June Lee, one of the founders of Angel Gowns Singapore, shares the stories, tears, pain and love that she and her team experience, even as they create tiny garments for little angels gone too soon.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 15 million babies are born prematurely every year and almost one million of them die from complications. In Singapore, the rate of preterm birth in the last decade has risen from 7.2 per cent to 9.5 per cent despite a low birth rate. Although we live in an affluent society, it remains inevitable that lives are lost in the midst of pregnancy due to complications and unforeseen circumstances.
(See also: Dealing With Miscarriage)
When this happens, families are naturally overwhelmed by devastation and grief. It is even more heartbreaking for them to have to go shopping for clothes just to say their final goodbyes to their loved one. Often, they struggle to find the right size as retail clothing might not fit the tiny bodies of premature babies.
Angel Gowns Singapore produces little garments, otherwise known as angel gowns, from donated wedding gowns to fill this need. We ask June some questions to learn more about their work.
Tiny garments known as angel gowns, lovingly handmade by Angel Gowns Singapore.
How did Angel Gowns Singapore begin?
For many years, Angel Gowns commmunities have been formed around the globe, in the US, UK, Australia and elsewhere. They make garments from pre-loved wedding gowns for babies who were lost due to miscarriages, stillbirths or other complications.
(See also: What you Need to Know about Stillbirth)
Locally, it was only in August 2016 that a group of ladies came to know about Angel Gowns through an online social network. Within weeks, we gathered together to form Angel Gowns Singapore to spearhead this meaningful cause on our shores.
Another set of angel gowns with lace embellishments.
What is the mission of Angel Gowns Singapore?
Dr Seuss once said, “A person’s a person no matter how small.” A life is celebrated by a mother and father at the point of conception and the loss of this precious life causes much distress to the family. No parent should have to experience the pain of burying their own flesh and blood.
Angel Gowns Singapore hopes to provide comfort and support for families in their period of bereavement, to let them know that someone out there cares for a little life lost.
(See also: Losing Your Child: From Cope To Hope)
Why did you choose to use preloved wedding gowns?
Preloved wedding gowns that were donated to Angel Gowns Singapore, to be converted into angel gowns.
Wedding gowns represent promises of love, hope, peace and happiness. Our group of volunteers give their time and dedicate their hearts to using them in creating delicate angel gowns to fit babies of all sizes. This is in a bid to bring the same elements of comfort to grief-stricken families.
By helping them tide over this difficult phase in their lives, we hope they will be able to find renewed love, hope, peace and happiness ahead.
How are the wedding gowns converted into angel gowns?
Volunteer sewists working on their labours of love at a monthly meet-up.
Upon receiving wedding gowns from donors across the island, the gowns will first go through the process of deconstruction. They are then dispatched to our volunteer seamstresses who lovingly handcraft the angel gowns.
Instruction manuals and tutorials are given out. These include guidelines on the sizing, cutting and construction of the angel gowns to help our volunteers along. In addition, volunteers gather once every month to share their knowledge and impart their sewing skills. We also help one another in the gown making process from cutting and handcrafting flowers and bows to packaging and more, at these meet-ups.
What are the angel gowns like?
Preloved wedding gowns and suits are converted into tiny angel gowns and vests.
A wrap designed for premature infants too small for any gown.
As each wedding gown is different in terms of its design, colours and the materials used, each angel gown is also distinct in its own way. Some are made from tulle, while others are crafted from organza. Appliqués such as ribbons, buttons and lace are also used. Vests are also sewn from donated suits for little boys. Besides angel gowns, we also make wraps for babies who are too small to fit into any gown.
Completed angel gowns are individually packed in preparation to be delivered to hospitals.
The completed angel gowns and wraps are hand-washed and ironed, then individually packed with a pair of angel charms. One is for the family to have as a keepsake, so they can hold their angel close to them. The other charm is pinned onto every tiny garment, and dedicated to their blessed angel.
A card with an angel charm attached, for the bereaved family to keep in memory of their angel.
What do you do with the completed angel gowns?
Nurses at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital holding up the first batch of angel gowns they received.
The completed sets of clothing and wraps are delivered to hospitals. KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and Mt Alvernia Hospital received our first batch of completed angel gowns. We also delivered our first batch to National University Hospital in early November 2016.
We continue to work with the hospitals to understand their needs with regard to the sizing and types of garments. Like every precious little life, each angel gown is special in its own ways and all filled with love from every one of us.
A Pastoral Carer at Mt Alvernia Hospital with their first batch of angel gowns.
What is a work day at Angel Gowns Singapore like?
Majority of us are mothers and we come from all walks of life. We dedicate our time on a daily basis to do our part in contributing to our cause. These range from deconstructing gowns to sewing, as well as logistics, coordinating and raising awareness. In doing so, we are surrounded daily by memories of lives we never got to feel or touch, of babies who were born sleeping or fell asleep shortly after birth.
Angel gowns are made with love and tears, for blessed angels who never truly set foot on this earth but have left footprints in our hearts. It is both a sad and happy process for our volunteers. As tears roll while we sew, our hearts smile knowing that we have channelled our grief toward a more meaningful purpose, to bring love and peace to families of blessed angels who were too beautiful for earth.
Volunteer sewists support one another at the monthly Angel Gowns Singapore meet-ups.
Who are your volunteers?
Every one of us has a story to tell. One volunteer, Katherine* recently lost her daughter to cancer. Now she dedicates her days to hand-sewing angel gowns so as to keep herself occupied. Randy* also lost her child and has yet to overcome her grief. Yet she is filled with utmost passion and goes all out to provide support for Angel Gowns Singapore in whatever aspect she can.
Many of us have lost our children, in one way or another. By contributing to Angel Gowns Singapore, it does not help us to feel better. On the other hand, it reminds us of what we have gone through, every single day. We relive those moments and feel the pain, again and again.
However, that does not stop us from doing what we feel is beneficial to others who are going through what we did. We believe that true happiness lies in giving and we want families who have suffered the loss of a loved one to know that there is someone there for them, that they are not alone.
Could you share a few stories you’ve encountered along the way?
Besides our volunteers, our donors have their stories too. Every wedding gown tells a beautiful story. Like Josie*, who did not get a chance to wear a wedding gown on her big day. When her sister gifted her with a gown for her wedding, she only wore it to take a couple of photos. Upon experiencing the delivery of a stillborn by a friend, Josie immediately knew that her gown was meant for a greater purpose and contacted Angel Gowns Singapore to donate her dress.
Another gown donor, Kelly*, lost her baby due to the absence of a skull and had to go through the painful process of delivering a stillborn. The baby was presented to her and the heartbreaking experience will haunt her for the rest of her life. She later donated her wedding gown in memory of her lost angel.
Every story is different but each and every one is memorable and touching, often heart-wrenching at the same time. Many of our donors find it hard to let go of their wedding gowns. But when they see what their gowns can do, they feel that they are making the right decision to donate the gowns.
(See also: When a Child is Gone)
Where do you see Angel Gowns Singapore five or ten years down the road?
It is hoped that these beautiful angel gowns bring some measure of comfort to the grieving families.
Angels Gowns Singapore is very new but we are dedicated in what we do. We wish to see more volunteers joining us and more donors coming forward to support our cause. We want to spread the word throughout Singapore and let others know that even though you don’t see or hear about some things often enough, it does not mean that they do not exist.
Infant loss is real and in most cases, there is almost nothing we can do about it. However, with the help of volunteers and donors, we can help to support grieving families and bring comfort and peace to those whose loved ones were taken away too soon. We hope that years down the road, Angel Gowns Singapore will continue beyond us, to support those in need in their period of bereavement.
How can we help?
Angel Gowns Singapore welcomes the donations of wedding gowns, evening gowns and suits, as well as various ribbons and embellishments.
The volunteers of Angel Gowns Singapore strongly believe that we are engaging in a worthy cause. You can support our work in the following ways:
- Donations in kind, including wedding gowns, evening gowns, tea dresses, flower girl dresses, suits, ribbons, lace, buttons (smaller than half inch in diameter), etc
- Monetary donations to help fund our purchases and logistics
- Volunteer to help in sewing, deconstruction, pattern cutting, courier, etc
- Help spread the word in any way possible
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange for your donations, or to find out how you can volunteer.
So many hearts are aching for a lost life each day. A little help goes a long way. Angel Gowns Singapore thanks everyone for your support.
*Names have been changed for privacy