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Women Team Up to Create Burial Gowns for Premature Babies
By Rebecca Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
05:59PM / Sunday, August 21, 2016
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These burial gowns are the largest size that will be made.

The gowns are lovingly and delicately hand-stitched.
 

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Jennifer Breen knows she’s one of the lucky ones.

The North Adams attorney was able to take her son home from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Baystate Medical Center, where he spent the first 10 weeks of his life after being born at 29 weeks’ gestation. She is now able to hug and hold her happy and healthy 15-month-old son Joey every day and put the terrifying ordeal behind them.
 
But not everyone is so fortunate, and as Breen stayed connected with the preemie community online, she realized there was one thing that made the trauma of losing a premature baby so much worse for grieving parents: not being able to give their child a proper burial in proper clothing because nothing was small enough. She did some research and came across a website referencing “angel gowns,” where seamstresses were able to repurpose wedding gowns into beautiful burial clothing for these tiny infants.
 
The wheels in her head turned, and using her own wedding gown to get started, she has teamed up with North Adams seamstress Tammy Lyn Annichiarico to begin “Peace by Piece Creations’ Angel Gowns of North Adams” to create free burial gowns for deceased premature infants.
 
“While I was researching, my heart broke,” said Breen, who said the statistics about premature babies are “staggering.”

According to the March of Dimes, “a premature baby is one who is born too early, before 37 weeks. Premature babies may have more health problems and may need to stay in the hospital longer than babies born later. They also may have long-term health problems that can affect their whole lives. About 1 in 10 babies is born prematurely each year in the United States.”
 
Been said the need was clear in the greater Berkshire County area, as she could only find angel gown providers in western New York and eastern Massachusetts. So she is doing the legal legwork to turn “Peace by Piece Creations’ Angel Gowns of North Adams” into a nonprofit. Annichiarico is doing the sewing, which she has done professionally through her Etsy shop “Peace by Piece Creations” for years, making children’s clothing and other unique apparel. Together they are trying to get the word out to local funeral homes, churches and hospitals that they are providing this service, free of charge, and also that they are accepting donations of wedding gowns and even prom dresses that can be repurposed into beautiful baptismal and burial gowns and suits for premature babies or even older infants who might need a smaller size. They plan to donate several pre-made outfits to hospitals but also be available to create a custom one should the need arise.
 
“There are children in our community who are very, very sick,” Annichiarico said. “We will drop everything to be there for them.”
 

A boy’s burial gown.
Anyone who would like to make a wedding dress donation, or who needs a gown donation or knows someone who does, can contact Peace by Piece Creation's Angel Gowns by email at peacebypiececreations@yahoo.com, via Facebook or by telephone at 413-672-1848. Annichiarico said she can repurpose every part of a wedding gown and can even use tuxedos and cummerbunds to make suits for little boys. The women also will accept cash donations, donations of notions like buttons, lace or bows, and donations of nice gift boxes to ship the outfits in.
 
Been, looking back to the time she spent with Joey in the NICU, said she wished she would have known there were clothing options right after he was born.
 
“I had him baptized when he was three days old because I didn’t know what was going to happen to him,” said Breen, who was too sick to leave the maternity unit to be at the christening. “I saw photos and he was in a diaper and there were numerous tubes coming out of his tiny body. I would have dressed him properly if that were available at the time.”
 
Been doesn’t want any other new parents thrust into the terrifying world of the premature birth of their child to have to go through that.
 
“Our goal is to be big enough that if anyone has a need anywhere, we can ship something out as needed,” she said. “It’s a sad place, but I can be strong enough to do this.” 
 
Annichiarico said she knew right away she had found her calling when she started making the first gown in her sewing room on the second floor of her North Adams home.
 
“I’m watching this outfit fall together. It’s finished. I realized what I had in my hand, and my heart feel out of my chest and onto the sewing room floor,” she said. “I found my purpose.”
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