Hundreds of brides are donating their used wedding dresses to be transformed into 'angel gowns' for stillborn babies and small babies who die in early infancy.
Hamilton midwife Kirstin Rouse set-up the Facebook page Angel Gowns New Zealand last week and has been flooded with responses from women wanting to give her their wedding dresses so they can be reconstructed into small gowns.
In New Zealand more than 300 babies are stillborn every year and their parents would be given the option of dressing their babies in them.
Within the first week of taking on the project, Ms Rouse has received 15 wedding dresses and another 100 have been promised. She has also been sent a colourful assortment of bridesmaid dresses and another woman is making small cloth nappies for babies from 20 weeks gestation to wear underneath.
So far the Facebook page has received more than 2,500 likes and sewers have also volunteered their time.
Ms Rouse said she was blown away by the response as she had originally planned to do it as a hobby with the support of her friends and family, but was now accepting all the help she could get.
Her dining room is cluttered with second-hand wedding dresses and every spare minute is spent deconstructing the vast range of dresses from vintage to those only a few years old. She has also posted a picture of each dress she received on the Facebook page and planned to put up photos of the gowns they made. The patterns were supplied by Angel Gowns Australia which provides the same service, but plans are also underway to come up with a pattern more suitable for boys. The idea was the brainchild of US hospital worker Michelle Matthews who runs Angel Gowns by Michelle from Washington.
Ms Rouse's aunt Teresa Baker completed the first gown yesterday from Hamilton woman's Ashleigh Strange's dress and it has already been requested for a family in Auckland. It took the experienced seamstress four hours to make and it is estimated about 10 small gowns will be made from one wedding dress.
Ms Rouse, who has been a mid-wife for 10 years, said she had seen first-hand just how important it was for parents to have something special for their babies. Waikato Hospital did have basic gowns available with ribbons donated by a group of sewers, but she said these dresses would give parents more choice.
"As a midwife I see just how often it does happen, people do need something - they need the memories. I've had someone recently talk to me about how they didn't get to choose what their baby wore and someone has messaged me on the page saying they had no idea what their baby wore... A lot of parents will dress their babies but keep the clothing so they have something to remember the baby by."
Angel gowns will be sent to hospitals in the North Island as similar services are available in the South Island. They will be sent to hospitals on request and distributed through Sands, a group supporting people who have suffered baby and infancy loss.
Ashleigh Strange shed a tear when she saw the small tiny gown that had been made from her wedding dress.
"I cried. It was quite bitter sweet. It was beautiful seeing something like that made up that's so gorgeous and precious, and heart breaking at the same time that you know that it's purpose is so sad."
The mother-of-two had seen a family member go through the pain of losing a baby and since she couldn't sew, saw it as a small way she could help make it easier for the parents.
"Your wedding dress is something you love and you treasure and to have something you love turned into something to pass onto other people who are going through something like that. It is just a little thing I can contribute, but I'm happy to pass it onto someone if I can help that part of their life go smoother."
She learnt about Angel Gowns New Zealand when Ms Rouse, who had been her midwife, posted a link to her Facebook page last week and decided to donate her dress which had been sitting idle in her wardrobe for the past three-and-a-half years since her wedding day.
2,500 Facebook likes
300 stillborn births in New Zealand every year
115 wedding dresses donated so far
11 days since it was launched
1 angel gown made so far