Angel Gowns For Infants Who Die During Pregnancy

angel gowns

For the families who lose a baby during pregnancy, birth or shortly after, special garments known as angel gowns offer comfort and a way to honor their precious little one. These special outfits are crafted from wedding dresses or prom dresses, and come with a hat, blanket, keepsake charm and heart or cross. The gowns are given free of charge to families who may not have anything to bury their child in. For a group of seamstresses in Minnesota, the project is extremely rewarding. They meet monthly to transform donated dresses and help families in their community.

In 2014, Edith Hauer, 69, read about the Angel Gown program at Riley Children’s Health in Indiana and knew she had to do something. A retired nurse and skilled seamstress, she recruited an army of volunteers who meet monthly in the basement of All Saints Lutheran Church in Darwin to turn donated dresses into the final outfits for infants who die during birth or shortly after.

Every year, in the United States alone, 626,000 babies are lost during pregnancy, either through still birth or miscarriage. Those losses are often hidden away from the public because of the taboo nature of infant loss, but nonprofit organizations like the ones Hauer oversees have stepped in to shed light on these heartbreaking events. They collect dresses and donate them to hospitals across the country, where grieving families can receive a unique piece of clothing for their unborn baby.

Another volunteer who works with the organization, Susan Arnold, says that the gowns help to take some of the pain out of a traumatic experience for parents. She says she feels a particular connection to the work of the group, as her own daughter died in utero. “I know how hard it is for parents to find a way to honor their loss,” she said.

The nonprofits are run entirely by volunteers, who make the gowns out of their own clothes or repurposed dresses from thrift shops and garage sales. They also collect donations to purchase the materials needed to create the outfits. Some of the volunteers’ children and grandchildren also get in on the action, sewing hats, blankets and other accessories for each gown. They even sew bells onto each outfit, inspired by the ending of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, in which Jimmy Stewart’s character gives Clarence the angel wings that will guide him to heaven.

Fleury, who founded Angel Gowns of the South Bay in 2018, has been a fabric designer and artist for years, but it’s this type of work that brings out her best skills. Her team of seamstresses, who meet monthly at Waterfront Studios, her home-based studio on San Pedro’s waterfront, focuses on keeping the women uplifted during a labor of love that can be emotionally draining.

The organization has received an outpouring of support since its inception, and is currently working on its first annual fundraiser in February. Its upcoming event will include a raffle for a custom-made angel dress, as well as a silent auction and dessert party. The organization plans to provide more than 150 dresses in the next year, but they need donations to keep up with demand.