An Awesome Keepsake - Milk and Honey Breastmilk Jewelry | Salisbury MD Birth Photographer
I reached out to Maria knowing that she is super busy with this amazing business but hoping she would think it was a fun idea and she was in!!
It was so great finally connecting with her, been a cyberstalker of Maria from way back when she started THRIVE! I didn't tell her that so I'm sure she's enjoying reading it now. Anyway, enough of my rambling here's our conversation!
Me: I'll jump right into it since I know your busy coming off of your anniversary sale, would you mind introducing yourself and Milk + Honey!
Maria: I think the most important thing to note about me is that I'm a mom, I have 3 girls that are 7, 5, and 1. I actually started out as an elementary music school teacher, long ago. I went to college for music education and then after I was a music teacher for 6 years I had my daughter and left teaching. I mostly left as a way to be home with her for like a year, which turned into like 5 years. And I never went back and truthfully I don't miss it at all even though I really loved being a teacher. But after those 5 years, I started THRIVE which is a doula business.
That was my first venture into entrepreneurship. And it was just because I just had a doula at my first birth and it was so important to me, I learned so much and I wanted to be able to learn more. I took a doula training and came down to the fact that I wasn't going to be a music teacher, I was doing some lessons on the side but I realized I needed to make more income. So that's where THRIVE started. It was a team of doulas and I dove in hard on being a doula, and a childbirth educator, and placenta encapsulator, and a postpartum doula, and all the things and running the business. It was awesome and beautiful. Over time I realized the on-call lifestyle didn't suit me and my family. I don't have family local to me so I would have 20 babysitters on call for me when I was on call. No one is available 24/7 except doulas and birth photographers apparently. It was horrifying to call everyone. After I had baby number three the morning of the pandemic shut down last year. Between having a new baby and the pandemic it pretty much shut THRIVE down. I realized after not working for THRIVE that it was a relief so I sold thrive. And that was a really proud moment, that I created a business and then was able to sell it to someone else and they can thrive with it!
While I still owned THRIVE I started Milk + Honey. I didn't start Milk + Honey to find a way out of THRIVE but what I did want was another source of income that wasn't dependant on me being on call. I had heard of breastmilk jewelry before, we didn't invent it. I thought it would be cool to start a breastmilk jewelry company, people liked it and wanted it. I felt really confident about that. But I didn't feel confident about making jewelry and artistry of any kind. Obviously, I can't do this by myself, I can't make jewelry, I don't want to. So, my friend Meghan was also a music teacher that quit when she had babies and we knew each other from college. She was always making jewelry. We would go to Deal Island and she would get sea glass and make jewelry with it. I thought she could do this! I already had the name Milk + Honey picked out and built up in my head and approached her and asked what she thought. My proposal was that I would handle all the business aspects and deal with everything behind the scenes if you can deal with everything that deals with making the jewelry. And she said yes. It took 8 or 9 months to launch and here we are 3 years later! After I sold THRIVE I was wholly invested in Milk + Honey and it takes all of my time!
Me: So you kind of answered it but what was it about breastmilk jewelry that made you think I want to provide that for people?
Maria: There's a theme for both of my businesses and that is to serve women and mothers. And it's not like I saw breastmilk jewelry and thought "I love that". Coincidentally, here I am 3 years into having a breastmilk jewelry business, and I still don't have any jewelry! And it's not because I don't like our jewelry, I'm just too busy to make my own! It was more or less that I saw there was a growing industry, I knew that I wanted to start another business, I knew it was important to me to serve other people as well as serve me and Meghan's families because we needed income. While I was a doula, I don't regret any second of it, that was not the most efficient way for me to make an income and still be a member of my family and not lose my mind 24/7 about childcare. That's where it started from. I saw other companies provide breastmilk jewelry, and they are beautiful, their styles didn't speak to me. I wanted to start a company that was more minimalist style. So I knew those things and I knew I could do it if I had help with the jewelry part. It was really just one step, one day at a time. That's where it started, just with an idea.
Me: That's so awesome. How do you think having this jewelry has helped your customers?
Maria: One thing that we do that I'm really proud of, at the bottom of the order form there's a space where they can tell their story. So we read their story while we are making their jewelry and while we write their thank you cards. So we can show them some love. We hear such a wide variety of stories because everyone's experience is so different. Some people are like "I had a great experience, breastfed three kids, thought I deserved a necklace".
Others will write a book to us at 3 am while they are nursing a baby after they have been up all night after they had gone through tongue ties, lip ties, horrible birth experience, maybe a traumatic c-section, they've dealt with nipple shields and lactation consultants and they have had to have all these crazy things and here they are, they've done it all and this one piece of jewelry is going to remind them of their perseverance and their relationship with their baby and how much they will sacrifice in order to give their baby what they deserve.
We also hear things like "I was able to nurse my baby for one day and I got really ill and I was in the hospital and I was never able to give my baby breastmilk again. I saved just enough from that one day to make a piece of jewelry with because that day was so important to me." And that's amazing!
I love that we hear their stories and it helps us to know the why of what we are doing. If we didn't hear those stories we would just be like alright, here's another necklace, pushing them through. Almost every time we post a piece on social media the story is posted with it. That's been able to serve people too. People that maybe couldn't afford our pieces could get community support and know they aren't alone by reading the stories of others.
Me: That's beautiful! What is one thing that you wish every woman knew?
Maria: I really love that you sent me this question. I feel like this is really deep and important to me. I wish that every woman knew that they already knew almost everything that they need to know. I feel like so many women, whenever it comes to birth or breastfeeding or parenting or taking care of their bodies. I learned this through being a doula, I was there to support them through different experiences in womanhood and motherhood. I hated that we don't all have the confidence to trust ourselves when it comes to these big pivotal moments. Whenever it comes to something as big as parenting and motherhood. That's not to say that you're breastfeeding and you never need help from a lactation consultant, of course you do, but my point is that almost everything you need is already within us. We are so good as women at blocking our inner thoughts and wisdom and knowledge and searching google instead. I wish we all knew we could look inside first before searching for help. And many of us would find more solace and wisdom there.
Me: I love that, so deep. I love asking this question, all the people I'm interviewing are very wise people and they have things that everyone should know and I just love that, so thank you.
Maria: I'm also an introvert, so any questions that are deep are questions I love answering.
Me: So, you talked about this with being a doula but how is it being the co-owner of Milk + Honey and balancing motherhood?
Maria: Really hard. I don't want to pretend that I have it all together. I think it is easy to look at it from the outside and be like "look at her she has 3 beautiful daughters", True. "She has an awesome business" True. "She is finally providing income for her family" Also true. "She's got it all!" No one has said that to me, but I think that all the time when I see others online especially other working moms or entrepreneurs. I also homeschool my kids. When I see the other homeschooling moms I 'm like how do their kids know all this stuff. How do they have time to teach their kids this stuff.
I will say that it requires an insane amount of work to be able to do all of it. I feel like it's worth it. Motherhood is important, I'm homeschooling for a reason because I believe it's important, and I have this business that important. I can't drop any of them. I make it happen because it has to. I wouldn't say that I balance it. To answer your question "how do you balance it" I just don't! It's something that I'm going to work on more, I've worked on it for years but there's never a balance. There are phases or seasons of life. When I had a brand new baby last year, thank God we had a team at Milk + Honey that could help with things but I had to spend more time with baby and being a new mom again than I did on my computer. Right now, we just had the biggest sale that Milk + Honey ever had and right now the phase of my life is processing one billion orders, ordering all this jewelry, and organizing spreadsheets.
I have to be Ok with and accept that there are phases. And I make commitments to my kids that because I worked so much last week next week we will do something extra fun or spend extra time on school or go to the cove! Prioritize their time as well. One thing that I've done that I've noticed is really helpful is to not assume what my kids want from me and just ask them what they want from me. I might say I have time today, what would you guys like to do. Their answers are always fascinating and things I would not have thought of. So I'm able to meet their needs that I didn't even know they had. So I like to just ask them if they are old enough to ask.
Me: That's awesome, it's almost like your balance is just coming to terms with the fact that one time you'll be doing this, and another time you're going to be able to do this and just being ok with that and bouncing back and forth.
Maria: Yeah, if I wasn't ok with it I would drive myself crazy because it is my life. But if we were working moms outside of the house, we would have to do the same thing. If I was still a teacher I would have to be ok with leaving my kids from 7-3 every day and sending them to school every day. Maybe that's not ideal for them, but they don't have another option. You just accept that is part of your day and then the rest of your day can be something else.
Me: Right! So did you ever think your business would be as successful as it has gotten? Over 30k followers on Instagram, supporting 6 families, shout out from the Today show!!
Maria: On the surface, I didn't expect it. I've learned not to expect anything with entrepreneurship. Anytime I set a goal, I'll either go way past or bomb it and sell the business. Complete opposites, I never just meet the goal. So no, I didn't expect to be where we are today.
But on a more deep level, we named the business Milk + Honey because our intention was to bring abundance and love and prosperity to our families and to our team, and to our customers. I don't believe there is a limit to how much love and abundance and prosperity exists in the world. In the land of milk and honey in the bible, the whole point of it was for things to come easy to you. It's not easy, it's the hardest thing ever. But my intention for Milk + Honey doesn't have a ceiling, I always want it to go deeper and bigger. I don't know if we will ever get to a point where I am comfortable with where we are now, you know? I don't think it's possible or really in service to everyone if I did.
But no, I didn't expect to get a shout out from the Today show and I didn't expect their meteorologist to wear our jewelry on the Today show and I didn't expect her to talk about it to Arnold Schwartzenegger's daughter about our jewelry, that was a big moment, but I did intend to always grow. And now we have a team of 6 people of these awesome women local to us and provide them with income and a fulfilling job and provide for my own family. From being a stay-at-home mom to owning my business and always out of the home, ultimately my dreams are met even though I am really busy, I don't want to complain, because all the things I wished for in this business have come true.
Me: That's awesome. Have you felt like since the shout out you have had an influx or followers or orders?
Maria: It's really hard to tell because that happened at the same time as our massive sale. Our sales were wildly successful so it's hard to tell where those people came from. But just seeing them talk about our jewelry on that interview with Katherine Schwartzenegger, hearing the words Milk + Honey come out of their mouth, was enough for me. That is the coolest thing! I am praying that Katherine orders a piece of jewelry, only because she's Chris Pratt's wife and he's awesome!
Me: That would be awesome. You're going to have to let us know somehow!
Maria: I will! We knew the Today show lady had the jewelry long ago. We decided not to share it because she hadn't shared it. We felt weird being like guess who bought our jewelry, a famous person! But I'm really glad she decided to share. Behind the scenes, our entire team was taking screenshots of her on the Today show like "Oh my gosh!!" It was fun.
Me: That's so exciting! So, if you were stranded on a deserted island what 5 things would you HAVE to have with you?
Maria: You cracked me up with this question. It's actually really easy things 1-4 are my husband and 3 girls. Number 5 is coffee. I decided in my mind that I'm resourceful enough to find food there but I don't know that I could roast coffee.
Me: Very important things!
Maria: Yeah, I have a lot more confidence in myself than I probably should. I should be on survivor!
Me: Bonus question! If you had to describe yourself or Milk + Honey in 3 words, what would those words be?
Maria: I'll describe myself. This is a bonus question, I wasn't prepared for this! These are not my favorite 3 words in the world but they are the truth, I'm a loving, hard worker! That describes everything about me. I work really really really hard, with love to the point that I'm a little crazy sometimes.
Me: So is there anything else you want to add?
Maria: No, I just want to thank you and I'm really excited for you to come to take photos tomorrow!
Me: How can people connect with you?
Maria: The easiest place is Instagram @milkandhoneybreastmilkjewelry. And our website is milkandhoney.jewelry
I had so much fun talking with Maria and then hanging out with all the ladies at Milk + Honey. They have so much fun together while making such beautiful and priceless pieces of jewelry for their customers.
"The moment a child is born, a mother is born also."