When a newborn baby is born with a serious medical condition, they often enter the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In many cases, these babies will not make it out of the NICU alive. For these families, the joy of having a new child is followed by the grief of losing one. But a small volunteer project is making it easier for these families to cope with their loss by turning wedding dresses into beautiful burial gowns for infants. The project is called the Angel Gowns Project, which is a part of an organization called NICU Helping Hands.
The organization focuses on supporting families with children in the hospital, but they also help spread awareness of the problem and encourage people to donate money to their cause. They need funds to purchase materials for the gowns, like white flannel and satin ribbon. In addition to money, the group needs more sewing machines and volunteer seamstresses.
A Mayo Clinic nurse is one of the seamstresses working to give these precious dresses a second life. Lynn Gaber works at the cardiovascular surgery ICU at Mayo and volunteers to sew the tiny outfits, which are crafted from donated wedding dresses and serve as bereavement gowns for babies who never leave the hospital.
“It’s a big project to take on, and it’s something I want to continue doing for as long as possible,” she says. She and her co-workers hold a monthly sew-in at St. Luke’s Birth Care Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They have made more than 15 gowns and are part of the national Angel Gown Program, which began in Texas.
Levine Children’s Hospital is another site for the national Angel Gown program, which is overseen by two neonatologists. Melissa Tyo and Dr. Jessica Clarke-Pounder both work with families and nurses to support the babies who might not survive their NICU stay. They say the gowns are a comfort for both parents and their extended family.
Like other volunteers across the country, they collect dresses from all over, repurpose them, and deliver them to hospitals that serve families with a newborn who won’t be able to go home. It’s a way to shed light on this taboo topic and help families through their darkest days.
Each year, more than 626,000 babies are stillborn or die from miscarriage in the United States alone. These tiny little angels deserve to be honored as much as the happy ones.
If you would like to donate a dress, you can contact the Sunshine State Angel Gowns Group directly or donate to them online. You can also spread the word about the project and its need for more sewing machines, more seamstresses, and supplies like ribbons.