BY HEATHER CARNAGHAN
Today I did something that I never thought that I would be able to do. I returned to the hospital where I gave birth to my daughter, stillborn at 38 weeks. My palms were so sweaty that they turned the corner of the cardboard box I held to mush. What could possibly make this freshly-grieving “loss mom” sit in a labor and delivery waiting room sandwiched between two women having contractions? My love for Charlotte.
Charlotte never cried. She never spoke her first word, but in the three months since she died, her little life has spoken with more volume in my own than anyone I have ever known. Her message has been clear: don’t let this break you, mom, let it mold you into something new.
I heard it loud and clear when I unearthed my wedding dress amidst a grief-induced fury of cleaning projects. A long-forgotten sewing machine sat on top of the dress box. I had never used it for anything but a strait line on a curtain...and if you’ve seen my curtains, you’re probably chuckling because they are anything but strait. I moved the machine and took my dress out of its box. This beautiful, sparkling gown was worn once and would only ever be worn once. I’m sure Charlotte would have been as stubborn as her mom and chosen her own wedding gown one day, but I sure would have liked to play dress-up with her in mine. I thought about all of the dresses that she’d miss out on: birthday dresses, prom dresses, maternity dresses. I thought about all of the babies who would miss those dresses. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss with 1 in 160 ending in stillbirth like Charlotte. I turned the sewing machine on and grabbed a sheet from the laundry pile. Just do it, mom.
Four Youtube videos, two cut up onesies, and eight sheet-dress-attempts later, I felt ready to cut, pattern, and sew my wedding dress into tiny burial gowns for babies lost too soon. I posted my first attempt on Facebook. It was a simple gathered front dress with a tulle skirt and a big, happy bow right at the waist. It was Charlotte’s size. To my surprise, people began commenting that they had wedding dresses to donate, materials to share, and sewing expertise that they would like to volunteer. Suddenly I found myself busy, not dodging my grief in a cramped closet, but leading a project. In under one month, Charlotte’s little dress exploded into 26 wedding dress donations and eight sewing volunteers. Today I delivered the first batch of 29 layette sets for bereaved families to the labor and delivery wing. She gave me a beautiful reason to be strong and face the raw, visceral fear of returning to the same hospital I’d left empty handed just three months ago. I told you so, mom.
Charlotte will never wear the dress I made for her. She will never wear a wedding dress or a maternity dress, but because of Charlotte, the Wrapped in Love Project was born and countless babies will be given the dignity of one beautiful dress to wear. This legacy isn’t one that I had planned (or ever hoped) for my little girl, but I am so deeply proud of her for inspiring it. Charlotte’s little life has already had big meaning and I look forward to seeing what else this amazing girl can stir up in us all.
If you would like to find out more about the Wrapped in Love Project, donate a wedding dress, or volunteer to sew, please visit https://www.charlottespurpose.com/wrapped-in-love-project.html
Heather is an educator, writer, artist, and most of all, mother of four. Her three boys inspire joy in her life and writing. Heather's eagerly awaited daughter was stillborn in October of 2017, which focused her creative energy on grief and healing. She created and maintains CharlottesPurpose.com, a website dedicated to dealing with grief positively.