October 25, 2016
Wedding Gowns Transformed For Angel Babies Project
WESTFIELD - “I am surrounded by the most amazing living angels,” said Valli Jo Flynn, DNP, who is facilitating the newly formed Angel Babies Project.
A meet and greet was conducted this past Saturday afternoon at the Westwood Restaurant so that all of the new members could get to know each other since they will soon be taking on the task of creating fitted dresses, preemie pouches, gowns, bonnets and blankets for any little ones who have earned their wings. The final dressing choices will be made available for families at local hospitals.
All of the one-of-a-kind garments will be made from wedding gowns that have been washed and donated by women across the valley. Each precious garment will also have a beautifully designed tag that reads in part: “Every garment is made from a wedding gown donated with love. Prior to delivery, the garments are blessed by area clergy. Our prayers are with you in the loss of your wee one.”
Flynn has had the “distinct privilege” of working for Baystate Medical Center and Mercy Medical Center in NICU/PICU units over the years, as well as at Hartford Children’s Hospital. During her rotations, she has seen firsthand the wee ones who have lost their battle in life.
“I will never, never forget the comfort of rifling through the small box of custom outfits for their last moments to visit with mom, dad, and loved ones, dressing them tenderly for their last visit,” said Flynn.
Flynn said the “crew” will create garments so the infants will be dressed like “little kings and princesses in fabric of love, time, intent and the commitment of forever.”
For many of the women at the luncheon, being a part of the project is personal.
For Toni Kmec, a NICU nurse for 28 years, she has not only seen many families in grief, she too has lost children in infancy.
“I lost my first son who was born at 29 weeks in 1974,” said Kmec, adding, “They just whisked him off.”
Kmec also experienced loss with a child at 20 weeks, as well as 11-week-old twins.
“Not only do I want to be involved with this project, but I also donated my wedding gown from 1974 as well as my mom’s from World War II that has a lot of lace and beads,” said Kmec.
Anne Joy, also a NICU nurse, shared her sentiment “We as NICU nurses have unfortunately taken care of many infants in our careers who didn’t make it,” said Joy. “Our unit at Baystate provides true family centered care, and this includes helping to help parents and families in their time of sadness and grief.”
Joy’s role with the project will be to help trace, pin, and cut out patterns and fabrics.
For Joanne Krause, an ICU nurse, she experienced a mom whose baby was stillborn as a result of her pre-eclampsia.
“As soon as she was well enough, the Family Life nurse brought over the stillborn for the mom to hold,” said Krause. “Then, they brought a gorgeous hand knit baby outfit for the mom. They dressed the baby and the mom held her stillborn for a period of time, until she was ready to give the infant up. The nurse then took the baby and brought back the outfit and a memory box with a picture of the dressed baby, lock of hair and a foot print mold. It helped make it real for the mom.”
Krause added she is “glad” she is able to donate her wedding gown.
“It had sequins, pearls and lace,” said Krause. “I had always planned to sew a baptismal gown out of it but never had a daughter or granddaughter.”
Cathy Jasienowski, a former NICU nurse, said she had the “honor” of helping families become families under “very unnatural circumstances.”
“In some cases babies didn’t survive, but we always acknowledged a life no matter how brief – this project is a beautiful expression of these babies’ lives and I hope provides some small comfort in the family’s grieving process.”
Jasienowski said she is not comfortable sewing but will do whatever she can to cut patterns, sew straight lines, and clean up after a sewing get-together.
For Joyce Sabbagh Perry, she lost a niece at birth to Group B strep and “would have loved her to have one of these dresses.”
“My role will be moral support because I can’t sew,” said Perry.
For some women who are more hesitant to sew, other roles will include assembling packages, administrative duties and deliveries.
Luzelenia Casanova, whose sister Evelyn Turcotte encouraged her to join the group, said her expertise is in marketing and fundraising and looks forward to working “behind the scenes.”
“I can provide help with establishing a nonprofit status for the group as well as planning events,” said Casanova.
Turcotte said after many years working on labor and delivery units, she had “many opportunities” to be a part of what she considers the “most amazing day of a family’s life” but also was witness to the moments when what should have been the most joyous ones turn into sadness.
“We all wore our wedding gowns on a very special day and most of us have treasured them and have not been able to part with them until now,” said Turcotte. “I couldn’t think of a more perfect reason than to be able to provide the gown now if only for slight comfort to these families knowing that their precious angels will be embraced with gowns that have been preserved and loved for many years.”
Turcotte said her role with the project will be to help out “in any way I can.”
For Ashley LeBlanc, her participation in the project is also personal.
“My son spent the first three months of his life in the NICU,” said LeBlanc. “We were blessed and incredibly grateful that we were able to take our baby home the day he weighed in at four pounds. I realize there were others who weren’t so lucky and this is an opportunity to try and give a little back and offer some comfort in such a grievous time.”
LeBlanc’s plan is to cut, sew, pin or shop, as well as offer moral support to those who will be sewing.
“This is a going home outfit that no parent should ever have to pick out and I hope this eases that burden and gives a little peace,” said LeBlanc.
Flynn also acknowledged Tom Clouse who is building a website for the Angel Babies Project.
“This will ensure that ladies can not only receive their thank you letters with a souvenir swatch, but also can view the finished product on the website as we work our way through the gowns,” said Flynn.
To date, more than 30 gowns have been donated and there is a hold on accepting more at this time until the stock runs low.
“Based on the response, we will not suffer shortages,” said Flynn.
Flynn noted that the group is looking into a nonprofit status as well as a potential site to store the gowns, donated products and stock.
Anyone interested in making donations of postage stamps and staples for administrative supplies, or gift cards from stores that sell fabric and sewing materials including Walmart, Joann Fabrics, AC Moore, and Hobby Lobby, are asked to communicate via email to firstname.lastname@example.org Initially, the group plans to meet at least once a month with the first official “deconstruction session” planned for Nov. 5.
As Flynn galvanized the group with a lot of hugs and kisses as each woman left the meeting – their goal is simple – “to help the lost ones, their parents, loved ones and yes, staff, in beginning the grief process.”
Angels … indeed.
PLEASE NOTE: Since the above article was published, the group is now operating under the name “Heaven’s Newest Angels” but holds to the same vision and objectives.