When Larisa Barth and her husband lost their son, Asher, in utero, in the fall of 2011, the necklaces they bought to remember him by meant everything to them. But the memorial jewels, which they bought through the funeral home in their hometown of Whitefish, Mont., were expensive—prohibitively so. Barth and her husband could afford them only because the funeral home donated burial services.
“It was a few months later when we began to realize how important this jewelry was, to have Asher’s name on it,” says Barth. “And that’s when I started to look into how to do this for other families.” At first, the high school cheerleading coach looked into raising funds to offer scholarships to buy other families necklaces, but she soon decided she could help more people by making necklaces herself.
A year later, Barth founded Held Your Whole Life, which is pending nonprofit status, to make necklaces for other moms and dads in the baby-loss community. The Powell, Wyo.–based company takes its name from the idea that babies who die in utero were held their entire lives by their mothers. She makes necklaces with baby names or birthdates and the phrase “Held your whole life” on them, each hand-stamped on 14-gauge aluminum, chosen because it looks like sterling silver but costs much less.
Courtesy Held Your Whole Life
The first 3,000 necklaces were hand-stamped by Barth herself; now, volunteers help with the stamping. “Most are stamping in honor of a child they lost, ” says Barth. “But some are jewelers who just want to give back.”
Barth doesn’t charge for the necklaces and has a waiting list 1,000 people long. In March, she opened an online shop where moms and dads can buy the necklaces for $18 to $20 and move to the top of the waiting list. All proceeds go back into the organization, mostly toward shipping costs.
The necklaces are incredibly meaningful to people. “I can’t believe how many moms and dads tell me they never take their pieces off, that it’s the only jewelry they wear. And I worry that these pieces won’t last for years and years. We make them for $8, they’re aluminum, it’s not yet something that can truly be treasured for generations,” says Barth. “I would love to create something that could really be an heirloom.”
Barth says she would consider partnering with a retailer or designer to make her dreams of a more lasting keepsake a reality. “While I do feel that some of the personal touch would be lost by partnering, I also think that this could be a great thing for the future of Held Your Whole Life,” she says. “The need is huge—one in four women loses a baby in the womb—and the saying is so meaningful to thousands of people.”
Other companies offer memorial jewelry, including My Forever Child, LaBelleDame, Kands Impressions, and several Etsy sellers. Hand-stamped jewelry is popular for its personalization qualities. Angel wings, tiny footprints, and hearts are common motifs. Barth’s pieces are unique in that they are donated and stamped by volunteers, and she says that what sets her organization apart is its longevity and her commitment to becoming an official nonprofit.
“I’ve talked to other moms who searched all over for a necklace, ring, or bracelet when they lost their babies,” Barth continues. “The closest they came to anything meaningful was Jane Seymour’s Open Hearts collection and a few Pandora charms. I do believe there is a huge opportunity for other designers to create beautiful memorial items.”