I truly believe most people want to do or say the right things when loved ones are suffering, but often times they don’t know what that entails. So today I am sharing an interview with Sarah Adams, founder of Mamie’s Poppy Plates, about tangible things we can do or say when friends or loved ones suffer from stillbirth or infant loss. You will be moved reading Sarah’s story in her own words and inspired by how she turned her family’s deep loss into a non-profit organization that is providing tangible mementos to grieving families around the country.
1. Can you tell me about the day you went in for your sonogram at almost 38 weeks?
I remember the day ever so clearly; a normal hot day in June. I woke up excited yet a little anxious about my weekly appointment, and my husband, Taylor, headed off to work, just like normal. I told him there was no need for him to come meet me at the appointment. I assured him it would be short, and I would call him as soon as I left to let him know if our little Mamie would be making her debut sooner than we thought. This was our first child, and like most people who are expecting their first child, we were oblivious to everything that could go wrong with a pregnancy. At almost 38 weeks, all I wanted was to hear that my body was progressing, and Mamie would be in our arms soon. We had tried for a baby for so long, and we were so ready to be parents. Little did I know that on that very normal day in June our lives would be forever changed.
When I arrived at the doctor’s office I was feeling more anxious than ever. I sat in the waiting room for maybe 15 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. (I even posted on Facebook while sitting there that I was nervous and feeling very anxious.) I was finally called back to a room, and I remember sitting on the table alone with my large belly resting on my legs as I waited for my doctor. Something was bothering me, but I didn’t know what. I knew Mamie hadn’t been kicking much but I had always been told when babies get bigger and closer to their due dates there isn’t much room so you don’t feel them as much. What was I worried about?
I kicked my legs back and forth and grew very impatient waiting on my doctor. FINALLY he came in, and I remember so well trying to lie back on the table for him to squeeze the cold gel all over my extremely large belly. He rubbed the Doppler this way and that. There was nothing. . . more wiggling of the Doppler and. . . nothing.
He calmly sat me up and said, “Sarah, let’s go down to the ultrasound room.” He was physically rushing me down the hall. I passed another momma waiting in the waiting room, lights overhead were flashing around me, and I was taken down the hall, which felt like a tunnel, into a room. Immediately, the tech began the ultrasound and the next words, the only words, I heard was a really big sigh, one that seemed to fill the dead air, and then, “Sarah, I am sorry, but your baby has no heartbeat.”
My doctor grabbed me and held me close, sobbing with me and praying over me until Taylor and the rest of my family joined us in the dark ultrasound room. Only painful cries filled that room on that supposedly normal day.
2. If you don’t mind sharing, what happened in the hospital?
A short while later we headed to the hospital where I was induced to give birth to my precious baby girl. It took12 long hours for me to deliver Mamie. She was perfect and beautiful at 5lb 11oz., 18 1/2 inches with long, dark hair. The delivery room should have been filled with a sweet baby cry, but it was filled with silence and grief stricken cries.
We were able to spend a lot of time with our sweet Mamie and share her with family and friends that came by the hospital to see us, but then it was time to leave. We had a photographer come in and take pictures of her having her bath and with us. The nurses were amazing and very compassionate. At the hospital where we delivered there was a special grief room for all the family and friends that came by could sit in so they didn’t have to sit in the main waiting room with all of the happy families. We were given 2 dresses – one which Mamie was buried in and another that we took home in a keepsake box that has a piece of her hair, the brush, soap and lotion they used to clean her after delivery. Also in the box was a mold imprint of her hand. We were supposed to be heading home with our sweet new baby as a family of three. Instead, we said our last goodbyes and handed her little body over to the nurse. I remember being wheeled out of the mother/baby ward passing rooms where I could hear laughter and babies crying.
We headed straight to the funeral home to make arrangements for her burial….. then we went to our quiet home. I remember walking into her pink nursery looking at her crib and just falling apart.
(Sarah made a precious video here to share more about Mamie.)
Was there anything friends could do during those first few days? (Did you even want friends around you?)
Having people around was good for us. We might have been back in our room but knowing they were there was nice. Dinners and people dropping by to say hello was really comforting. They might have just been able to see Taylor or my family at that moment but when they would come and tell me who all had come by that made me feel really good to know they were remembering Mamie.
The cards and notes that were sent were amazing. I received some of the kindest notes from people I had never even met. Some good friendships were lost after Mamie’s death. That has been hard…. I think people just don’t know what to do or say and they pull away. However, just knowing they are there for you and that they care is all that matters. The funeral was a blur but there were so many people that came to show their support. People I hadn’t seen in years and they were there for us.
What were the most helpful things people did for y’all during the first few weeks and months?
Donations were made to our hospital in her name which meant a lot and plants were given to us to start a garden at our home. Soon the calls died down and the visitors became fewer. But our close friends made a point to invite Taylor and I to dinner, over to their homes and popped by for visits.
Something that was very therapeutic for me personally, was a small group of girlfriends who started getting together every Monday night. They came to my house and sometimes we would all be in our pj’s, but it was a given that EVERY Monday night we were together. I so looked forward to this every week. We would watch silly shows and laugh and sometimes sit without the tv on and talk and cry. It just depended on the day, but it was healing. God placed these women in my life (many of them new friends) and I will be forever grateful.
I think people often don’t know what to say so they don’t say anything at all. What were some encouraging things to hear (or not to hear)?
What to Say:
- Just listen, give a hug and say you are sorry for their loss – people sometimes don’t know what to say so they say too much.
- I always want to hear Mamie’s name. She is my child and will always be a part of who I am. Taylor and I love to talk about her and so do our little ones. Burke and Winnie know all about their big sister Mamie who is in heaven.
What Not to Say:
- You can have another baby! That is the last thing anyone wants to hear after their baby has died! DON’T SAY IT!
- Prefacing a sentence with the words “At Least” always hurts. It seems like they are minimizing the loss.
The thing we have learned through all of this is people just don’t know how to deal with grief. People just don’t know what to say. They aren’t trying to be mean or hurtful at all.
What are some other helpful things people can do and say as the years pass? Remember Mamie’s birthday? When she would start kindergarten?
- Yes, milestones are huge; kindergarten was hard for sure
- Just remembering at random times.
You started Mamie’s Poppy Plates a year after Mamie’s heavenly birthday. Where did the idea of poppies comes from?
When we first found out we were expecting I started a private blog that I shared with close friends and family. I named it Poppy Seed because that was the size Baby Center Update told me my little Mamie was at the time. We called her ‘Poppy Seed Adams’ till we found out at 15 weeks that she was a girl, and we named her Mamie after my great Aunt.
After Mamie passed away, I told the funeral home I had to have poppies on top of her casket. They told me it would be hard to find them but they would make it happen, and they did! Also, about 6 months after her death, I got a tattoo on my wrist designed by a friend. That is what you see in our logo. At the bottom of the design, you can see a little black dot which is my little poppy seed that swirls up to my beautiful Mamie. Mamie’s Poppy Plates was born on Mamie’s 1st heavenly birthday!
What does it mean to families like yours to have a keepsake like this?
The plates give families a tangible memento to display throughout the year. It is something that is unique and very much their own of their sleeping angel. We believe pictures are beautiful, but a hand/footprint can be done and mailed to us later when the parents are ready.
It’s a hard moment to think of the things you will want futuristically…a plate gives parents the flexibility to have a special memento a later point so that they can hold and touch and memorize their baby in that short window they are allowed to do so. We hear from parents who received a plate often and they tell us how meaningful it is to them.
How are the plates made?
We are completely funded by donations. Our packets are stocked in partner hospitals (you can see a list on our site) and are provided via nursing staff to bereaved parents. The nurse stamps the child’s prints and records birth stats. Then the parents customize the keepsake plate via choices provided in the packet. All sheets are mailed to MPP inside a self-addressed and stamped envelope.
Our painters customize the plates based on the parents wishes. They are then fired and our volunteers apply the prints and can carefully package them for delivery at our monthly volunteer night. Plates are then delivered to our shipping partner, Wrap Right, where addresses are double checked and plates are shipped to the families.
Tell me about your annual fundraiser, Mamie’s Poppy Plates’ Race to Remember in Little Rock?
Race to Remember is our sole fundraising event of the year. The race takes place in June (Mamie’s birth month) at Dickey-Stephens Baseball Park in Little Rock, Arkansas. We have 2,000+ people attend the event from all over the state and even other states! The anticipation at the gate is palpable as families, friends, supporters and runners congregate waiting for the 4pm pre-party to start. The excitement continues as people pour in to visit booths, food vendors, bounce houses and even hop on the train.
With all the excitement and preparations and to-dos, we noticed something this year that really touched our hearts. We saw families saying hello and hugging each other as they reconnected from last year to this year. We saw them talk about new additions and memories. We saw tears, laughter and knowing expressions of sympathy. It was a powerful day!
Not only were all of those things special to witness, but we also saw a community of people supporting a cause dear to me with a fierceness so touching it gave me chill bumps. Team fundraisers, who started a team in honor of their angel baby, set out to raise money and awareness on behalf of Mamie’s Poppy Plates, and they blew the doors off my expectations. I could not believe the financial contributions people were making! It was as if to say ‘you have done well so far and the reach is growing; however, we trust Mamie’s Poppy Plates to utilize these funds to do more!’ And there is so much more to do!
You started in St. Vincent hospital in Little Rock but have since expanded to 37 hospitals. What is your vision for Mamie’s Poppy Plates in the coming years?
We are excited about the growth of MPP! In 5 years we have grown into 37 hospitals and 5 different states (AR, IL, IA, TN, TX). At Arkansas Children’s Hospital and LeBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, TN every family (regardless of the age of their child) is provided a plate. We are on track to process over 700 plates this year.
Our goal this year is to finish out our partnerships with Arkansas hospitals while nurturing the relationships we have built with the nurses and hospital staff. They know how important these plates are, however with staff turnover we have learned that our keepsake plates can get overlooked. We have learned that we must be intentional in our communication with them in order to keep the packets coming. The good thing is that if someone is overlooked we can still provide them with a plate.
Our other goal is continue our growth outside of the state. We move ahead in all that we do prayerfully and we plan on being national within the next 5-10 years.
We want stillbirth and early infant loss to be something that people can and will talk about. We want to educate the general public and even nurses/doctors about the importance of a keepsake of a child. We want to increase the medical community buy-in so that nurses know the steps in order to take good prints so that plates can be provided. We want enough financial support that we can maintain a lower cost of our plates so that ANY family can receive a plate.
Can someone who did not deliver at an “adopted” hospital still get a Mamie’s Poppy Plate?
Yes. Persons delivering in Arkansas receive their plate at no charge. However, we will make a plate for anyone who wants one, even out of state. Anyone can order a plate on our site: www.mamiespoppyplates.com.
Once you go through the ordering process on our site you will receive an email with a form to download, fill out and mail back to us with a copy of the baby’s prints. A plate order for families outside of Arkansas is $40. It takes around 10 weeks for it to be processed and shipped to the family.
If someone wants to gift a plate to a family, how does that does work?
Visit our website and complete the order form. Print the form and provide to the family. [Side note from Lee; perhaps in a thoughtfully written card].
If you don’t want to ask for prints, or prints are not available, our artists can still customize a beautiful plate for the recipient. All forms must be mailed to MPP in order to complete plate orders.
You can also make a donation in honor or memory of someone and a printable card is available to mail to your loved ones letting them know about your donation.
Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your powerful story.
If you would like to learn more about Mamie’s Poppy Plates, or make a donation so more families will be provided with these beautiful plates, visit their website.
If you haves suffered a similar loss, feel free to comment below anything that was helpful for friends to do, say, or give.