Beauty, Healing and Remembrance

After a family tragedy, two sisters created a nonprofit aimed at helping families who’ve experienced stillbirths

By Lisa Lakey

 

From left, Sarah Adams with children 3-year-old Burke and 19-month-old Winnie, and sister Britney Spees with her children, 7-year-old Silas and 3-year-old Abe. | Photo by Dixie Knight

From left, Sarah Adams with children 3-year-old Burke and 19-month-old Winnie, and sister Britney Spees with her children, 7-year-old Silas and 3-year-old Abe. | Photo by Dixie Knight

It wasn’t the way Sarah Adams imagined the birth of her first child would be. It was a reality she didn’t expect and didn’t want, but in June 2009 her life was forever changed. Born just two-and-a-half weeks before her due date, her daughter, Mamie, was stillborn.


“Coming home from the hospital and not having Mamie here with me, I just felt completely lost,” Adams said. “I wanted people to know about her and I wanted to talk about her.”


Along with the rest of their family, Adams’ sister, Britney Spees, stayed by her side throughout the days to come.

“When Sarah lost Mamie, it was heart wrenching,” Spees said. “We’ve always been close. It was her first child. That first year was so hard for me to watch her go through so much pain. And she struggled through the grief and wondered what her purpose was. We were just pushing through the grief together.”


Approaching Mamie’s first birthday in 2010, Spees urged Adams to celebrate and remember Mamie with a party. During their planning discussions, Adams mentioned an ornament that she wished she had brought to the hospital to have Mamie’s footprints on. In that moment, remembering a much-loved daughter and niece, Mamie’s Poppy Plates was born.


“It turned from an ornament that would be out once a year to a plate that people could have out year-round,” Spees said. “Sarah came up with the name. Mamie was her daughter, and Poppy Seed was Mamie’s nickname when Sarah was pregnant.”


The following weekend, Adams and Spees took their idea to friends and family.

They posted to their Facebook pages asking for help. Their goal was to provide keepsake plates with the child’s hand and footprints to grieving families at

St. Vincent Hospital in Little Rock, where Mamie was born. The response was more than they had anticipated, raising $5,000 in the first weekend.


“So we launched Mamie’s Poppy Plates and we had no idea what we were doing,”

Spees said. “We didn’t have a business model or anything. Once we raised that money we quickly realized we could do a lot more.”


Since Mamie’s Poppy Plates began in 2010, the nonprofit has grown beyond their wildest expectations. Thirty hospitals in Arkansas, and a handful outside the state, have been “adopted,” meaning a donor has agreed to pay the cost of the plate for each family experiencing the loss of a stillborn or infant death. Packets at the adopted hospitals contain all the information needed with no cost to the family or the hospital. Each family chooses the design of their plate, which is then hand painted by Mamie’s Poppy Plates artists. The art is fired, prints are added and then carefully packaged and shipped to the family.


While both sisters say the growth of Mamie’s Poppy Plates was a blessing, it did make them stop and re-evaluate what their goal was. When overseas requests

began filing in, it was time to “pull back the reins.” “We want to get to that point someday, but we had to take a step back and say, ‘Are we serving the Arkansas families that we set out to serve?’ The answer was no,” Spees said. “Now any family who has a loss inside the state of Arkansas, regardless of when—we’ve served people who lost their babies in the ’50s. If they have their baby’s footprints that’s all we need. That’s such a blessing to us to be able to serve a mom who maybe never had anything and was told to brush that life under the rug and forget about it. She carried that around with her, her whole life. Now she can have something to remember that baby by.”