Angel gowns, also known as burial dresses or infant bereavement outfits, are specially made garments for babies who die. They can give parents a small bit of comfort and peace while they grieve for their child.
They can also help make the end of a pregnancy easier, especially for families who have to terminate an unplanned pregnancy due to severe fetal abnormality or poor health. In many cases, these losses happen suddenly and without warning.
There is a lot of loss when a baby dies, but the pain can be compounded by not having a way to remember their tiny body or celebrate their life, Neal says. Fortunately, she and other organizations nationwide have started making and distributing these special gowns to bereaved families who are facing infant loss.
She said she stumbled across the idea for angel gowns through Facebook one day and soon realized that her sewing skills could help other people who are in similar situations. In fact, she now has an extensive list of volunteer seamstresses who sew the gowns for her and other groups that provide them to hospitals around the country.
These groups all rely on donations of wedding dresses for their work and a great deal of volunteer time to get the dresses sewed up. There are many different ways to donate your wedding dress, including through a bridal shop that makes and sells these gowns or by making an online donation to the organization that works with the seamstress in the developing country where they are being sent.
Some of these seamstresses, like Edith, who lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Shirley Travelstead, who lives in West Liberty, Kentucky, spend hours on their sewing machines each week. They sew the gowns with phrases such as “heaven’s angel” and sometimes add a little pillow or hat to the outfit.
In some cases, the gowns are even adorned with bells. Inspired by the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, some of these seamstresses have started stitching gold or silver bells onto their gowns.
Terry Bauer, who used to teach home economics at Pickerington Schools in central Ohio, decided to take on the task of sewing these gowns after she retired. She has since likely sewn more than 1,000 of them for a number of local and national organizations.
Her work has expanded to include an international program where her gowns are shipped to Guatemala, where the women who make them earn money and learn new sewing skills. Donations to the international program cover shipping costs, storage facilities and materials for the seamstresses.
The program’s coordinator, Katrina Durst, said Bauer is one of the first people she contacts when she needs a shipment. She contacted the Reynoldsburg resident after she heard about her work and asked if she could donate some gowns to her organization.
While some of these gowns are made for micro-preemies, others are designed to fit babies who have been born full-term. They’re primarily distributed to hospitals and nonprofit organizations in the state of Ohio, but Durst has seen them shipped to other areas as well.