Angel Gowns for Bereaved Families

angel gowns

When brides select their perfect wedding gown, complete with intricate beading and timeless lace overlay, they don’t think it will end up back in their closet or attic after the reception music fades and the honeymoon ends. But for many brides, that once-worn dress finds another life—as an angel gown that will comfort grieving families who lose a baby in pregnancy or soon after birth.

Across the country, volunteers stitch together tiny bereavement dresses for infants who pass away shortly after birth, or in cases of late miscarriage or stillbirth. These dresses, known as angel outfits, are often made from donated wedding dresses and distributed by nonprofit organizations to families in need.

Tom and Deanna Williamson of Charlotte, North Carolina, lost their 20-week-pregnant son, Eli, in 2015. When he passed, Levine Children’s Hospital gave them an angel gown, and it was that experience that inspired them to pay it forward.

“I didn’t know how to help my husband and I, so I started doing what I knew how to do—sewing,” says Williamson, who used her home economics teacher training at Pickerington Schools before retiring from the district and turning to philanthropy. In 2014, she began sewing angel gowns for a small, central Ohio-based organization called Hillary’s Cherished Gowns.

She has now sewed more than 1,000 angel gowns, which she distributes through local hospitals and charities. “These families have been through so much in such a short amount of time, and these gowns give them something that will be special to them,” she said.

In addition to the gowns, she’s also created a pattern for sleep sacks and overalls, which some families prefer. She even uses scraps from the gowns to make little hearts, as a way for families to remember their babies.

The dresses are collected through an online donation page or given to her by family and friends. Each one takes between six and eight hours to craft, but it’s a labor of love for all involved. “When you see your work helping someone else, it’s so rewarding,” she says.

Other volunteer seamstresses around the country create gowns of all sizes, including micro-preemie and full-term babies. Projects like Bauer’s are part of a national network called NICU Helping Hands, which has locations nationwide.

Mayo nurse Lynn Gaber has seen the need firsthand. She’s worked in the cardiovascular surgery ICU at Mayo Clinic, and she knows the heartbreak of hearing a woman tell her she was told their fetus died during an ultrasound. When families lose a baby in pregnancy or soon after, they’re sometimes referred to as an “angel baby.” Gaber helps her colleagues with the organization, which provides bereavement gowns for babies who die during labor and delivery, or shortly after.