I became pregnant again 2 weeks later (!), and carried that baby, our 2nd daughter, to term, all the while dealing with untreated depression, grief, and anxiety.
When she was 12.5 months old, in April 2013, I had another early miscarriage and we named the baby Quinn.
We went on to have a healthy full-term son in December 2013.
In June 2015, we had another baby girl who was born 1 day premature and spent 9 days in the NICU before coming home with no lingering health issues.
I fine-tuned the details. I fussed when items I used went out of stock, and then just became unavailable. No two boxes were the same as I couldn't seem to pass up a single way I could personalize the box. Everything down to the color of the pen I chose to put in the box was debated. I found ways to include living siblings, sometimes even extended family who were mentioned in the requests. I started making keychains for bereaved dads because #DadsGrieveToo.
I received requests outside the United States, which meant I had to check into shipping laws and tweak my usual inclusions to follow the rules. I replaced flower seeds in those boxes with handmade paper origami flowers. The tea and chocolate had to come out, and in went a small piece of jewelry for the mama that included the baby's initial, birthstone, color, nursery theme, mama's pregnancy craving, or identity in the family (big sister, little brother, firstborn, only girl, etc) in some way.
You can see the progression through the pictures and posts in the Umbrella Boxes' Instagram account, and when I'm discouraged, I often go back just to see how far it's come.
After the Raindrop Box seemed to bridge the gap for the time being, I started moving forward with plans for Umbrella Boxes, trying to get my ducks in a row and reading up on nonprofit businesses.
My goal was to dive back into making original customized boxes after our big candle lighting on International Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day in October of 2018. Except we found out in the last week of that October that we were pregnant yet again, with our youngest only 11 months old. It was another pregnancy after loss journey of many steps that were taken despite fear and in hope. We are grateful that in the end, another sweet, smiley baby girl joined us earthside in June 2019.
At about 15 weeks, in June, I went into labor and had to deliver our little boy in the Emergency Room, which was a very traumatic and unsupportive way to give birth.
He was too tiny to survive and I was not given the opportunity to see him, hold him, nor take his remains home to bury. I had a D&C and was sent home the next day with nothing to hold onto, not even an ultrasound picture.I found out later that his little body was buried with other miscarried babies from that hospital in a mausoleum about 25 minute drive from our house.
We named him Asher.
After months and months of thinking and dreaming and occasionally ordering supplies, I started putting together an early version of what would become the original Umbrella Box. A few friends and family who knew of this dream (and knew that I had the supplies) asked for boxes to give to bereaved parents they knew who were navigating pregnancy and infant loss. The last roadblock to making it public was giving my project a name, and as soon as I had that figured out, I launched the website and social media accounts and began taking requests in August of 2016.
In the first 40 days, I made 58 boxes representing 89 babies.
At 95 days, I counted again and got 115 boxes representing 178 babies.
In March 2017, we found out we were expecting again and I suspended Umbrella Box requests until I could catch up with the very large number of submissions already in my queue. It took over 6 months to finish them as pregnancy after loss (PAL) was just as tiring emotionally, mentally, and physically as ever, and the boxes just kept getting more intricately customized.
It broke my heart to put Umbrella Boxes on hold, as I was getting messages weekly asking when I would take more requests, would there be a chance that I would accept just one more request, or where could they get something for their sister-in-law, best friend, boss at work who was grieving RIGHT NOW if they couldn't get an Umbrella Box. I spent weeks bouncing ideas off of my friends, family, and husband. I needed to figure out how to help NOW. But how-- without giving up on the unique personalized aspect of Umbrella Boxes while also offering something that was doable for me.
The Raindrop Box was named one afternoon as my mom and I drove the country roads near her house. It would be a simple, standard box with a few basics that would hopefully be universally comforting. And right before our baby girl arrived in late November 2017, my MOPS group and I assembled the first 50 Raindrop Boxes. Within a few hours of opening requests in late March of 2018, they were all spoken for.
I feel our family is finally complete, and I'm both grieving and relieved that our plan now is to close the door on future pregnancies and more babies.
This season is now about savoring what I can as I fly by the seat of my pants in this very busy, very full life. I think of this project often, despite knowing that in this moment, not much of my energy can be spared, but hopeful for a clear path to emerge as I take things a day at a time.
Umbrella Boxes is my dream that came from piecing some of the broken places of me back together. It was a few years in the making. I want to give parents facing the loss of a baby during pregnancy something tangible and comforting to hold onto and a place to easily find resources and information.
My hope is to also help the people who love the families who have lost a baby--the people who are so desperate to comfort but feel as though they can only stand helpless, not knowing what will help and what will cause more hurt. I want to support others in a way I longed to be supported and in a way that others longed to support me but didn't know how.
Images of beach artwork created by Carly Marie Dudley. www.theseashoreofremembrance.blogspot.com