Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Angels Above Baby Gowns: Heartbeats and Lightening Bolts

A few of the sweet creations
Readers of The Condolence Coach may remember my introductory post, Angels Above Baby Gowns: Soothing a Terrible Loss. This organization uses donated wedding dresses to sew burial gowns for infants.
I wanted to learn more about the women who gave their wedding dresses in support of parents whose baby didn't come home from the hospital. Teri and Melanie shared their stories in Angels Above Baby Gowns: Someday I'll Meet My Brothers. Pamela and Sharlene shared their stories in: Angels Above Baby Gowns: A Time to Tear and a Time to Mend.
How do hospitals get the angel gowns? Read: Delivery At A Birthing Center

Some moments in life come like lightening bolts. Janene Johnson has been struck, twice

The first time was at the end of August, 2010. She and her husband, Nate, were told that their premature, infant son, Keegan, would not survive.
Holding hands with my little boy 
Keegan Andrew Johnson

Nate and I, with breaking hearts,
pouring love into our son

Grandparents grieve a baby, too. 

"Both sets of grandparents came to the hospital, held Keegan and said goodbye. They were 'broken up' with sorrow." NICU nurses acknowledged Janene and Nate's parents as an intimate part of the circle of pain, "You're the Grandma," one nurse gently told Janene's mom. Janene's dad channeled his grief with an out-of-character project: he made a scrapbook where the story of Keegan's gestation and the family's joyful anticipation could reside, forever. "We cherish it," Janene said.




The second lightening bolt struck when Janene saw the Facebook page for Angels Above Baby Gowns. Her heartbeat quickened.

"I knew I wanted to donate my dress." 


Janene's wedding dress
 "I had found my dress two years before even getting engaged. Once I got engaged I figured that I would never find it again, but I did and I loved it!"
Janene knows first hand what it is like to need an angel gown. "The hospital where I delivered my son had given us a memory box which included a burial gown. But it was not to my liking and so we didn't use it. Angels Above Baby Gowns are beautiful, and the special touches that make them gender-specific are really important. My dress will create gowns that will be deeply comforting to grieving families."

"When your baby dies, you grasp at the last memories."
"I was taking anything that might have touched Keegan. You don't have the stuff you thought you would have--keepsakes naturally acquired over time, as the baby grows. Thankfully, the NICU nurses gave me an ink printing kit that enabled me to have a fingerprint charm made. I wear it every day."

"Nate's aunt gave us a baby book called Treasured In Our Hearts. At first, I was uncertain but I came to really like it. It's part baby book, part journal, and it helped me feel understood. I had an angel baby, and this is his book."

True peers are priceless. 


Friends Supporting Parents
Janene visited a couple of support groups but didn't find one that felt right. This is normal, and a grieving person should feel free to attend a few groups until finding "a fit." Parents who have lost a baby by miscarriage, prematurity or other birth trauma need the validation and understanding that only a grieving peer can offer. Friends Supporting Parents is a Southeast Michigan support network for parents grieving the death of an infant. Use their Resources tab to make additional peer connections.

As her family grows, they all heal together.
 "We usually go to the cemetery on August 31st, Keegan's anniversary. It's a change of scenery for Nate and me, and we tell our 3 year old daughter and 8 month old son about their big brother."

What can you say and do?

  • Let's understand that any baby that doesn't come home from the hospital is a heartbreaking loss for a family. 
  • Anticipation and preparations are a joy filled time. In the event of a miscarried baby, emotional trauma is often accompanied by physical trauma to the mother. Your note to the parents can acknowledge that, and this is the time to step up with assistance: 
    • I can see [or hear] how devastated you are; take good care of yourself.
    • How can I help you at this time? Would you like me to____?  It is best to go ahead and make practical offers such as helping with other children, grocery shopping, meal preparation, even cleaning or yard work.
  • Don't pry, but be a good listener: This is so sad. Would you like to tell me about the baby [or name]?
  • Do not interject assumptions or advice other than: 
    •  I know how excited you were to bring the baby [or name] home. 
    • This is hard for your whole family.
    • How are your parents [acknowledging the bereaved grandparents] 
    • You've been through so much. Take care of yourself.
    • Maybe the hospital gave you a referral, but I've read about a local support group; would you like their information?

"Angel Heart" by Suzy St.John
More Resources from The Condolence Coach:
I was inspired to write about Angels Above Baby Gowns by a woman who lost two grandchildren by miscarriage. Janene's story reminds us to consider them:  When Grandparents Grieve
Readers may also wish to visit this post about baby and children's death:  Two Too Many: Gone But Never Forgotten
When siblings experience the death of a baby brother or sister, these posts may provide good condolence guidance:  Grieving Children, Part 1,  and  Grieving Children, Part 2.
This post is a good review of responding to any child's death: 5 Things to Say When Death Strikes the Young

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