Debbie MacDonald vividly recalls the grief she felt when she lost a child at the age of 23 in 1984.
“I woke up on Mother’s Day and my child was gone.”
She also remembers that back then there little support for parents who lost babies to miscarriage, stillbirth, or newborn death.
“You basically had to get on with it. It took me and my husband a long time to come to terms with our loss.”
Thirty years later the Wolfville resident seeks to ease that pain for other parents who share her experience by creating infant demise gowns for the IWK Children’s Hospital.
Using donated wedding and prom gowns MacDonald makes tiny baptism-like gowns that are offered to parents when a child dies in hospital.
“I do this because I understand the feelings they have. You blame yourself, wonder what you did wrong. It is a very sad time.”
After coming across the idea in a church newsletter about six years ago, MacDonald has created more than 50 tiny gowns and donated them to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the IWK.
With each donation MacDonald learns from the nursing staff how much the gowns are appreciated. Their comments prompt her to continue her design efforts.
“They tell me they offer comfort at such a hard time for a family. I am committed to the IWK. They need my help.”
MacDonald also uses donated materials to create angel pockets, which are suitable for a mid-pregnancy loss when the baby is too fragile and small to dress.
The creation of each gown presents an “extremely emotional” experience for MacDonald.
“I can only work so long on them, then I need to take a break, because its stirs up memories and emotions for me.”
Creating gowns small enough to fit a one-pound child is also physically demanding.
“A sleeve on one of these gowns will fit over one of my fingers,” explained MacDonald, noting the hand-work is “tiny and painstaking.”
“My hands can only do it for so long.”
MacDonald, who went on to be "blessed with two healthy children," has also been touched by the reasons that people donate gowns for her work.
“I had a lady contact me recently whose daughter died in the 2004 tsunami (in Thailand). She wanted her wedding dress to be used for something good.”
Her gowns are created in three sizes to fit infants ranging in size from one pound to full term. Each gown is unique and given the same attention she would use for a loved one.
“I don’t make them to put a dead child in. I put someone’s child in them.”
Since news of her hobby has been shared, MacDonald has been flooded with wedding gown donations and is running out of storage space.