A white, fabric heart with carefully sewn lace sits in the Price family home. For some, it might just be a piece of material, but for husband and wife Hunter and Dolores Price, it’s a symbol of a life that was, and has served as a powerful tool to assist through their grief.
Dolores was eight weeks pregnant in 2016 when she and Hunter learned their baby was not going to make it.
Because the loss was so soon during the pregnancy, the Prices didn’t have an opportunity to bring anything home from the hospital, except an envelope filled with medical documents. But inside that envelope, there was also the fabric heart that has been instrumental in grieving such an insurmountable loss.
After returning home from the hospital, Dolores awoke to see the heart and she immediately wanted to know more. She found the card on the back of the heart with a phone number for an organization called Angel Layettes.
She developed a strong drive to find where the heart came from, and called Angel Layettes, at 10534 Farm-to-Market Road 2813 in Flint, at 6 p.m. one evening.
The person on the phone told her the heart represented her baby who is now an angel in heaven.
For the Prices, that heart has given them the opportunity to heal.
“To me, it means that my baby is alive and with me,” Dolores said. “I get to hold his or her heart.”
Founded in 2004 by Sharon Sikes, a Christus Trinity Mother Frances Hospital volunteer, Angel Layettes creates burial layettes for grieving families across the world in a residence office filled with sewing equipment and caring individuals. Hospitals make requests for the clothing packages at no cost to the family or hospital.
Angel Layettes’ mission is to bring “comfort to grieving families who have lost an infant prior to birth or shortly after by providing, without charge, custom burial layettes and keepsakes.” That purpose is felt year-round, as statistics show one in four pregnancies in the U.S. end in loss, but especially in October, which is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month.
After making that call, Dolores and Hunter met at Angel Layettes that same evening to see a heart like theirs being made. In coming there, they saw the love and care put into each heart.
“Every heart that’s there can feel like it’s broken, but it’s all put together,” Dolores said. “Your heart will heal one day.”
Two-year volunteer Bonnie Hale explained the volunteers at Angel Layettes will sew hearts, layettes, blankets, hats and gowns from the “large to itty bitty babies.” She said they use baby dolls of various sizes to model the clothing.
Hale spends her time sewing the gowns, ironing materials and whatever else is needed. She’s even delivered some packages to Christus Trinity Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler.
Hale said Angel Layettes has become an important organization to her because she lost two children in the early years of her marriage.
As a Flint resident, she drove by the headquarters often and soon stopped by to find out more.
“It holds a special place in my heart because I know what it’s like to lose a child,” Hale said.
Hale is also a hospital volunteer at Christus Trinity Mother Frances, and she’s seen the grief of expectant parents losing a child.
“I just love doing this because I know what effect it can have on parents,” Hale said.
A Heart to Hold
The size of the clothing the Angel Layettes volunteers sew changes based on the baby. For the Prices, the single heart was all they had to hold.
“This is a heart that represents the heart of our baby, and it stays in a picture frame in our home,” Dolores said.
Hunter explained they didn’t get to have the memories and something tangible to mourn without the heart. But the sadness and sense of deep loss was still there, and the heart allowed them to go through those emotions.
“From day one, you know there’s a baby,” he said. “You invest something of yourself in that. It (the heart) just comes to represent the dignity of the life that was. In a way, it allowed us to actually grieve.”
He noted that sometimes in the event of a miscarriage people will often pretend like it didn’t happen, but the grief process and finding a way to talk about the loss is important.
She will always be grateful for the love and kindness of volunteers at Angel Layettes, she said. For her, they gave support that she wasn’t able to find anywhere at the time.
Dolores and Hunter said miscarriages and infancy losses often prove a taboo subject. Dolores recalled going to her church, but there wasn’t a group for those who have gone through such a tragedy.
She called Angel Layettes the “group (she) needed at the time.” That’s how she started to heal – by finding people to talk to.
“We need to talk about this more as much as it hurts,” Dolores said.
To this day, she continues to help out at Angel Layettes on and off. Because to her, it’s home.
She never thought a piece of material would help her, but the heart caught everything they felt.
“It was more than that (material); it was a life,” she said.
Without the heart, both said the grief would have been so much harder to process.
“If I didn’t have that, I don’t know if I’d be as comfortable talking about it,” Dolores said. “The heart means the world to me.”
Hunter added that they likely would have internalized the loss between each other.
For others going through a similar pain, Dolores and Hunter said it’s important to give yourself time to grieve and find others who have experience in this loss.
“It’s OK to grieve and that you need to acknowledge that life that was there however briefly,” he said.
Learning from experience, Dolores said people should not close up, but instead get involved with support groups, such as Glory Babies – a group that meets at the Children’s Park in Tyler.
“It will start healing your hearts – talking to others for sure,” she said. “Sometimes it helps to talk to strangers instead of family or friends.”
Hunter also encouraged husbands to talk their wives after experiencing such a loss. He said it’s OK to be strong and supportive, but also it’s important to be able to open up.
“You’ve got to talk about it,” he said. “As a couple, you’ve got to keep the channels of communication open.”
For those wanting to comfort a loved one, Hunter and Dolores said there’s no substitute for a person’s physical presence.
“It’s not what you say, it’s what you do,” she said. “Having a family member or friend be there, there’s nothing better.”
“Quiet togetherness” is the best starting point, Hunter added.
How to Help
Vickie Chancellor, Angel Layettes volunteer manager, first came to the job this August, and she says it’s inspired her to help more.
“It helps so many people with that one little piece of fabric,” Chancellor said. “They get to take a part of the baby.”
Chancellor added it’s rewarding to see volunteers sign up to help Angel Layettes.
“No matter what stage of pregnancy you’re in, it’s a still a loss of a child,” she said.
Hale said the volunteers have become a small family, and added there is always room for more if people feel led to help and can sew.
“Even though you’re doing something serious, you can still see God’s hand in this,” she said. “As long as my eyes don’t fail me, I’ll be here.”
Volunteer and board member Kim Prothro said there’s often a stigma around infancy loss, but being involved with something to help mothers is “amazing.”
Roughly 2,500 products from the operation in Flint are distributed each year. The goal is that quantity must never override quality.
“Our goal is how many can we get done exactly right because we want a perfect gown for the baby,” Chancellor said.
Sherri Priest came on board three weeks ago to use her time and sewing skills well.
“I think it’s a good project and a good way to help other people,” Priest said.