Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Angels Above Baby Gowns: A Time to Tear and A Time to Mend

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. Janene shared her story in Angels Above Baby Gowns: Heartbeats and Lightening Bolts.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

A Time to Tear and a Time to Mend

Part 1.

“I was born when my mother was 37-½ years old, a ‘welcome surprise.’”

This is how Pamela Conley begins the story of her mother, Margaret, who married the boy-next-door, Jim, in 1946, after his service in World War II.

Even before they were childhood sweethearts, they were friends in a Detroit neighborhood swarming with children. Living a stone’s throw from Clark Park, Margaret and Jim enjoyed organized Parks & Recreation activities: ping pong, archery, softball, arts and crafts. And when the park's big goldfish ponds froze over, they would ice skate, taking breaks in one of the pavilions where the warmth of hot cocoa and a pot belly stove soothed frigid fingers and toes.

During her wartime engagement, Margaret helped out on her parents’ Rockwood, Michigan farm. With a strong sense of purpose in contributing to the family’s livelihood, Margaret drove farm equipment and tended chickens. In the evenings, she wrote letters to her Army beau, Jim. “My mom saved everything, and I have all of his letters to her,” marveled Pam. “My attic holds a lifetime of memories--from mom's high school graduation gifts to their wedding guestbook and gift registry.”

Margaret's wedding day
This legacy of valuing what one has, rings true for Pamela, who resides in the home where she grew up. “My bedroom set is 68 years old,” she noted.
A lovely dress has a new purpose
“Tradition is not so important to young people-- their world is full of disposables and replaceables,” was Pam's lament.

Which is why the discovery of Angels Above Baby Gowns on Facebook excited her. “I feel the Lord led me to find this perfect opportunity where Mom’s wedding gown can be put to good use. It wasn’t properly preserved so there are some areas of damage, but there is beautiful lacework and beading.”

Indeed, when the volunteer seamstresses at Angels Above Baby Gowns receive a wedding dress, they focus on repurposing possibilities, not rejection. In addition to panels of satin, tulle and lace, decorative elements are harvested: buttons, beading, trims, appliques, flowers… the transformations and re-creations are endless. The comfort they afford grieving parents is priceless.
Even a rose at the neckline is handcrafted

Lace from Margaret's dress became flower parts

“Mom would be thrilled, and I am so comforted.”

“This fills such a gap!” Pamela observed. She is getting more involved, too, by participating in a recent delivery of angel gowns to an area hospital. Pam has also offered the organization her mother’s old cabinet sewing machine. “If Dawn [Dawn Lafferty, founder] can refurbish it for use, she is welcome to it!”

A Time to Tear and a Time to Mend

Part 2.

“I had a pre-term baby--but brought the baby home!”

In 1987, Sharlene Clair gave birth to Bryan, 6 weeks early. Weighing in at 4 pounds-15 ounces, he failed the apnea test, and remained in the hospital, on oxygen, for two weeks. "Being home without my baby was hard, but I had a three year old at home, too. I cheered myself up by going to Toys R’ Us and getting things to pamper Bryan. I was never afraid that he wouldn’t come home.”
Shar holds newborn Bryan

A boot-size baby

AOP, Apnea of Prematurity, is common in premature babies because their lungs are not fully developed. But the NICU protocol in 1987 allowed babies to be discharged to home with an apnea monitor. 
Example of an apnea monitor
The band of foam around the chest has leads measuring heart and breath rate; if the rates become too low, an alarm on the monitor sounds.  

Once her son came home, monitoring was Shar’s responsibility. “The hospital neonatal nurses were wonderful; I could call at any hour, and I kept a journal. We had to have babysitters who were CPR trained. It was too stressful for many of them.”  But at the age of 11 months, Bryan graduated off the monitor.

“We have more stories to laugh about than cry about.”

Shar is not a stranger to dramatic life moments and the detours they bring. In 2007, her frail parents came from Arizona for a wedding--and stayed. Realizing they needed to step up with support, Shar and her husband, Bob, moved to a one-level home and welcomed her parents. Since her dad’s passing, Shar’s mother, Bobbie, still shares life with them.

Sharlene and Bob at the altar
Sharlene’s first exposure to the angel gown concept was the Facebook page of a Texas group. Recalling how fortunate she had been with the survival of her premature son, Shar was preparing to ship her dress to the Lonestar State. Along came the ‘detour’ of discovering the Michigan group, Angels Above Baby Gowns. “I was so excited to find a nearby Michigan organization!”

“Their passion touched my heart!”
The posting for a local gown-drop-off picnic became a mother-daughter outing. Shar and Bobbie gave the lovely wedding dress to founder, Dawn Lafferty, and discovered they each retired from the same company.

Isn’t a wedding dress a sentimental keepsake?

“I had no second thoughts about donating my dress,” shared Shar. 

“I thought about using it to have a baptismal gown sewn for a grandchild, but it wasn’t the right thing for our family.

This is a great cause!”

November 2017 UPDATE:  In the words of founder, Dawn, "Angels Above Baby Gowns is still going strong. We are now in over 350 hospitals and in 5 countries. We grow bigger everyday."

Read the story of where the angel gowns go: Delivery At A Birthing Center

The Condolence Coach was inspired to write about Angels Above Baby Gowns by a woman who lost two grandchildren by miscarriage.  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

This is a peer support blog by and for parents grieving an infant: Wanted Chosen Planned

Keep the conversation going--share this post, and Thank you for caring!


Pamela Conley said...

Deborah, thank you for sharing Mom and Dad's story in such a descriprive manner. I feel so blessed to have been able to help ease someone's pain with the donation of Mom's dress. She would have been happy to know that her dress still has value to people.
Pamela Conley


The kindness of your gift has been a beautiful tribute to your parents. I loved writing this story.