A local woman has joined a nationwide movement to bring comfort to families who suffer the unimaginable loss of an infant. Boxes full of wedding dresses are being torn apart at a local sewing studio and sewn back together into tiny angel gowns that will be given to children who pass away before, during or after birth.
The gowns are made by a group of volunteers who call themselves “Angel Gown Sewers.” The project was started four years ago by Shirley Barnett, an ophthalmologist from Ozark, Missouri. She says her inspiration came after she saw a photo online of a baby who was stillborn and dressed in an angel gown at the hospital. Her own son and daughter-in-law lost a baby at 18 weeks gestation, and she knew she wanted to help other families with the same experience.
She says that she’s received countless messages from people across the state and country who have shared their own stories of loss, saying that the gowns bring them comfort when they can’t find any other. They’re a reminder of the love that was shared, she says, and she hopes to keep growing the program.
One of the ways she does that is by collecting dresses at garage sales and thrift stores. She also hosts “sew-ins” at her home in Golden Valley. On Saturday, she held a sew-in at St. Luke’s hospital where workers volunteered to help turn the wedding dresses into angel gowns for babies who pass away before, during or after birth.
Each kit is filled with a gown, blanket, two hats and an angel heart. It’s designed for smaller babies up to newborns and is meant to be used for the last photos, first breath, memorial services or when family members come to say goodbye. The kits are being sent to hospitals, bereavement groups and funeral homes.
KCCI’s Kim St. Onge has been talking to the seamstresses behind the project, and a mother-in-law who lost her 20-week-old son in 2015. She says that when the doctor at Levine Children’s Hospital wrapped her baby boy in an angel gown, it helped her and her husband through a very difficult time.
Judi Grubbs, who heads the national organization that started this program, says that there’s an incredible need. She says that the number of babies who die during or immediately after birth each year is staggering – more than 626,000 every year. She says it’s a “taboo subject” and she hopes that organizations like hers will help to shed light on the issue and make parents feel more comfortable in sharing their story.
If you’d like to contribute to the program, you can donate a dress or money. Or you can join the movement yourself by donating your time and sewing skills to help create the gowns for grieving families in need. For more information, visit the Angel Gowns website. You can also follow the group on Facebook.