The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

March 15, 2014

Tiny gowns become ‘huge gift’ for grieving families

MARYSVILLE, Wash. — MARYSVILLE, Wash. — Michelle Matthews has never met any of the hundreds of parents here and around the country for whom she has sewn and donated baby gowns.

The gowns are all for newborns who have died at hospital intensive care units.

The gowns are stored at medical facilities for such a sad occasion, and Matthews doesn’t know when or to whom they’ll be given.

That’s all right, she says. “There are times when what is a small act to one person is such a huge gift to the other.”

She sews her gowns in three sizes; the smallest so tiny it’s just a diamond-shaped wrap with a little pocket and a ribbon to close it.

That’s because sometimes the babies who die are so tiny and fragile — perhaps a pound in weight, all of 8 to 10 inches in length — that putting them in that little pocket is all you can do.

Some of the babies have died from complications during the pregnancy, some shortly after birth.

Matthews says that at least the parents won’t have to go to a clothing store for babies and see other parents shopping for their healthy newborns as they find something for the memorial service.

In her family home here, using a Singer heavy-duty sewing machine and a serger, Matthews sews her Angel Gowns ( http://angelgowns.chauglie.com/ ) all from donated wedding gowns. The adult gowns have nice fabric that “is soft and sweet and pretty, and delicate with the lace.” And, really, have mostly been used only once.

Matthews began her project at the end of 2011 using her own wedding gown.

“I didn’t see any reason to hang onto it forever in my closet,” she says.

As word spread, she began getting emails from around the country from women offering their gowns.

Matthews has some 60 wedding dresses waiting to be cut up and sewn, all carefully folded and stored in vacuum bags so they don’t take up much room. She’s thinking of putting a hold on accepting more dresses until she gets through these.

A grandmother from Canfield, Ohio, enclosed this note with her donation: “Here is my wedding gown and veil. I know you will make good use of them, in memory of my grandson . “

A donor named Emily writes about her now-healthy son who was born at 33 weeks and the time he spent in intensive care.

“If my dress can provide any kind of comfort to someone when they need it the most it’d mean the world to me,” she writes.

Although Matthews hasn’t met the recipients of the outfits - she began giving them away first here and now throughout the country — every day she sees worried parents whose babies are in dire straits.

Matthews works near the entrance to the neonatal intensive care unit at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, Wash., where she is a health-unit coordinator. She lets the parents into the locked area.

“I see them every day,” Matthews says. “It’s tiring and draining for them, also coping with the rest of life, having to go work, other children at home.”

If not for her baby gowns, the infants might have simply been placed in their hospital blankets when they were buried or cremated.

Only a very small number of newborns die.

Nationwide, according to federal health figures, in 2009 the mortality rate for children dying before 28 days of age was 4.2 per 1,000 live births, due to such causes as congenital malformations.

For babies between ages 28 days and 1 year, the death rate was 2.2 per 1,000 live births, most often due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Combined, that means more than 26,000 children under age 1 die each year. That puts the U.S. at No. 29 in infant mortality rates among developed countries, with such countries as Norway and Japan having considerably lower rates, and it results in annual stories about our relatively high ranking.

At EvergreenHealth, the gowns are stored along with bereavement boxes that the hospital buys.

Inside the boxes can be placed such items as a mold of the baby’s hand or foot, and even photos taken by a volunteer photographer.

“I think it does matter,” says Dr. Barry Lawson, director of women’s and children’s services at the hospital. “The keepsakes don’t bring them back, but at least it makes you less lonely as parents.”

Trish Anderson, a nurse and director of women’s and children’s programs at the hospital, says she’s heard from parents who take the boxes and for a long time can’t bring themselves to open them.

But when they do, she says, “They’re very appreciative.”

Matthews, 42, works three 12-hour shifts a week, and her husband, Jerry Matthews, also works long shifts with sometimes mandatory overtime as an oil-refinery operator in Anacortes.

That gives her some long stretches at home by herself. She finds relaxation in sewing the gowns, sometimes for six or seven hours at a time.

“It’s almost meditative. When I’m working on a gown, it takes my mind off my son who’s across the country in the Navy, or my mother who has cancer,” says Matthews.

She’s gotten fast enough that she can sew a baby gown in an hour.

When she started, Matthews was given some gown patterns by Vicki Gillette, a Bothell, Wash., woman who was co-founder of Evan’s Embrace.

Evan was Gillette’s grandson who died three days after being born on June 18, 2010. It was a breech birth (feet first) and he wasn’t getting enough oxygen.

So Gillette puts together what she calls “comfort baskets” in his memory that she delivers to local hospitals to be given to grieving parents. The baskets include everything from some candles to a disposable camera “because not everybody has their cellphone charged.”

Gillette is a seamstress, and had constructed patterns by using dolls because of their small size. She has sewn some baby outfits but mostly concentrates on the memorial boxes.

On a wall in her sewing room, Matthews has put up a small photo of a little girl named C.J., whose aunt donated a wedding dress in the girl’s memory. It reminds Matthews why she’s sewing the gowns.

“I thought it was a sweet picture of a beautiful little girl,’ she says.

And so at her home in Marysville, the wedding outfits keep arriving and Matthews stores them carefully for when they’ll be used.

“I’ve been entrusted with these dresses,” she says.

1
Text Only
News
  • Fatal24 Danville woman dies as logging truck crushes car in Valley Township

    DANVILLE — An 84-year-old Danville woman was killed when her car and a logging truck collided Wednesday afternoon at Routes 642 and 54 in Valley Township.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today's Editorial: One more job appears at risk

    July 24, 2014

  • Rabbi Conflict in Israel grounds Sunbury rabbi

    TEL AVIV, Israel — While the Israelis and Hamas traded rocket and missile strikes for a 16th day, Rabbi Nina Mandel is struggling to find her way back to Sunbury after the FAA on Wednesday announced that it would extend its ban on travel at Ben-Gurion International Airport for another 24 hours.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Docs: Fractures helped save rock victim's life

    DANVILLE — Sharon Budd’s condition is progressing nearly a week after a 13 1/2-hour procedure in which a team of surgeons rebuilt her facial bones and removed a damaged part of her brain, said two Geisinger Health System physicians who are part of that team

    July 24, 2014

  • Magistrate judge sides with Warrior Run

    WILLIAMSPORT — A federal magistrate judge says he agrees with a hearing officer that a Warrior Run student does not need special-education services,

    July 23, 2014

  • Inaugural Lewisburg BrewBQue Musical Festival is Saturday

    LEWISBURG — Not a beer fan? Not a problem. This Saturday’s inaugural Lewisburg BrewBQue Musical Festival, taking place from 2 to 6 p.m. on Market Street from Sixth Street to the Susquehanna River, welcomes brew lovers, barbecue fans, dancers in the street and little tykes alike with an array of events and offerings, organizers said.

    July 23, 2014

  • Decision coming on police shooting of city man

    SUNBURY — Brad Hare, the city’s former acting police chief, will learn by Friday whether he was justified in shooting a city man earlier this month, Northumberland County District Attorney Ann Targonski said Wednesday.

    July 23, 2014

  • Union County bridge replacement project begins Aug. 4

    HARTLETON — A PennDOT maintenance crew in Union County will begin a bridge replacement project Aug. 4 on Pleasant Grove Road, Route 3005, in Lewis Township, between Moll Road and Wirth Road, north of Pleasant Grove.

    July 23, 2014

  • DanCrash23.jpg BREAKING NEWS: Woman killed today in Danville area collision

    [UPDATED -- 12:18 a.m., 07/24/14]

    VALLEY TWP. — An 84-year-old Danville woman was killed when her car and a logging truck crashed Wednesday afternoon at Routes 642 and 54 in Valley Township.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jay Paterno sues Penn State for 'rush to judgment'

    STATE COLLEGE - Two former Penn State assistant football coaches, including a son of the late Joe Paterno, are suing the university, alleging that it fired them prematurely after the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal surfaced.

    July 23, 2014

The Daily Marquee
Video
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.