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Brides Are Turning Their Wedding Gowns Into Burial Gowns For Babies Who've Died In The NICU

The Angel Gown Program supports families who have lost a baby.

Instead of letting their wedding dresses gather dust for decades, some brides are donating them to the Angel Gown Program, where seamstresses will turn them into gowns for babies in the NICU who have died.

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"NICU Helping Hands started offering bereavement gowns to families on a very small scale in the fall of 2013 after we saw this need in hospitals where we were running our other support programs for NICU families," Lisa R. Grubbs, president of NICU Helping Hands, told BuzzFeed Life. "Our program is an acknowledgement that their child mattered even in death — that the life had been meaningful regardless of how long the child lived."

Grubbs said the garment itself is symbolic.

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"A wedding gown donated by a bride from the happiest day of her life, sewn by a volunteer into a one-of-a-kind custom gown for a baby that has died or will die... importance, honor, respect, caring, and love are embodied in this gift that is freely given to anyone that needs it," she said.

In 2014, the organization received more than 8,000 wedding gowns.

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After a wedding gown is donated, one of 700 volunteer seamstresses across the United States will spend hours refashioning it.

"It isn’t a quick and easy process," Grubbs said. "We have developed very strict guidelines to ensure that we provide the best garment to every family and hospital we serve. So the making of our garments is tedious, exacting, and not fast."

The gowns are always provided at no cost to the families, and NICU Helping Hands relies on donations to cover packaging and mailing costs. (If you're interested in donating, you can find more information here.)

The stories Grubbs shared about the Angel Gown Program are incredibly moving.

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"We have had the honor of custom designing a garment for conjoined infants — a garment for this situation is not available anywhere, but where there is a need we seek to fill it," she said. "We have worked with individual families who knew they were going to lose their baby as soon as the baby was born and we used their personal wedding gown to create the garment that their precious child would be clothed in. So many stories but each has a common thread: It's about recognizing a need for compassion and saying, 'Yes, we will help you.'"

Grubbs said the program gives parents permission to grieve openly and honor the life of their child.

Holly D. Gray / Via

"Grief is not a moment or an event — it is a process, and a long, difficult one," she said. "Grief is always difficult, but when someone feels that nobody understands or cares or values the reason for their grief, the process can be complicated with feelings of anger, frustration, loneliness."

"Providing this garment, along with caring and support, gives validation to the parent and also sets a more positive foundation for this journey."