Angel Gowns For Stillborn Babies

Every year in the United States, about 626,000 infants die at birth or shortly after. Many of those babies are stillborn or die during miscarriage, and the families are often left with nothing to bury them with. But a group of volunteers in Minnesota is making a difference by sewing one-of-a-kind angel gowns for these babies, and giving them to their parents free of charge.

The gowns are made from donated wedding dresses, prom dresses and other dress wear. The seamstresses often add embellishments like beads, pearls, embroidery and lace. They also make matching hats and bow ties. The outfits are then donated to hospitals, birthing centers and funeral homes for grieving parents. The volunteer who makes the gowns often never meets the family, but hopes her work can help comfort them.

Patty Hauer, 69, is the driving force behind Angel Dresses. She recruited a team of volunteers to meet monthly in the basement of All Saints Lutheran Church in Darwin, Minn. They transform wedding and prom dresses into the final outfits for infants who are born stillborn or die soon after. The angel outfits come with a knitted hat and blanket, a heart or cross and a Bible verse, and are given to the families free of charge.

Hauer was inspired to start the group after reading a story about a woman who lost her daughter, Sarah. “She told her husband she wished there was something that would have been done for her,” Hauer said. “That’s what started this whole thing.”

A month after the column ran, Mangiaracina received 56 dresses and turned them into 1,600 angel gowns, which she has since shipped to hospitals across the nation. She has gotten letters from people as far away as Alaska and California who have read the column and wanted to donate their dresses.

In addition to the gowns, the volunteers of Touching Little Lives sew angel wraps and sleep sacks for infants who pass away at any stage of pregnancy. They also make aprons, diaper bags and blankets for boys and girls. Once the garments are completed, representatives from local hospitals pick them up.

Bauer, a retired high school math teacher from Ohio, has volunteered with the organization for about three years. Her sewing experience helps her to create the intricate designs of the gowns, which she photographs before and after to send to donors. She also designs patterns for sleep sacks and overalls, and uses scraps of wedding dresses to make matching accessories.

The organization has distributed about 25 angel gowns a month, Bauer says. Her work has touched families all over central Ohio, including at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The organization works with more than 50 hospitals throughout the state, and Hauer has received requests for gowns from places as far away as Oregon. But even with the demand, she hasn’t had to turn anyone away.