A mum who could not breastfeed her eldest son after a traumatic birth has turned the ordeal into a positive by making jewellery out of breast milk.
Heather Timberlake, 30, from Greenville, North Carolina, was diagnosed with both pre-eclampsia, a condition that causes high blood pressure during pregnancy or soon after labour, and HELLP syndrome, a rare liver and blood clotting disorder that can affect pregnant women, shortly after her son Logan was born in August 2017.
Her conditions caused her to became extremely unwell and left her unable to produce enough milk to breastfeed Logan, now three.
So when Timberlake had her second son, Grayson, now 16 months, in November 2019, she was determined to breastfeed and researched making jewellery out of her milk as a way to commemorate the achievement.
Now she and her husband Charles, 30, make a full-time living creating breast milk jewellery and selling it to mothers around the world.
“It means everything to me to be able to do what I do,” Timberlake says.
“There are so many emotions that go into each bit of jewellery I make – some happy, some sad – but regardless, I want to make sure each piece is something the customer can be proud of.
“Because I’m a breastfeeding mum, several clients have assumed I’m using my own milk to make the jewellery, which isn’t the case – but it always makes me laugh.”
In fact, the milk is supplied by the customers, who post it to Timberlake when they place their jewellery order.
Some women have very moving reasons for wanting to turn their milk into a beautiful keepsake.
“I’ve made jewellery for mums who can’t breastfeed because they have cancer and want to preserve some of their milk this way, or mums whose baby is no longer on earth and their breast milk is the last physical thing they have of their child,” Timberlake explains.
Watch: Mother's epic response to breastfeeding shamers.
Timberlake's own reasons for making jewellery from her breast milk stemmed from Logan’s birth in August 2017.
“Right after he was born, doctors diagnosed me with pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome, which meant I was on a magnesium drip for several days to prevent me having seizures. I was so ill.
“I don’t remember much at all from that time, but I’ll never forget my husband’s face when the doctors told me my diagnosis.
“I had no clue what it meant, but he is a nurse – so he looked terrified. It was a very scary experience.”
Unable to hold Logan properly because she was so weak, Timberlake's husband had to look after their son from her hospital bedside for almost a week, bottle feeding him until she was well enough to come home.
“Once I was back home, I tried to breastfeed Logan but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make it happen,” she says.
“I didn’t realise how upset I would be by that.”
It was around this time Timberlake first heard of jewellery made of breast milk.
“I was a little stand-offish about the idea at first. I thought it was a bit strange – but then once I was able to breastfeed Grayson it made sense,” she says.
“The lack of sleep, the amount of work that goes into breastfeeding, you don’t realise it until you have done it.
“It’s a physical reminder of this hard work and a brief time in your life that you can remember forever.”
Timberlake describes breastfeeding Grayson as "the most healing, bonding, joyful experience".
"It felt like a real accomplishment after what I went through with Logan," she explains.
Having made beadwork jewellery as a hobby, Timberlake decided she wanted to have a go at making breast milk jewellery.
So after extensive online research into how it works and reaching out to some jewellers for advice, she made an oval gemstone to fit into a ring she'd bought.
While her exact technique is a closely guarded secret, it involves her drying out her milk, turning it into a powder and mixing it into resin before setting in a mould and mounting the gem – a process which takes several weeks from start to finish.
In July 2020, the teacher decided to quit her day job and make jewellery full time and on 1 August, the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week, Logan Grey Jewelry was born.
After reaching out to influencer mums on social media, Timberlake has now had orders from the UK, Canada, Germany and Australia.
While her line of work does raise eyebrows, Timberlake says there is an emotional side to what she does.
“I’ll get some shocked responses about what I do – I haven’t had anyone be cruel or mean about it," she explains.
“But when I explain the sentimental aspect of what I do, they’re often quick to understand.”
Pieces range from a bracelet costing $41 (approx £30) to necklaces and rings worth $200 (£144), using gold-filled metalwork and sterling silver.
“In October, I had about three or four orders a week; in February alone, I had sold 60 pieces,” she says.
“I’ve got to put a figure on each piece I make – but the truth is, what they represent is priceless.”
Additional reporting PA Real Life.