When expectant parents' joy turns to heartache in an instant, feelings of loneliness and despair rush in.
Just ask Anne Ancelet, who's experienced the loss of seven great-grandbabies, and Christine Fritscher, who lost a newborn in 2020. The women's common bond: Born with Angel Wings.
Nine years ago, when Ancelet, of Baton Rouge, got the news of her first great-grandbaby's passing, she and her husband, Cliff, were understandably devastated.
"It really tore me up," Anne Ancelet recalls. "I've always just worshiped babies."
Ancelet found comfort with some yarn and a hook, crocheting small blankets. She had no notion of what she'd do with the infant-sized coverings, no earthly idea that Born with Angel Wings would become her full-time mission.
The 501c3 nonprofit organization makes and donates burial garments for infants who "earn their wings at birth." But the group Ancelet founded doesn't stop there. Angel Wings supplies boxes of curated items, including the garments, to 10 area hospitals, with plans to add four more in the near future. Other families needing assistance reach out to Angel Wings by phone or online.
During the start of the coronavirus lockdown, Fritscher and husband, Blake, of Ponchatoula, welcomed and had to say goodbye to Nora Dell, their second baby and first daughter. While at Lakeview Hospital in Covington, a nurse brought the couple a box from Angel Wings.
"Just knowing that she was taken care of and could be dressed in something, not just a hospital blanket, was a great feeling," Fritscher said.
Ancelet credits divine intervention for steering her to Angel Wings.
"He told me that this is what I was to do, make these blankets for babies that were stillborn or miscarried or full term, whatever, you know, had passed away," Ancelet recalls. "And so, I just kept crocheting.
"Another day, God told me that he wanted me to take these things into hospitals for the parents, you know, that had lost their babies, and not to charge anything."
She researched, located a dress pattern and set to work on that first infant dress. Not a fan of or adept in sewing, it took a long time, she said.
Upon completion, she put the tiny satin garment on a doll she had used for sizing.
"I didn't think I'd ever use it," she says.
A call from a former co-worker about a mother expected to lose her full-term baby that week send Ancelet out to a baby boutique for a christening gown for the baby, hat, shoes and socks. While mailing the package to Mississippi, Ancelet and a postal worker's conversation surrounding the contents of the package led to another request.
"My brother lost his baby girl last night," the worker said, in tears. "Can you get me something for her? She's only like a pound and a half."
Back at home in her "Angel" room, Ancelet took a dress from one of her pattern dolls, and crocheted some hats, finishing them off with pink rosebuds.
More requests came, volunteers came on board without being asked, the Angel Room grew into the Angel Studio, transformed from the Ancelets' backyard garage, and Born with Angel Wings has soared since.
Monetary donations and corporate sponsorships keep the nonprofit afloat.
With chapters in East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge and Tangipahoa parishes, volunteers gather for workshops, work days and smaller groups for "fun days" at the Angel Studio for the assembly line-like detailed work of sewing garments, making hats, shoes, socks, diapers, blankets and more for inclusion in each Angel Wings gift. Angel Wings is also Cliff Ancelet's mission. Now retired, he cooks, does the bookkeeping, hauls boxes, whatever the group needs.
Other volunteers live in Pennsylvania, Chicago, Michigan and other states, Ancelet said. Angel Wings supplies all materials, down to spools of thread, that the volunteers need. Those out-of-state are mailed their supplies and mail back their finished products.
The majority of the dresses are made from deconstructed wedding gown donations, the seamstresses trimming all the embellishments and using them and the material to create the tiny gowns, which come in different sizes to fit the infants' varying gestation ranges.
In each box, the grieving family finds:
"We're particular on everything, you know, because this is gonna be the only garments this baby is ever going to wear," Ancelet says. "And the only garments that the parents are ever going to see these babies in. And so, we want them to be as perfect as what we can get them.
"One of the gentlemen said that he was very sad that that was gonna be the only wedding dress his little girl would ever wear."
The volunteers are now working on a scaled-down version of the packages for the parents of babies with early miscarriages.
"We have over a hundred volunteers. They're all angels," Ancelet says.
For her work with the nonprofit, Ancelet was recently selected by Nexstar Media Inc. as the Remarkable Woman of the Year for Baton Rouge. She has since advanced to the national competition in Hollywood. Nexstar owns and operates WGMB, Channel 44, and WBRL, Channel 21.
There's one more item in the Angel Wing gift boxes now, by way of the Fritschers and their extended family.
After the loss of Nora Dell, her grandmother, Helen Ford Dufreche, also of Ponchatoula, began making beaded dragonflies as Christmas ornaments in memory of Nora. When Ancelet saw photos of the dragonflies she got the idea to add them into the Angel boxes.
Fritscher and her mother had already reached out about volunteering, so now the two and some additional volunteers are making these latest trinkets.
The family got the idea for dragonflies after seeing them land in their yard during pandemic, sometimes even upon the Fritschers' 4-year-old son, Christian. They also now have another son, Ford, 1.
"And you know the legend of the dragonflies? That they're sent from heaven like angels," Fritscher said. A poem explaining the legend is included in each box, too.
Speaking of angels, Nora Dell's other grandmother, Julie Fritscher, a Mandeville artist, painted a set of large angel wings for the Angel Studio and another set for the young couple's home, where a "Nora wall" honors the memory of their baby.
"I heard of the boxes before. I went to nursing school and learned about stillbirth and how some organizations do it, but never did I think that I would be recipient of a box," Fritscher said. "But it was such a breath of fresh air in such a dark time. … They truly thought of everything. All I can say, it was like a light in the darkness that day."
For more information, visit https://bornwithangelwings.com/.
BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – March is International Women’s Month and BRProud wants to recognize the great contributions that women make to our nation and local communities.
The winner of this year’s Remarkable Women provides closure to grieving families after the loss of a child.
Anne Ancelet, the founder of a non-profit organization, “Born with Angel Wings” turned her pain into a blessing. “We’ve lost seven and when we lost our first grandbaby, I was grieving,” said Ancelet.
The group makes burial outfits for babies out of old wedding dresses.
“I like to crochet. It kind of calms me,” said Ancelet. Now she’s taking it a step further.
“I said Lord, this is your ministry and if this is what you really want me to do you gotta send me help,” said Ancelet.
Ancelet said her prayers are coming to fruition after receiving a check from Nexstar Media Group, Inc. for $1,000 as this year’s winner of the Remarkable Women competition in Baton Rouge.
“This really means a lot to my heart. I wanted all the credit to go to Born with Angel Wings,” she said.
Now, Ancelet is heading to California to compete against other Remarkable Women across the nation. But winning it all could make her dream of nine years come true.
“I would love to be able to purchase a cuddle cot for every hospital that we supply,” said Ancelet.
It’s designed with technology to keep the beds cool.
“The parents are able to keep the baby in the room longer before it starts decomposing,” said Ancelet.
Regardless of the outcome, Ancelet said she’s humbled and grateful to be a blessing to others.
“We’ll tell you in a second, this is our passion. This comes before anything,” said Ancelet.
The WBR Chapter of Born With Angel Wings hosted a workshop on July 9 at the WBR Sheriff’s Posse Building. Anne & Cliff Ancelet, founders of the ministry, welcomed 40 attendees. They were especially honored to welcome 14 ladies who had never attended a Born With Angel Wings workshop.
During her opening remarks, Mrs. Ancelet gave an overview of the organization and dedicated the workshop to the memory of Carolyn Swanson, a dedicated volunteer who passed away. Carolyn’s sisters, Cheryl Moses and Natalie Badeaux, shared some memories of their sister. Andrea Norman, a retired nurse who consoled many parents following the loss of their babies, told of the comfort a family feels when receiving an Angel Box.
The remainder of the day involved making items for the boxes. Table leaders assisted volunteers with sewing burial gowns, making tiny diapers, making ribbon cross bookmarks & beautiful beaded dragonflies, and much more. After a delicious lunch provided by WBR volunteers, more items were made and some volunteers brought projects home to complete.
The following volunteers were in attendance:
Cheryl Tassin, KK Blanchard, Cliff Ancelet, Anne Ancelet, Linda Peterson, Tammy McLin, Kristin Garcia, Colleen Martin,Terry Farrar, Chris Resweber, Carol Quattrone, Ruth Stanley, Cindy Carroll, Cheryl Moses, Zoe Moses,Pam Hebert, Susan Dufrene, Janell Woods,Vicki Glader, Betty Calcagno, Metha Arnold, Sara Grady, Melissa Guilbeau, Susan Brown, Tina Chenevert, Pearline Laprarie, Anita Wilkinson, Linda Mouch, Pam Walsh, Karen Perron, Gerry Achee, Julie Achee, Andrea Nornmand, Michelle Cagle, Wendy LeBlanc, Mona Landry, Dorene Mayeaux, Pam Keowen, Terry Saizan, and Natalie Badeaux.
Anne & Cliff Ancelet would like to thank Sheriff Mike Caze for the use of the facility. Chapter Leaders Metha Arnold and Colleen Martin wish to thank those who attended and all of the volunteers who helped to make the workshop a huge success. They invite you learn more about the ministry by visiting their Facebook page, Born With Angel Wings, or their website www.bornwithangelwings.com.
Meet a group of Northshore ladies who hand-sew burial garments for the parents of babies that are stillborn.
The Born With Angel Wings ministry is proud to announce that due to increased participation by its volunteers, it is now able to offer Angel Boxes to funeral homes in the area. These beautiful boxes are offered free of charge to grieving parents who lose a baby before, at, or shortly after birth. Each box contains a burial gown, many made from donated wedding gowns, blanket, hat, booties, diapers, mommy-baby bracelet set, cross bookmark, locket-of-hair bag, kleenex, photo album, journal, forget-me-not seeds, stuffed animal, & a book on grieving. The ministry is a non-profit and operates strictly on donations, with volunteers using their God-given talents to create handmade items for the boxes. The focus of the WBR chapter during April and May has been on collecting items and assembling them in boxes for delivery to the funeral homes. The first delivery went to Wilbert Funeral Home for their locations in Port Allen and Plaquemine. More deliveries to other funeral homes are planned for the coming weeks. In order to prepare the Angel Boxes for delivery, items were collected from the many volunteers who make them and a workday was held at the KC Hall in Port Allen. Several WBR volunteers gathered to assemble approximately 100 boxes under the guidance of Anne and Cliff Ancelet, founders of Born with Angel Wings. The volunteers who helped with this project were Metha Arnold, Colleen Martin, Toni Brantley, Ruth Stanley, KK Blanchard, Michelle Cagle and Cheryl Tassin.
Anne & Cliff Ancelet would like to thank the Knights of Columbus for the use of their hall. They would also like the community to know that an Angel Box can be requested directly from them if a family does not have access to one from a hospital or funeral home. Contact information can be found on the Born With Angel Wings Facebook page or at bornwithangelwings.com. Anyone interested in volunteering or making a donation are asked to send a message through the Facebook page. Anne Ancelet often says that it takes a village to dress the baby angels for Heaven. West Baton Rouge has an amazing village of volunteers who work tirelessly and generously toward this end. Offers to donate wedding gowns are appreciated, but are still not being accepted at this time due to covid.
Michelle Cagle and Catherine Wilbert Chustz
BORN WITH ANGEL WINGS
About four years ago, Anne McCoy felt the pain and sorrow of losing a great grandbaby. She was traveling with her fiance, Cliff, and needed a way to deal with the grief she was feeling over her family’s loss. She began crocheting, and it turned into a comforting way to pass the time.
She had heard about Angel Groups that made Angel Gowns for babies who were “born with their angel wings.” In her search, she stumbled upon vibrant communities who made gowns and gifts for parents who lost their newborns. As she began learning about these organizations, she became friends with many of the founders. Some sent her patterns for dresses and bonnets and shared information about the process of making Angel Gowns.
Anne, along with her friends Peggy, Sheryl, Sue, Mary, and Helen, who were in other Angel Groups, got into a routine of helping one another by sending each other materials, finishing dresses and bonnets for each other, and lending emotional support.
“I had collected and accumulated a lot of stuff, and everything started stacking up,” Anne says. “It kind of ran like that [for a while], with me solo, with my support from these ladies. And then one morning, I woke up and prayed, ‘Lord, I can’t do this by myself. This is your ministry, and if this is what I’m supposed to do, make it possible. You need to send me some people.’”
Shortly after, April Welch Aucoin came to her, wanting to help. April put an ad in the local newspaper, asking for wedding gowns, and the gowns started piling in. Then, Jennifer Starns reached out after seeing the dresses and crocheting on Facebook. She, too, began working with Anne, buying fabric and embellishments and working with the patterns.
The community in Central has jumped on board with endless amounts of energy and open hearts. Born with Angel Wings, as the organization is now called, meets once every six weeks at Blackwater United Methodist Church. While some ladies deconstruct donated weddings gowns and cut out patterns, others crochet bonnets, make diapers, and string beads into matching mom and child bracelets. Some women get creative and make tiny vests and bowties to add to the gowns for the boys.
Once the items have been made, they are arranged in boxes to be sent to hospitals. Each Angel Bereavement Box contains a crochet blanket; gown; hats; diapers; journal; booties; tissues; stuffed animal; and a book, which includes information on the stages of grief, funeral arrangements, and poems. Then, the boxes are tied together with a pink or blue bow and labeled with boy or girl and the age of the baby the clothes will fit.
Anne has found hospitals in the area who don’t already have an Angel Group serving them, and she delivers the boxes to them to pass out to parents when they are needed.
“I feel that every person should be shown the dignity to be buried right,” Anne says. “Many of these parents aren’t prepared when their baby passes away. Some have financial difficulties. To help these families at this time of their life is such a feeling of accomplishment, and you know you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”