Inspired by Loss, Born of Love
Sarah Adams’ organization, Mamie’s Poppy Plates, seeks to fill a small void for parents who have lost.
By Dwain Hebda
There are times Sarah Adams doesn’t know how to feel; days when things weigh heavier than normal. Mamie’s here, as usual, as clear and present as a tug at her daddy’s sleeve, or the joyful choir of her younger siblings, or the ink on her mother’s very skin spelling her out in graceful swirling script.
But some days, Sarah’s firstborn shifts from her perch over Mama’s shoulder to drag at her heart instead.
“Death in general is a taboo subject, but death of a child, people don’t want to talk about it,” Sarah said. “One instance I remember so well, being at Home Depot and seeing somebody and they literally saw me and turned on their heels.
“Truthfully, I don’t know why they didn’t want to come see me; it’s kind of like everybody starts avoiding you. It’s a lot of mixed emotions.”
It’s been nearly nine years since that horrible day, the day they couldn’t find Mamie’s heartbeat during a routine checkup just around the corner from Sarah’s delivery date.
“They took me straight to [CHI] St. Vincent and started the induction, and we had her 12 hours later,” she said. “They took such good care of us, and we had all this time to spend with Mamie and just love on her. They didn’t make us rush or anything like that.”
It’s funny what one remembers about the worst day of one’s life, like the spotless baby seat strapped into the car on the ride home, or the awful stillness of the pristine nursery at home still waiting to be filled.
“You feel extremely alone and lost,” Sarah said. “Mamie was already this huge part of our lives. Just because she wasn’t here didn’t mean that she didn’t exist. I carried her for nine months, but it doesn’t matter if you carry them for 12 weeks, they are part of you.”
Sarah’s older sister, Britney Spees, came close to an emotional breakdown when she heard the news. Then she got mad. “It was kind of like mama bear mode,” Britney said. “I’m a doer, so I just got into doing mode [for Sarah and her husband, Taylor] even though I knew that it wasn’t going to be any easier on them. I knew I couldn’t fix anything.”
A few weeks later, Britney turned to looking for opportunities through her church, her neighborhood, anything to turn smoldering grief into something positive for someone.
“Sarah came to me in the early spring of 2010 and she said, ‘I have this idea. What do you think?’” she said. “It was like God said, ‘Here you go.’”
Sarah stumbled upon a Christmas ornament she had bought for Mamie, which had a space for the baby’s handprints. That spawned the idea to provide plates as a keepsake for parents facing the same horrible loss. When a baby died, nurses would apply paint to the child’s hands and feet, make an imprint and give it to the parents who in their time took it to a local kiln, which finished it.
“I know it sounds weird, but we had a really good experience as far as the hospital and how we were treated and taken care of,” Sarah said. “I thought, what if we could do something like this for families at St. Vincent.”
A 2009 fundraiser to launch Mamie’s Poppy Plates, held on Mamie’s first birthday, raised an unexpected amount of money—enough to immediately take the ministry to multiple hospitals.
“It was definitely God pushing us out of our comfort zone and letting us know that there was more in the works than just this one little idea that we had to help St. Vincent,” Sarah said.
In time, the sisters would discover decal paper that eliminated the need for hospitals to inventory and ship the fragile plates, opening the door to expansion. The ministry grew like a potato vine; at last count, 50 hospitals in seven states accounted for 550 plates last year, with 2017 trending even higher than that.
“Families who experience this loss move, and nurses move, and they talk about this to other hospitals,” Britney said. “Then those hospitals want plates. They reach out to us.”
There are times Sarah doesn’t know how to feel: delighted the organization reaches so many grieving families, devastated there are so many grieving families to reach. She just knows it’s what she’s here to do.
“It’s been really, really healing for me to pour my time and energy into this,” she said. “Mamas that have lost babies, children, whatever, we want to hear their name. And I get to hear [Mamie’s] all the time.
“It’s a club nobody wants to be in. But for us to rally around each other, and be there for the moms and dads that have to experience this loss and let them know that they’re not alone has been really cool. And, it’s our way of taking care of Mamie. She’s very busy.”