As we come to the conclusion of World Breastfeeding 2020 we’re super excited to talk to Michele of Close to the Heart, a local Hamilton brand for pregnant & breastfeeding women with style & comfort at its core. Their clothing is designed to help you feel like yourself & Michele makes up ⅓ of CTTH that also comprises her sister Jacqui & Jacqui's sister-in-law Alex
We love Close to the Heart here at Little Mash Boutique - boy do I wish it was around when I had my babies, it reflects my personal style & I’m so chuffed that you exist & I’m certain many New Zealand women unite with me on that. Tell us, how did you start? What was the catalyst to the launch of CTTH?
Thanks Renata - that's so nice to hear!
When I had my first baby, Zebediah (five years ago!) I found it really hard to find breastfeeding friendly clothes that I felt like me wearing. The options out there just didn't reflect my personal style, and I thought, "why do I need to start dressing differently just because I'm a Mum?!" I made do with button-up shirts and lifting up or pulling down my tops, but I never really loved my outfits. It was a similar story when Jasper was born in 2017. There were some lovely options out there but they didn't feel like me! I started to think about if there was a way I could fill that gap.
I talked to my sister Jacqui, and Jacqui's sister in law Alex, about my idea for starting a line of breastfeeding friendly clothes. I tend to sit on ideas for a while but the girls encouraged me to take the first steps and see where we ended up! We launched in November 2018 after nearly a year of planning, prep, design and creation!
You’re unique in that your business is made up of 3 women who are all very close to each other. Your sister Jacqui & your sister-in-law X. That’s a beautiful thing. What is it like to work together? How would you define your roles?
Yes it really is pretty special working with family and creating something unique together. Actually this isn't the first time Jac and I have worked together - she is the co-director of a marketing agency in Hamilton where I was working before Lola was born. I feel really lucky to work with my big sis in different capacities.
Across Jacqui, Alex and I, our roles are really mixed and flexible. We are all busy mums - Alex just had baby number two, and Jacqui has three boys. So it's great being able to say "hey girls, I'm tapped out this week" and you know they'll step in and pick up whatever needs doing. Love having that support.
Family Christmas is always fun - we often end up talking about clothes which the husbands just love - haha!
You have recently had a baby, the darling Lola after two little boys. I know how full your hands & heart are. You had a homebirth with her, would you like to share the highlight of that experience with us?
Oh my gosh - so many highlights! I've loved all three of my births. Lola and Jasper were born at home, and Zeb was born at the birth centre. For me, birth is about creating a space where I feel most comfortable, confident and relaxed. And for me, that's at home.
Lola's birth was such a cool day. I went to work in the morning, came home and met the birth photographer in the afternoon, and picked the boys up from kindy and went for a bike ride. I got home about 5pm and recognised I was having early contractions.
My husband and I got the boys fed, bathed and into bed, and then I retreated to my bedroom to listen to my music (I spent time during each pregnancy making a playlist of oxytocin-inducing songs). I spent a bit of time in my room resting, dozing, and when the contractions hit I would use movement and breathing to help cope with the intensity. When I lay down, everything would slow right down. But I was okay with that - it was a really hot evening and I wanted a bit of time to rest, doze and eat some food. So I spent a bit of time lying down just enjoying the peace and preparing myself for what was to come.
Around 8.30pm I decided I wanted to get the show on the road and decided it was time to get out of bed. I remember thinking "I want to have this baby before midnight!" I got up and rang the midwife to check in with her, and while I was on the phone with her I went from "we're just getting started" to "we're going to have a baby really soon!" in a matter of minutes. I could feel Lola descending even lower and I focused on keeping my body as open and relaxed for her, and keeping my mind calm and my breathing under control.
The first midwife and birth photographer (Shannon from Official Photographers) arrived around 9.20pm, and my LMC Kirsty arrived around 9.40pm. At that stage I was almost ready to hop into the pool to birth. I could feel Lola's head right there ready for pushing, but again I just needed a few moments to gather my energy, clear my head and get fully prepared for that final stage.
I remember saying to the midwives, Shannon and my husband Todd, "baby's ready, but I'm not ready." When I knew I couldn't wait any longer, I got in the pool and Lola was born around 10 minutes later. I was so happy to find out she was a girl!! We woke the boys up a few minutes after she was born so they could come meet their baby sister, and we had some magical family photos.
At around midnight, everything was cleaned up, I'd showered, and the midwives and Shannon had left. We all got into bed together with Lola in her bassinet next to us, said goodnight and went off to sleep! It was just such a cool way to end the day. (I did wake up around an hour later and told my husband to put the boys back in their beds, as I'd been pushed off my pillow and had no room in the bed! Not okay after you've just given birth!!) That magic post birth buzz stayed with us for the next couple of weeks. It was such a special time and I wouldn't change one single thing about it.
Breastfeeding is obviously very near & dear to your heart. It can be a tricky dance to learn in the beginning - what’s your top breastfeeding tip?
You are right - it can be such a tricky dance with so many hurdles. I wasn't prepared for how challenging I would find breastfeeding - and not just the first time! With each baby I've gone right back to the beginning and re-learnt all over again.
One thing that's really close to my heart - and this relates to all aspects of motherhood - is supporting mums to follow their intuition and do what is right for them. This can be so hard to do in the beginning when you get different advice from so many people. But every baby is different, and every mum is different - what works for one person, isn't necessarily going to work for you.
Do what feels right - not what someone tells you your baby 'should' or 'shouldn't' be doing. Listen to your baby and your gut. But at the same time, it's also really important that mums feel supported to ask for help when things don't feel right. Having access to good support networks and resources, and good information about what is normal baby behaviour, is really vital I think.
I think it's also really important for women to remember that motherhood isn't defined by whether or not you breastfeed, or how long you breastfeed for - it's not a competition! We're all doing the best we can and we should all feel empowered to make the right choices for us and our babies.
What is your FAVOURITE thing about Close to the Heart? And what are your dreams for your business?
I absolutely love when we receive messages from women who say that when they wear their new Close to the Heart clothes, they feel like themselves again. That's like, a goose bumps on the arms moment. It can be so easy to lose your sense of self when you become a mum, and I think that feeling comfortable and feeling like yourself in your outfits, is really important for helping to maintain your sense of self.
I think women are just bloody amazing and becoming a mum is seriously one of the coolest but most challenging things ever. I hate to think of women doing it alone without any support. That would be the big dream for the business - to be able to contribute to making sure that all women in New Zealand have the support they need in those first few weeks and months.
And lastly, in the wake of COVID-19 we are very much still supporting small & local where we can. Are there some favourite hot spots you’d like to share with us?!
Ooh so many in Hamilton!
- My favourite place for takeaways is our local, Thai Takeaway, tucked into the Urlich Ave shops in Glenview. The boys will smash a Pad Thai, Todd loves the spicy chicken wings, and the Tom Yum soup is a fave for me
- Also if you're looking for sushi in Glenview, there's an amazing place in the Glenview Shops next to the New World
- When it comes to buying presents for people I like to buy books or bottles. Books for Kids on Grey Street is an amazing place for kids' books, from babies right through to young adults. The staff are so helpful at finding the right book for the right age!
- The Hamilton Beer & Wine Co is where I'll head to find a nice bottle of wine or spirits - super helpful staff make it really easy to choose a nice gift
- I get the boys' hair cut at Just For Men Barber Shop on Heaphy Terrace. They are so quick, are great with kids, and do a really good job (and it's right next to Pure Aquatics and the boys love going in to have a look at the fish!)
- I can highly recommend Amy at Vital Balance on Boundary for eyebrow tinting and shaping - she does a beautiful job!
Thank you Michele for being a part of our Meet the Maker Series - we're always so grateful when you say yes! And photo credit to - Shannon of Official Photographers