In the course of one spring, I bought a house, became a mom, and started listening to podcasts. All of these things changed my life in surprisingly equal ways.
In the early days of motherhood, I was awake during the wee, dark hours and cocooned in the tiny, sleepless world of taking care of my little one. Podcasts became my lifeline—they kept me company and fed me with ideas, stories, and connections with the larger world.
Here are seven podcast episodes that share different perspectives on motherhood for the mommas out there, those who are trying or considering what it would mean to become one, and those who know they never want to be a mom.
1. Dear Sugar, Episode #51: The Inevitable Guilt of Motherhood
Dear Sugar is an advice column podcast hosted by the wise and generous authors Cheryl Strayed (Wild) and Steve Almond. In this episode, they address two guilt-ridden letters that cut right to my heart: one from a new mom balancing career ambition and motherhood, and one from a mom who is caring for both her dying mother and new baby. It is a touching, heartfelt, and complex conversation.
So much of my journey into motherhood was learning about how to manage guilt—in little moments, when I left the house to go to a yoga class, or big moments, when I considered new professional responsibilities and how they might diminish my ability to be there for my baby. Like so many women, I navigated this while swarming in the middle of a storm of healing, adjusting, and managing the responsibilities and expectations placed on me by others, and by myself.
2. The Longest Shortest Time, Episode #79: Terry Gross on Not Having Kids
The early episodes of this show focused on surprising challenges in early parenthood, and they were my gateway drug into podcast listening. They brought me so much comfort in my daughter’s early days, showing me that I wasn’t going through it alone. More recently, host Hillary Frank expanded the show’s focus, and I love how it now focuses on all things parenthood—including deciding not to become a parent.
In this interview with the one and only Terry Gross (host of NPR’s Fresh Air), Terry talks about being childless or child-free, balancing depth, brutal honesty, and humor. It touches on how making the choice to be a parent is only a meaningful option and not an obligation if women like Terry choose to forge another path—and how society questions how fulfilling being a "childless" women can really be.
Terry is rarely the one answering the questions, and this is a great chance to learn more about her interesting life. She doesn't let Hillary get away, though, without asking a bold question that only Terry Gross can make sound non-judgmental and safe: "Hillary, do you ever regret having children?"
3. Death, Sex & Money: The Great Guest Takeover
Death, Sex & Money, hosted by Anna Sale, focuses on “the things we think about a lot, and need to talk about more.” Anna is a skillful interviewer, asking questions that get at taboo subjects. Her voice is full of warmth and curiosity.
The episode I recommend is different from the usual: it briefly previews a series of four episodes that aired during Anna’s maternity leave in the fall of 2016. In each episode, one of her former guests becomes the interviewer and invites someone they’d like to talk with on the show. In one, Sonia Manzano (aka Maria from Sesame Street) interviews Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
But the best part of these episodes isn’t the deep conversation between interviewer and guest; it is the short break in the middle of each interview when they call Anna to check in on how her maternity leave is going. We get to hear Anna on the phone, baby cries in the background, speaking honestly about how life is changing for her.
What I love about this is that Anna took an intentional approach to making her maternity leave “visible.” In an interview in NY Magazine, “Don’t Hide Your Maternity Leave,” Anna talks openly about how important it was for her to not disappear during maternity leave, and how that time gave her space to learn to care for her baby, reset her priorities and changing identity, and think of some big ideas for her work.
4. Modern Love, Episode #14: My First Lesson in Motherhood
I love the Modern Love podcast for its simple format. Hosted by the warm and wise Meghna Chakrabarti, it features well-known actors reading essays from the New York Times Modern Love column. The wide range of essays touch on all different types of love—in that way where they are about very specific stories, but somehow feel completely universal and relatable in their themes. Afterward, the actor tells a bit about why they chose the essay, and we hear from the essay’s author.
In this episode, Connie Britton reads Elizabeth Fitzsimons’, “My First Lesson in Motherhood,” a personal essay about a woman’s almost immediate challenges with a daughter adopted from China. It is heart-wrenching and speaks to the commitment and vulnerability of motherhood.
5. Reply All, Episode #57: Milk Wanted
Reply All bills itself as “a show about the internet,” but it is so much more. It’s my favorite podcast of all. I feel as though hosts Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt are my brothers; I’ve spent so much time with their voices and stories straight into my ears, laughing together. And they have the best laughs ever. I’m always impressed by how the show balances fun with in-depth journalism, diving in to uncover surprising and compelling stories.
In this episode, producer Phia Bennin wades into the complex world of breast milk markets. She discovers the surprising history of breast milk in the United States, how difficult and expensive it is to come by, and just how desperate parents can be to get it for their babies. And, of course, the internet has a big role to play in all this.
As someone who struggled intensely with breastfeeding, this episode hit close to home. Before becoming a mom, I knew nothing about milk banks and their scarcity in the U.S. Now I know!
6. Startup, Season 5 Episode #4: Running a Family and a Business
Startup is all about what it takes to start and scale a business. In all of its five seasons, though, it’s never touched on the topic of parenthood. In this episode, Diana Lovett, the founder of a socially responsible chocolate company called Cissé Cocoa, talks with an executive coach about her #1 challenge: managing the relentless guilt of running a business and being a mom.
Whether you own your own business or not, this episode will surely strike a chord with moms who are trying to juggle career ambition with being there for their families—it inspired me to reframe the “lacerating guilt” I feel day in and day out as remorse, and to slow down and break down how I can forgive myself for being imperfect, and in doing so, teach my daughter a valuable lesson.
7. Pregnant Pause, Episode #1: Wandering in the Desert
When I started listening to Pregnant Pause, I felt like I had time traveled back to Sunday breakfast at Rue de L’Espoir circa 2014, which is where my husband and I had most of our talks about what it might mean to become parents. Over eggs and cornmeal muffins, we asked each other big questions, shrugged, and sat in the discomfort of the uncertainty, excitement, dread, and joy for what might be ahead of us.
Pregnant Pause is essentially those conversations. Zak and Shira, the married podcast creators, document their intimate conversations about whether parenthood is in the future, and they talk to friends, family, writers, and scientists for input and perspective.
The questions that they’re grappling with are so relatable and humorous—from “How will this change our relationship?” to “Won’t it be a pain in the butt to pack up all of the baby’s stuff in the beach bag?” Even as a mom of a two-year-old, these questions still resonate with me. Listen from the beginning.
What are your favorite podcasts on motherhood? Let us know!