During the nine months that Hillary Frank was pregnant, she envisioned a natural childbirth surrounded by family, with an occasional back rub in between contractions. But when the day came, her daughter Sasha had not yet turned in the womb and everything changed.
The pregnancy books she'd read had failed to prepare her for a few things:
"That just the teensiest, eensiest bit of Pitocin would send me into a series of 10-minute-long contractions that would leave me yelling for an epidural. That my baby wouldn't turn, making it impossible for me to push her out without an episiotomy. That she'd take her first poop inside me, breathe it into her lungs, and need to be rushed to the NICU immediately after being born," Frank wrote in an essay on The Longest Shortest Time, a blog and podcast documenting the sometimes graphic, frustrating and darker moments of early motherhood.
From unplanned pregnancies to pumping or potty issues, Frank's interviews are sympathetic for the parenting moments that aren't pretty or necessarily calm.
"I think the early days have varying degrees of difficulty for everyone," said Frank, a longtime contributor to the popular radio show "This American Life" and author of several young-adult novels. "My ultimate goal is for this to be the go-to place for parents' emotional needs, where they can listen to stories, find links to other resources and books that are helpful."
For Joyce Slaton, whose story "The Emperor's New Onesie" was shared on the website early last year, much of the site's appeal lies in the audio.
"Being able to hear the voices of those telling their stories makes all the difference," she said. "There are so many mommy blogs out there with people relating really heartfelt and personal stuff. But when it's just words on a page there's an emotional remove that doesn't exist when you hear a real, human voice relating their story."
In Slaton's case, that story was about how her toddler refused to wear clothing for a month and they were unable to leave the house. Her daughter was ultimately diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder and underwent therapy.
"I thought it was a weird story, an interesting story and one that illuminated an aspect of some children, namely, that some are so sensitive that life with them becomes a misery for the entire family until someone figures out what's going wrong," said Slaton. "Many people struggle with small children and assume they're being 'bad.' But sometimes there are reasons why they do the things they do and parents can help."
Even in cases that are less extreme, Frank is careful to create a tone on <>The Longest Shortest Time that is not judgmental or too instructive.
"The dialogue around parenting issues can be so divisive. So many books are how-tos. But the problem with that is if you try to do it the way they're telling you and it's not working, you feel like a failure," she said. "I just think everyone has their own way of doing things, we all have personal histories, we all have different kids."
That inclusive approach has yielded a wide range of topics. But in order for a second season to move forward, Frank had to launch a Kickstarter project to help fund future podcasts.
"So far it's been a one-woman operation," said Frank, who plans to bring on a few more hands should she reach her funding goals. The podcast, like the families it documents, is in a state of evolution, she said.
"I enjoyed the story about the mom who sang to her daughter, and her daughter didn't really enjoy it and how rejected the mom felt," said Slaton. "That's a classic case of our plans going awry in the face of the real, actual person we've made. Everyone dreams of how it will be -- seldom do our dreams become reality."