It was a funny coincidence, but while driving to an interview the other day, I passed the Minnesota State Fairgrounds and our family’s favorite building: The Miracle of Birth Center.
I laughed, imagining Steph Allosso rolling her eyes.
Allosso would be my nominee for 2014 mother of the year, if I knew where to nominate her. She contacted me many months ago about a business idea that she and I agreed had great potential.
The daughter of a high school biology teacher and now a farm owner living just north of Bemidji, Allosso designed a prototype for a pregnant toy goat and accompanying children’s book. The stuffed toy would give birth to two babies the way nature intended — through its back end. Or, as Allosso’s marketing materials explain, in “a gentle, tasteful, but truthful way.”
Then she took the idea to Kickstarter. The overriding response?
You’re kidding, right?
“Some people did say, ‘Thank goodness! You’re normalizing birth!’ ” said Allosso, 42, the mother of four children.
“But many adults responded with comments like, ‘Yikes!’ and ‘Good luck with that.’ ”
“We’re fine with candy dispensers in the shape of animals that poop out Sugar Daddies,’’ Allosso said. “But birth? Apparently disgusting.”
Her biggest fans were children. “I’d hand this toy to kids and they’d say, ‘Thank you! Can I take it home? Can we give you piggy bank money?’ They aren’t caught up with where the baby comes out.”
Allosso grew up in Ortonville, Minn., where her father was an avid hunter. “He would wake me up to go bowhunting. Or he would have me there for the tracking and harvesting of a deer. I learned all about anatomy. Nothing was kept secret or hush-hush.”
Her mom was pregnant when Allosso was 10. The proud and curious big sister watched her mother breast-feed and said it was “really neat.”
It was hardly a stretch two years ago when Allosso and her husband, Dan, who is working on his Ph.D. in history, bought a farm and moved there with their two youngest children, whom Allosso home-schools.
They bought two goats and borrowed a buck for breeding season. The “best home-school day ever” is birthing day, she said. “It’s so much more than the birth. It’s seeing the mom take care of things.”
Twice, when the goats were ready to deliver, Allosso tried to play midwife. “But, the truth is, they don’t really need you. Birth is all around us, and it’s not a big deal.”
As the weather began to cool last fall, Allosso and her daughter, Vivi, now 7, collaborated on a concept for a book and birthing mommy goat. Allosso sewed the prototype and wrote the book’s copy. Vivi drew the sketches.
Vivi, she said, has always loved animals and been inquisitive about where babies come from. Allosso began sewing sock-wombs into her daughter’s stuffed animals years ago. Son Gio, 8, is a musician, “but he also appreciates everything we experience on the farm,” she said.
Next Allosso found a manufacturer overseas, which was “pretty enthusiastic and hopeful that the book and stuffed animal combo [to be priced about $35] would take off.”
The manufacturer did “a really good job,” she added, of creating a reinforced opening “so kids could take the babies in and out.”
Then she launched a $30,000 all-or-nothing online Kickstarter campaign to get the first batch of 1,200 goats and babies made.
“Margo, the toy goat,” she explained on her cheery Kickstarter site, “gives birth to her two kids the same way Margo the real goat did. This gentle, authentic birth process helps children learn the real facts of life as they’re having fun helping Margo with her kidding.”
Allosso, who put in her own money, was tremendously grateful for the more than 100 supporters, including a father in Spain who ordered a goat-book set.
But others didn’t want to get near her idea, including toy vendors “who were just not going to take a chance.”
“You have to develop a thick skin, and try not to take negative remarks too personally,” she said.
With just over $6,000 raised, a disappointed Allosso abandoned the idea — mostly.
Her book, “Are You Kidding?” was co-authored with Vivi and is available on Amazon.com.
She is learning to make cheese.