The joy of a new baby quickly turns to grief and sorrow when a child is sent home from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) because he or she will not survive. When those families return to their homes, they often receive an angel kit, a set of gowns and blankets that help them remember their precious little one. The gowns are made from old wedding dresses donated to a project that supports families who suffer the loss of their infant.
Judi Soholt lost her first pregnancy in 2012. When she saw a baby wrapped in an angel gown at the hospital, she knew that she would start a group to make the dresses for other parents in need. Her husband agreed to let her use the family’s spare bedroom, which became Angel Gowns of Love.
Soholt’s group received 175 gowns last year, but the demand is growing. The group is expected to make more than 3,000 angel kits this year, and that number will keep increasing as more people become aware of the program.
A former labor and delivery nurse, Soholt knows what heartache bereaved parents go through. She also knows that it can be difficult to talk about the issue of pregnancy and infant loss because it’s a taboo topic. “But making these gowns, talking about them with other women who make them, and distributing them—it all sheds a light on infant death and makes it less of a secret,” she says.
Across the country, volunteers are sewing angel gowns from used wedding dresses and other formal wear. They provide the outfits to hospitals, funeral homes, birthing centers and even to the families themselves if they choose. The gowns are designed for both male and female babies, and they come in all sizes. Many have special details like hand embroidery or lace, and some have messages, such as “heaven’s angel.” One dress can typically make 30 gowns.
An angel kit contains a gown, a memory blanket and two hats. A gold keepsake angel is added to the box for families to keep. The kits are distributed for free to families who have had an angel baby, and the organization is hoping to expand its reach nationally.
Volunteers say that the gowns bring peace and comfort to grieving families, and that they help them remember their babies in a way they can’t always. They are also a reminder that life is very fragile. “We just want to let these families know that they are not alone, and that we will never forget them,” Soholt says.
Soholt’s closet is filled with the beautiful gowns that her team has made so far, but she still needs more materials, such as ribbons, thread, gowns and gallon zip-lock bags. She hopes that the public will help her and her volunteers by donating old formals and money to the cause. For more information, visit the group’s Facebook page. You can also learn how to volunteer or donate a dress.