A nonprofit in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, has been making angel kits of gowns, blankets and hats for infants who die during pregnancy or at birth since last year. They’ve given out about 175 kits so far this year, a number expected to grow as word spreads.
The founder, Alisha Neal, says the kits bring comfort to families whose children don’t survive, and help them cope with the loss in a way that’s unique to their situation. Requests for the kits are increasing nationwide, she tells KHOU.
As many as one in four women will suffer an infant loss, whether from miscarriage or stillbirth, or during the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after birth. Those babies are often buried or cremated, and the grieving parents need something to wrap their little ones in.
Volunteers all over the country sew angel gowns from donated wedding dresses to comfort bereaved families. “It’s beautiful, and it’s a full circle — the dress that was worn by a bride was used to clothe the baby who will never be able to wear it,” says volunteer Lisa Grubbs, who has collected more than 30 dresses for her group in Fort Worth, Texas.
Gowns are made from unused wedding and formal dresses that are sent to a warehouse, where a seamstress transforms them into burial garments for babies who die during or shortly after birth. Each dress can become about 10 gowns.
Those who don’t have a wedding dress to donate can “sponsor” a dress, paying a monetary donation to cover the cost of shipping the dresses and the final products to families across the country. Each package includes a gown, a knitted hat and blanket and a keepsake charm with the baby’s name or heartbeat.
In Minnesota, a retired labor and delivery nurse named Tess Soholt saw an opportunity to turn grief into beauty after her son and daughter-in-law lost their 18-week-pregnant baby in Iowa. She bought a wedding dress at Empty the Nest, a thrift store in Golden Valley, and began re-purposing it as an angel gown for a life that never existed.
The gowns, called Layla’s gowns, are then sent to hospitals, birthing centers and funeral homes, and directly to grieving families. They’re available for all types of early infant losses, including a miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn who is born too soon.
Mayo nurse Lynn Gaber, a cardiovascular surgery ICU nurse at the hospital, has joined Soholt’s effort. Her group, Hillary’s Cherished Gowns, makes the dresses from unused wedding and formal gowns and send them to the NICU at Mayo Clinic for families of infants who lose their lives during or immediately after birth.
The gowns are also shipped internationally. The international program gives donors the option to follow the gown’s journey to a developing country, virtual meet and learn about the seamstress who fashioned the dress into an angel gown or angel wrap, and then have the gown returned to them for re-donation in the U.S. “It’s a great opportunity to build a relationship with the seamstress in their home,” says Soholt.