Breastfeeding is a special experience for many moms – as Mayim, herself a certified lactation education counselor, has written before, it’s an opportunity for mother and child to biologically bond and connect, and at some point, breastfeeding ends. But what if you could carry the sentimental meaning of breastfeeding as a keepsake, an ornament that could accompany you in your post-breastfeeding life? Now you can – Mayim talked with jewelry designer Ruth Avra, who specializes in “Keepsake Jewelry” – jewelry that is made with breastmilk, hair from a first haircut, umbilical cords, cremains and other biological things. Read on!
Mayim Bialik: When I saw your website, I near lost my mind. You make jewelry with sentimental biological things inside, right?
Ruth Avra: Yes, I make keepsake jewelry! Inside of the keepsake jewelry, I include everything from umbilical cords stumps to baby’s hair from their first haircut to breastmilk. I actually work with JoBri Milk Charms— a professional breastmilk artisan-
MB: She’s a breastmilk artisan?
RA: (laughing) Yes; this is something that’s relatively new; she does the preservation process with the breast milk to create it into a stone and I do the metal work surrounding it.
MB: Everything is amazing about what you just said. Were you a jeweler before this?
RA: I’ve been making jewelry since I was a kid; I was eight years old when I first started – it’s always been a passion of mine. I went to college at University of Wisconsin: they have an amazing metal arts program, and I learned from the two of the best instructors out there. This is something I’ve been doing for a long time, and I’ve done cremation pieces for both people and animals and all sorts of keepsake pieces throughout my career but I didn’t get into the keepsake mom/baby stuff until I had my own kids who are now 5 and 3.
MB: Got it. The reason your site and what you do is so interesting to me is that I’m a very sentimental person, I have been my whole life. I’m not a very warm mushy kind of person, but I breastfed both of my children for a combined almost 7 years and when they were too old, I felt very sentimental about it. So I kept the last bag of pumped milk and it’s still in my freezer. My second son was born at home with his waters intact, meaning my water never broke. I have the bag of waters that was dried for me by my doula and I keep it in a jar. I also have my son’s umbilical cord stumps. I have their first lock of hair as well, I started teaching myself to do resin work, because I wanted to use resin as a fixative for their first lock of hair. I started doing some sample ones, but I’ve been very nervous to immortalize this lock of hair – what if I mess up the mix of resin and ruin it? So when I found out that there are people like you who professionally do this, and for whom the liability is greater if they mess up the lock of hair, I was so excited. But a lot of people are grossed out by breastfeeding and by birth and all of this talk of umbilical cords and such. Do you find that a lot?
RA: I think there are always people who are going look at this kind of thing and be totally grossed out and not understand at all why somebody would want that, or want to keep that. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind. I am just doing what I love, and making other people happy who also love the same thing. I have a client who gets so many comments about her piece I made for her, saying “Ew, that’s so gross; why would you wear that?!” told me that she says “This is the connection – the life blood – between me and my child. I fed my child, and grew that child for nine months in my body and this is the last remnant of that connection and that alone is special.”
MB: Am I correct that you also do teeth?!
RA: Yes, I just started doing teeth. A client sent me her kid’s tooth and it was like a lightning bolt hit. I got so excited and I made her a ring, and I made a ring for me with my own tooth. My mom kept all my baby teeth for my sisters and I so I get to use my own teeth!
MB: I’ve always been fascinated with death and mortality, from the time I was very young, and when I studied neuroscience, I took a tremendous amount of comfort in learning about anatomy. I have also been to the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, which is a museum of medical oddities. So I think it’s very interesting that your work gives people like me a place for my appreciation for creepy weird anatomy things to be applied to my children. This really feels like such a personality-specific way to connect to your children in a way that’s really authentic. It’s creepy and great!
RA: I’m so glad. Thank you!