Savannah Leyde likens her daughter's birth to a rainbow after a storm.
Five years ago, Leyde and her husband lost their son, Taylor, to stillbirth. It was a month before his due date.
Soon afterward, she and her husband learned they were expecting again. They fought through grief, anxiety, fear and other emotions until JennaLee was born. It was the one-year anniversary of Taylor's funeral.
"God planted a rose," Leyde said. "And I shed humongous tears of joy."
Through research, Leyde learned a large number of women who lose a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth become pregnant within a year.
So she wanted to offer her support in what can be a difficult time.
On March 3, 2009, the two-year anniversary of Taylor's
Taylored to You, which they run out of their South St. Paul home, has been growing ever since. It provides free maternity portraits, birth announcements and other resources to parents who have lost a child and are pregnant for the first time following the death.
She considers them "kindred spirits."
"I've never met people in my life where you can walk right up to them, and even though you don't know them, you just want to hug them," she said.
Her work has led to more opportunities to educate others.
She wrote and designed a children's book, "My Brother...He's an Angel," in 2009. More recently, she was successful in getting the state of Minnesota to recognize this March as "Pregnancy After a Loss Awareness" month.
DEALING WITH THE GRIEF
Leyde, a graduate of South St. Paul High School, is also the reigning Mrs. Dakota County International who this month competed for the Mrs. Minnesota International title. Her platform: pregnancy after a loss.
"I talk about it a lot," said Leyde, 27. "I refuse to let somebody tell me that my son did not exist. And I refuse to let somebody say that this is a taboo situation or subject and they don't want to talk about it."
Healing is a slow and complicated process, she said.
For Leyde, therapy comes from shooting and editing pictures of an expectant couple or designing birth announcements for them.
And from seeing other bereaved parents continue their healing.
Leyde remembers fondly her first "client," a young pregnant woman who answered her Craigslist ad for free maternity portraits. When they met, Leyde could see the sorrow on her face.
"For us, and many of these families, they're still feeling the grief, because obviously that's something that you carry for a lifetime," she said. "But it does get a little easier over time."
The woman was surprised and excited to see how Leyde, her husband and their son, Dylan, had planted a tree in their front yard in Taylor's honor. And how Leyde had painted a family portrait on a large rock - and included Taylor with angel wings.
"I said to her, 'It's all right to do all of this,' " she said. " 'It's OK.' And that's where I think I realized that I can try and be a mentor, help them in my own way."
Leyde's online portfolio includes several photos of what she calls "rainbow bellies." There's the picture of a woman holding wood blocks that spell out "boy" in one hand and her exposed belly in the other. There's one of two boys kissing each side of their mom's belly.
THE THERAPY AT WORK
When Leyde meets her clients for maternity sessions, usually at a park or somewhere scenic, she gives them a gift bouquet
Emily and Jon Fougner drove from Mankato, Minn., for a session last month at Thompson Park in West St. Paul. Like the Leydes, the couple lost their child to a placental abruption - and they were expecting another baby in a few months.
And, like Leyde, Emily Fougner still feels guilt for not noticing her daughter's reduced fetal movements earlier - and also for not having more photos of herself while pregnant with her daughter.
"After Scarlett died, it made me sad that I had only one picture - and that I wasn't even looking at the camera," she said. "So I wanted to make sure I had more this time."
For the portrait session, Fougner brought along Scarlett's blankets, outfits and photos from when the baby was delivered stillborn.
"Savannah was so open and easygoing," said Fougner, whose son's due date is May 5. "And she understood what I was going through."
Leyde hopes to someday offer makeup application and hairstyling to the sessions "so these moms can feel like va-va-voom when they're out there."
She recently began a partnership with Eden Prairie-based Star Legacy Foundation to promote its "See Me, Feel Me" campaign, which educates expectant mothers on how to keep track of fetal kick counts.
Leyde said she is planning a family picnic called SOAR, or Siblings of Angels Remembered, "so these families can get together to embrace the children that they have who are living."
When Leyde is alone at her computer editing photos, she can see the emotion in the parents' faces. She recalled a recent shot where an ultrasound photo is hanging out of a dad's back pants pocket and mom and dad are locking eyes.
"For me, it's moments like that, that are magical," she said. "You can see how they are really in love and that they're hoping for the future and for this next baby that's coming...and just knowing that they're going to have the opportunity to try again and move forward."
Nick Ferraro can be reached at 651-228-2173. Follow him at twitter.com/NFerraroPiPress.
For more information on Taylored to You, go to tayloredtoyou.org.