From Breastfeeding Mom To Breast Milk Jewelry CEO Episode 003

In this video, we follow the journey of a mother who turns her breast milk jewelry idea into a successful business. She starts off by making simple jewelry from breastmilk with her friend and soon expands to a full-fledged company. This is an inspiring story for anyone with a creative idea and the drive to make it happen. 

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https://EarlyMotherhoodGuide.com

Maria is a mother to three girls, a wife, a Michael Scott fanatic, and co-owns Milk + Honey Jewelry.  After beginning her career as a musician and music teacher, she left the workforce when her first daughter was born in 2013.  Everything was flipped upside down again the year her second daughter was born.  In the span of just two months, her brother died suddenly, her youngest turned one and she had two young toddlers, and she opened her first business–a doula and childbirth business.  In 2018, Maria and her friend Meghan opened Milk + Honey Jewelry together.  She sold her doula business in 2020 after the birth of another baby and the craziest year of her life, which led to Milk + Honey’s rapid growth!  She now works full time as co-owner of Milk + Honey, homeschools her girls, and spends any free time trying to read a book but failing miserably by falling asleep after the first page.  

www.milkandhoney.jewelry

www.instagram.com/milkandhoneybreastmilkjewelry 

www.facebook.com/milkandhoneyjewelry 

www.tiktok.com/@milkandhoneyjewelry

Lacy Reason  

All right, hey, mamas. I am Lacy, your lactation counselor, and you’re listening to the early motherhood guide podcast, where motherhood is simply supported. And today I have the opportunity to talk with Maria Mengel. Maria, you are from milk and honey, the breast milk jewelry company. Why don’t you introduce yourself a bit more?

Maria  

Okay, so I’m Maria. I have three kids, three little girls, and I co own milk and honey jewelry with my business partner, Meghan. And we’ve been open for about four and a half years. And we live in Maryland, but our business is entirely online. So we don’t have like a storefront or anything like that. But yeah,

Lacy Reason  

nice. Okay, so you obviously, I’m assuming you breastfed your kids. So what was? What was your breastfeeding journey? Like? And was it uh, was your experience different with any of your kids?

Maria  

Yeah, I mean, I guess to some extent, it was different with all of them. Although I do feel really blessed and lucky that none of my experiences were incredibly stressful or hard. Like, I think overall, it was much smoother than, let’s say, maybe even average. But that doesn’t mean it was without stress. And with help, lots of really high commitment level, as I’m sure you know, whenever my first daughter was born, I felt very like in tune with motherhood, and I felt really like, wow, I’m doing all of these things. Right. I just feel like I’m just doing such a great job. And I know that sounds braggy or arrogant now. But time has shown that I learned to be a little bit more humble as I began having more children. Because while the first breastfeeding experience and even the first motherhood experience in general, went really smoothly. I got pregnant before she was even one. And so I had my second baby when she was about 19 months old. And then not I wouldn’t say my breastfeeding experience at that time was terrible. But I was breastfeeding a new baby. And I had a toddler, a one year old. And I had other things going on in life. And so it was just kind of like, Whoa, really thought I had this motherhood thing down pat, like, wow, I’m killing it. And I learned very quickly that I wasn’t. Yeah, so. But both breastfeeding experiences, both of those actually really did go very smoothly. And I felt in general, I mean, I dealt with like a clogged duct here in there. And I dealt with, you know, like, I was waking up all the time. I mean, I’ve never slept for like two or three years. Even though I dealt with all of that I did kind of have like this sense of, Well, those are all normal experiences for breastfeeding, despite them feeling very overwhelming. Sometimes. I did feel like nothing was quite out of the ordinary. It was just something that like I needed to get used to. Then I had a third baby. And I’m sure we’ll talk more about this. But my third baby was actually born the day of the COVID lockdowns. So she was born that morning.

Lacy Reason  

Holy cow.

Maria  

It’s insane. So like the morning that everything was shut down. That’s when she was born. And so I actually have this like, it’s funny because I have a really good sense of how long the COVID thing has been going on. Because I know exactly hold it for a while. I was like, well, if it’s been somebody three days. So my third baby, I don’t know if this is typical third babies, although I have heard this. They’re a wild card. I mean, she really threw me through all of the hoops that motherhood could bring. She made. She made me test all of my limits that I thought I had. She has taught me so so much. And the irony is that I had a miscarriage before I was pregnant with her and I remember whenever I wanted to become pregnant with her, I remember thinking like okay, I am ready to learn all of the lessons that this new baby He has brought is willing to bring me and I remember thinking like this really deeply like philosophically like, alright, this baby is clearly here to sent me sent to me to teach me some lessons and as because I went through that miscarriage experience, which was really hard for me. Yeah. And like, Okay, I need to be willing and ready to accept these lessons and for this baby to help me grow as a person, blah, blah, blah, okay, well, like two months after she was born, I was like, Are you kidding me? Because not only did I have a new baby, and she was a different baby than any other baby I’ve ever experienced. But the whole world flipped upside down at the exact same time. Yeah.

Lacy Reason  

And you didn’t have that support? What’s that, and you didn’t have that support there? You know?

Maria  

No. So that is a funny thing. It was like, and I’m sure a lot of your listeners have young babies and have what they would call like COVID babies or have had babies during this time, like, in one way was like, alright, well, this is really sweet. We can kind of nestle in our home and have this little sweet, slow postpartum experience. And it ended up being the complete opposite of that, because what happened was my jewelry business grew exponentially, immediately, right then. And I had zero outside support, my child care was gone, my family wasn’t coming to visit and help out. And so actually, I had what I would the opposite of what I thought would happen, which was, when the whole world shut down, I thought, well, this is going to be, you know, at least for me, will be kind of nice, because I am a homebody, it’ll be nice to like, rest at home with baby, I’ll get so much rest. And the opposite happened. But you asked me about my breastfeeding experience. And she, my daughter is now actually two and a half. And she had a lot of a different experience than my other babies. She was not soothed at the breast the same way that they were. And so I continually felt like, like I was doing something wrong. Like I felt a lot of shame about it too, because I felt like, I don’t know what’s going on there. And there, there really wasn’t anything particularly terrible about it. Like I wasn’t dealing with mastitis or a tongue tie or anything. She just didn’t seem happy nursing. And I still don’t really know why. And so that was really difficult struggle to get through. But we eventually pushed through.

Lacy Reason  

Oh, good. There was a lot there. I’m like, wow, I had no idea. But it is interesting how, when you have kids, and for me, when I had one, I was the same. Like, I’ve got this down if with other moms just did it my way they would just, it would just work out, you know, and then you’re humbled. You’re so humbled. And you’re like, wow, whatever works for you, Mama, like, whatever, you know, works for your family. But I wasn’t there yet with my first because everything I did was working out. And I just had a very go with the flow child. It’s like, I could just I like, I flew with him to Australia, New Zealand by myself. And yeah, and I just cut you know, because I I’ve taken him like all over the world. And he is just my buddy, you know, like he is just easy. Nursing was easy. Everything about it, I cloth diapers, like everything was no problem. And then my second was the same. Like, I just like, and it’s so funny, because I’m in labor. I’m like, This is gonna be my Zen baby. And then I had him and I was just like, like, if God has a sense of humor, holy cow, this was hilarious, because it’s just he wouldn’t stop screaming. And I like to name my babies after I meet them. And we left the birth center with no name, because I couldn’t look at it like not that I couldn’t. But I didn’t have the opportunity to like, look at him because I was trying to stop him like screaming, and you want to stop screaming. And I had a student midwife there. And she just kept making these comments like, wow. Wow, you well, you can tell he really has like the blood flow and like all this and like, sure it’s pink up and like, wow, there’s some lungs and I’m like, yeah, like, I know, like, I’m trying to calm down, you know. And same thing, like the nursing was just not the same. You know, it’s just like you’re trying to that’s the easiest way to sue that’s like a great tool to always have and like that. He would just bite me every single time. It was a struggle. But yeah, same thing. Isn’t it so interesting how motherhood can be so humbling. But I had my third in December 2019 And I’m so glad because holy cow, like my birth experience would have been so different. And I’ve Yes, yeah, I can’t imagine how that was for you.

Maria  

The birth experience itself was actually great because I’m I burst at home so I didn’t have to deal with like the hospital and the regulations and everything was still so new at that time anyway, there really weren’t any regulations. No one really knew what was going on, except, like, school was shut down and like, you know, still closed and restaurants that day. So I edit my birth team at my house. And I remember we kind of like converse, like, isn’t that weird? They shut down school today, you know, but at the time, we’re still so naive. We had no idea what was to come. We were just like that. Oh, well, I mean, clearly, there’s more important things happening, like I’m birthing a child. And then, of course, it blew up so much bigger than we had ever imagined. But thankfully, at home for the birth itself, and it was totally fine. Everything was

Lacy Reason  

great. Now, you used to have a childbirth class, right? You used to have a company?

Maria  

Yes. Before I started milking honey with my friend, Megan. I started a business in 2016, after I had my first two daughters, and that was a doula and childbirth business. So I used to teach childbirth classes. I ended up selling that business in 2020, actually, when my daughter was about six months old,

Lacy Reason  

okay, yeah, cuz I feel like being so well educated in birth, and especially natural childbirth, you’re probably just set up for success on that with the birth experience.

Maria  

Yeah, I mean, to some degree, yes. And then to another degree, I might micromanage myself, sometimes in labor, and also overthink everything. Because like, you know, you know, more informations, it’s a lot harder to like, surrender to the process. At least it was for me, because I was over everything, like what’s happening right now. And why am I I don’t know, I am continually amazed by birth, and the lessons that it is me and humbled by it, too, because it’s easy to say like, oh, I teach a natural childbirth class, therefore natural childbirth should be easy for me. And is the opposite of easy. Yeah, it every do it. I say, Well, I’m never doing that again. And then. And then I do it again. Yeah,

Lacy Reason  

right. Yeah, I’ve noticed some labor nurses that are, you know, when they birth, they just know too much at the same time. You know, and it’s hard to like, not get in your own head. So that is true, if sometimes you just gotta block it out. But yeah, I also noticed that when you guys when you order, your jewelry, you have like, right about your experience. And so I was wondering like, well, you must have had you or Megan probably had enough experience in breastfeeding or having some trials to where you’re like, let’s hear about yours, like, share yours. You know, what was your thoughts on that?

Maria  

Well, I think that part of the reason why we want our customers to share their experience with us, is because this type of jewelry, it’s not like you’re like walking into Target and picking up a necklace, because you’re like, well, that’s cute. You know, this isn’t like that at all. This is like a piece of sacredness that you’re going to be wearing forever. And I wanted to make sure that our customers know that we understood because we’ve been in the throes and in the trenches, feeding and motherhood, I wanted them to know that they can feel seen and heard from us, because they deserve to be able to trust the women who are caring for sometimes our customers is the last ounce they have, and they mail it to us. And I’m like, Okay, I want them to know that we operate with integrity. And we treat all of their keepsakes, whether it’s breast milk, and we can get into this week, we accept other inclusions as well. But no matter what it is that they’re sending to us, we appreciate and respect the sacredness of that and we’re going to take really good care of it. And part of that comes from us hearing you I mean, how can we know who our customers are, we don’t hear their stories and get to learn about them. And so every time a customer orders, they have the option to share a little bit about their story. And then that helps us to create their jewelry because whenever we’re creating their jewelry we can kind of like I don’t know, infuse a little love in there.

Lacy Reason  

Yeah, that’s awesome. Yeah, I when I wrote mine, I was like, Well, for me, like on my third baby, it was like, it’s just been such an easy, joyful experience. So it was nice to be able to write just like a happy note.

Maria  

I’m glad I we do get a lot of those. And we also of course get a lot of the opposite too. Yeah. Kids are going through like really, really tough times to be able to nurse their babies. And so but they we all deserve to feel seen and heard and validated. And so I mean, I think it’s good for everybody.

Lacy Reason  

Yeah, I love that and there was even like when you get your jewelry back there’s a little thank you handwritten thank you card which I sure that is tedious.

Maria  

Tedious, and, but that was something from the very beginning like order number 00001 has like we’re writing a thank you card. And that has been really, really important to me from the beginning. Of course, in the beginning, we were receiving just like a handful of orders a month, really easy. It’s like, Alright, you’re gonna write with five thank you cards now. And now it’s not quite like that anymore. And yet, we insist on always writing a personalized handwritten thank you card. In addition to the fact that it is meaningful for customers, it is another source of income for our employees, like our employees can earn money by showing others how much they care about them and making them feel seen and heard. And I’m like, Well, this is a win win. Why would we ever stop doing that? But you’re right, it is tedious. There was a time. I mean, like, total, we’ve had over 10,000 orders. Now we’ve written over 10,000 thank you cards personalized by hand every single day. And so yeah, it is tedious, but it’s worth it. I still think every single time I do

Lacy Reason  

too, because I like I wasn’t expecting it. When I got the my order. I was just so excited to finally get my earrings. And it was just a nice surprise. But I thought it was very sweet and thoughtful.

Maria  

I’m glad that you I’m glad that you appreciated it. I did share that.

Lacy Reason  

Yeah, yes. Okay, so what is what has been the hardest part about becoming a mom for you?

Maria  

The hardest part for me has been the loss of I’m trying to think of the right way to word this my level of I can’t think the word I have this funny thing with my friend. This is a side story. She goes to she went to Oxford, for college, like fancy school. And I wouldn’t say I’m unintelligent, but my vocabulary, I have a hard time popularity. And so we always joke because she’s actually really good with words. And with vocabulary. I’m like, oh, Oxford, come here. I need help with this word. Organised independence, it’s not even that big. anymore. My loss of independence has been continually and it’s something that I’m continuing to deal with, before I had kids. And before I met my husband, and this is funny to me now, because I love being a mother. And I do believe that is one of the reasons why I’m here is to raise my kids. But before I met my husband, I always told my family that I would never get married and never have kids. Because I really enjoyed being alone. And I like doing things on my own. And I like being in control of my situation, like I’m a type A person. And I was like, Well, I can’t imagine being married and like having like, a life or something. I do different stuff than me, you know? Yeah. And I can’t imagine being a mother. Imagine all that time you have to dedicate to the other people, you know, which I now realize is so incredibly selfish. But at the time, I was just thinking like, Oh, I just really enjoy being alone. Anyhow. And that has been continually a difficult thing for me is just the loss of independence, especially in the first year. So because, you know, nursing, especially if you’re exclusively nursing, which is what on my babies have never really enjoyed taking a bottle. And I’ve never really needed them to because I didn’t have like a nine to five out of the house. And so there’s a lot that comes into it. In fact, I remember as I mentioned earlier, when my first daughter was born, I felt really confident as a mother. I felt like okay, well, I wanted to nurse her, I felt like that was important. I’m able to do that. Check. I wanted her to you know, I wanted to make sure that I was giving her the attention that she wanted and needed. And I wanted to be able to stay home with her. Okay, I quit my job check. I’m like, Okay, I’m doing all the things, right. And then there was one day where a friend of mine and my daughter was like, maybe two months old at this point, a friend of mine and an old coworker messaged me and said, Hey, we’re going out for happy hour. Would you like to come? And I literally picked up my phone and texted Yeah, what time and put my phone and then thought, oh my gosh, I can’t go to that. What am I gonna do with the baby? Like, I was like, oh, and that’s whenever the loss of independence hit me that moment. I was like, wow, you know, on further reflection, I realized maybe I couldn’t figure it out. But it was just the moment where I just realized, Oh, I actually can’t do whatever I want to anymore and it sounds silly but the the loss of independence has been really difficult for me and continues to be a spec as I have become an entrepreneur and I have other responsibilities outside of my home. and responsibilities to employees and to my business partner to our customers. Just kind of like managing, I hate to use the word balance, but like, balancing the responsibility to everyone. And the lack of, like, independence that that comes with.

Lacy Reason  

Yeah, that’s, um, I feel the same way, like very similar. I had like a different word for myself, but it’s like, understanding that the time is not my own anymore, you know? Because I was so used to I want to do this. So I’m gonna go do this, like, I’m always like, have you are sure Great. With my first I still could like, I would just take them into the happy hour, I was fine. But when I had my second I was like, oh, no, like, if we are not home by for like, everyone’s paying for this, you know? So yeah, yeah, like witching hour, like is struck, and you also getting dirty looks. But it is so interesting how there’s just something that you didn’t realize, you know, you’re like, wow, I want to sleep. That doesn’t mean I get to sleep right now, because my child needs me at 3am This last night, or, you know, I would like to go do I’d like to learn about something, you know, and I realized or like work on my computer. And that’s just, I have to make sure either outsource the time with somebody else. Because the time is just not my own anymore, right. So I feel the same. I guess it is independence. And I’m just like, I just very much value time. But yeah, but

Maria  

I don’t think that even people who don’t have that, like, place that much importance on time, I still think every mother goes through that experience where they realize that the life that they once lived is no longer. And that’s a hard pill to swallow. Whenever you’re, you know, you’re already hormonal and overwhelmed in doing all of these new things that you’ve never done before. And now you suddenly have the realization that who you once were no longer exists. Yeah. And yeah, that’s a really, really difficult thing to deal with. And honestly, I think that’s part of the reason why, whenever I started my doula and childbirth business, why I wanted to do that, I just felt like, wow, I went through this most incredible pivotal moment, becoming a mother, and I want to be able to help other people do that better. Because it so difficult in is such a, an identity shift. And then of course, my second business also dealt with helping people do that. So I love that

Lacy Reason  

I, you know, being a lactation counselor, I love being a part of that, too, you know, just supporting Mama’s through that, in that trying time, because you have this idea in your head of how it’s going to be, you know, and sometimes it really is that way, right? Like with our first it’s like, well, this is exactly how I thought. And then it’s not when you you know, and either it might be your first or it might be your third or second, you know, but when you have that humbling experience, you absolutely know. And yeah, having that support, I think is a game changer, or having someone make sure that you felt heard, right.

Maria  

Yeah, totally. And I want to be that person for other people. Because I was actually just talking with my business coach today about this, just that like, I was very supportive. Whenever I was a new mom, like my husband is a super supportive person. And I remember a moment whenever I finally looked at him, and I was like, This is so hard. I hadn’t slept more than like, an hour, consecutively in like over a week. And I remember thinking like, I had no idea. And I mentioned that my breastfeeding experience was smooth. And it was Yeah. I mean, this is a normal, postpartum experience, like you’re just exhausted. And I remember just telling you like, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever, ever done. And I met it with like, every fiber of my being. And he was like, Yeah, you’re doing great. I’m really proud of you. And I was like, I don’t think you understand his, his level of support. Like he was very supportive of me, but like, I didn’t feel validated in that. And I realized upon further reflection now, like, that’s what I was seeking was validation, not just support. And so I think there’s like a level there that only another mom might be able to understand. So I think that that’s part of the reason that I like doing what I do is because I like to be that person for someone, especially when we did that.

Lacy Reason  

And you were saying, because we’re talking about time and how like being a new mom is so like time consuming. You’re talking about still trying to find that balance. What you have three kids, you’re running a business that is growing exponentially and then you’re also homeschooling, I believe, right?

Maria  

I do homeschool? Yes,

Lacy Reason  

I homeschool as well. How are you? Balancing You know?

Maria  

I’m not. So I am. But I think that what it really comes down to is prioritizing, like I’ve learned, I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert at balancing my time between all of those things, because I’m definitely not in things change, like every single day. But I’ve definitely learned to prioritize the things that are non negotiable, like this absolutely needs to happen today. Therefore, I will do that first. And if that day, homeschooling is put on the backburner, well, that’s part of the reason why we help school to be flex. And so that’s, I’ve learned to accept that and just that you can’t do everything. Another thing that I’ve really worked on over the past few years, I started my business, my first business in 2016. So I guess I’ve been working on it for six years, is just the learning how to not waste time and learning how to be really efficient with your time. And so I would say that I waste zero time ever. So I had to train myself to kind of like come up with a list of things that are important to me today, and then get those things done. And then if I have extra time, then like, we can spend a little extra time on school today. If I have extra time, and I have a few work tasks that can be done that weren’t a non negotiable, and well, then I’ll work on this today. I know everyone talks about asking for help. And I think that that’s really great advice. Because I do ask for help all the time. Like, I have child care, you know, that I didn’t have in the beginning. And I have asked for help through like hiring babysitters and asking inlaws for help when I didn’t use to do that. And it is really great advice to ask for help. But usually telling people we just need to ask for help isn’t going to make them ask for help. Like they have to be, at least in my experience, I had to be at the bottom of the bottom to be finally okay. I got to ask for help. But I will say that that reaching that realization has helped me immensely, because I realized that I not only can’t do everything by myself, but that no one wins. It’s a lose, lose, lose for me, my kids, my business, everybody, whenever I live a life where I’m just constantly overwhelmed with tasks to do, because there’s so much responsibility that lies on my shoulders. And so even when you give up a little tiny bit of that responsibility, if the relief is feels really good, so yeah, I’ve been working on that through the years as well. And just kind of like coming up with a good balance of a rigid structure. And like, can we have childcare on these days. So I save like these deep work tasks that take longer for those days. And then I just on the days where my kids are home with me, we really focus on school, and I make sure that all of my emails are answered and make sure all of my non negotiables are done. But I wouldn’t say like get into like deep work on those days, either. So I think it’s just kind of creating a structure that works for you. And balancing the rigid structure with also having to be flexible, as you know, because we’ve been trying to have this podcast recording for a long time. And rescheduled because of sick kids.

Lacy Reason  

That’s okay. I’ve been the most excited about this podcast, so it was worth it. Yeah, I think a lot of the mamas, I think that contact me are there’s just saying, like, it’s the struggle is doing everything all on their own, you know, and realizing at that point, when they’re reaching out that they need help, you know, and it is such a weight off your shoulders when I because I’m the same way, you know, I’m homeschooling, I’m breastfeeding, I’m taking care of three kids, all by myself a lot of time when my husband is on a work trip and just to like hire a sitter, you know, or make sure like, my other kids, here’s a game for you to play, you know, so I could just focus on nursing for this moment, you know, instead of them destroying the house or something. So, yeah, asking for help as much as possible. Even if it’s the tiniest thing is like, Okay, on Thursdays, I get a babysitter, you know, so that way I can get some life or have that balance of like, the satisfaction of getting things done, but or like whether you need somebody like a doula like I can’t imagine like that is the most valuable thing ever, right? And having a lactation counselor or just somebody there to like support you, hear you and help you through the way which and that could be a different role depending on where you’re at in your life. You know, it’s

Maria  

Yeah, sure, I remember having an experience related to the independence thing where I had a baby and a toddler. And I had no childcare at that point whatsoever. And I was doing it on my own. And I remember that was probably the most overwhelmed I’d ever felt in my life. Ironically, I didn’t have as many nearly as many responsibilities as I have now. But it was like a new experience of like going from a mom of one to mom of two. And I stopped by a coffee shop, because I remember thinking like, Oh, I just really love a coffee, that would make me feel so much better. So I go into the coffee shop. And I remember thinking, like, just getting my toddler and baby out of the car to go in there to get a coffee isn’t so much hassle, it’s almost worth not drinking the coffee. But I did it. And it was like raining. And I have like, you know, a car seat and a bag and a toddler who’s like trying to run through a parking lot. And some cars come and I see a friend walk out. This friend has two kids as well. And she walks out alone, holding a cup of coffee just like to do and I remember thinking what is this life they live in, just walk into a coffee shop, because we want to grab a coffee and slowly walk out in silence and I can’t even comprehend how that’s possible. And then I finally got to the point that you’re talking about where you’ve just have to ask for help hire two babies, like and get some work done. And I was like, the very first thing I did when I had my first babysitter was like, I’m going to that coffee shop. And I’m gonna in slowly, and I’m gonna get my coffee, and I’m gonna walk out with no stress. And it was like the most relieving feeling. I just remember I even remember what coffee I ordered. It was such a beautiful moment to just finally like, take a deep breath.

Lacy Reason  

Yeah, you weren’t it? Yeah, yeah, for sure. When they’re that close to it is so much harder. So my. Because you’re like, at that point, you need to keep both alive. And they don’t understand that not anything could get like if I walk off this table, I will fall and hurt myself or I run into a street there’s a car. They don’t understand that yet. And, you know, you have like to at an age where you’re just constantly keeping eyes on. And then it’s so hard like I have my first two are just shy three years. And then my, the next one down. They’re both like 21 months apart. And so yeah, it was quite an adjustment. So close. Because there’s like a year where you’re like to two I need to keep alive at all times. It’s not Yeah, it’s not one. Yeah. Yeah. So um, I saw I found out about breast milk generally from your Instagram account. And I was like, This is awesome. I am totally going to order this someday. And I was probably pregnant at that point with my third. And but I’m curious, how did you find out about breast milk jewelry? How did that even start?

Maria  

Well, okay, so we’re not the first breast milk jewelry company that has ever existed. I had heard but before us because we’re about four and a half years old. Now before us there were really only a handful. And I had heard about it probably just from being on like, Mommy Facebook groups that I was in or like breastfeeding groups or like home birth groups or I don’t know they wearing maybe, you know, stuff like that. And people in those groups would share that they ordered breast milk jewelry. I remember thinking that was really cool. Yeah, I ordered any myself actually. Not that I don’t see value. I just for whatever reason hadn’t ordered it. I started my business, my first business, the doula company in 2016. And I, this was all kind of around that time that I was telling you that I was really overwhelmed. Before I started asking for help. Because I had prepped to start that business. It takes a really long time to start a business I’m sure you know, there’s a lot that goes into it. So it took me like six months. Well, in that six months, I had a toddler and a little baby. And my brother died suddenly. So all of this happened at one time, shortly after my brother died is when my business my first business launched. And at that point, my business launched a few days after my second daughter turned one. So I had a one year old, a two year old fresh in Greece of my brother, my younger brother suddenly dying when he was 25. And now I have a job for the first time in a while and all of the responsibilities of the job lie on the shoulders. It was just kind of like a lot. So it took me a long time maybe like a year and a half to kind of like take a deep breaths from all of that and to get through that stage. But simultaneously, my friend from college we had met in college in music school because we both were musicians and music teachers, we ironically, ended up in the same town like 300 miles away from where we met in college, we now live in the same in a different state. So we thought that was kind of cool. She got pregnant, I became her doula. She had her baby. And she left her musician and music teaching job as well, just the same way that I did. So she was now a stay at home mom, I was staying at home. And to be honest with you, the on call lifestyle of being a doula with a one and a two year old, is nearly impossible. I don’t have family in town. So I didn’t have like a mom that was retired that I could be like, Mom, can you come over and hang out with my kids, I gotta go to this birth, it was more like, I have a long list of 37 potential babysitters that might be able to watch my kids today, they’re started to talk because somebody’s in labor. And I would go down the list. And that was incredibly stressful, especially because I was breastfeeding mom with babies that didn’t really drink from a bottle. So it was like nearly impossible. When I kind of came up with the idea to do this personal jewelry company, I approached my friend Megan, because I think breast milk jewelry is awesome. I wanted to start a business where I could be more behind the scenes rather than the face of the business in terms of like hands on in person. But I don’t want to make jewelry. And I didn’t have any desire to make it or do anything like that. I’m not creative, like as an artist, like a hands on artist at all. But I thought the idea was cool. And I had had all this experience with starting a different business. So I thought, Well, I think I can do that again. And I think breast milk jewelry would be cool. It kind of fits in with like my theme of wanting to be able to serve other women like me. And Meghan, we would go to the beach, we live close to the beach, and she would pick up sea glass that had like drifted ashore. And she would find these beautiful pieces of C class and it was like really simple. But she would like put wire on them and wrap them in, like really pretty seaglass necklaces, and earrings and stuff. And I remember thinking about we can wrap a breast milk stone like that, instead of so I approached her with this idea and she was a stay at home mom, she had a lot of medical complications. The I was there for her baby’s birth, her baby actually had a fatal diagnosis. It wasn’t expected to live after she was born miraculously survived, despite being born with no kidneys had a kidney transplant. I know your eyes and like oh my gosh, this is

Lacy Reason  

I can’t imagine.

Maria  

It was something. So she like essentially a 24/7 nurse to her daughter, she couldn’t go back to work. There was just no chance of that her daughter was on dialysis at home as a newborn is insane. But she no longer had an income because she had to stay home and take care of her daughter. And she had all these additional medical expenses and stuff. And I thought, I bet we could do this. I bet we could do this. And at the time, like I mentioned, there were a handful of breast milk jewelry companies, but none of them had jewelry that I loved. Like I was like, Ah, I mean, it’s pretty, but I don’t love it. I’m an iPhone. I like. And so I approached her with this idea. And that’s how milk and honey was born.

Lacy Reason  

Nice. That’s awesome. Yeah. I can imagine how she’s doing that. And it was her husband, right that ended up donating the kidney.

Maria  

Yes. So her daughter Charlotte received a kidney from her dad, who also went to college with us as a musician with me and my husband. We both had our husbands together. So Wes was able and was like the perfect match to donate a kidney to his daughter. And Charlotte received her kidney. I think she was two when she received it. Maybe three. I can’t even remember it feels like a blur was a lot.

Lacy Reason  

Oh, four thing. And to do that and start a new company. I can’t imagine. Both you are juggling a lot.

Maria  

Yes. Well, it’s it was that was easy compared to the years that followed actually has gone through so much over the years. And it’s just been a while on like a long journey to where we are really, really happy where we are right now. I’m really proud of it.

Lacy Reason  

Well, tell me about that. What was your process? Like? I know like 2020 was a busy, busy year for you guys.

Maria  

Well, we opened in 2018. And we grew like I expected us to grow slowly. I mean, it was growing. We received our first order the day that we opened, which was April 20 2018. Yeah. And then we didn’t receive another order for like 27 days. So but I thought I didn’t expect us to be overloaded. I mean, we had zero Instagram followers. No one knew who we were yet. So I was like, alright, well, this is reasonable. We can grow slowly as we figure this stuff out. So that’s what we did. And that was a lot of the time when Megan was dealing with her daughter’s training. was planning stuff. So really, things did not feel super overwhelming at first, we would slowly grow. I remember being like, we have 100 Instagram followers, and we would like do a little dance. We will be like we received two orders in a week. That’s amazing. I legitimately remember having these thoughts. And so over those two years, we grew slowly, but we’re consistently growing because we were I was doing all of the things that I thought I should do, which is being consistent on social media, creating an email list, you know, doing all those things. And they were working, but at a reasonable rate. And then 2020 happened. And milk and honey. I mean, we were talking about this before we started recording, and you were like, That’s amazing that milk and honey grew so fast. It was like for one. Finally, I was bringing like a paycheck home. Because before I had left my job in 2013, I had no paycheck. And we were living on my husband’s teacher salary exclusively, like one income as a teacher salary. And whenever I became a doula, occasionally I bring a paycheck home, but not every month, because I didn’t always have a client. And then whenever we started milking honey, it took us a little while to become profitable, which is pretty normal and like an E commerce business, and then even then I’m not even exaggerating, I was bringing on paychecks that were like $98 for the month. Because we’re investing a lot back into the business. So finally, whenever it grew, we were like, Yeah, that’s a total blessing. Like I can actually support my family by bringing home a paycheck. That’s more than $98 a month. And yet at the same time, it was the most overwhelming experience of our lives because I’m 2020 like, as I mentioned, the day that I had my third baby was the day of the COVID lockdowns. So in addition to the fact that we were dealing with like regulations with running our business, and having to kind of like monitor that I still have the doula business, that doula business which had grown and was like thriving, I had a team of doulas on our, for our company. And so they were attending births. Even though I wasn’t at the time because I was on like maternity leave. Everything stopped. We were no longer allowed to go into the hospital, we were no longer allowed to do anything we went from, like what was a growing doula company to $0 income, like, just flatlines. So that was kind of crazy all at the same time. I then, I guess, because of 2020. I don’t know exactly what happened. We started growing really fast. And at first, it was exciting until we got to the point where we couldn’t keep up with it. Ironically, we had planned to hire a new employee to work in the jewelry studio and help Meghan out with like some of the behind the scenes stuff of crafting the jewelry, like just preserving breast milk and crashing it down into a powder or packaging up orders to be shipped out. Or unboxing milk shipments like things that like an assistant could do. We hired her shortly before COVID. So then once COVID hit, she could no longer come to work. She wasn’t she was a high schooler she wasn’t allowed to come first of all. And then second of all, Negan has this extremely medically fragile daughter. And the business was in her home at the time, it was just her in like a guest room making the story. And so she didn’t want people coming in and out especially at the beginning didn’t know what to expect. It was all very frightening. So Megan’s doing everything on our own, by the way, she’s pregnant, then we grew really fast. Like before 2020 We would have a sale. Maybe like two years in like the end of 2019 we would have a sale like Black Friday weekend sale. And we would receive like 30 orders and weekend and at that time we were like, holy Yeah. 30 like this is insane. How will we. So I’m like behind the scenes like typing furiously, trying to respond to all these people process all these orders, ordering these jewelry components and thinking like 30 and weekend is just Whoa. But we were blessed like we felt grateful. The first sale that we had after COVID hit was about a month after which was April 20, which is what we call our annual birthday sale. So we have this annual birthday sale. My daughter was one month old. She was pregnant. COVID happened. We had no assistant and we literally I wrote this down we had 280 orders in three days. We were like crap. Do that. But we had no choice. We didn’t expect it. So we have no choice but to fill all these orders. And then Megan had some Extreme health issues and her pregnancy she ended up getting kidney stones really, really bad to the point where she was having kidney surgery and having dreams put in her kidneys while she’s pregnant. Holy cow. Yes, so she had multiple surgeries in pregnancy, which I didn’t even know that was even possible. Coming home, her her jewelry studio was upstairs in like a guest room. As I mentioned, she couldn’t even walk up the stairs to go upstairs and make jewelry. And we had all hundreds of orders to fill. I can’t even do that job. I don’t even know how to make jewelry. I don’t even want to know how to be at home. And we weren’t in person because it was COVID. And we were supposed to be locked down in our house. We literally had a locked down word from our governor that we weren’t allowed to leave. So we were like, what do we do? So all of this craziness is happening. Megan’s baby’s born via C section. So then she has dealing with that surgery on top of the other ones. And then, of course, COVID, and everything. So we had had another assistant that was helping me before all of this, she started taking over responsibilities that weren’t her job, because we have nobody to do them. It was insane. Finally, and later, in 2020, we had another assistant, like an office manager come on board. We were like starting to take a deep breath. Like maybe we can have some help here. I mean, I was up till like five o’clock in the morning, often with a new baby either worrying about work or working. It was absolutely like the lowest point of my life. Because I’ve felt the weight of the responsibility and my obligation to my business and to our customers is insane. We finally hired someone to come on board with us. And she was going great. She had like a lot of hours that she was able to work. She isn’t the most responsible person. She is a very organized person. She was a friend of mine. I actually was her doula for a while first. And everything was like starting to feel like okay, we can do this, we have finally have help. We’ve got this. And then she fell and broke with her of her risks in an accident. Oh my gosh, didn’t come to work for months. Because she had to pass on a risk where she literally couldn’t even pick up like a piece of paper. And she was supposed to be crushing mill, you know, like in a mortar and pestle, which is like, hard on the wrist. So she couldn’t come to work from us and then wait till you hear this The next birthday sale that we have. We received 936 orders in three days. Holy cow. And we were like, What? What are we? What are we supposed to do? So here we are just slogging through and figuring it out. And I’m really, really grateful and pleased to say that like, over those four and a half years, we have figured it out every single time. And despite us having like a lot of really bad moments, we are now in a really good place. Knock on wood. Nobody breaks their wrist. Every single time we have a sale leading up to it. We’re like nobody break your wrists. Please don’t break your wrists. Really solid team, things are going really well. For us. We love our jobs, weird. Things are, for the most part really smooth. And we’re just like working on finally getting to the place where we can grow on purpose rather than by accident.

Lacy Reason  

That’s hilarious. I’ve never seen anyone, like grow an accident. But still I love that. And wow, what a crazy time. Yeah. Holy cow. I can’t imagine like 900 orders, over 900 orders.

Maria  

But you know what, we filled them all because we had no choice because we had obligations to people. And like I mentioned in the beginning, like running a business with integrity is really important to me. And there were a couple of times, I’m really proud to say that there were not a lot of times, but there were a few times where we had to email customers and be like, This is not coming. Your jewelry is not coming in the timeframe that we expected. It’s going to be one weekly, you know, and everyone has been really, really grateful and really accommodating and honest. And because we’ve been really transparent, it’s been fine. That’s not even to mention, like, you know, as you know, COVID had a lot of issues with like supply chain issues. So like we couldn’t even receive things you know, we couldn’t order jewelry components and get them in a reasonable time. So even if we were free to make the jewelry we didn’t have the jewelry in the studio yet, so we’re waiting around. That was just really, really crazy time. But things are going a lot better right now.

Lacy Reason  

Good. I always wonder too, like when I ordered mine, how do you not mix up everyone’s milk? Like if you have 900 orders, and you have like nine little restaurant bags. How is that not like how do you stay organized enough to where you’re not mixing up someone else’s milk?

Maria  

Well, everything is labeled with your name and order number like From the very thing, the first thing that we do is unbox the milk, and label the bag of milk and label the order and make sure they all match together and put them in a special container in your refrigerator before they’re preserved. And even the very first thing that we do is make all of your labels for the whole process. So like, after your milk is preserved, it’s laid out flat on a piece of parchment papers kind of like dehydrate and dry out before it can be ground down into a powder. Well, the very first thing we do when we unbox your milk is we make that label too. So every single thing is labeled along the way. And it’s already another person was surprised recently to hear this, like a customer was speaking with my general manager, Terry, about preserving the milk and we do everything one order at a time. So there is no like order to get mixed up. Because if we’re preserving one batch of milk, and then he put the label on it and put it away and then get the next batch out, they’re not going to get mixed up. And so you can do everything as safely and cheaply as possible. And we’re just have like developed systems along the way that worked really well for us. And I think really the most important thing to note is that like we’re all young moms. And well Young is mid 30s. Young. Yeah, yeah, are totally for me. So but we’re all new moms, like we’re all breastfeeding moms, and we want to treat your breast milk the same way that we would treat ours, which is to take care of it. Like if you’re pumping, you’re gonna write the name and the date on there, you’re gonna write how many ounces are in there, you’re gonna put it in the fridge, if it sits out too long, you toss it because you don’t want to risk your baby milk, it’s not healthy or safe for them. And so we treat everyone else’s milk the same way as ours, we do save all of the preserved milk. So we have like a wall literal, a literal wall full of little drawers with little baggies with your name and order number on it with your preserved milk in there. So if somebody orders again, then they can ask to use that same preserved milk that we already have on file, and we can go find it really easily. So everything is labeled really, really well. And we’re just like super, super careful.

Lacy Reason  

Nice. I did notice I got an email once saying like, you know, you don’t need to send in milk and you can do another order. And I was like, That is so cool. But like, how have you kept my milk for this many miss this many years? Which I was I was really impressed.

Maria  

Yeah, thank you. It’s just sits in a drawer unless you want to use it again. But it’s in a pouch. It’s not like the actual milk. So it’s not like sitting around moldy thing it’s already been. It’s just a little white powder, which is kind of like shelf stable. So it just sits there and lasts until you want to order again. It was just really cool.

Lacy Reason  

So now you guys have these DIY kits. And so do you have this first off? Like how did you start doing that? What came to your mind of doing that? But also, is the process still the same? So if I did a DIY kit, am I having to preserve? Am I having to dehydrate my milk and crush it? Is it all the same steps that you do?

Maria  

So yeah, the idea came to us, because we at the time had only been every single part of our business is handcrafted, and custom. Like every single person’s jewelry is custom, not only can you get it with your own your own custom breast milk, of course, but then our, our customers design their stones. So like, you know, they might want it to look with like, they might want it to look red, or have little gold flakes on the side or whatever. So everything is so customized, that we can’t turn around a piece of jewelry in like a few days, like, you know, if you ordered jewelry on Amazon, you’re gonna get it in a couple of days, we just physically can’t do that. So we wanted to have an item where we could be able to just ship it out like something that we can hold in stock. In addition to that a lot of customers for us like our jewelry is on the more expensive side, it’s a lot more expensive than you’re going to find a target Amazon, of course, because it’s very custom and handcrafted from beginning to end, for sure it’s worth the investment. But there are people who can’t make the investment. And so we thought, well, this is a more affordable way for someone to get a really beautiful piece of jewelry made from their own breast milk. And soy, it’s more affordable for the customer. It’s a very quick turnaround time for us. So like we Yesterday was our last day to order a DIY kit before like to be able to get it by Christmas, which a lot of men were ordering yesterday. But for the first time we were able to offer them something that they could get last minute. Whereas before we would get calls like in the beginning of December like hey, I want to buy my wife breast milk jewelry for Christmas. Can I have it there by Christmas? And we’d be like No, absolutely not. I’m really sorry. But like there’s just no way we can do that. And so finally we had a we have a chance to be able to turn around something quickly. And something that’s really affordable. And a lot of people really like the experience of being able to do it on their own especially if they’re crafty. And then like designing creating their own jewelry. So it’s really it’s been fun for a lot of people.

Lacy Reason  

Yeah. So is it? Do you have like a step by step process in that is it hard?

Maria  

It’s not hard to do, it’s actually really easy to do, which this is when this is what happened. Like, whenever we were creating this DIY kit, that was my main concern, like are people actually going to be able to do this and have, because it’s taken us a long time to get our process down cleanly, where we can make beautiful jewelry every single time. But part of the reason why that is for us, is because we’re doing all these crazy designs all the time, or we’re like putting jewelry and molds and sanding and drilling. So we’re like, alright, well, we’ll create jewelry for the DIY kit that only needs to be poured into a cup, rather than having to the sanding and the drilling and all that stuff. That’s easy. So my thought was, I own this company, and I’ve never made a piece of jewelry in my life. If I can do it, then we’ll sell DIY kits. Like if it’s easy enough for me to do in a foolproof way, the Muslim, and I can do it. So like, of course everyone can. So it really is super simple. It’s a matter of heating your breast milk up on a pan on the stove, adding the breast milk preservation powder that we send along with it, heating it up until it forms a paste, wiping it onto a piece of parchment paper. And then you just let it dry for like three days, you let it sit there till it’s dry, you put it in a bowl, you crush it with the back of a spoon, you don’t even need a fancy mortar and pestle. Although if you have one that does work better, you can crush it with the back of the spoon. You mix it up with some resin, and then you literally just drop it into the cup, the bezel cup that we send you for the necklace pendant, that’s it. Okay, it’s a couple of days, because you have to wait for the time for it to dry. And then you have to wait for the resin stone to cure. So that takes a couple of days. But all in all, it’s really simple process. And none of the steps take any longer than like half an hour. So like if you’re a busy mom, and you have little kids or whatever, you can do it in a nap time. And then a couple days later, come back in a nap time and do the next step. And it’s really simple and fast and easy. And I really do feel like it’s foolproof if you can follow directions.

Lacy Reason  

That’s awesome. I’m gonna have to try that. Yeah, nice. It’s really nice. Yeah, I will I’m definitely gonna have to try that. So tell us a little bit more about milk and honey, before we end the show?

Maria  

Yeah, well, I think that like the most important thing about milk and honey that I want to share is that we’re a woman owned business. We’re a team of young women, the oldest of us is 40. And we just we love each other. And we love our customers, and we just genuinely really do want to serve them. And I think that as a customer, if it were me, I would be like, and I know our customers feel this way. Like, maybe you had a really difficult time struggling to breastfeed and you have like one ounce left after those years of struggle. And if it were me, I would be scared to send that just cannot trust those people, you know, to. And I think that what we want our customers to know is that we are like them. And we are a team of women who are basically like your community, we’re going to treat your breast milk, just like we would treat our own or our family members breast milk. And we recognize the importance and we recognize the value and the sacredness and the intimacy of this piece of jewelry. And we want our customers to always know that. So for us, it’s more than just a piece of beautiful jewelry, although it’s all beautiful. And we we do make some really awesome and beautiful pieces. But it really is more than that. We we want our customers to feel validated and seen and heard through this experience and this time of their lives that is so pivotable or pivotal and transformational, like we talked about earlier. And I just really think that like I feel really blessed to be able to do that for someone through a piece of jewelry. And through just a simple handwritten thank you card. And I just feel really lucky that our customers trust us, and really blessed to be able to do this for people. It’s a really, really beautiful thing.

Lacy Reason  

Yeah, it really touched me and you know, I ordered these, like I said, a couple years ago, and I literally wear them every day. Like they’re just such a big part. Breastfeeding is obviously a big part of my life. So I love that I have something tangible, that I can show off that I’m like, I did it. You know, I believed in myself and I worked really hard. And this is like a treat for myself to be like good work, Mama. You know, I love that.

Maria  

I think that that’s what a lot of our customers do. You know, I actually was thinking about this a lot today is that a lot of our customers are not just getting it as a way to commemorate their experience but almost as like a level of like proof to yourself of your own commitment level to your baby and even If you only breastfeed your baby for one day, like we’ve had customers that are like, I breastfed my baby for one day to have medical issues XYZ, but you know what I’m really proud of myself. Because I had such a strong level of love and commitment for my baby that I did every single step along the way. Exactly what I believe was the right thing to do, no matter how hard it was. And I need this, you know, this piece of jewelry is like a badge of honor to show myself the level of commitment that I had to my baby. And it is a way for me to remember how how rough this time was, but how I like persevered. And I think it’s really that’s really special.

Lacy Reason  

Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely not so much like the length of time, you know, I have a friend, she’s had like a breast reduction, and it’s just been a struggle. And her goal is to make it two months like, and she’s just working so hard, and with donors as well, because it’s just not going to be something we’re going to exclusively do herself. But, like, good for you. You know, you’re going so far out of your way. You’re working so hard. And already learning to be a mom is. It’s enough. Yeah, and then you have this like, a pill like Battle of not creating enough making enough milk because there’s just not the milk ducks just aren’t there anymore, you know? And yeah, but I think it’s such a fun way to be like, Look what I did, you know, and like, not like everyone knows it’s not like, hey, like, that. way maybe?

Maria  

Yeah, I mean, I we definitely have customers that are like, I’m gonna tell everybody my breast milk is in my ring. And then we also have cars that are like, I just really love. I think it’s beautiful. It’s like a little pearl on the necklace. No one has to know. But I knew you know, I’m wearing one right now. Yeah. And, and that’s special too. So just however you want to do it. Oh, yeah, I do. Love it. Beautiful. I’m glad you like them.

Lacy Reason  

I do. I’m that person. I tell everyone. I’m like this is my breast milk, like I think is so cool. I think it’s amazing. Well, thank you so much for you for joining me. I’ve been looking forward to this for so long. I was so excited when you got back to me. And thank you everyone for listening to the motherhood guide podcast and I will see you guys next week.

https://earlymotherhoodguide.com/episode-003/