Sask. women giving 'Angel Dresses' to grieving families
Hundreds of women giving away their wedding dresses for families who have lost their babies
Hundreds of Saskatchewan women are giving away their wedding dresses, and more are volunteering to do so, to create a precious gift for families who have lost their babies.
A quickly expanding network of women in small towns and cities across the province is organizing through the "Saskatchewan Angel Dresses" Facebook page.
Women who want to donate their bridal gowns are connected with volunteer seamstresses who sew tiny "angel dresses" to be given to parents whose babies were stillborn, premature, or sick and passed away.
A young mother of three from Oxbow, Sask. started the network after she struggled with both sadness and guilt over the loss of her son. Christopher.
"I felt like my body had rejected him by me losing him and I didn't want him to feel rejected," Becky Panter told CBC News at her home.
I wanted to hold him and comfort him- Becky Panter
Panter suffered a miscarriage in February, just 15 weeks into her pregnancy, and went into labour at home.
"I wanted to hold him and comfort him and have something for him," she explained. But, too devastated and reeling from the unexpected shock, Panter could only find her daughter's tiny doll blanket to swaddle her son.
Inspiration snowballing in Sask.
Last month, Panter saw a Facebook posting about a project in Texas called "Helping Hands' Angel Gowns" that converts bridal gowns into delicate outfits. Panter decided it wasn't time or cost effective to ship dresses back and forth to the United States.
I'm so proud to be part of this group.- Denise Green
She was inspired to donate her own wedding gown and put out a call to seamstresses in Saskatchewan.
"It snowballed," Panter said, admitting that she feels overwhelmed by the response. "There's dresses coming from Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, all over the place."
Many people, like Denise Green from Gravelbourg, Sask., are donating their dresses or sewing skills in memory of their own children who died.
"I too had an angel baby, Sarah, who was stillborn to us in 1991," Green said. "I'm so proud to be part of this group."
In Regina, Michelle Wheeler has made a workstation in her kitchen. She drapes colourful gowns over chairs, pins tiny paper patterns to the silky fabric, then runs lace through the sewing machine as her daughter, Adele, gurgles next to her in a high chair.
Wheeler, who also suffered a miscarriage, had sewn her daughter's baptismal gown from her wedding shawl and decided that she could replicate the dress on a much smaller scale.
"I just hope it helps somebody have that moment where they get to dress their daughter in a beautiful gown, or their son — so handsome — before they have to lay them to rest," Wheeler said.
Hospitals in Regina helping grieving families
Meanwhile, Panter has reached out to hospitals that will share the gowns and suits, at no cost, with grieving families.
"Whatever we can do to make some memories, in the short time that they have with their baby is really important," explained Adrienne Douglas, a medical social worker for Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region.
At Regina General Hospital, there's a special "Memento Room" where staff fill wooden 'memory boxes,' carved by high school students, with keepsakes. Inside, they place a copy of the baby's footprints and photos, taken either by nurses or professional photographers who donate their services. For clothes, the hospital relies entirely on donations.
The manager of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Tom Sorensen, is eager to receive the 'angel dresses'.
"For us, it's a bonus that we can have one more nice thing to give these parents and help them through a difficult period," Sorensen said.