Angel Gowns For Infants Who Die in the NICU

angel gowns

MINNEAPOLIS – When parents lose their newborn babies in the hospital, medical staff often has little to offer them beyond a few words of comfort. One nonprofit is hoping to change that with a simple, beautiful and cost-free gift: a gown made from a wedding dress. Angel gowns, which bring dignity to a life that was too short, have been offered by a handful of groups for several years now. The requests have been growing, says Alisha Neal, founder of Angel Babies, a non-profit in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, that has made free angel kits (gown, blanket and keepsake) for families since 2018.

A retired labor and delivery nurse from Minnesota who lost her son to SIDS when he was three weeks old, Edith Soholt wanted to do more. Last year, she began a volunteer program to turn wedding dresses into tiny angel gowns for infants who die in the NICU. A single dress can make about 30 of the delicate gowns, which resemble silk christening gowns for baby dolls. Each package, delivered directly into the hands of grieving families, also includes a gold-embossed angel and a memory blanket.

She says the small gesture helps parents who might not even be able to say a word, let alone embrace their infants. The gowns also help them honor the life they never got to know, she adds. “It’s not something you get over, it’s a loss that stays with you forever,” Soholt says.

Soholt, 66, read about the program at Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis, where an experienced seamstress was trying to recruit local volunteers to sew outfits for premature and stillborn babies. At the time, Soholt was the sole volunteer at St. Luke’s, a Minneapolis hospital, where she has sewed about 15 gowns in various sizes and designs. She has received requests from across the country.

At other hospitals, the demand has been met by volunteer seamstresses who have volunteered their skills or recruited friends to assist. A few have started programs that make the outfits for entire states. A 71-year-old church member in Iowa, for example, has sewed outfits for nearly 300 infants who died in the hospital in the past two years.

Then there is the small group of volunteer seamstresses who work with Sunshine State Angel Gowns in Florida, which has supplied thousands of bereavement gowns and memory blankets for newborns who die during pregnancy or shortly after birth. It all started when a woman named Lisa Marsters lost her son Ambrose at just 3 weeks old. She put out a request for help on Facebook and soon found herself with a team of seamstresses who were willing to work with her.

They collect donated wedding dresses from all over the state and repurpose them into tiny angel gowns for infants who have passed away during pregnancy or at birth. The group also provides wraps for infants who die in the maternity ward and has a blanket drive for babies who are stillborn or die shortly after birth. Each of the seamstresses has had a personal experience with infant loss or knows someone who has, so they understand the need for these gowns. The volunteers donate their sewing materials and their time, but they also ask for donations to cover the cost of the gold-embossed angels and a memory blanket.