INDIANAPOLIS – Most brides carefully fold their wedding dresses and save them to hand down to future generations, but for one woman those gowns serve a different purpose. The founder of Sunshine State Angel Gowns, which turns donated wedding dresses into bereavement outfits for babies who lose their lives during pregnancy or at birth, says every dress tells a story and the little ones who wear them receive dignity.
Sadly, many women experience infant loss including miscarriage and stillbirth. It’s a taboo subject that many aren’t even aware of, but the mother who lost her daughter at just 17 weeks tells WBTV she knows firsthand how important these dresses are to grieving families.
Heather Kennedy, who started Kennedy’s Angel Gowns after losing her daughter to placenta abruption, is helping to raise awareness about the work of this group. She says these gowns are more than just garments, they help to lift the stigma surrounding pregnancy and infant loss and open up conversations about it with friends, family and strangers. “It’s a difficult conversation to have with people, but I think talking about it helps you heal, it helps you deal with it,” she told the station.
The dresses are meticulously crafted from donated gowns, and Kennedy’s Angel Gowns sends them to hospitals across the country. According to their website, the organization has sent over 30,000 of these little garments to parents who’ve experienced loss. The group is currently working on expanding to other states, and it is hoping to partner with NICUs to make sure these gowns are available.
A recently retired labor and delivery nurse, Tess Soholt, stumbled upon a dress at a thrift store in Golden Valley and decided to buy it. It was then that she knew her dress would serve a much bigger purpose. Her new chapter in retirement includes making gowns for babies who don’t make it past the hospital. She calls it a full circle. “It’s almost like a blessing in disguise to be able to bring this baby into the world with love from his or her family, and to wrap that baby in a gown that someone has already loved,” she said.
Soholt has made about 20 of these gowns, and keeps a plastic baby model by her sewing machine to remind herself why she does what she does. She’s hoping to expand her reach beyond Brevard County, and she’s grateful for the support of other likeminded women who help out. She needs more material, ribbons, gallon zip-lock bags and gowns to keep up with the demand. Those who want to help can donate a dress, or give financial donations to assist with supplies. The money goes towards the memory boxes that are given to grieving families along with their gowns. They’re delivered directly into the hands and hearts of a parent who’s suffered loss. It’s a gesture that can help ease their grief and give them hope for the future.