For families coping with the unimaginable loss of an infant, special garments known as “angel gowns” can offer a small bit of comfort in their time of grief.
With four generations of wedding dresses hanging in their closets, Allison Harris, an audiologist at Akron Children’s, and her mother, Susan Arnold, decided to give their gowns a new purpose.
They donated all four dresses to Hillary’s Cherished Gowns, a volunteer organization comprised of seamstresses dedicated to sewing infant bereavement gowns and accessories for Akron area families.
“I had been looking for something to do with my wedding dress,” said Susan. “I had also inherited my mother’s and my grandmother’s dresses, so suddenly I had three of these gowns. I wanted to find a place to donate them, where they could do something good.”
Allison and Susan said they felt a personal connection to the organization’s mission.
“For the families going through this, it’s such unexpected timing,” said Susan. “They’re not prepared, so it’s a nice blessing for those families. Having lost a child myself, we felt a real connection.”
Susan’s daughter, Leah, passed away at the age of 9 months, when Allison was 4 years old.
The donated dresses were washed, cut and sewn into at least a dozen small gowns, as well as baby bonnets and sleeping bags. Susan said the seamstress also made matching, heart-shaped keepsake pillows for the bereaved parents.
“They’re real treasures. A new mom like this doesn’t have much to remember their baby by,” she said. “To have that attachment with even just the same kind of fabric as the gown, it really means a lot.”
As a former patient and now an employee at Akron Children’s, Allison said she feels a special connection with the hospital, and it means a lot that these gowns will be given to patient families.
“We really value family-centered care at Akron Children’s, and this is just another way we show that,” said Allison. “It felt really good to know that these dresses were going to such a good cause.”
Susan said during the loss of her own daughter an angel gown program was not available, and she’s glad to see more hospitals offering them to bereaved families.
“When we went through our experience, we were part of a support group for moms who had stillbirths and neonatal deaths, and I think the experience has changed a lot,” she said. “This is such a big step in the right direction to let these parents know that their babies still have value and to recognize their existence. It’s huge for those families.”