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Kathy Ireland: Solutions for Busy Moms

There once was a supermodel named Kathy Ireland. She was an international success, gracing the covers of such magazines as Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar and Sports Illustrated. She seemed to have it all, but there was something missing from Ireland’s high-profile life, something she had yearned for since she was a little girl: a family of her own. So she traded in the glamorous globetrotting and got everything she ever wanted: a loving husband, amazing kids and a business empire that caters to busy moms just like her.

Today, Kathy Ireland is a wife, mother, Sunday school teacher and chief designer and CEO of Kathy Ireland Worldwide (KIWW), an 12-year-old company providing maternity clothes, swimwear, sleepwear, shoes, home furnishings and accessories, heavy- and lightweight fitness equipment, watches, sunglasses, precious jewelry and even sewing patterns to moms everywhere.

Married to emergency room physician Greg Olson for nearly 15 years, Ireland is mother to Erik, 8, and Lily, 4, and recently gave birth to her third child, a girl named Chloe. While on maternity leave awaiting Chloe’s arrival, she took some time to talk pregnancy, motherhood and life as an entrepreneur.

EA: Congratulations on your pregnancy! Since this is your third, how does it compare with your first and second?

KI: Thank you! Each pregnancy is exciting and different. I do feel more tired and forgetful this time. Possibly that’s from having two children to chase around and from having more responsibility.

EA: How did the deliveries go?

KI: With Erik, I had an easy pregnancy and a difficult delivery. After 18 hours of labor, he was stuck. The doctor was preparing for an emergency C-section, but was able to get him out with forceps. As the birthing process began, his heart rate declined. He was born with the cord wrapped around his neck. His skin was blue, and we were all concerned, but he ended up being just fine. I’ll never forget when I first held him in my arms. He looked right into my eyes for the longest time. I could tell right away that he was wise and deep thinking.

With Lily, I also had an easy pregnancy. My doctor convinced me to have an AFP (alpha fetal protein) test. When the results came back, we learned that Lily had tested positive for Down syndrome. While many babies born with Down syndrome go on to live healthy, happy, productive lives, because of my husband’s medical background, I was aware of the implications. I knew that many babies who are born with Down syndrome must undergo serious surgeries shortly after birth and many do not survive past the first year. I was terrified. My doctor told me that oftentimes you get a false positive read with the AFP test, and the only way to know for certain would be to have an amniocentesis test. I knew there was a small risk of having a miscarriage from this test. I also knew that there was nothing the doctors could do to change the situation for my baby. I decided the risk of miscarriage was not worth satisfying my curiosity. I felt peace knowing that God does not make mistakes. My husband and I knew we were blessed with this child. We knew we would love and care for any child God gave us, with or without Down [syndrome]. When Lily was born, after seven hours of labor, we learned that the test had been a false positive. She was a healthy, 10-pound, 2-ounce baby girl. She looked so peaceful.

EA: Incredible experiences! How is this pregnancy going?

KI: This pregnancy is going great! I am fortunate that I don’t get morning sickness. I am trying to enjoy every moment. I am huge, clumsy, tired and forgetful. I have broken two chairs and got stuck in another one. Something new I got to experience with this pregnancy is the 4-D ultrasound. It was amazing to see my baby so clearly. She is beautiful. With Erik and Lily, we wanted to be surprised, so we didn’t find out the sex of the baby. This time, Erik really wanted a brother and Lily really wanted a sister. I figured I would handle the disappointment one of them would have, better early on than when I’m postpartum.

EA: Good point. What does your birth plan include?

KI: With this birth, we registered to store our baby’s umbilical cord blood. It’s something we hope we never need to use, but I believe in hoping for the best and planning for the worst. I thought about not having an epidural this time, but I have been told that there is a good chance this baby is going to be good sized. Unless she arrives very quickly, I am planning on having an epidural. My children are excited and want to be in the room with us. If I have an epidural there will be less screaming and it will be less traumatic for everyone. I’m planning on allowing our children to be with me, up near my shoulder with my mom. If it gets too much for them, she can play with them in the waiting area.

EA: How is Greg involved in the pregnancy and birth?

KI: By the third pregnancy, he is very sensitive to my mood swings. He knows better than to answer odd questions I may ask like, “How much weight do you think I have gained?” He knows to never deprive a pregnant woman of what she might be craving. He’s been coming home early from his early morning surf sessions to help get the kids ready for school. I am pretty slow these days. I’m due in two weeks and I’m down to a waddle. Greg works in the emergency room, and he has doctors ready to cover for him if he’s at work when I go into labor. Although he is a doctor and has delivered many babies, he has no intention of delivering his own children. He says it’s too difficult to make good decisions when you are emotionally involved.

EA: How are you preparing Erik and Lily for the new baby?

KI: Erik and Lily came with me when I had my ultrasound and found out the sex of our baby. Erik is much more mature than he was four years ago when Lily was born, and he stormed out of the room when the doctor said, “It’s a girl!” I could see the disappointment on his face when he learned he was having another sister. He told me he was hoping to have a brother he could share his room with. He has had time to get used to the idea of having another sister and he is doing fine. He says he will teach her how to ride a skateboard.

Lily is so nurturing. She will be a wonderful big sister. Greg and I are both middle children and we remind her how special that is. The last couple of weeks she has been a bit anxious. I suspect the reality of having a new person in the family is starting to hit her. I explain to her that when a family gets a new baby, the love doesn’t get taken away from the other children. The love we have for her grows every day. When you get a new baby, God gives each person new love in their heart.

EA: That’s a beautiful lesson to teach them. What are your biggest fears for pregnancy and childbirth?

KI: Early in the pregnancy, my biggest fear is having a miscarriage. I had a miscarriage between the births of Erik and Lily. In the back of my mind, I always have some worry about the unknown. I try to keep things in perspective and not let my worrying (which doesn’t accomplish anything positive) override my joy and anticipation about the baby. I pray she is happy and healthy.

EA: What is the hardest part about parenting?

KI: Being a parent is the most difficult, challenging, rewarding and important thing a person can do. We all make mistakes, but when you have the responsibility of raising a child, you want to do whatever you can to minimize those mistakes.

EA: You have an incredibly successful business. How do you balance work and family?

KI: Balancing family and work is a difficult challenge for all working parents. I am blessed to work with a team who understands and supports my belief that work needs to serve the family, rather than the family serve the work. For years I worked in an industry where I had very little control over my schedule if I wanted to get my bills paid. I started my company, Kathy Ireland World Wide, in 1993 with my partners. While I work hard and sometimes my workday will begin at 2 in the morning, I have a lot of flexibility with having my own business. I am blessed that I am able to do a lot of my work from home.

EA: Tell me about your amazing career. How did you decide to get into lifestyle design, and how did you make the transition from modeling to entrepreneurship?

KI: Design and business have always been of great interest to me. My first job was a combination of both. I was 4 years old, and I sold painted rocks from my wagon with my sister, Mary. Modeling was not something I aspired to do but I am grateful for the education it gave me. It exposed me to the best designers in the world. It exposed me to people of all different cultures so I could learn how they live and what they need. It also alerted me to images and prices that were not realistic. My girlfriends would say, “I’m not going to spend money on a magazine to look at pictures of skinny women in clothes I can’t afford.” I knew that someday, when I had my own brand, I wanted it to be for real women.

I started my company in 1993 with socks. With very little resources, no ad budget, but good people, good products and hard work, my business partner, Jon Carrasco, and I loaded up our backpacks and traveled around the country presenting our socks to retailers. Today, our mission statement is: “Finding solutions for families, especially busy moms.” The reason I am reaching out to busy moms is because that is what I am, that is what I know, and I know this woman has been underserved.

We have designed our home collection to make it quick and easy for a busy mom to put a room together without fear of making a mistake. We accomplish this by having all our partners in home working together to make products that will complement one another. If a product doesn’t make our customers’ day better and easier, it doesn’t make the brand. Serving busy moms means that safety is always on the forefront of our minds. It only takes an instant for a tragedy to occur, and it is important for families to know how to make their homes safe. Even when we are addressing the architectural trend, we use rounded edges so children won’t poke an eye out on the corner. We use tempered glass. On our toy chest we use safety hinges, and we have a hole in the bottom of the chest. We hope this never happens, but if Sister decides to put Brother in the toy chest, there is a breathing hole. We adhere to the highest standard of safety when it comes to fabric on our upholstered furniture and for our lighting.

Our products are family friendly and meant to be enjoyed. I want my children to feel welcome in every room of the house. We have an ultra-suede sofa you can actually write on with a ballpoint pen and it comes off with water! Our rugs are gorgeous and made with poly-propelene, which is so easy to clean. Our wall-to-wall carpet and our hard flooring were made with families in mind and similarly are so easy to care for. Serving families also means having family-friendly prices. This is something we carry out throughout the brand. We have complete home collections for boys and girls. I love my work – I have a special passion when I get to serve children.

EA: It must be very enjoyable! Tell me about your new book.

KI: I recently wrote a book, Powerful Inspirations: Eight Lessons That Will Change Your Life, with my co-author, Laura Morton, for DoubleDay. The reason I can be so bold as to say these lessons will change your life is because the inspiration behind each lesson doesn’t come from me, it comes from God, and if you apply this to your life, your life will change. The book discusses everything from “Powerful Changes,” “Powerful Beliefs and Boundaries” to “Powerful Families” and “Powerful Financial Wisdom.” It’s certainly not that I have all the answers. I have made many, many mistakes. It is my hope that others will benefit from my mistakes and from my experiences. The book is an easy read, designed to be read in short doses as time permits.

EA: Will you take maternity leave?

KI: Yes, I have been on maternity leave for a while, and I will take time off when our baby arrives. I am fortunate to be able to bring my baby and my children to work with me. Something I could not do without the help of my amazing mom.

EA: Will you breastfeed?

KI: I breastfed Erik for a year and Lily for 16 months. I am planning on breastfeeding this baby as well. With all the traveling Erik and Lily did as babies, they rarely got sick. I know breastfeeding helps the immune system. I also enjoyed the bonding benefits.

EA: How are you staying fit during pregnancy?

KI: For the first four months I was able to surf. I would just go out on little days because I crash otherwise. It was good to get out in the water. When my belly got big I would go on hikes, but I would go at a much slower pace so my heart rate wouldn’t get dangerously high. Basically for the first two trimesters I would walk Erik, Lily and our dog to school. Now, just walking across the room feels like a workout. I do try to swim when I get the chance.

EA: What is your best advice for pregnant women and new moms?

KI: Enjoy this time! It goes by so quickly. Get as much rest as you can. Try to eliminate stressful situations from your life. Educate yourself on nutrition and safety for you and your baby. When your baby arrives, and you have those countless, sleepless nights, it’s helpful to remember that this will pass. It just gets better and better!

EA: How has motherhood changed you?

KI: Being a mother has profoundly changed my life. Rather than thinking of myself first, I have people who depend on me to guide, love, discipline and protect them. Being a mother causes me to evaluate everything I do. I know they are paying attention and they absorb everything. Being a mother is one of the most positive and powerful changes in my life.

EA: What is the best part about being a mom?

KI: The best part about being a mom is love you receive from your children. Whether it comes in the form of a running hug, a big kiss or the gift of a special rock they found just for you, there is nothing like the love of a child. Being a parent is a tremendous responsibility. It’s also a tremendous honor.