Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Angels Among Us...In Angel Gowns

I had no intention of crafting another blog post so soon following my last entry on Kate’s second anniversary…but I never anticipated this…

Last Wednesday we were graced by a visit by one of Matt’s life-long friends, Katie Wildman, whom we had not seen in a few years.  Along with the smiles, warmth and love that always accompany Katie she brought with her a non-descript cardboard box.  Unbeknownst to me, the box was filled with handcrafted treasures made possible by a circle of love…all in honor of my sweet Kate.  Below is the letter I found inside the box from Katie’s mom Sandy.

Matt and Betsy,

The day Betsy posted information about NICU Helping Hands on her Facebook page I was taken with the idea of sewing in your Kate’s honor.  I volunteered immediately and waited patiently for instructions.   My reaction was sincere and didn’t diminish over the five months it took for the organization to contact me.  They had been very, very busy in the meantime.

Originally, a NICU doctor in Fort Worth asked his wife to organize support for the families of the babies he cared for.  Her small local group provided education, counseling and funds.  She knew her wedding gown wouldn’t be used again, for she had four sons.  The dress was used to make the first Angel Gowns.  After four years the organization was invited to do a local TV spot.  The spot was picked up nationally and internationally and NICU Helping Hands became an overnight sensation.  Within weeks they had 8,000 donated wedding gowns and 400 volunteer seamstresses.  That’s about the time I volunteered.  Since March of 2014 they have worked tirelessly to deal with the overwhelming challenges of becoming an overnight nationwide organization.  First, where do you store 8,000 dresses?

A family who had benefited from the organization’s care donated warehouse space.  The group spent Saturdays in an un-air conditioned warehouse in Texas heat, packing wedding dresses to be shipped to their volunteer seamstresses.  They built a Facebook page and a sewing support team to guide them. 

Finally, an official press release was posted and I asked Shannon Sloan Datitilo to post the NICU announcement on her Facebook page because she has 1,500 friends.  I received 15 weddings gowns as a result.

Shannon also has challenges for she adopted a daughter with CP.  She knew she would never marry and wanted to donate her dress, but wanted a picture of her daughter in the dress.  Adrianna, who is nine, nonspeaking and wheelchair bound was not happy with our attempt at a photo shoot and with tears in both their eyes, Shannon sent me home with her wedding dress.  I couldn’t bring myself to cut into her dress and sent a message that I was returning it.  Shannon called a professional photographer and the enclosed pictures are a result.  The photographer had also experienced NICU services.  She offered to take pictures of the finished Angel Gowns from Shannon’s dress.  They will be included in the NICU Helping Hands blog along with a story about you, Kate, Shannon, Adrianna and Hannah, the photographer.  This experience has created so many exceptional moments of love and kindness.  We have created a circle of love and it started with Baby Kate.

The idea of cutting into a wedding dress was tantalizing; I couldn’t resist!  Working with the fabrics, beading, lace and buttons has been a treat, but with every Angel Gown I finished I thought of your Kate and the day I could demonstrate my sincere sorrow for your loss.  I have donated 50 Angel Gowns and bonnets in Katherine Elizabeth Mitchell’s honor.  Each of the 50 families who receive the gowns will be comforted in her honor.  Her legacy is one of love.


I read the letter and cried with Katie.  Behind the letter I found the following photos and my tears were replaced with a huge smile.  What an incredibly beautiful photo of Adrianna and of her and her mother Shannon!  What a special memory!  What love!

After reading the letter and smiling at the photos I slowly, very carefully, admired each one of the sample selection of Angel Gowns Sandy had sent.   Holding each gown I held tremendous love…

…a physical manifestation of the love felt on one of the happiest days of a woman’s life...her wedding day…

…the love and hope a mother feels from the moment a she discovers she is carrying a new life and is expecting a baby…

…and the love and talent of a volunteer seamstress to help honor a brief life and immeasurable grief.

Below are just a few photos of the many gowns and bonnets Sandy sent to share with me. 

This is Kate’s gown and bonnet. The photo does not begin to do it justice!  It's beautiful!  It was made from one of my wedding dresses and I feel it embodies everything I pictured Kate to be…beautiful, classy, refined, elegant and simply lovely.  It warms my heart to know that I now have something that has been ‘passed down’ to Kate.  Matt and I have decided we will have Kate’s gown and bonnet mounted and preserved in a shadow box until she is interred with me.

I intend to keep a couple of the gowns and donate them to the Iowa City NICU/PICU.  Our family owes a visit to the hospital staff who so lovingly cared for us in the days before and after Kate’s time with us.  With Sandy’s help I will send the remaining gowns on to the Helping Hands organization in Texas who will then pass them along to other families.

And so continues Kate’s story of lasting love! are awesome!  Thank you for sharing your love and talent with us and so many others!  Your generosity and talented fingers have given us a lasting memory and will undoubtedly give the families who receive your Angel Gowns a little comfort knowing their baby was love, celebrated and remembered.   

Kate...Way to go baby girl!  Keep up the good work! ;-)  


About NICU Helping Hands ‘Angel Gowns’:  Our organization believes that every life matters and should be honored – no matter how brief that life may be.  We are honored to help provide a little piece of hope in the midst of these very dark days. Hope in knowing that someone cares and that grieving families are not alone. Complete strangers joining together to honor the life of a lost baby. A priceless gift in the form of a simple Angel Gown garment provided by a donating bride, a volunteer seamstress and NICU Helping Hands.

To read more about the organization, to donate or to request a gown please visit:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Time...Wounds...Pain Lessens...

“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree.  The wounds remain.  In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens.  But it is never gone.”
                                                                                                                        ~Rose Kennedy

It has been two years…it has been 730 sunrises…it has been 17,520 hours since the longest and shortest 26 hours of my life.  In that time I can say, with absolutely certainty that not a single day has passed that I have not thought about Kate.  I think about Kate every morning when I see her picture and when I pull out of my driveway and my car faces “Kate’s tree” that is planted at the end of our cul-de-sac with her monument beneath.  I think about Kate when I see a little girl that is about her (would-be) age and resembles how I picture Kate in my mind.  I think about Kate when I’m snuggling a sleeping Lyla.  I think about Kate when I am asked how many children I have.  I think about Kate when I see and touch the physical scars left behind.  It’s safe to say I still think about Kate all of the time.

The familiar dread of this past week’s anniversary washed over me again yesterday, but it was nothing like the paralyzing heartache I experienced last year.

                              Pain Lessens…

Last year I relived every hour of every day of that week as if I was there again…starting with her diagnosis on Tuesday our day in Iowa City on Wednesday, her birth on Friday and our tearful good bye on Saturday.  That week last year was, excruciating, lonely and heartbreaking; however, once the week ended and the first anniversary of Kate’s short time with us passed I felt a weight lifted.  I felt as if I could walk a little taller. Last year I was eight months pregnant with a little girl whose due date was only one day after Kate’s.  Needless to say my emotions, hormones and fears were all running on overdrive.  Until I weathered Kate’s first anniversary week I had not realized how guarded and almost disconnected I was with Lyla’s pregnancy.  In hindsight I realized that emotionally I felt as though I needed to devote an entire year to actively grieving for Kate before I could look forward to the birth of another sweet little girl.  The passing of her first anniversary felt like a wave on the shore… it brought with it a new layer of peace and took away some of the emotional burden I had been shouldering for the past year.

                              Pain Lessens…

In year two I continue to become more and more comfortable in my ‘new normal’ and am beginning to see more and more of the person I was and the person I want to be.  There are still times I fight the fear and negativity that is often left in the wake of tragic loss, but I no longer feel guilty when I laugh and have a good time and I no longer face daily fears that something tragic will happen to one of my other three children.  (I know I will always be vulnerable to fears of losing another child, but I hope that paralyzing fear will continue to dissipate with additional time.)  I can (and did just last month) cry in the produce section of the grocery store with a total stranger who was gushing over Lyla and shared with me her heartbreaking story of losing a child, but after hugging her and walking away I smiled, sent a little prayer to Kate telling her I love and miss her and continued to have a day that was not overcome with consuming grief.  I have finally found an answer to the question, “How many children do you have?” that I feel includes Kate, but does not make the inquirer uncomfortable.   In the days, weeks, and years moving forward my goal is to be the most whole, positive and impactful person I can be.  I will forever strive to be someone that an angel would be proud to call ‘mom’!

My once shattered heart is being pieced back together and mended with scar tissue (and by Kate’s little sister).  Still, I have realized through my own experience and through conversations with other mothers who have lost children that the grief never ends.

“Grief never ends… but it changes.  It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith… It is the price of love.”   ~Author Unknown   

My Journey, my passage continues… A mother’s natural instinct is to protect her baby and her children.  When a child dies, the mother’s instinct is to protect their memory.  You are remembered Kate…You are remembered, and loved and missed! Thank you to everyone who continues to remember Kate.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


So this is what it feels like?!?   I’m not sure what “IT” is… depression, drowning, desolation, misery, the “blahs”, etc.…  All I know is I don’t like “IT.”

It’s been six weeks since Kate’s diagnosis and nearly six weeks since Kate was born…six weeks since the longest and shortest 26 hours of my life…six weeks since one of the happiest moments of my life, the birth of my daughter; and the saddest moment to date, her death.

The past six weeks have been busy…busy with plans, busy with family, busy with travel, busy with friends, just busy!  Things have now quieted down a bit and we’re entering the quiet doldrums of the ‘moving on’ stage.   The problem is I feel that in ‘moving on’ I have turned into Alice in Wonderland and fallen down the rabbit hole into a place where nothing is as it should be. 

Every day people either mundanely or meaningfully ask, “How are you?”
I’m NOT okay.  I finally realized this was the case when I could no longer say the affirmative, “I’m okay” without tearing up.  It doesn’t matter if my mom asks me or the check-out person at the grocery store…I just can’t say it anymore...I’m no longer okay.  I’ve been confused for a few days wondering why I’m just now feeling this way?  Why am I now, six weeks later feeling like my fingers are letting go from the cliff one by one and I’m freefalling downward?  Why did it take this long?  I expect that the nearing and passing of Kate’s due date has had much to do with the arrival of this stage of the grief process.  Her due date was Sunday (11/4)…she should be here in my arms…she’s not and she won’t ever be. 

Not only do I feel like I’m falling into a dark, cold hole I feel like I’m turning into a different person…a person who is more negative, irritable, flooded by sadness and sees sad situations everywhere and dwells on them instead of recognizing the sadness and searching for the positive or the silver lining.  Sometimes I look in the mirror and I don’t like the person I see.  This is not the person I was or am used to being.  I knew that this experience/situation would change me in many ways, but I don’t like these changes and I hope they are not permanent.  This is not the person I want to be moving forward. 

I feel like I’m battling and being knocked and beaten down on so many fronts and I’m starting to get angry about it.  I’m angry that my body has been wrecked; I’m angry that this situation is affecting some of my friendships; I’m angry that I no longer walk past the girl section in Target and smile…now I hurry past and try not to cry; I’m angry at the pregnant woman I saw smoking the other day; I’m angry that my sweet pink nursery is empty; I’m angry that the hopes, dreams and visions I had for Kate will never be realized; I’m angry that I’m so vulnerable and fragile right now (that’s a very foreign feeling to me)… I’m angry!

When I step back, I acknowledge that these feelings and changes are all part of the grieving process, and even though I don’t like it I’m probably right were I need to be…in the trenches, drowning in grief.  As the children’s book (Going on a Bear Hunt) says… “We can’t go over it.  We can’t go under it.  Oh no!  We’ve got to go THROUGH it!”  I know that’s the way it is with the grieving process too.  I don’t like it, but I know that I have to work through it in order to find a resolution. 

As dark as I feel and as sad as my situation is I can think of so many ways it could be worse…
  • What if I did not have two sweet and adorable kids to help me get up every morning?  That would be worse.
  • What if Kate died in utero?  That would be worse.
  • What if she died in surgery and I never had the chance to snuggle her, even just once?  That would be worse.
  • What if I had no support group to help me through this impossible time?  That would be worse.
I’m trying to hold on to a little of the ‘old me’ and find some slender and tenuous rays of positive light.

What if?... 
What if blessings come through raindrops?
What if healing comes through tears?
What if trials of this life are mercies in disguise?

I heard this song on the radio the other day and stopped the car to listen.

I know I will make it out of the rabbit hole, out of the trenches, out of the darkness.  I know I will eventually be okay.  I also know that there is something/s good and lasting and meaningful that will come from this experience and Kate’s death.  I know she will make difference somehow and that is helping me struggle to keep my head above water.

While I so wish someone could throw me a life raft I know I must keep treading water on my own for now…

Monday, November 5, 2012

Infant Loss Resources

I sincerely hope that none of you ever need the resources, links or materials listed below, but I have come to find out infant loss is much more common than I ever knew or imagined.  Whether it's miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death, you or someone you know may find some of the resources below helpful.

Heaven's Gain specializes in providing small baby caskets and burial products for families suffering the loss of a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, or preemie death.

This website has a variety of hard to find products and resources for families suffering an infant loss of all stages.  It was recommended to us by a friend and was very helpful.  The owners of the company are a couple who suffered an infant loss and noticed a significant void of products for infant death an burial. 

We were gonna have a baby, but we had an angel instead.

The hospital sent us home with a dozen books both for me and Matt and for the boys.  Telling Carter about Kate and processing with him was heartbreaking and tremendously hard; however, this book made it so much easier.  We have read it over and over as a family.  I really love that it validates his feelings of sadness, explains that mommy and daddy cry sometimes, but also shows the angel baby on every page symbolizing that he/she is still with the family.  Matt and I plan to purchase numerous copies of this book to donate back to the hospital as well as to our local's that good.

This is the first book I have read about infant loss (I have three others waiting in the wings), but I must say so far this one has hit the spot.  It is an easy and quick read, very conversational in nature with tons of interviews from mothers who have experienced some type of loss.  On nearly ever page it reflects and justifies what I am feeling and experiencing.  

*As I read the other books I'll post and comment on them too.

My good friend and neighbor gave me this book and I absolutely LOVE it!  It's a small book and a quick read...just a few minutes, but the comfort and hope that comes with reading it has been such a blessing!

I can smile when I read this book instead of cry!

A Bereaved Parent's Wish List:

The Grieving Person's Bill of Rights: