BOISE — When a baby dies, the last thing the parents feel like doing is to go shopping in stores full of cute clothes their babies will never wear — especially when there are few options for the tiny infants who've spent most of their few days in the hospital newborn intensive care unit.
When Paramount Ward (Meridian Idaho Paramount Stake) Relief Society President Becky Hansen contacted St. Luke's Hospital to see what they needed, Amber Frank, who works in the NICU, suggested the sisters in the ward make and donate baby burial clothing.
Hansen agreed to take on the project with the original goal to provide 30 boys' outfits and 30 girls' dresses in 12 weeks.
The final number was more than double that, with 71 boys' suits, 65 girls' dresses, 50 headbands, 43 hats, 25 pairs of booties, 30 lace bootie socks and 122 blankets.
JaNae Neyman and Kathie Kynaston drove the project. Kynaston had lost a little girl. Neyman had buried two children.
"The first day that Kathie and I got together to discuss the details of this project, we sat at my kitchen table and shared our own experiences with our own babies," Neyman said. "Kathie also lost a little girl and prepared burial clothing for her. As we reminisced and talked of doing this project for hundreds of other families who would likewise experience what we had, we just sat and cried, remembered, planned and cried some more. It was a very special beginning and really gave us the determination to see its grand finish all the way through."
Said Hansen: "Kathie Kynaston created the patterns for the dresses and boys outfits (since there aren't ready-made patterns small enough for very premature babies). She also went to the church twice a day every Tuesday for three months to teach the younger women how to sew and/or crochet and knit."
The Relief Society women formed a kind of assembly-line crew with young women in the ward making 50 elastic headbands decorated with small flowers and jewels. Many tended the small children while their mothers sewed.
Even the young men in the ward used looms to make little white stocking caps.
"It was hard thinking about little children dying but comforting to be able to alleviate some of the burden of the grieving parents," Kynaston said. "We both understood what a hard time it is and how difficult it is to take care of all the remaining earthly tasks for a little one we so wanted to raise and be with here. As we worked with the sisters on this project, some expressed increased thankfulness for their own children and their own trials."
The sisters in the ward were asked to sign up to make a love packet, or packets that would consist of a dress or suit, booties, hat or headband, and blanket.
They could donate money, skills or their time. Material for the dresses and suits was purchased with money donated by sisters who could not help with the sewing.
"Amazingly, we received monetary donations and resources that fulfilled this project down to the last penny and piece of material. It was miraculous," Neyman said. "We knew we needed to be frugal and thrifty, yet we wanted the outfits to be beautiful. It was thrilling each time a new batch of dresses and little outfits and blankets were brought in."
Kynaston said the project served as a great opportunity to teach the ward sisters crocheting, knitting and sewing skills.
"We sponsored two-hour classes two to three times a day on one day a week for three months. Sisters who had never opened their machines from the box learned how to set up her machine and sew with it. Some learned how to use ribbing for the first time, some learned to crochet and make hats, blankets and booties."
Senior stake Relief Society sisters who meet once a month were asked to make blankets.
"My mother, Frances Transtrum, who is 83, made the original dress patterns and little 'tuxedo' patterns by looking at a sample St. Luke's gave us," Kynaston said. "She personally created 35 dresses (each one unique in lace and design), 17 tuxedos, 47 pairs of booties, 29 caps/hats and 28 crocheted blankets. She said she was so thankful to be needed. Each night when she retired to bed, her mind would just race, designing the little dress to make the next day."
Betty Record, another elderly sister, crocheted 10 blankets, working with one arm in a cast.
"Even though we have had no feedback from parents, this work was very rewarding," Kynaston said. "At our Relief Society birthday celebration, we handed out blank cards and asked the sisters to write messages of love to the grieving parents so a card could be given with each little outfit. The messages written were very touching; as mothers, we know how precious these little ones are. Many were signed, 'Your sister from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Relief Society.' "
A nurse on the bereavement board of St. Luke's said she saw a mother gasp in awe as her little one was brought in to her all dressed in white and said, "She looks just like an angel."