Deb Kalsbeek has a lot of irons in the fire, but not so many that she could resist the inner call to help mothers experiencing a grief she knows all too well.
Kalsbeek — a photographer and owner of Snap Studio, owner of FemPro Business Society and co-owner of SnapJoy Rental Studio — in 2020 gave birth to a daughter, Freya, who was stillborn due to the chromosomal condition Trisomy 18. Prior to that, Kalsbeek also had endured a first trimester and a second trimester pregnancy loss, and she had a friend who lost a son at eight weeks old to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
“It put me in a position to be able to help others who were facing the same stuff,” Kalsbeek said. “(I’m) coming from both sides — I have experienced pregnancy loss, and then I can also pull from (my friend’s) experience to be able to help those who have had an infant loss.”
With a passion burning on her heart to help others weather storms she believed should have broken her but didn’t, Kalsbeek had an idea to create a business, AstirFreya (pronounced “Aster-fray-uh”) that would help support moms in their season of need.
Kalsbeek said AstirFreya, loosely translated, means “Love, Freya.” The company sells rainbow-themed products custom-made by Grand Rapids-area entrepreneurs from an online shop at astirfreya.com, with 20% of the profits going back into the business to provide care packages for moms who have experienced loss.
In addition to buying products and care kits from the shop, people also can click a link on the website to donate a care kit to an “angel mom,” the term for a woman who lost a pregnancy, infant or whose child was stillborn.
The mother care kits, $20, come with a carrying case, organic lip care, organic bath bomb, angel keepsake, packet of seeds to plant a tree in their child’s memory, encouragement card, and one or two bonus items that are different each month based on availability.
Another reason Kalsbeek started the business is because she realized there isn’t much information out there to educate moms on what to expect after birthing a stillborn child or losing an infant or pregnancy. There also aren’t many spaces to help educate families and friends on how to help their loved ones through this experience. Kalsbeek aims to provide that support and education through her blog on the site, where she shares her own and other moms’ stories and advice.
She also hopes to someday write a book about her experience with loss and how she regained her joy. She said her book might be partly geared toward helping parents explain to their children what is happening in a healthy way. Kalsbeek’s 5-year-old daughter has had counseling to help her cope with her family’s losses, but she recognizes that not everyone has that opportunity.
At press time, Kalsbeek was pregnant and about to deliver another daughter, Emmy, any day now, but she said it’s important to be aware that not every mom will try to have another baby after a loss. The goal of AstirFreya is to provide support for moms and families for whatever path they are on and to help them recapture their joy after loss.
“Nothing is going to replace your loss,” she said. “The rainbow, for me, signifies more of finding that joy after loss, and that’s going to look different for everyone.”
For Kalsbeek, AstirFreya is a “complete passion project” and is not intended to be a source of steady income.
“I have my other businesses that do that, which is why I’m able to run AstirFreya, because I’m not relying on it for my income. It is strictly to help these moms in any way that I have the capacity to do so,” she said. “But I know that I also can’t do that on my own. I can’t fund everything on my own, which is where the shop comes in” — as well as people who donate products because they want to comfort grieving moms, she added.
Kalsbeek said she is currently looking to connect with more doulas, midwives and other birth workers who would be willing to refer clients to her who need support after loss, so that AstirFreya is able to reach more moms.
AstirFreya also is seeking more small local businesses that would like to collaborate on rainbow-themed items for the shop.
Those interested in helping with either of those goals can email firstname.lastname@example.org.