Angel Gowns For Babies Who Die Before They Leave the Hospital

angel gowns

Across the country, volunteers are sewing beautiful angel gowns for babies who die before leaving the hospital. Each dress turns into several little outfits — including baptismal and burial dresses — for families who are heartbroken by the loss of their child. The effort is part of a larger initiative called NICU Helping Hands, which offers support to families whose babies are sick or premature. The organization is the brainchild of Heather and Demitri Wilson, a couple from Maryland who lost their son, Kennedy, because of a placenta abruption. The Wilsons are one of many people involved in the project who say the gowns they sew are more than just garments. They are a way to have difficult conversations about race, infertility, stillbirths and maternal deaths.

Patty Hauer knows all about the heartbreak of infant loss. As a labor and delivery nurse for 46 years, she saw many newborns who never made it to the outside world. Then, when her grandson died from a rare disease shortly after birth, she realized that the tiny outfits they were wrapped in had been donated by hospitals and coroner investigators. She knew then she wanted to do something to give grieving parents a gown for their baby. So in January, the 71-year-old member of All Saints Lutheran Church in Darwin, Minn., began sewing small outfits in her basement. Now, she has recruited a network of seamstresses who meet monthly in her home and elsewhere to transform donated wedding dresses into a final outfit for infants who die during or soon after birth.

The gowns — which come with a knitted hat and blanket, a keepsake charm and a heart or cross — are given free of charge to families who need them. The group recently began a partnership with the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Ramsey to extend its reach. Hauer says she never imagined the impact her work could have, but the requests for outfits keep coming. “They’re so incredibly precious to the families who receive them,” she said.

Each gown is sewed by volunteers who donate their own used wedding dresses or buy them from thrift stores. A single dress can make about 30 little outfits, and each package goes out to the hospitals with a gold-painted angel, a message and a keepsake to honor their baby. The dresses also get a blessing from a priest before being sent out to families in Maryland and beyond.

KHOU spoke with several women who have volunteered their time to help others in their darkest moments. Each woman said the experience has helped her process her own losses.

Pregnancy and infant loss is a taboo subject in many communities, but organizations like these are working to change that. They are helping families in their darkest days and shining a light on the issue.