Eight years ago, Virginia Beach resident Heather Wilson was preparing for the birth of her first daughter, Kennedy Milan Wilson. She had set up the baby’s nursery, decorated with a butterfly theme in hues of pink, white and beige. All of Kennedy’s newborn clothes had been carefully washed in Dreft and placed in her white wardrobe. “Everything was perfect,” Heather recalls. “All of the hopes and dreams we had to watch this little girl grow up in this room kept our hearts full of wonder.”
One day, at 35 weeks pregnant, Heather didn’t feel her baby moving anymore. They were told at the hospital the most devastating news expectant parents could hear: there was no heartbeat, and their daughter had passed away. “I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t move … all I could do was cry,” Heather says. Demitri was equally pained. “He broke down crying as I have never witnessed him cry before,” Heather says. “It was so unbearable to watch him grieve for his baby girl.”
Shortly after, Heather delivered the baby she’d been aching to meet and would never get to bring home. After 25 hours of labor, Kennedy was born silently on August 17, 2009. “She was perfect, she was mine, and I loved her so much,” Heather says. “My doctor placed her in my arms, and I held her and cried so hard that it hurt. I was overcome by her beauty and overcome with emotion at the same time.” The Wilsons learned that Kennedy died from placenta abruption, the diagnosis that didn’t help to ease their turmoil. “The pain was still there, and a part of me had died with my baby,” Heather says.
Instead of planning Kennedy’s future, the Wilsons were now arranging their daughter’s funeral. One of the most challenging tasks was finding a gown to fit her. Everything was too small, including doll clothing, so they made do with a slightly oversized white dress and bonnet.
Since losing Kennedy, the Wilsons have wanted to honor their daughter. Last year, they discovered a way.
It had always bothered Heather that they couldn’t find a gown small enough to fit her daughter. So, last year, the night before what would have been Kennedy’s 7th birthday, Heather stayed up all night sewing a gown. “I’ve always sewn—I taught myself to sew—and I love fashion,” Heather says. She posted the photo to Facebook, where it received an outpour of support. “It showed me how much it was needed. Behind all of the Facebook tags, there were people personally emailing me to say they went through the same thing,” Heather says. “The number of people it had touched—it showed me that sewing infant burial gowns were something that needed to be done.”
In 2016, Heather started the nonprofit Kennedy’s Angel Gowns, an organization that provides burial gowns for baby girls and vests and ties for baby boys, hand-sewn from donated wedding dresses.
“When you think of wedding gowns, you think of the most beautiful material—pearls, beading and lace,” Heather explains. “You wait your whole life to get married, and so for a family that knows they will never get to walk that child down the aisle, to have a piece of that is beautiful.”
Former brides can donate their dresses to the organization. Then burial gowns are shipped at no cost to bereaved families. So far, the organization has received 307 wedding dresses. One wedding dress can produce approximately 11–16 infant gowns.
In addition to the gowns, the organization hosts two annual events to raise awareness of infertility and infant loss. The events also raise funds for the cost of funerals or cremation services and Cuddle Cots.
Cuddle Cot™ is a cooling system that slows the break down of the infant’s body and therefore allows bereaved families to spend every second possible with their baby. “With the Cuddle Cots, the family will be able to hold the baby and be with the baby for up to five days,” Heather explains. “We’re giving families the gift of time.”
Kennedy’s Angel Gowns also connects families with support groups and therapy services with Anisa Glowczak of Good Mourning Counseling & Consulting in Virginia Beach. Glowczak specializes in miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss, pregnancy after a loss, infertility issues, grief, anxiety, and family caregiving for loved ones with cognitive impairments.
Through her involvement with the loss community, Heather has been able to partner with other organizations that provide services for parents grieving the loss of a baby. The Cooper Project donates handmade necklaces and bracelets for moms who have lost a child through stillbirth or infant loss. Molly Bears, an international organization located in Virginia Beach, makes teddy bears for grieving parents that weigh the same amount as a baby that was lost.
The organization is helping Heather in her healing process. However, she admits that it’s taken a long time to get to this point. “When this happened, I felt very alone. I did not know one other person this had happened to,” she explains. “Part of that is my healing too—to know that I’m not alone and in a community of people that feel this awful pain, and meeting them and talking to them. We’re at the point now where we can help people and honor her legacy.”
Article edited from original published by coastalvirginiamag.com