of me and I didn't realize she was pregnant, she's wearing all black so it was hard to tell," he wrote in his post about the award. "I got up immediately to give her my seat and she said wait I have something to give you and she handed me this trophy."


    There's been a little bit of the expected Internet hate toward the award -- some folks aren't too keen on awarding a guy for doing something he should do anyway. But then again, we shouldn't put up with any of the daily load of crap dished up for pregnant women, should we? 

    Heck, maybe Lin could start a business pushing out trophies for pregnant women to hand out to the other pleasant few folks who surprise them during their nine and a half months of human growing?

    More from CafeMom: 12 Natural Ways to Manage Labor Pain

    Just picture the whole line of trophies that could be forged: 

    "Only coworker not to touch my belly without asking."  "Only family member not to weigh in on the name we didn't ask your opinion about in the first place."  "Only mother at the baby shower not to share the most horrifying details of her birth while I was trying to eat mini quiches in peace." "Only person in the Starbucks line not to side-eye my belly while I was walking out with the cup that was full of decaf, thank you very much." "First man in my life not to compare giving birth to the pain of getting kicked in the balls." "Only grandparent not to insist they need a hip, young version of Grandma."  "First mom in birthing class to admit that the prenatal vitamins gave her the dry heaves too, so she's not taking them either."

    These are the unsung heroes in our lives, ladies, so why not reward them? 


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    kids screen time

    If you've got a kid who spends his or her fair share of time in front of a screen (and really, who doesn't?), get ready to be sancti-mommied. A new study on kids and screen time claims too much time in front of the tube will make your kid too dumb for kindergarten. 

    Okay, not quite. That's more how gleeful TV-free saints will surely be playing this one. The actual study, which comes from researchers at New York University and was published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, says watching more than two hours of TV a day can lower school readiness skills in toddlers.

    More from CafeMom: Your Baby's Brain May Already Hold Signs of Anxiety & Depression

    Specifically, the study found that TV watching was linked to decreases in math skills and executive function. Interestingly, they didn't find the same issues when it came to letter and word knowledge, which researchers said gets more attention by educational programmers.

    They also found no link between TV watching and developmental delays in kids in high income homes (defined as $127,000 a year for a family of four). It's assumed that's because toddlers are more likely to watch educational programming in higher income homes -- although it's fair to say parents in the higher income bracket also have other means to enhance their kids' education that folks living below the poverty line don't have at their immediate disposal. 

    In other words ... it may not be the TV that makes a big difference for kids. It may be the quality of the TV and the amount of supplementation. 

    The NYU study, like many others, stops at kindergarten, and so do other learnings about what effect TV may or may not have on the brain. Researchers didn't follow the kids to first grade or longer to see if their learning skills would eventually even out. They didn't evaluate whether the kid who didn't know his 1s from his 5s at age 4 was equation-ready in sixth grade. Even studies that look at older kids tend to do so only with their current screen time habits under the microscope, rather than a comprehensive look at how the screens have affected them from babyhood onward.

    More from CafeMom: I'm So Thankful My Wife Required Me to Be a Hands-On Dad

    We know screens aren't great. But are they ruining our kids' futures? Apparently, not if they're watching the "right" TV, not if they're getting supplementation, and, well, maybe not at all. Certainly there are countless parents out there with fourth graders on the principal's list who will admit they used TV as a babysitter more than a few times over the years. 

    Been there. Done that. I have an 11-year-old on the honor roll who is none-the-worse for her mother's having had to scrabble for childcare in the early days when money was tight. TV was something I never planned to have play a role in my child-rearing, but it did in the same way it does for many parents: as a necessary evil that enables the overwhelmed to get enough done to keep the house from falling down around our ears.

    I did what I had to do and beat myself up for it, all while trying to mitigate any possible side effects with plenty of reading and other enrichment activities. She didn't just survive. She's thrived.

    Anecdotal though that may be, the fact is, researchers haven't given us much to counteract the anecdotes. So give your kids screen time. Don't give your kids screen time. If you're a parent who cares enough to think about whether or not TV is good for kids, chances are you're also a parent who is doing other things to prep them for kindergarten and beyond.


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    baby medical helmets

    Paula Strawn likes to tell people she has the happiest job in the world. For the past 13 years, the Washington artist has spent her days painting baby helmets, the stark white cranial orthotics typically sported by kids with
    plagiocephaly, a common disorder that causes a portion of a child's head the flatten. Out of the box, the helmets look distinctly medical, and people are prone to staring.

    But when the owner of Lazardo Art gets done with them, babies are transformed into little aviators, Captain America, mini firefighters, and so much more.

    "It's a conversation starter in a positive way," Strawn says. "Your baby gets smiles instead of stares in public. No baby needs looks of pity. They need smiles!"

    Strawn says the best part of her happy job is knowing she can help make babies' worlds more smiley.


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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    office space parody

    File this under: Why didn't we think of this? Mom and photographer Mia Gorrell has turned the iconic printer-smashing scene from Office Space into a call to action for moms who are ready to dump the breast pump! Or should we say smash the pump? 

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    The mother of three (Gorell has 3-year-old Harper and 15-month-old twins Isabel and Grace) gathered moms from her twins group for an official pump smashing, while Mia snapped away on her camera.

    More from CafeMom: 

    "I was inspired to do this photo shoot when I became a new mom," Mia tells CafeMom. "Breastfeeding was so much harder than I had anticipated, and I was frustrated that no one seemed to talk about it. It was supposed to be this enjoyable, natural experience, so why was I struggling so much?"

    But it wasn't until she started talking to other moms that she realized she wasn't as lonely as she thought. A lot of moms were struggling, especially with the pump. 

    "When I was done pumping, I felt so free and I had all this newfound time on my hands," Mia says. "I was tempted to throw my pump out the window, and that gave me the idea to have a ceremonious smashing of one as closure to the experience. I immediately made the connection to the [printer-smashing] scene in the film Office Space, and it clicked. Thus, the 'Mom Space' photo project was born!"

    In case you haven't seen the movie, here's how it goes down (beware, there's some NSFW language):

    Now the moms:


    The ceremony wasn't just fun for Mia. There was catharsis too in letting go of societal pressures about breastfeeding. 

    "My pumping experience was short-lived -- only about three or four months with my singleton and my twins," she explains. "With my first, I had postpartum depression and anxiety, and the pressure I felt to breastfeed really fed into that." More from CafeMom:    "It wasn't until I learned that it's actually okay to not breastfeed and that I wouldn't be subjecting my child to doom that I stopped," Mia says.   "With my twins, I was exclusively pumping and each session was taking at least 45 minutes, sometimes over an hour. When my husband was home, I was leaving him to watch two infants and a toddler by himself while I just sat there, attached to the pump."   Ah yes, the bliss of pumping!   "When I was home by myself with three kids, it was near impossible to find the time to pump," Mia shares. "In addition, one of my twins had horrible reflux, so [she] was spitting up a large portion of my milk and always in pain after eating. It became too much and I didn't feel guilty about switching them to formula when the time came."   Her story is all too familiar for too many moms. And maybe her idea can give you a little smash therapy too!   moms parody office space printer scene
     

    Thinking of smashing your pump to smithereens?

    Check out more of Mia's awesome shots on her blog to get ideas to do your own! 

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    Post by Jeanne Sager.

    gun-free school zone

    There's no question the drop-off zone outside an elementary school is one of the most high-stress areas on planet Earth. Everywhere you turn are frazzled parents who just spent an hour or so arguing with a pint-sized tyrant about why they have to wear pants. So maybe it's no surprise that drop-off at one Texas elementary school ended with one mom pulling a gun on another last week.

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    Cops were reportedly called to the Deer Park Elementary School in Deer Park, Texas, last week when one mom started screaming at another about her driving, and the other pulled out her pistol.    No one was hurt, and no one was arrested.   
    But if there's ever a "wake up and remember we're all in this together" moment for you, maybe it's one mom pulling a gun on another mom in front of their kids ... in front of an elementary school?   More from CafeMom: Moms Give Breast Pump an 'Office Space'–Style Beatdown & It's Everything   Our kids listen when we don't want them to. You know they do. It's why your child's known since age 3 that spilling coffee down your leg will result in a certain f-word. It's also why we need to act like we're grown folks around other grown folks.   And before you go all out on judging this mom, as tempting as it might be, remember something else: Mornings are capital "s" Stressful.    You can be an early bird and have well-behaved little tots who leap out of bed with the birdies. You can be the most organized mama on the planet. But at some point, things are going to go haywire. Your 7-year-old is going to suddenly remember that he was supposed to read chapter three of the Magic Tree House book last night and melt down with impending doom over a "homework not completed" warning just as you walk out the door. A power outage will turn off your automatic coffee maker, rendering you voluntarily caffeine-free for the morning. Your kindergartner will mysteriously misplace her left shoe. And so on.    When it all happens, and you're up to your ears in stress, allow this mantra to run through your mind a few dozen times: This is how mornings work in households all across America. If you're having a rough time, you're not alone.   So while you need a little break, so does that other mom -- yes, even the one who's taking up two spots with her gas guzzler and who left her car door wide open in the drop-off lane.    More from CafeMom:    Give her a break. Maybe she'll be inclined to give you one too. Either way, you'll be able to tell your kids "we don't act like that in our house" when one of them pulls a jerk move. 

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