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‘The Bra Church’

Mon., June 4, 2007

LIND, Wash. – Just a few blocks from the center of town, a shabby, old church has turned into a mother’s haven.

Nursing bras – padded, full-cup, back-closure, middle-snap closure, bras in every color and size – now fill the sanctuary of the former United Methodist Church of Lind.

In this giant, vaulted room illuminated by rose-colored windows, the bras hang alongside baby clothes made of organic cotton, next to shelves full of breast pumps, U-shaped nursing pillows and nipple cream.

Welcome to “the bra church,” as some locals call it – “the church of the nursing bras,” to be more precise.

Better known on the Internet as “Birth and Baby Maternity and Nursing Supplies,” the small business is a surreal sight in this farming town of less than 1,000 people. Throughout Eastern Washington, Lind is best known for the annual Combine Demolition Derby, certainly not bras and breastfeeding.

In the past 1 ½ years, however, Seattle transplant PJ Jacobsen has put Lind on the map for thousands of women nationwide in need of a good nursing bra.

After buying the old church on eBay for only $35,000, she and her husband, Jake, loaded a 24-foot truck eight times and eventually moved their family and business to Eastern Washington.

“I love it here – we’re here to stay,” said Jacobsen, whose 20-year-old business was among the first to sell nursing bras and accessories on the Internet.

“There’s no traffic. It’s so laid back and everyone’s so friendly. I don’t feel pressured to race around every day.”

In addition to the bras – Birth and Baby stocks 50 different styles, from size 32A all the way to 48KK – Jacobsen’s church has become a center for all things related to birth and motherhood.

A mother of six, Jacobsen is also a lay midwife, a lactation consultant and a leader in La Leche League, an international organization dedicated to helping mothers breastfeed.

“I’m totally addicted to breastfeeding,” explained Jacobsen, who’s 50. “I would do it all over again. It’s a wonderful mothering tool and so good for their well-being.”

All of her children were born at home and breastfed, she said with pride. In fact, except for a brief five-month hiatus, Jacobsen spent a total of 17 ½ years nursing her kids. At one point, she was not only nursing a newborn, but a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old as well.

“Babies have a right to breastmilk,” she said. “That’s what breasts are for.”

Breastfeeding obviously became such a passion for Jacobsen that she decided to make a career out of helping other moms nurse their children. She not only uses her expertise as a lactation consultant and midwife, she also wants to ensure that women have a positive breastfeeding experience by offering them a variety of well-fitting, supportive bras.

“It’s amazing how poorly women are fit,” said Jacobsen, who has devised her own measuring system. A good bra helps prevent nursing moms from getting clogged ducts, she explained, which lessens their chances of getting mastitis – a breast infection that can be very painful.

Breastfeeding doesn’t have to hurt, Jacobsen often tells women who call and complain about sore nipples and other problems.

“I want it to be a good experience for moms,” she said. “Women don’t have to suffer.”

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, where her dad taught English, Jacobsen grew up in Michigan and later attended Brigham Young University. Her mother, who was a nurse midwife, influenced her decision to help other women give birth and bond with their babies.

In her midwifery work, Jacobsen tells pregnant women to pay careful attention to what they eat and to focus on good nutrition. She also pampers them with foot massages using essential oils while telling them about water births and other means to bring their little ones into the world.

“Water for labor – better than drugs,” states the bumper sticker on her green GMC van parked outside the church.

Jacobsen, who has taught classes at Bastyr University in Seattle and the Midwives College of Utah, emphasizes to women that when it comes to birth, they’re in the driver’s seat. Her role, she says, is simply that of a “lifeguard.”

Since she moved to Lind, Jacobsen has delivered – or “caught,” as midwives prefer to say – seven babies.

“PJ has been such a resource to this community,” said Nancy Landon, a former La Leche League leader and a Lind resident for the last five years. “She has such a wealth of information on health and nutrition and is always willing to help anyone.”

Birth and Baby also has provided jobs to a community where many residents have to leave in order to find work, said Geri Loomis, one of two full-time employees that Jacobsen hired after moving to Lind.

Several businesses in town have been forced to close in recent years. Nothing’s left in town, essentially, except for the post office, Jim’s Market and Slim’s Bar and Grill.

“It gives this small community hope,” said Loomis, who grew up in Lind and even attended services at the old United Methodist Church.

“I always knew I’d be on the pulpit someday,” she joked. “I just didn’t think I’d be selling bras.”

When she’s not taking orders or preparing packages for Birth and Baby – which sells as much as $800 to $1,000 of merchandise a day – Jacobsen has been spreading the word about her store and services by attending support groups and conferences and visiting hospitals and people in the community.

She and her husband, along with three of their teenage sons who live at home, also have been busy converting the rest of the 10,000-square-foot church into their family home.

Besides the bra business, the couple breed and raise snakes, which Jake Jacobsen – a marine surveyor who commutes to Seattle every week for work – sells at reptile shows. About 100 snakes, including several large pythons, also live in their home.

In her spare time, PJ Jacobsen quilts, leads the choir at church and is learning to speak Farsi.

“She’s an amazing woman with so many gifts,” said Landon, 61. “Because of her, maybe Lind can be known for the combine derby and big bras.”

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