Creating Cuddle for Keeps

People who know me may be wondering why or how the heck I got into sewing bears, and why or how the heck I started Cuddle for Keeps. The truth is, I am a creative at heart. And, more importantly, my journey to creating Cuddle for Keeps has been a long one in the making. It’s also very personal.

After I lost my first child to stillbirth, and then, after two successful but anxiety-fueled pregnancies, I knew that I wanted to give back to the people who held my hand, cared for me and ultimately, made me a mom. Without the help of one of Canada’s top high-risk special pregnancy programs, I know that my subsequent pregnancies could have had devastating outcomes, just like my first. I was cared for by a team of compassionate, dedicated and specialized clinicians who took better care of me than anything I could have imagined – I can only describe them as angels disguised as heroes on earth.

A gratitude-fueled vision

For years, I wondered how I could make a meaningful impact and how I could express my gratitude. The truth is, I was never in a position to make financial contributions on my own and the small donations I made after each of my children was born could never fully express my appreciation or desire to provide continued support. But, more than just giving back to organizations that advocate for and support neonatal, maternal and mental health care, I also wanted to give something to those who have faced an uphill journey or who hold a challenging story – and perhaps that is you who is reading this, or someone you know.

Crafting connections and stories

You know when you have an “ah-ha!” moment? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me. For Christmas of 2022, I handmade a gift for relatives overseas. They’d recently gotten married and were expecting a child later in the New Year. The gift I made had nothing to do with bears but it got me thinking: ‘What was something I could give to women and/or families on the journey of parenthood – something they could hold and keep forever – something that would bring them back to the early days of parenthood which are often clouded or shrouded in exhaustion (I know mine were)?”

On a freezing cold December night, after having eaten way too much holiday food and while tucking myself into bed shortly before midnight, a light went off in my head, an idea sparked and Cuddle for Keeps was born.

But, I knew that not everyone had a smooth ride to parenthood, or even reached the final destination. I wanted to make something for all journeys – for those who made it to the finish line and those who were never able to, or haven’t quite made it there yet. I know first-hand how hard getting there can be. I needed to make something that not only celebrated life but comforted loss.

That’s not all. I’ve worked in healthcare for over 15 years. Beyond my own neonatal and maternal challenges, I’ve been with countless patients and families along their health journeys of both diagnoses and celebrations – through it all, the emotional and mental rollercoaster is filled with ups and downs and I know that we all need something to hold on to. Whether it’s through a diagnoses or being a caregiver for a loved one, we all face anxiety and bare an emotional toll. I knew I wanted to create something to lessen the mental load.

Birth Bears, Bereavement Bears and Buddie Bears were brought into being

I bought my first sewing machine just two weeks after the idea sparked. I had never sewn in my life. The box sat on my dining table for almost a week – untouched. Perhaps it was imposter syndrome (probably) or maybe I thought I would break it (probably that, too). But I finally mustered up the courage to open the box, open up YouTube, search for sewing tutorials and the rest, as they say, is history. Here I am one year later – self-taught, deeply passionate and on a mission – bringing this heartfelt venture to you, your loved ones and supporting the causes that matter.

Building a business with purpose

Like parenthood, building Cuddle for Keeps hasn’t been a smooth ride. I never imagined how difficult it would be to source quality fabrics, or how hard it would be to nail down a bear pattern (after trying out many patterns from Etsy, I eventually learned how to make my own). Heck, not to mention, I had to teach myself how to sew, and sew well. There were many nights that my kids stayed up way too late because I was determined to “get it right” instead of tucking them into bed on time. My dining table became my workshop for more time than I’d like to admit (I now have a cozy and functional nook from where all of your bears are handcrafted). The whole process has been a lot of trial and error on repeat.

But I finally made it. Cuddle for Keeps is here.                                            

I’m giving back and touching lives for something that I believe in. I’m proud to support amazing organizations across Ontario to not only bring Cuddle for Keeps bears into the homes of so many, but to bring awareness to neonatal, maternal and mental health care challenges, and spark conversations.

I’m also proud to bring our Buddie Bears into local schools to promote wellness education and enhance social-emotional learning amongst primary- and middle-school students. 

Cuddle for Keeps has been a true labour of love inspired by my life’s stories. Hindsight shows me that the tough times have not all been for naught; I’m grateful for the highs and lows, the winding roads and the bumps along the way. They haven’t been easy, and at times I've felt like I would fly out of the rollercoaster ride (heck, sometimes I still feel that way) but hey, my seat belt is buckled and I’m going.  

I’m also grateful to the many people in my life, near and far, who have inspired the chapters of my story and who have been with me along the ride. I hope that Cuddle for Keeps becomes a part of your journey and inspires a small chapter of your story.