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For parents who experience a miscarriage, stillbirth or death of a baby born prematurely, the pain of saying goodbye can be devastating. And, with limited funeral options for babies who suffer these complications, it can be difficult for grieving parents to handle their loss.
LeighAnne Wright, a 38-year-old funeral director from the U.K., knows firsthand about the pain and trauma of losing a child too soon. Wright had a son, Beau, who died during a pregnancy several years ago. She called him her "angel baby."
"He is the reason I do what I do," Wright told TODAY Parents.
Wright says as a teenager, she was inspired to become a funeral director after a family friend lost a baby and felt troubled by the way the funeral home handled the arrangements.
"They didn't look after her how she should have been cared for," said Wright. "I sat and thought, 'I could do better than that.'"
These two significant losses in her life moved Wright to start Little Things & Co., a charity that provides grieving parents with the tools they need to properly hold a memorial service for their baby.
Little Things & Co. was born in 2013, when Wright was handling funeral services for a family who had lost their baby at 20 weeks gestation.
"Throughout the arrangements, I could see the mom was unable to get past the fact that he would be undressed," said Wright. "Everything else was too big, so I made him a small vest. It garnered such a response that I knew it was the right thing to do."
Wright says babies often come to her facility wrapped in tissue paper or in a kidney dish, as the hospitals have no clothing small enough for them. Wright clothes babies who have died at up to 28 weeks gestation. After 28 weeks babies can be clothed in preemie outfits sold in stores.
"I just think with a little thought, it can be so much nicer, so that is what we do," said Wright. "I dress babies at any age, so if a mom miscarries (early on in her pregnancy) I will provide a pouch to wrap them in. And, after about 14 weeks gestation, we can put their arms and legs in sleep suits."
Today, Wright and a team of volunteers make their tiny clothing and pouches by hand, allowing parents to dress their babies for burial. The charity also decorates both their chapel and the gravesite to cater more to babies, and provides keepsakes like hand and footprints for parents to remember their children.
As Little Things & Co. has grown, Wright has also started a memorial garden at her local hospital, which she named Little Haven, where parents can create a memorial for their lost baby. Wright runs an infant loss support group where she and other moms who have experienced a loss can speak freely about their feelings and lean on one another for support.
"I believe every baby matters, regardless of gestational age," said Wright, who says Little Things & Co. has become her life's work. "My mission is to ensure that wherever you are in the world, you are supported, your baby can be dressed, and, most importantly, that every loss is recognized as a baby."
Hannah Pollard gave birth to twins, Leo and Odin, three years ago at 25 weeks gestation. Her son, Odin, died when he was 5 days old.
"LeighAnne looked after Odin while we awaited his funeral date," said Pollard. "She clothed him, painted his coffin a gray color we had chosen, and put letters and sentimental items in it with him to see him through to the other side. I knew with certainty that Odin was being looked after as well as I could have hoped for."
Pollard also attends Wright's support group, and describes the services Wright provides as, "a guiding light in a dark time," where mothers can speak freely about their losses and begin to heal.
Amanda Smith, who delivered a stillborn son, Blake, in 2014, says she found some peace in her time of grief by helping Wright create her memorial garden, Little Haven.
"What LeighAnne does not only helps our angels be laid to rest with dignity, but helps our families grieve knowing we are supported and our babies are clothed, loved, and honored."
For Wright, her work is about helping parents bury their babies with dignity.
"When a baby dies, as a parent so many things are taken from you," said Wright. "All the things you planned to do with them can't happen anymore, so something small like dressing them is a big deal."