Shine On

Wedding dresses turned into ‘angel gowns’ for deceased babies

For parents, losing a baby can be the most painful event of their lives.

So when Lisa Grubbs saw grieving moms and dads picking through used clothing bins to find their deceased child's first -- and final -- outfit, she decided to step in.

"We're talking about the last time that they hold their baby and what they're giving their baby," says Grubbs, who is based in Fort Worth, Texas. "It's those last personal acts as a parent, those last things you do for your child."

Starting with her own wedding dress, the founder of NICU Helping Hands (an organization that provides support for families with premature babies) launched a program that transforms wedding gowns into "angel" gowns.

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These beautiful garments are individually boxed with a poem and keepsake angel to be given to grieving families for their babies to wear for final photos or funeral services.

"Often, we would just wrap little babies just in tiny little hospital blankets or washrags or towels, and we didn't really have much to offer those families," Amy Vickers, a former NICU nurse who offered to sew the gowns, tells WFAA. "It doesn't take the hurt away from them. But it just lets them know that we feel like their baby's life means something."

"These babies are not getting a hand-me-down or something donated," Grubbs, a mother of four, tells TODAY. "It's a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of clothing."

Each wedding gown yields between 12 and 20 angel gowns.

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The gowns are created for boys and girls — gender-specific gowns are sewn to give parents options — and in all sizes. They are offered to families free of charge.

After her angel gowns made headlines last month, Grubbs and her volunteer team of seamstresses have received an estimated 2,500 wedding gowns from all over the country. Another 300 sewers stepped up to help transform the dresses.

A local consignment story also started collecting wedding dresses for Grubbs.

"We had older women bringing their vintage gowns in saying, 'I had a baby that died that I never saw and I want to give my dress for a mother to bury her child in,'" Grubbs recalls.

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"Many, many women who have donated gowns have lost a child, many of them had miscarriages as well."

"It goes full circle," she adds. "It goes from this beginning and it ends with that life."

According to the Angel Gowns FAQ page, Grubbs and her team accept gowns from anywhere in the U.S. and Canada.

Grubbs isn't the only one to have seen a need for angel gowns. Washington health-unit coordinator Michelle Matthews has sewn hundreds of tiny gowns for newborns who have died at hospital intensive care units.

She currently has 60 donated wedding dresses waiting to be cut up and sewn into infants' gowns.

"There are times when what is a small act to one person is such a huge gift to the other," she says.

And just last week, an Ottawa-area woman posted an ad on Kijiji looking for donated wedding dresses that she could turn into angel gowns "for local hospital NICU babies."