So excited to introduce you all to Cristina Toff and her family. Cristina's passion for life is palpable and her desire to inject love into every corner of it is admirable and inspiring. She is juggling a lot - she is a mom, a founder of two companies, blogger, doula - and does it with ease and calm. I'm convinced that there is nothing she can't do. Below, she shares her surprising secret to staying productive, her battle with postpartum depression and one important thing we should know about candles. So, without further ado, here is Cristina. :)
Can you tell us a little a bit about your family, where you live and what you do?
Absolutely! I’m married to an amazing man I met when I was just 15 years old and together we’re raising our curious, sensitive and sweet son, Noam, who is 27 months old. We live in 150 year-old brownstone in the sweet and charming town of Hoboken, NJ, just outside of New York City with our two dogs, Millie and Riley. I co-founded milksource, blog on my personal blog thehomeandtheheart.com, run a candle company called Riles and Co., just recently became a doula and am a local La Leche League Leader. I’m also working toward finishing up my requirements to become an IBCLC. I guess I’ve got my hands in a lot of things!
Holy moly, you have a lot of things going on girl! Congratulations on the launch of your new company, Milksource. So excited for you and for every mother that will have access to this information. I’m sure it will empower so many women. How did this come to be? Why are you so passionate about educating mothers on breastfeeding?
Yes! Thank you! When I became a mom, I knew breastfeeding was my path and that it would be part of our story. But breastfeeding was not at all what I expected it to be, and almost every mom I speak to feels the same way. We knew we needed to fix that.
My friend, Evian, and I, started talking about the problems that exist for new and expecting moms, and we realized that the problem was with breastfeeding education. So much of it is confusing, dull, outdated or misleading, and that’s what caused this disconnect in our expectations and reality. So our solution was to create a modern approach to breastfeeding education: one that’s online and on your time, evidence-based, easy-to-digest, accessible for a year, beautiful and clear.
Tell us about the hashtag #motheringwithmore. I think it’s so cool that you made t-shirts with this message and are donating some of the proceeds to Every Mother Counts.
#motheringwithmore is a movement we’re trying to spread the word that we, as moms, deserve to mother with more - more confidence, more support, more information, more resources, more appreciation. It’s not just about helping moms, though. It’s about helping everyone in society realize how important our world’s moms are.
When we thought of how we wanted to spread the message, we loved the idea of creating shirts. But it’s not enough to talk the talk, so we made sure that we’re making a meaningful contribution by donating 20% of every purchase to Every Mother Counts.
You also have a company called Riles and Co. where you handmake natural soy candles. Um, amazing. I bet your house smells lovely all the time. What is one thing that we should know about burning candles? And what is your favorite scent?
I do! This was my first business baby that I started in 2014. I think the most important thing to know is what is inside your candle. When you burn a candle, you burn all of the components inside it - the chemicals, fragrances, additives - and those go into the air you breathe. The reason I started Riles and Co. was because I couldn’t find candles that were additive-free and safe enough to burn in my home and around my family.
And my favorite scent. Hm.. I think Fig Leaf and Cedarwood and Sage are my two favorites. I have candles in so many rooms of our house - bathrooms, kitchen, bedroom, living room. There’s just something so comforting about a familiar scent or warm candlelit glow.
Congrats again on completing doula training! What an amazing skill set to have. What inspired you to do this? Did you have a doula when you gave birth to Noam?
Yes! I completed doula training and am now working toward my certification. I was inspired to do this for 2 reasons: 1. My own birth experience was not what I expected or wanted it to be, and it took me a long while to mourn the loss of what I thought would be. So if I can help even one woman avoid that, I want to try. And 2. After launching milksource, I realized I didn’t want to stop there. I want to be able to support every part of the motherhood experience - from fertility to pregnancy to birth and delivery to breastfeeding and postpartum. This is just the beginning!
I imagine that you are juggling a lot on any given day. What does a typical day look like for you? What do you do to stay sane? :)
It does often feel like I’m juggling in a circus show. A typical day for me is wake up early and head to a 6am spin class, then come home and get Noam and myself ready for the day. Noam goes to ‘school’ every other day for a 2-hour program and then twice a week he goes to full-day daycare. So the days he’s in daycare are my work days, when I get to focus on milksource, local La Leche League projects, candles and any other projects I’m currently working on. We’re in the process of renovating a lakehouse, so I’ve been spending a lot of time doing the design work for that lately. How do I stay sane? Here’s the secret to my productivity: I stopped drinking caffeine! (Seriously!)
You just opened up recently about battling postpartum depression. I’m so sorry that you had to battle that. I can totally relate as well. Would you mind sharing with us how you were able to navigate yourself through that? What tools did you use to come back to a place of peace within yourself?
Thank you. This was a really difficult time for me, but one that I’m an open book about. I struggled with undiagnosed postpartum depression after Noam was born and then, when he was 10 months old, my dad passed away. At the time, I didn’t realize how low I had sunken. And, for many about a year afterward, I continued to sink even lower until I hit a place where I was afraid for my safety. It was my rock bottom place, and nowhere I ever want to return.
But I think it took going there for me to realize what was happening. My husband encouraged me to get help, and I found a really great team of doctors. Postpartum depressive symptoms are not something to take lightly and not something to deal with on your own. And, once I realized this and found a team of professionals that were on my side things started to come together. I take medication, I regularly see a therapist, and, maybe most importantly, I pay attention to myself. I hold space for myself. I show up for myself.
Your son’s name (Noam) is really unique. Where did that come from? And what are your favorite activities to do with him?
We love it! We knew we wanted something different but not too different, and we both immediately agreed the name Noam was beautiful and perfect for us. Noam is a Hebrew name that means 'pleasantness,' and it’s really so fitting for our son.
Noam is a ball of energy and curiosity, so it’s so fun to go out and explore with him. We like to be out and busy as much as possible. We love to take long walks along the Hudson River and look at all the birds and boats and helicopters, and on the weekends we love to go to local farms to pick produce or visit the farm animals.
If you could describe Noam in one word, what would it be and why?
Sensitive. My husband and I are both super sensitive, so it’s not surprising that Noam is, too. Noam’s super aware of the emotions and words and actions of those around him, and he’s always surveying new people and places and testing waters before diving in. It’s actually a really beautiful thing to witness.
What is your favorite quality about yourself?
My stubbornness. I got it from my dad, who was incredibly (and often frustratingly) stubborn. But being stubborn means I don’t settle for less than what I deserve, and it’s served me well so far!
What is one quality that you find challenging about yourself?
If you had to impart a single nugget of wisdom for expectant mothers/fathers what would it be?
Find your village - find it early, be unashamed about finding the best, and never let it go. Your village is who’s going to be there in the middle of the night when you’re engorged and crying and trying to figure out breastfeeding. Your village is who’s going to watch the kids while you get a much-needed nap on day 23 of a leap. Your village is going to be there through the moments and days and maybe weeks you question yourself as a mom.
What was the best advice you ever received about being a mom?
Hold space for yourself. Allow yourself to be as you are, set aside your thoughts and judgement, be fully present and offer yourself unconditional support and love. I think when we can show up for ourselves - when we can respect and nurture and honor ourselves - we can really truly show up for our babies.
What would a perfect date night look like?
Dinner at a dark and quiet restaurant in the Village followed by a show of some sort.
What’s your ideal family vacation spot?
Paris for adventures, Turks and Caicos for relaxation.
When your child is grown up and out of your house, how will your Saturday morning look?
Oh, I hope it’d be full of little grandkids running around the house! I never want to live in a house not full of babies and dogs.
What’s your mom uniform? Favorite piece in your closet today?
If I don’t stay in my spin clothes, I’m usually in jeans - these from Madewell are my current favorites - and an unfussy top from Everlane - I’m really into this mockneck - or Cuyana and my All Birds. And my favorite piece right now is this cozy sweater coat. I got an Apple Watch for my birthday last week, and it’s quickly become part of my mom uniform, too.
What’s your favorite form of exercise at the moment?
Spin! I can’t get enough of it. (I’m shocked, too.) I go to a local women's gym called work it out (@wiowithus) that is basically the most supportive, inclusive, nurturing space for women and I'm so lucky to have found it. The class i love is called Riding High-it's 50 minutes spin with arm workout.
Your photos on instagram are absolutely beautiful - do you have any tips for capturing family moments? Special time of day? Gear you love? Tips/tricks?
Thank you! Bring your camera (or phone) everywhere with you! You never know when you’ll get that amazing shot of your son’s eyes bigger and smile wider than you’ve ever seen. I love my Canon DSLR, but usually have only my phone with me, which I’ve found is totally good for most photos! As far as taking photos, lighting is key. I know when the light is best where in my house and outside I try to find shade to take photos. Also, always pay attention to colors and textures and lines - some of the most beautiful backdrops can be found in the most unexpected places.
Think you’ll stay in New Jersey forever? Where do you envision retiring?
I’m not sure! Right now, I love where we live, but I usually get an itch to move every 4-5 years, so we’ll see.
I dream of retiring to an old farmhouse in the country somewhere. We’re originally from Pennsylvania, so I have some hopes of ending up back there one day with a few horses, some chickens and an old homestead.
We are coming up on the holiday season? What is one tradition that you are looking forward to?
My husband’s family is Jewish and my mom is Christian, so we get the best of both worlds during the holidays! I love that we’ve created our own traditions to meld both sides. We usually wake up at my mom’s house on Christmas morning, open presents and enjoy lots of cookies and treats throughout the day and then go to dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant with Jason’s parents.
Final Question: I (Meghan) am a hawk and Liz is a mountain goat. What’s your spirit animal?
No question - red panda!
You can find Cristina on Instagram @cristinatoff. Here is a link to Milksource. Make sure to check it out. If you are in need of a beautiful and natural handmade soy candle (great gifts for the holidays!!), check out Riles and Co. And last but not least, check out Cristina’s blog, The Home and the Heart. It's beautiful, warm, and lovely, just like Cristina. :)
** All photos are from Cristina’s instagram.