Being Mamas: Mia Abbruzzese and Alexandra Fennell
As the mothers of four kids under nine and the epitome of #relationshipgoals, Mia Abbruzzese and Alexandra Fennell already had us taking off our hats. But as we learn more about Attn: Grace, the brand they created to destigmatize aging for women with non-toxic subscription wellness solutions, we can’t help but bow down to them. In this article, Mia and Alexandra chat about their infertility struggles, motherhood and inspiration behind Attn: Grace.
Before Mia Abbruzzese and Alexandra Fennell got married, became parents to four kids and were celebrated for changing the way wellness products are marketed to mature women, they were busy working in the fields footwear and law.
After a chance meeting through a mutual friend on a rainy, cold spring evening in Boston, the pair hit it off, fell in love and the rest is history. Well, not exactly. Theirs is more an epic tale of two women making drastic career changes, overcoming heartbreaking miscarriages, discovering just how resilient the human mind and body can be, embracing motherhood wholeheartedly and finding a way for women to age with dignity and grace.
Today, Mia and Alexandra are the co-founders and CEOs of Attn: Grace, as well as parents to Benny (8), Harry (5), and twins, Stella and Caspar (2).
While they thought finding a donor would be the tricky part of growing their family, it turns out that was actually the easy part, one they look back on with fond memories. What unfolded next was a series of miscarriages, a repeat occurrence of a condition called placenta accreta and multiple surgeries to repair Alexandra’s uterus.
“The first time I heard about placenta accreta was when our oldest was just a few days old. Essentially unable to birth my placenta, I was faced with the grim reality that I might need a hysterectomy. I was already in such an incredibly raw, vulnerable state that dealing with a potentially life-threatening condition with a three-day-old really shook me…. Luckily, they were able to remove my placenta, sparing my uterus. After that, I became proactive around understanding the condition, my degree of risk in subsequent pregnancies and made the best decisions I could with the information I had. This, coupled with the unsurprising fact that at 36, it was much harder for me to get pregnant again made for a long road.
From supplements to visualizations to reiki to acupuncture and even seeing a shaman, I feel like I tried it all.
The reiki began with a therapist I saw for massage and back work during my first pregnancy because I had really bad sciatica. She had asked if she could try some reiki during the massage and my body responded immediately. I remember it feeling like someone had taken a huge weight off of my (literal and figurative) shoulders. From there, I kept exploring it whenever I could.
I also turned to Yin yoga frequently, often when trying to prepare or heal my body and really just wanting to find a way to sit with whatever was going on for me physically and spiritually at a given moment. I also started to tangibly experience how directly nutrition impacts everything we do at a cellular level. Most significantly, I saw the incredible connection our gut has to our overall health, including, in my case, the health of my older eggs. Healing my gut was instrumental to conceiving our twins. For me this meant eliminating gluten and most dairy for six months. At times, these things felt like acts of sheer desperation, but looking back I can see they also led me to redefine my relationship with my body and with traditional Western medicine.”
While Alexandra feels fortunate to have had amazing medical care, including having one of the foremost experts on placenta accreta on her care team, she believes women would benefit immeasurably from a more holistic approach to medical care – one that incorporates diet, stress management, meditation, acupuncture and other less traditional tools that can be so powerful.
“Particularly in trying to get pregnant this last time, Julia Indochova’s book, Inconceivable, was an incredible resource for me; it changed how I approached everything about getting pregnant at 40(ish). I also worked closely with Molly Nichols, a fertility coach and healer, which was just as transformative. The book, It Starts With The Egg, is packed with powerful plans to maximize your egg health in the 90-day window before ovulation, which I highly recommend. I think most women think that the health of our eggs is fully predetermined by the time we’re trying to get pregnant, but the science is clear that how we treat and nourish our bodies in those last few months prior to ovulating can make a meaningful difference.”
When it came to giving birth, Alexandra explains that she read a lot (probably too much) and did the standard childbirth and CPR classes with Mia. They also had a wonderful doula, Cate, at the last minute with their first and can’t imagine having experienced any of their births without her.
“My first labor was long and just incredibly slow. I had to be induced and even then it took a couple of days before it was time to push. (Thankfully, no one told me that at the outset!) With Harry, our second, it was much quicker and I was able to avoid having an epidural, which was something I had wanted to experience if I could. My doctors were supportive and hatched a plan to place but not dose the epidural in case there were complications from any accreta; I ended up needing to be rushed to surgery after delivery.
With the twins, I made it to 36.2 weeks (after being admitted overnight to stop early labor a month before). I had sort of fully surrendered to just getting them out as easily and safely as possible. In my case, that meant an epidural and a pretty quick labor and birth. Stella and Caspar arrived seven minutes apart. To this day, I can’t even begin to describe the immense joy, relief and pride that came with that moment – it was so long in the making.
Trying to wrap our heads around how Alexandra and Mia adjusted to life with four kids, we asked Alexandra to share her advice for new parents:
“Be kind to yourself on this journey, especially in the days and months after giving birth. It’s absolutely sacred, but also an incredibly intense period of time when you really look at what a woman’s body and psyche have been through, not just in labor and delivery but in the many months leading up to the birth.
Our culture doesn’t place nearly enough emphasis on how we care for ourselves (and how others should care for us) after a birth. I think that is starting to shift a bit, but the truth is America is far from providing all mothers with the support and care they deserve and need. Systemic change is long overdue.”
Mia and Alexandra are not just two incredibly strong women raising four wonderful kids — they’ve also successfully launched Attn: Grace in the midst of a global pandemic. When asked how the idea for Attn: Grace came about, Mia shares that her mom would always say, “It’s hard to get old.”
Alexandra adds, “We are used to living in a world tailored to the values and convenience that parents (historically led by moms) demand. Every month Mia and I have the experience of opening our home-delivered subscription of beautifully designed, sustainably-minded diapers and related products. And at the same time, in stark contrast, there was Mia’s mother – an incredibly refined, elegant 89-year-old, struggling to manage her bladder leakage with a mix of utilitarian products that in no way matched who she was or what she valued. It all felt really archaic and un-evolved, and Mia and I both felt strongly that there had to be a better way – not just for her, but for all women as we age. We believe in a world where women are seen and celebrated as we get older. Attn: Grace is a meaningful step in that direction, building both a movement and a marketplace for our changing needs.
“Ultimately, Attn: Grace is on a mission to destigmatize aging for women with beautifully designed, body-and-earth-friendly wellness solutions thoughtfully tailored to our changing needs.”
Mia says, “I’d like to see Attn: Grace become synonymous with ‘aging with confidence.’ I want us to be seen as a brand, a movement and a marketplace that sees and celebrates you and your changing needs. My mom has since passed away and I’d like to have built something she’d be proud of. I spent a lot of time in Asia during the early part of my career. I’ve always admired how the Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures handled aging with the dignity and respect it has earned. I’d love to see some of that reflected in U.S. family life, particularly around women.”
When asked about the elusive work-life balance, Mia and Alexandra imparted some refreshingly honest wisdom.
“This is one of my favorites, especially now. We’re having a lot of fun building Attn: Grace. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s not an incredible amount of work or that every day is easy. That’s definitely not the case. But even the challenging days are fun in their own right. My advice is to find something that allows you to never have to make that distinction. I read a lovely post about how we as parents have 18 summers with our kids and how fully we should enjoy them. Each winter I think about what we want that experience to be like with them and us as a family,” Mia says.
Alexandra jokes, “I have no business offering this as advice, because it is a constant struggle for me. But when I’m able to master being fully in the moment with my kids, it’s magical. Even in the midst of utter chaos (which, let’s face it, has become our collective baseline in 2020), leaning into the little moments with them is really grounding. It brings me back to what matters and out of my own head. It’s actually a bit like energy work, in that I can feel my entire being sort of re-center itself. I can’t do it all the time, to be clear, but when I can, it’s pretty powerful.