- Associated Press - Saturday, June 13, 2015

OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) - As Mary Fogle and Tammy Boarman sat in a waiting room one day last July, they struck up a conversation. After trading contact information, the women began having lunch and sharing ideas. Fogle told Boarman of her ministry idea.

“I had the plan, I just didn’t know how to get it out,” Fogle said.

It turned out that Boarman worked in hospital sales. So, she set up a Facebook page and helped Fogle spread the word about God’s Littlest Angels.

The ministry donates gowns, wraps and bonnets to hospitals for stillborn babies. According to the March of Dimes online, stillbirth is generally defined as fetal death after 20 weeks of pregnancy and occurs in about 1 in 160 pregnancies, most before labor begins. In Kentucky, there are about 316 recorded stillbirths annually, Boarman said.

Fogle, 71, has been a seamstress since age 20. Since retiring from her window treatment business 10 years ago, she’s found more time to dedicate to the gowns. She said she got the idea from a friend in St. Louis who works with a similar ministry. When she looked around this area, she didn’t find anything like it.

She started making the baby clothing with scraps of her two daughters’ wedding dresses. Within a couple of weeks of announcing the ministry on Facebook, the women received seven wedding dress donations and Fogle has continued to make the baby clothing from donations. Though she purchased other materials such as ribbons on her own, she quickly realized the great amount of ribbon used and now accepts donations of pink, blue, white and creme ribbons, one-quarter of an inch wide.

“It’s so much better than letting your wedding dress hang forever, or letting it rot,” Boarman said.

Though some dress donations are anonymous, Fogle said she enjoys sending donors a photo of what their wedding dress became. She also makes handkerchiefs for donors who want to pass a piece of their dress to their daughters.

“The gowns are inspired by the dresses,” Fogel said. “As I’m taking them apart and planning how to put it back together, I think of the baby it will go to. I think of the parents. My heart goes out to them. I will never meet these people, but I feel a special connection.”

The tiny gowns, wraps and bonnets are pristine and full of detail. Many are adorned with a small cross on the collar. They also come with a message attached: Made With Love by God’s Littlest Angels.

Fogle can make anywhere from four to 10 baby items from one wedding dress. Some take her about three hours, others take all night.

“She could charge hundreds for these, they are made by hand with such care and quality,” said Sheila Hopewell, a ministry partner. “But, she doesn’t. She donates all of them and that says so much about her character and her ministry. She just finds it in her heart to do this.”

Fogle and Hopewell are both members of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, but didn’t know each other until partnering for God’s Littlest Angels.

“Now, the three of us each have our part, we each add our own touch to make it work,” Fogle said.

Hopewell, owner of Hopewell Photography, volunteers with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, an international nonprofit that provides remembrance photography for parents who suffer the loss of their baby. She takes the gowns to the parents, and often dresses the babies for their portraits, at the hospital.

“I see the parents and they’re so overwhelmed at that time in life,” she said. “These gowns seem like a small thing, but they’re a big thing for them.”

Hopewell, who had a stillborn baby 15 years ago, said she’s happy hospitals now offer such services. Though the photo shoots bring up memories of her baby, the mother of four living children said she likes to be there for the parents.

“That experience makes me feel more called to do this,” she said. “Just to know I can go in there, try to comfort them, sometimes cry with them, and give them Mary’s gowns — something tangible. When you go to the hospital with all these dreams and plans for your baby, then leave with nothing, you feel empty, numb, shocked. Then, you get home and have nothing to remember them by except all the things you had waiting in the nursery, it’s hard.”

As for the photos, “when you see that your baby didn’t make it, that image will never leave a parent’s mind,” Hopewell said. “But, now they’ll have something they can see and touch and say, ‘This was my baby’s.’ It sounds morbid, but they need that time.”

Fogle and Boarman said some people have told them the idea is too touchy to handle.

“Some say ‘You are weird,’ and I guess I am,” Fogle said.

“But the mother who has to put that gown on her child doesn’t think you’re weird,” Boarman said.

“I love telling Mary when the parents tell me how much it means to them,” Hopewell said. “There’s just nothing like them in stores unless you buy doll clothes. People shouldn’t have to put doll clothes on their baby.”

In addition to the local hospital, God’s Littlest Angels has recently expanded to St. Mary’s Hospital in Evansville.

“We never guessed this would grow from just two strangers talking to each other,” Boarman said. “But, it’s taught me a lot of what families go through. It’s been an amazing journey.”


Information from: Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, https://www.messenger-inquirer.com

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