25 Jun From Wedding Gown to Angel Gown
I didn’t ever want to take my wedding dress off. The moment I did I was immediately hit with the question of what to do with it now.
When I came out of the change room I met my mum’s eyes and watched as they welled up with tears. In that moment I knew this was ‘the’ dress. Six months later I wore it down the aisle, the long train elegantly trailing, as I married my best friend on the most perfect day. I didn’t ever want to take the dress off. The moment I did I was immediately hit with the question of what to do with it now.
Everyone told me to box it up and keep it at the bottom of my wardrobe for my little girl one day. I knew that wasn’t an option. If I have a daughter I want her to experience the same special moment I did finding her own perfect dress, hopefully with me by her side.
It was when I came back to the CHILD offices after my honeymoon that I learned about Angel Gowns Australia. The organisation of volunteers collects donated wedding and formal dresses and handcrafts them into a selection of gowns for little babies, such as those born prematurely or sleeping, who don’t make it.
The program was started in March 2014 by Fiona Kirk, after she read an article about NICU (neonatal intensive-care unit) Helping Hands in the US, and decided this was something needed here in Australia.
“Lisa (the president of NICU Helping Hands) and her husband work in a NICU in the US,” says Fiona. “At the hospital, she would see bereaved families rummaging through buckets or drawers for something to bury their child in, which was heart breaking.”
Fiona believes there’s such a stigma on pregnancy and infant loss that no-one wants to talk about it.
“The moment you find out you’re pregnant you celebrate that life with your partner, family and friends,” she says. “There’s so much joy in that little life. When it’s lost there is so much grief, hurt and pain, and a feeling of being the only one and not knowing why it happened to you. It’s just so incredibly painful. Our ‘angel gowns’ are a gift to the family to let them know we understand, know what they are going through and value the life of their baby.”
I had reservations about my perfect dress being deconstructed for such a sad occasion, until I heard stories from grieving families, such as that of little angel Clara, who passed away at just three weeks old.
“Her death was sudden and completely unexpected,” says Clara’s mum Nyssa. “In my grief and sorrow I reached out for someone to help me dress her in something beautiful and personal.”
Within minutes Nyssa was contacted by Angel Gowns Australia, who provided comfort along with a “stunning” handcrafted gown. “Upon opening the parcel the dress brought a rare smile to my face and immediate tears because of how little and perfect it was, just like her,” says Nyssa.
Reading story after story I was touched by how much comfort these dresses brought, and it struck a chord with me. Two days later I attended Angel Gowns Australia’s Sydney dress collection and volunteer meet-and-greet day. It was amazing to see how much love and care the dedicated seamstresses put into making each gown.
Upon completion the dresses are quality-control checked before an ‘angel pin’ is placed on them with a card from the organisation. They are individually packaged in a beautiful white box and sent to hospitals that have placed an order, or directly to a family when an urgent request is made.
In the corner was a table laid out with finished gowns. Each one was so unique, every detail lovingly hand stitched by the talented volunteers. They were all so perfect.
Some were so small I was lost for words; those were for premature babies, Fiona explained.
I was suddenly overwhelmed by how many tiny dresses filled the table in front of me, all to be worn by babies taken far too soon. I handed over my own wedding dress without hesitation.
With more than 500 wedding gowns donated throughout Australia and New Zealand, Fiona stresses how lucky the program is to have such a committed team to share the task of deconstructing the dresses and sewing the beautiful ‘angel gowns’.
“We’re always seeking volunteers to help with sewing and to share administrative tasks,” she says. “We’re also seeking donations of wedding and formal dresses as well as other much-needed items such as sewing thread, 3mm and 6mm ribbon, lace (in white, ivory, light pink and light blue), decals that are suitable for both boy and girl gowns, pins, pickers, scissors, sewing machine needles, or vouchers to Spotlight, Lincraft or Australia Post to help with postage.”
Words by Felicity Frankish