Wedding gowns become burial clothes for 'angels'

MARIKA HILL AND JOSH FAGAN
Last updated 05:00 13/04/2014

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Women are  donating their wedding dresses to be turned into "angel gowns" for babies who have died as a worldwide trend reaches New Zealand.

Dresses have flown in from around the country after a Facebook appeal was launched two weeks ago. The idea began in the US and has spread rapidly around the world.

The dresses are cut up and sewn into small white burial gowns for premature babies who have died. The first New Zealand angel gown was produced last week.

Hamilton midwife Kirstin Rouse set up the Facebook page, Angel Gowns, to help support grieving parents.

"We all deserve to go to heaven in a beautiful gown," she wrote on the appeal page.

In her experience, parents who lost a newborn were given the chance to "bathe, cuddle and dress their precious baby" but some found it too difficult to look for clothes in a shop.

A range of dresses are being gifted, from 1970s big-shouldered wedding frocks to modern lace designs. Each dress can make between 12 and 20 angel gowns.

A similar Facebook page, Angel Gowns for Kiwi Babies, was started last Sunday by Aucklander Jennifer Overend, who said she was already getting wedding dresses sent to her home.

"I have a team of about 15 seamstresses on board," she said. "We've got more than 35 offers of dresses. It's kind of touched a lot of people on a personal level. I can't even think what it must be like to lose a baby."

Heather Faulkner, from Hunua, south of Auckland, is donating her dress.

Her daughter gave birth prematurely last year to a girl who lived for only 19 hours.

A hospital attendant gave the family a gown to dress the baby in, as well as a duplicate gown to take home.

"Everything was done so beautifully," she said. "I thought I'd like to do something like that with my wedding dress. What else do you do with your dress? Keep it in the closet and let it gather dust?"

Faulkner said she has also knitting blankets for babies to be buried in.

"I think the concept of giving parents something nice at their time of need is awesome."

People have also been offering to sew the dresses, pay for courier costs and donate lace.

Texan Lisa Grubbs set up the project in the United States after seeing families pick through donated clothing for their dead babies, Today.com reported.

"It struck me as incredibly wrong that that was what they were having to do at one of the darkest hours of their lives," she said.

She founded Helping Hands and, starting with her own wedding dress, began making angel gowns. At last count, the American project had received 3000 wedding gowns.

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- Sunday Star Times

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