- Associated Press - Monday, September 14, 2015

GALESBURG, Ill. (AP) — For the past three months, a group of women have been repurposing old wedding dresses into new gowns for stillborn babies, to be used at the infant’s burial.

The group recently met from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in First United Presbyterian’s basement. Around noon, nine women were helping out, working at different stations to make the gowns.

They make different size gowns depending on how far along the pregnancy, or after the pregnancy, the infant died. The group is donating the dresses to Cottage Hospital, which stores them until needed.

“If something happens, they need it now,” said Valerie Edwards of Cameron. Edwards is a member of the AN chapter of the Philanthropic Educational Organization, or PEO.

After watching a segment several years ago on Paula Sands Live about a Milan-based organization called Lila’s Dresses, Ms. Edwards wanted to provide a similar service in Galesburg.

“This is such a big undertaking that I didn’t want to do it by myself,” Ms. Edwards said. “I belong to my PEO group, and I’ve asked them if they’d help me get this going, and they have.”

The group has met once a month since June, and they split up into different stations of the gown-making process.

Ms. Edwards receives donated wedding dresses, cleans them and brings them to the church. One station irons and presses the dresses, then another tears the dresses apart and presses the fabric. At the pattern station, they figure out how to fit the patterns, lace and fabric together to make the gowns. Finally, the sewing station completes the gowns.

When it gathered recently, the group was ready to take 19 gowns and 19 receiving blankets to Cottage that it had completed.

AN Chapter President Chris Fulton, Galesburg, worked at the sewing machine. Her oldest son, Mark, died at birth over 40 years ago, when hospitals handled infant death much differently.

“At the time, they weren’t aware of how important it is to embrace the child. I didn’t even get to hold him, and all of a sudden he’s gone, and then I have nothing,” Ms. Fulton said. “I have no memory of anything other than giving birth, and if I would have got to hold him and received a generous gift like this, to know that other people cared, it would have meant so much.”

“It was just so heartbreaking to not be able to grieve for that child and put closure to it. That’s the main thing, to put closure to it,” Ms. Fulton added. “So for me, this was extremely important.”

The monthly meetings have brought the AN chapter closer together as they became more aware of who has been affected by infant death.

“We’ve bonded even more as a group,” Ms. Fulton said.

The gowns are for either boys or girls. Some have blue or pink ribbons and trim.

“Some people might stereotype because this is a gown that it’s only for girls, but christening gowns are for all,” Ms. Edwards said.

The group meets in the basement at First Presbyterian Church, where they are able to use some of the supplies used by the Quilts of Valor group.

Anyone can help make the gowns, and volunteers can stay for as long as they’re available.

“You don’t have to belong to this organization,” Ms. Edwards said. “If you are a sewer or have a desire, you are welcome.”

As for donations, they are looking for thread, ribbons, trims, fabrics, and wedding dresses. The group also makes blankets and may eventually make diapers. For these, they need flannel.



Information from: The Galesburg Register-Mail, https://www.register-mail.com

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