North Union United Methodist Church Swaddling Club members Maria Heiliger, Sharon Fox, Sandy Hendrich, Sally Nicklasch, Marcy Wilson, Anna Mae Fagg, Mary Fisher, Rita Robertson, Merri West, Sheri Johnson, Shirley Schlatter, Martha Brown, Evie Holwerda, Dawn Junkens, Marianne Manion, Tammy Pigg and Ruth Ann Russell use their nimble fingers to crochet or knit outfits from donated materials for premature babies who have passed away.
Robertson, a registered nurse who works with mothers and their premature babies, brought the special need to the attention of Heiliger and the church members, who formed their Swaddling Club this past fall.
"Many times, clothes are not available for premature babies who have passed away to wear for the funeral," Heiliger said. "We make sizes of clothing for preemie babies from 1-7 pounds in hopes it will ease the family's burden during such a difficult time."
Although not everyone knew how to crochet or knit in the beginning, West, Johnson and Fox taught the others how to create the tiny fashions. They are also willing to teach anyone who wants to join the group who may not currently know how to crochet or knit.
"If you don't know how to, they will teach you," Heiliger said. "They taught me."
Made of soft baby yarn in bright colors, the group has donated more than 200 hats, bonnets, blankets, booties, dresses, onesies and sweaters for grieving families to use.
Heiliger said there is a demand for golf ball size hats and small outfits for premature babies with a birth weight of less than a pound that pass away.
According to Terre Haute Union Hospital RN and RTS Bereavement Services Coordinator Sue Hoopengarner, having appropriate sized clothing and blankets allows families to deal with the death of a child. Even the soft texture of the yarn used to create the clothes allows families to identify with the life of their child and begin the crucial healing process.
"It's not the outcome the family expected or wanted, but they deserve to have positive memories of the experience. The baby deserves to be treated with dignity and love," Hoopengarner said. "Having something that fits their baby, that was handmade for that sole purpose, is very meaningful to the family."
With one in four pregnancies ending in the loss of a child (the majority in the first trimester) Hoopengarner said Union Hospital experiences two or three premature second or third trimester deaths a month.
This creates an ongoing need for dainty garments that could fit in the palm of a hand.
"Sometimes we get lucky and we don't have any (deaths) in OB," she said. "Other times, we make up for (not having any). It is a tough time for everyone involved."
The Swaddling Club also creates very specific sized clothing items for preemies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Union Hospital.
Families treasure the tiny garments made especially for their child, according to Hoopengarner, who said it helps provide hope for a healthy outcome.
Heiliger said all the donated materials are used by the Swaddling Club to help those in need.
"If we receive yarn that can't be used for baby clothes, then we put it to good use in other places," Heiliger said.
The group creates hats and scarves for homeless shelters and local food pantries throughout the Wabash Valley.
Feeling empowered about their work, the group believes it is doing its Christian duty to help others in need. It creates an upbeat feeling when it is gathered in the church's basement.
But many members take projects home, and, in those quiet moments alone, the magnitude of what they are doing can be overwhelming.
Several women have been brought to tears crocheting the tiniest of the clothing items, 1-2 inch long baby booties.
Although Heiliger doesn't have personal experience to draw upon, as a mother of two children she admits she has been emotionally drawn to the project.
"These babies, no matter how short their lives were, deserve a moment where they look as good as possible for their families," Heiliger said. "This is a small way we can help these families to have some good memories come from a tough time."
HOW TO HELP
The North Union United Methodist Church Swaddling Club needs donations of:
* Soft baby yarn in bright colors (excluding solid yellow),
* Knitting needles and crochet hooks,
* Ribbon, buttons and snaps in baby colors,
* Plastic storage bags in gallon, quart and sandwich sizes to store the outfits, and
* Cash donations to purchase supplies.
To support this project, send donations or monetary gifts made out to North Union United Methodist Church, in care of Church Treasurer Sally Nicklasch, 5272 West State Road 340, Brazil, or stop by the church 7-9 p.m., Wednesday, March 26.
To learn more or make arrangements to drop off donations, contact Rita Robertson at 442-5705.