When The Baby Loss Foundation approached me about collaborating on a photo-shoot, something about this cause resonated very deeply within me. Perhaps it’s the fact that on both sides of our family, full term still birth has played a prominent part in our family story. Just two generations back, our grandparents suffered unimaginable loss and the tale of these tragedies was woven in to my understanding of our family history throughout my childhood. As my dear Nana approached the end of her life, the reality of these losses seemed to become once again all too real to her, and in my late twenties (at a time when I was venturing in to new parenthood myself) I found a new level of empathy, respect and compassion for my beloved Nana and the grief that she must have endured. In parallel to this, I have type 1 diabetes. Anyone managing medical conditions throughout pregnancy will be aware of the added strain and anxiety that this brings, along with the desperate desire for everything to be ok. Each fortnight in antenatal clinic brought stark reminders of the added risks and possible complications. There is a part of me that doesn’t really want to talk about it – I don’t want my friends to have to entertain the idea that this happens, that this is a reality that some families are forced to journey through. I want to smile and pretend that everything is always ok. However, to remain quiet would be a discredit to my beautiful Nana, and to the ladies I have met via diabetes support forums whose pregnancies did not end in the way that they had hoped for.
To refuse to talk about this very real and painful thing that happens would be a dishonour to the beautiful, courageous women who donated their dresses at the photoshoot two weeks ago. Each woman came with her own motives for being involved with the shoot; some of them directly affected by loss.
I said a resounding ‘yes’ to getting involved with this shoot. I was saying ‘Yes’ for my dear Nana,’Yes’ for all of my friends who have suffered miscarriage or stillbirth at any stage of pregnancy. ‘Yes’ to help raise some momentum for a very beautiful and valuable cause. I do believe that creativity and expression can bring a level of healing, and my hope is that by bringing people together to work on something creative and positive, we perhaps gave people a vehicle for processing some of their own grief, or an avenue to acknowledge and recognise the grief of a friend or family member, as well as gathering valuable dresses for the charity itself.
Cherished Gowns for angel babies UK take donated wedding dresses and transform them in to gowns, blankets and clothing for babies born too soon or too late. ‘Rock the Frock’ was conceived by Rachael Cunliffe of the Baby Loss Foundation, who wanted to make amends with her wedding dress with a stylish and fun photoshoot before sending it off to Cherished Gowns UK to be repurposed. Rachael approached me about the idea, suggesting that we could invite other women to donate their dresses too. One quick Facebook post was released with details of the event, and very quickly the offers of dresses came flying in. Over 30 dresses were donated, and 12 women joined us on the day to don their frocks one last time.
Below you will find a photo-story of our afternoon – I hope it gives you a flavour of what an uplifting, positive event this truly was. I also hope that it inspires others to consider doing something similar, especially if you have an old wedding dress gathering dust in the attic! As you browse the images, please take a little time to read each woman’s story. Everyone had their own unique and moving reasons for taking part, and we are endlessly grateful to them all.
‘I know how lucky we are to have our two healthy, happy, beautiful boys. Our first son was very poorly when he was born. We were very close to losing him. Fortunately for us, he recovered, and he’s never looked back. We could easily have been one of theÂ recipients of this amazing service.
I always intended on keeping my dress. It sounds silly, but maybe, if we ever had a daughter, she might want to wear it, or want to alter it and use it on her wedding day.
Maybe I could wear it again on a special anniversary? Either way, I was in no rush to free up the space on top of my wardrobe!!
Until I saw the post about Rock the Frock that is. Before that post, i had no idea that wedding dresses were used in this way. I instantly (and instinctively) put my name down, thinking “well it’s only boxed up and sat on the wardrobe doing nothing, it’s just a dress! It’s a lovely use for it”. Little did I realise just how heartbreaking it would be to actually hand it over when the time came!!!! The thought of my beautiful dress being cut up!!! I shouldn’t say that really, obviously it is just a dress and my ‘grief’ at letting it go is nothing compared to the real heartbreak and grief that these parents feel when they have to use this wonderful service.
We got married before we had children, so my boys had only ever seen the dress in photos. My 4 yr old calls it my Princess Dress! I really wanted them in the photos so that when they are old enough to understand, I can explain to them why I did it, and how much it meant to me to be able to take part in such a lovely ‘send off’ that included them. I’m still coming to terms with the fate of that dress, but I don’t regret it for a second. There was soooo much fabric to it, I know it’s going to help so many families, in ways I could never have anticipated when I bought it, then wore it, 5 years ago, on one of the happiest days of my life.’
‘I donated my dress because I lost my son in 2009 and found it difficult to get him something to fit that was suitable to be his forever outfit, he was only 2lb4oz and tiny. I’d seen this sort of charity in America and had been looking for a UK based one for well over a year when I discovered cherished gowns in January. I’d been meaning to post my gown out for ages but never got round to it then saw this event, I’m so glad I did it, and in such a fun and special way! So thank you.’
‘I have very little emotional attachment to my wedding dress. The day was great but it’s my marriage I love. I’ve grieved with beloved friends when babies have been lost and when this opportunity came up it just seemed the perfect thing to do with a beautiful dress I only wore once almost a decade and a half ago.’
‘4 days after a healthy 20 week scan I developed complications and was told my son wouldn’t survive. He held on 7 more weeks and was born weighing 2lb 3oz. It was touch and go for a while, but thanks to the wonderful drs and nurses at Warrington hospital he is now a happy and healthy toddler. I am acutely aware every single day how fortunate we are, and how very different things could have been.
Our wedding was about declaring our love and sharing hopes and dreams for the future, and our hope and dream is fast asleep in bed, tired after his first day at nursery, while my love is downstairs watching the rugby. I don’t need my wedding dress to remind me of that, and hopefully it will bring a glimmer of comfort to someone else in their darkest hour.’
‘I’d never intended on getting rid of my wedding dress. I assumed I would keep it for my children’s christening outfits or even pass it to my daughter so she should wear it one day. It had been sat doing nothing for close to 5 years and I saw the advertÂ for cherished gowns and I couldn’t think of any better way to use it. Nobody should ever have to suffer the loss of a baby, I have several close friends who have been through this and it is pain beyond words. Having something beautiful to bury a precious, loved, beautiful little one in may bring a little comfort at a time when it is needed most. I was only giving a material possession away, the dress symbolised a day of love and light, that something as insignificant as a dress could bring a little light to hundreds of parents seem incredibly fitting. It honours not only the dress but the babies that will get the lovely gowns. I’ve rarely seen a cause with such compassion and it was very humbling to be a part of it.’
~Katy (of the Baby Loss Foundation)~
‘I had still born twins at 24 weeks in 2006 and in 2013 I lost my little boy. When something bad happens to you, you instantly think why did this happen to me? And then when it happens again you think hold on a minute isnâ€™t somebody somewhere telling me something? I believe this was telling me that I can make a difference.
Thereâ€™s nothing that exists that you can buy off the shelves which will fit a baby that is stillborn.Itâ€™s the last thing that you can do for your baby and when you take a photograph of them it is the only thing that you will have. This is the one and only time you are going to dress that child.’
‘I didn’t have a second thought…why have a dress collecting dust when it can make a dozen gowns for Angel babies? I hope nobody close to me ever has to use this service. But if they ever need to, then I know how much it will mean to them.’
‘I’ve personally been affected by miscarriages and my sister gave birth to a baby they could not saved as she was too young. They didn’t use a service like cherished gowns but I wish it had been an option for them as it’s such an amazing service!
It’sÂ the last thing parents should have to think about in the time that they are trying to process the shock and grieve for their angel babies. My sister had photos and spent time with her angel baby who was unfortunately dressed in knitted clothes that were too big. I think parents will cherish the memoryÂ of theirÂ baby wearing precious clothing that parents know has come from such a loving place in people’s hearts.
Cherished gowns is certainly the correct name for this charity as they understand how precious and loved most of the gowns have been.
For me I could never have sold my wedding dress or just given it away to a charity shop but when I heard of this cause there wasn’t even a second thought!
It amazing to know what has brought me so many happy memories can spread more love in its new life.
I know it was hard for some people to hand their dresses over after the event & even I, who didn’t think I was that emotionally attached to my dress suddenly seemed to have fallen back in love with it through doing the photo-shoot.
When speaking with Hayley from cherished gowns said there’s 17 angel babies a day.
I was actually shocked. I decided to donate 6 more dresses to the cause. My heart goes out to every bride brave enough to donate and every person that recieves a cherished gown, the event was truly magical and heart melting experience for all involved and all that will benefit.’
~Rachael (of the Baby Loss Foundation)~
‘I don’t love my wedding dress, I love my husband (luckily) but not my dress. I got it out years ago to donate to charity but something stopped me, sentimentality I think, even though I didn’t love it I couldn’t let it go. Then I heard of Cherished Gowns, knowing Katy, Michelle and all the other women’s stories (espeically my amazing friend Mandi who has used the service) I wanted to donate it, it was doing nothing useful sat above my wardrobe after all! The problem I had was that I am nine stone lighter now than I was on my wedding day so I just couldn’t let it go without a picture, I hoped that a beautiful picture may helped me love it a bit more. I figured Hazel was the woman for the job since her photos are sublime and hey, if I rope in some more people I won’t feel as much in the spotlight! And so it all happened, beautiful day, beautiful dresses and so many amazing women. On the way home it hit me a bit though, just what we were all doing. A little bit of that dress that I didn’t love was going to be with someone at the worst time imaginable. I honestly hope that those tiny little gowns and what they represent provide a little comfort for those parents. That makes me love my dress.’
‘I did it in memory of my daughter Emma who should turn 6 this year, i know how horrendous an experience it is, having to cope with not bringing your baby home, worrying about how you’re going to pay for a funeral, so worrying cos you have no clothes to put your precious baby in also must just be an added stress you don’t need. So in Emma’s memory it became a bit of a mission to get as many dresses as possible. Most of my wonderful friends responded brilliantly. It filled me with joy how wonderful people can be, I had offers from America, France, offers to hold events down south, my neighbour has said she will pick them up if in charity shops its just amazing.’
*Michelle collected 16 dresses from friends on the day of the shoot, and has several more coming in*
I’ll be honest – when I was first asked to do this shoot, it took me a little while to reach the point of my resounding “yes”. It took some thinking time. I was worried that it was too depressing – that people looking for an up-beat family photographer might not like to see such a depressing topic on my blog. Â Mandi is a mother who has tragically had to make use of the service that Cherished Gowns UK provide.It was Mandi’s words that cemented my decision, and I know it was the right one.
‘It’s really helped me to come to terms with my loss as part of the process I got to bath and dress Tilly for her baptising (being only 2lb I was distraught she would have no clothing) but the thing that I can’t thank them enough for was the lining for the Moses basket as it made visiting the funeral place a lot more easy as she just looked like she was sleeping. I can now look back at my last snuggle/kiss and chat with her at peace as if I laid her down to sleep.’ ~Mandi
Although it is anÂ agonisinglyÂ difficult topic to talk about, the ‘rock the frock’ event gave me real faith in the human spirit. It showed me what can be achieved when people come together and are not ashamed or afraid to speak up. I hope that for those affected directly by baby loss, this blog post will serve as an acknowledgment of your pain, an acknowledgement of your childÂ and of your loss. For more info and support please contact the Baby Loss Foundation.
~ Hazel x ~
With Special Thanks to these amazing suppliers for your time, generosity and patience: