Angel Gowns for Babies Who Die Too Soon

As a former paramedic and coroner investigator in Scott and Dakota counties, Patty Hauer witnessed many infant deaths. She noticed that the youngest of the dead were often buried in old ratty blankets, and she wanted to help give those babies a death with dignity.

So she began making gowns out of donated wedding dresses. Her group, called Angel Dresses, turns the dresses into the final outfits for newborns who die during or shortly after birth. The outfits, which are provided to the family at no cost, include a special gown, a knitted hat and a blanket, and a small keepsake angel trinket. They are meant for family photos and memorial services.

The group’s goal is that no grieving parent will ever have to go through the lost and found tub at a hospital to find clothes for their baby. The gowns are so comforting to parents who are experiencing such a heartbreaking loss, she says.

Several women from the community have joined forces with her to sew gowns for babies who are born too soon. They all meet once a month in the basement of All Saints Lutheran Church in Darwin, Minn. They make the outfits for infants who died during or shortly after birth, and they deliver them to hospitals, bereavement groups and funeral homes. The outfits also can be sent to families for their own use.

In late 2019, a retired nurse named Edith Lee saw a Huffington Post article about a group in Indiana that makes gowns for babies who die during or shortly after birth. Her heart melted and she knew she had to help. She recruited two other retired nurses to join her and formed a local chapter, W.L.J. Angel Gowns, which now has 44 seamstresses across South Jersey.

Each of them has her own story and reason to sew. For example, Deb Rego of Sewickley has lots of donated wedding dresses in her basement, and she loves reimagining them. “It’s a labor of love,” she says. “You get to take that beautiful dress and turn it into a gown for someone who never got the chance to wear it.”

PVHMC’s state-of-the-art 53-bed level 3 NICU treats sick and premature infants from Pomona Valley, Chino Hills, Corona, Claremont, Eastvale, Diamond Bar, San Bernardino County and beyond. The NICU extends its deepest gratitude to Angel Gowns for their incredible work and dedication.

Anyone interested in helping with the project can contact the Angel Dresses Facebook page. The page is packed with thank-you notes from the hospitals and people who have received the outfits. It’s also full of pictures of tiny outfits, including gowns, bonnets and sashes decorated with lace, beads, appliques, sequins and ribbons. The seamstresses are always in need of material, thread, gallon zip-lock bags and the like. They say the more they work together, the happier they are. They keep a plastic baby model by their sewing machine to remind them why they do what they do.