‘Making babies’ funeral outfits helps me grieve’

Margaret Halliday. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Margaret Halliday. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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With delicate stitches, expert seamstress Margaret Halliday makes the saddest outfits of all, tiny dresses and romper suits for little ones born too tiny or too sick for this world.

Every single one is a true labour of love. For like the grieving parents who will dress their lost child in the outfits she makes, Margaret also knows the pain of loss.

And each time she threads her needle, Margaret silently mourns the twin babies she never even got to hold.

She lost her own babies 34 years ago. Like many grieving mums in those days, she was told to simply forget what happened, go home and try again.

Back then, miscarriage like hers wasn’t openly discussed and Margaret felt she had to keep her sadness to herself. She never fell pregnant again.

All of which might make it harder to make tiny suits and dresses, knowing they are destined to be the final outfit for the saddest of little bundles.

Except for Margaret, chief seamstress for a Scottish organisation which creates the outfits from donated bridal gowns, every single stitch brings her closer than ever to her lost babies, Isla and Harris.

“You never forget,” says Margaret, who’s now 67.

“No one had support or counselling in those days, you just had to get on with it. And it’s only since I started to make these baby outfits that I’ve felt able to really grieve for them.”

Margaret, of Broomfield Crescent, Carrick Knowe, already had two young children when she fell pregnant. But at around 16 weeks, she realised something was terribly wrong.

“I had a feeling I was losing my baby,” she says. “I phoned the doctor who was very blunt. He just said ‘You’re aborting the baby’. I felt it was a horrible thing for him to say to me.

“I was told to go to the maternity hospital and put behind a screen while it all happened. It was awful.”

Margaret went through labour pains and delivered her little bundle knowing there was no chance the baby would survive.

Later she asked the nurse if she could tell the sex of her baby and if she could see it.

It was then that Margaret found out she’d miscarried not one tiny baby, but twins. “She said it wouldn’t do me any good to know what sex they were. And that was it,” recalls Margaret.

“I asked again next day but everyone said it would be 
better if I just went home, forgot it and tried for another baby. But I never did.

“I left hospital with empty arms. That feeling is one that many women who have had a loss talk about, how they come home with nothing to hold.”

Margaret got on with raising her daughter and son and working as a seamstress for outfitters Aitken & Niven, then based in George Street.

But her loss was always in the background.

It wasn’t until a relative mentioned she was going to donate her wedding dress to an organisation called Angel Wings Forever Dressed in Love, that Margaret became curious.

“She said they made funeral outfits for babies. I’d retired and I wondered if they needed some help.

“I’d never spoken about my twins until then.”

Seeing the tiny outfits and knowing she had skills they might be able to use inspired Margaret to open up about her loss to the organisation’s founder, Michaela Street, who lives in Aviemore.

Michaela, she discovered, also knew loss – tragically, she had lost seven babies through miscarriage or stillbirth.

“I didn’t talk about it much until a friend had a stillborn baby,” recalls Michaela, 46. “And then I realised how there was a huge need to support parents through their loss and make sure they have time to be with their babies and dress them before they say goodbye.”

As well as running online support to grieving parents, Michaela oversees the collection of wedding dresses and the distribution of hundreds of little outfits across the UK. Dresses, suits and tiny little “pockets” for the smallest bundles of all each bear the name of a lost baby precious to someone involved.

Margaret’s outfits are named after her own lost babies, Isla and Harris.

One tiny set is particularly special. Named “Seafield” it was created in honour of a baby boy found lying at the side of a path leading to Edinburgh’s Seafield Crematorium in 2013. The baby, whose parents have never been traced, was dressed in the outfit stitched by Margaret when his funeral was held last year.

Margaret says while she finds comfort in her task, some people find it gives them chills.

“I love doing it. My dining room is my sewing room and my sister refuses to go in, she can’t look at it. But I think you have to have had a loss to understand how comforting it is to do this. I’m doing this for a mother, a father and a family who will benefit from it at a difficult time.

“And it is helping me grieve in my own way for my babies.”

Angel Wings Forever Dressed in Love is on www.facebook.com/Foreverdressedinlove