- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

MACON, Miss. (AP) - No one is sure how it started.

It may have been that a member of the South Haven Mennonite community in Macon lost a baby and was inspired to help others faced with that tragedy. Or it may have been that someone from the South Haven Mennonite Church called Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle and asked what the maternity ward needed.

However it began, for the last 14 years, leaders of the South Haven Mennonite Sewing Circle have driven the 32 miles from Macon to Columbus at least twice a year to deliver handmade blankets, hats and gowns to the hospital’s maternity ward.

The white blankets are adorned with polka dots - baby blue for boys, light pink for girls. The hats are polka dotted, too. The gowns and hats are so small they could fit a doll - or very small baby.

The maternity ward staff uses the items to dress newborns that die.

Nurses wash the tiny bodies, dress them in the gowns and hats, wrap them in the blankets and hand them back to their mothers and fathers for burial.

The donated items come into the world at the South Haven Sewing Circle’s meetings each month, when anywhere from 30 to 50 women come together at the church. It is a place surrounded by farming land, miles from the cluster of businesses and fast food joints on U.S. Highway 45.

At the meetings, which take place from September to May, children play in the parking lot, and farmers drop by to get lunch prepared by the women in the sewing circle. Inside the church is a flurry of activity as women pin up quilts, work on sewing machines, prepare food, chat with friends.

“It’s just an enjoyable day,” said Carol Giesbrecht, one of two sewing leaders.

By Giesbrecht’s estimation the group makes about nine sets of gowns a month. The sewing leaders deliver about 40 in December, another 40 in May. Giesbrecht sometimes makes the drive at other times of the year when she has extra sets.

Each set of gowns, blankets and hats also comes with a note from the sewing circle to the parents of the child. Each one, printed on thick paper and outlined in floral designs, expresses sympathy to the parents.

Sherry Zismann is a sewing circle member who works on infant clothes at the gatherings. She makes gowns because she wants to offer sympathy and comfort to parents who lose a child, even if she does not know them. She makes about two sets each meeting, using patterns and instructions for doll clothes to make the gowns.

Last month she worked on a gown to fit an infant weighing only 2.5 pounds.

As a former sewing leader - the position rotates every year - Zismann has personally delivered the bundles to the hospital’s nurses and seen their gratitude firsthand.

She also knows a Brooksville family that lost a baby when its umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. The family received one of the bundles from the sewing circle to take the child home from the hospital.

“They were just so thankful for that,” Zismann said.

Zismann gets sad at the thought of parents receiving the bundles which the sewing circle creates.

“But then,” she said, “I think of the comfort (we provide).”

The nurses at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle keep the bundles in a maternity ward closet, along with books about grief and other items.

Right now, these bundles and notes in the maternity ward are, in the words of the hospital’s Women’s Services director, Susan Spencer, “overflowing.” Which is good; it means the nurses do not need to dress many newborns in clothes provided by the sewing circle.

Parents who do receive bundles also receive sympathy cards and roses from nurses. The nurses also get the infant’s footprint and offer to take pictures. If the mother chooses, she receives a visit from Baptist’s chaplain, Steve Brown, or one of his volunteer chaplains.

“We just try to meet the family where they are,” Spencer said.

Ministering to parents who have just lost a baby, Spencer said, is one of the hardest things he deals with as director of Spiritual Care.

“No one ever expects to lose a child,” he said.

It’s different than other types of grief, Brown said, because during the pregnancy there was anticipation of new life. Not only are the parents having to deal with just losing a child, but they’re losing the child’s potential future, all while having to explain to friends and family that the baby everyone expected has died.

Spencer often tells mothers who have stillbirths or lose babies to think of some of the most difficult things they’ve ever gone through and remember how they coped. She and the nurses at the maternity ward recommend families treat the death of an infant like any other loss.

The South Haven Sewing Circle is one of the few groups outside the hospital that does something specifically for parents who have lost newborns.

“It just brings comfort to mommas who have lost a baby,” Giesbrecht said.

Giesbrecht and Zismann both worked on the gowns and blankets, but other women in the sewing circle work on quilts for kids at Pine Veil Children’s Home in Corinth; brightly colored bibs called “shirt savers” for local nursing homes; and other hand-sewn items to be donated to people in need. They, like other sewing circles in Mennonite churches and communities in the country, use their time and talents to help others.

“It just touches your heart … and God has done so much for us that this just is a little touch that we can do for someone else,” Giesbrecht said. “It’s just out of a heart of love.”

___

Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com

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