Angel Gowns Honor Infant Losses

For the many babies who do not survive a pregnancy, birth or shortly afterward, a simple garment can give families a moment of dignity. The gowns, stitched together from old wedding dresses, are a gift from volunteer seamstresses who are dedicated to honoring the lives of infants lost before their time.

Almost one in four women experience infant loss, including miscarriage or stillbirth, according to the nonprofit W.L.J. Angel Gowns. For many, the memory of a baby who did not make it through life is a very painful and traumatic experience. The organization, founded in 2008 in central Ohio, helps to ease some of the pain by making and distributing the angel gowns to hospitals. “We want to ensure that those who experience an infant loss, no matter what the cause, are provided with an angel wrap and a special gown,” said the group’s founder, Terry Bauer.

Bauer’s own journey with angel gowns began after she saw an article in a Huffington Post blog about an organization in Texas that makes them for babies who die before, during or shortly after birth. The experience struck a chord with her, and she began sewing the tiny outfits in memory of her daughter who died at 18 weeks gestation.

She started with just a few gowns and has now made more than 50 for the local community. Her work has also included designing a pattern for sleep sacks and overalls, which some families might prefer as an alternative to a gown. The group she leads, Touching Little Lives, now includes a dozen volunteers and distributes the outfits throughout central Ohio.

Volunteers from around the country have taken up the cause. Many have their own personal connection to the cause and say it is a way to pay tribute to their own children or young family members who died before, during or soon after birth.

A former paramedic and coroner investigator for Scott and Dakota counties, Patty Hauer grew tired of seeing infants wrapped in old ratty blankets at hospitals or at the medical examiner’s office after an autopsy. She began her own group, Angel Dresses, in Minnesota three years ago. The group meets in the basement of All Saints Lutheran Church in Darwin and transforms donated wedding dresses and prom dresses into final outfits for infants who die at birth or shortly after. The outfits include a small gown, a knitted hat and blanket, a keepsake charm and cross or heart, and an infant burial wrap.

The group sends the outfits free to families who need them, and it recently partnered with a hospital in Minneapolis to reach even more families. In addition to making gowns, the volunteers sew baby bonnets and sleeping bags from fabric scraps. The volunteer seamstresses also embroider phrases like “heaven’s angel” onto the garments and stitch antique buttons from their own collection.

Several of the seamstresses who create the angel gowns have also experienced their own tragedy. They all hope that their work will comfort grieving parents, and give them a sense of peace in the dark days after an unexpected loss.