The founder of Angel Gowns Australia is using her sewing skills to handcraft donated wedding dresses into gowns for babies that she calls “sleeping angels”.
“Pregnancy loss is not often talked about – it seems we just don’t know how to talk about the loss of a baby,” she says.
“What’s worse is that many mums feel their baby didn’t matter. I want to show them they did, by helping in some small way at this awful time.”
Angel Gowns Australia started on March 27, when the child of a friend died at five months old. Fiona says the idea came from NICU Helping Hands, run by Lisa Grubbs in Texas.
“I wanted to help in some way, and I found out about a lady in America who was turning wedding dresses into angel gowns,” she says. “It spoke to me immediately, and I knew we needed something like this in Australia.”
The angel gowns are already available at many hospitals across the country, and the aim is for each one to be stored in an individual box, marked with one of three sizes.
“We make small, medium and large gowns, with small being for babies before 20 weeks, medium for 20-30 weeks, and large for full-term babies,” she says. “We also make to order if necessary.
“The idea is that a few boxes will be taken to the mother’s room, for her to choose the gown she wants.
“It’s a small way to make that awful experience a little easier. It’s one less thing for the family to have to think about, and it’s also a way to help validate and bring to life the baby they lost.”
Fiona says the donated dresses have come from brides who kept the dresses because they loved them, but have parted with them because of what they’ll become.
“I’ve had people tell me they can’t imagine anything more beautiful for their wedding dress,” she says.
Fiona says she has very high standards when it comes to the stitching, because it’s so important that the gowns are perfect. Every single one comes to her for quality control. She says there are already around 180 volunteers involved in the program, from around Australia and NZ.
“As soon as you see the gowns, you can feel the love that has gone into them. It speaks volumes; it shows that someone cares. It’s helpful for the healing process for the mum. It validates their baby.
“There is no way they’re getting anything less than perfection.
“I’m just so thankful for all the volunteer seamstresses who are doing this. Many are making the gowns in honour of their own lost child or grandchild.”
Fiona says it takes around four hours to make the beautiful gowns, some of which are heartbreakingly tiny.
“It may take longer, depending on the embellishments,” she says.
“I feel calm and gentle while I’m sewing the gowns, with a sense of sadness, but it’s a beautiful thing to be doing, knowing where the gowns will go and what they will mean to someone.”