Tess Soholt, of Golden Valley, has the heart to care for people and the skills to sew.
In May, she combined her passions to create angel gowns for stillborn babies at area hospitals from a thrifted wedding dress.
As a retired obstetrics nurse and grandmother of an angel baby, Soholt has witnessed firsthand the pain that grieving parents go through when they lose a baby.
The first baby she delivered as a nurse was a full-term stillborn whose mother had been in a car accident.
“Obstetrics is the happiest and saddest place to work,” she said.
She experienced this type of loss on a more personal level when her son Brent Rangen and his wife, Jackie, lost their son, Andrew, at 18 weeks pregnant in November 2015. The couple was able to hold Andrew and take photos. Their hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, put Andrew in a gown and provided a blanket and cap.
“When I saw the gown I thought, what a neat idea,” Soholt said. “I love to sew.”
Her angel gowns were intended to be a retirement project, a way for her to stay occupied with something she loved and a way to give back.
“It validates this child existed,” she said.
She said many people think if a woman miscarries, she can simply have another.
“It’s a real loss,” she said. “They go home with empty arms. It’s a time when hello means goodbye.”
On Monday, May 8, Soholt was shopping at Empty the Nest, a Golden Valley organization that empties homes and sells items from the clean-outs in its thrift store, when she spotted a wedding dress she had been tracking for weeks. No one had purchased it, and now, it was on sale for $14. Knowing she wanted to get started on her project, Soholt decided to purchase the dress.
While at the counter, store owner Sharon Fischman asked Soholt what she intended to do with the dress.
“She told me, and I was blown away,” Fischman said. “That’s how it all started.”
From there, Fischman could not stop sharing the story with others.
She and other Empty the Nest employees were so inspired by her story, they charged Soholt $.50 for the dress.
The following week, Soholt returned to the store.
Fischman asked if she could take Soholt’s photo with another wedding dress she had in store and share it to the store’s Facebook page.
“It exploded,” Soholt said regarding the Facebook post. “A lot of people have gone through miscarriages. Everyone knows people who have. It’s a helpless feeling not knowing what to say or do. You can’t fix it. This gives people a way to help.”
Numerous women nationwide shared stories of their miscarriages, offered to donate their wedding dress to the cause or wanted to help Soholt create the dresses.
Thus far, Soholt has received dresses from Virginia, Colorado and Iowa.
Many of the women wanted to form a group, but Soholt did not know where the group would meet. The next morning, Fischman called, unaware that there was interest in forming a group, and offered the second story to Soholt if she ever wanted to meet with some of the women.
Soholt now hosts monthly meetings where she and others get to know one another and work on angel gowns.
“You don’t have to be able to sew to come to this group,” she said. “If you can cut with scissors, I can find a job for you.”
Fischman also began collecting wedding dresses specifically for Soholt’s cause, now lovingly named Andrew’s Angel Gowns.
“If it wasn’t for Sharon, this would have been a one gown thing,” Soholt said.
Fischman said she wants to support Soholt any way she can.
“I just thought it was such a special, special, special thing she was doing,” she said.
The two women have become friends and see one another often.
“When you’re near her she just glows, and there’s just a peace about her,” Fischman said. “She’s where she’s supposed to be.”
Now, two months into the project, Soholt has approximately 60 wedding dresses and counting, business cards and her own labels she sews into each gown and bunting, a garment made for very small babies.
Once she completed the first garments, Soholt began calling hospitals to share her story and offer the garments to the labor and delivery units. No one responded to her calls.
Friends urged her to visit the hospitals and show them examples of her garments. So far, Hennepin County Medical Center, Maple Grove Hospital and Methodist Hospital have happily agreed to accept her donations.
Fellow nurse friends in Montana and California have dresses to donate, and Soholt hopes the angel gowns made from those dresses can go to hospitals in their respective areas.
One wedding dress she already cut up produced 11 angel gowns and two buntings.
Sewing one gown takes one hour, but it’s the prep work that takes the longest. Soholt is hoping much of the prep work can be completed at her monthly meetings.
She doe not intend to make a nonprofit from her project, so those looking to participate can volunteer their time or donate a wedding dress.
“I’m learning as I go,” she said.
Soholt said it is a project that comes with mixed emotions.
“I get such a mix of feelings when I pull out these wedding gowns and think about how beautiful it is and the story behind it,” she said. “They are going to be cut up from a happy occasion and go to a sad event.”
Her son and daughter-in-law, the inspiration behind her project, are happy, touched and emotional that Andrew is being honored in this way, Soholt said. In April, the couple had their fourth child, Peyton, their rainbow baby, a term given to babies born after a miscarriage.
“I choke up now for how they mourned,” she said. “A baby that was so wanted. I’m doing this for them and for Andrew.”
To learn more, search Andrew’s Angel Gowns on facebook.com.
To donate a wedding dress, visit Empty the Nest, 8812 7th Ave. N., Golden Valley, 4-8 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, or by appointment Tuesday through Friday. Empty the Nest can be contacted via phone at 763-544-0106.
To contact Tess Soholt, e-mail her at [email protected]