Monday, September 26, 2011

here we go...

This weekend, we will celebrate my daughter's first birthday with our families. My husband has a very large nuclear family so there will be 40 people celebrating our girl! I'm a bit overwhelmed with preparations and yet excited to honor the beautiful life of my daughter. I have been so moved by your posts- hungry too! I can't wait to try some of these delicious meals. I will include my beef stew recipe soon... yum... wait for it... wait for it....

This week's question is a bit of an odd one... and suits my current frame of mind. Let's talk birthdays... what do you do for your kids? I have a lot of friends who do things differently- some have big parties every year... some have only kid parties... some go all out with decor... some have a party every 3 years... some just have one friend and a fun-day.... I'm curious as to what birthdays look like in your home.

I know that some of you have kids that are no longer 1 year olds so I'm definitely interested in what you've done as they've gotten older. I mean, how often do you get to really reflect on a practice that most people take for granted?

Because I'm not the "party planner" type, this party for Gemma is taking a lot out of me, mentally. I really want to enjoy the time with my girl, watch her face light up as she eats pumpkin cake for the first time, and hear her laugh as she crawls through leaf piles. I am hoping to avoid being concerned with everyone else- except, I am the host... so... I suppose I HAVE to be concerned with everyone else.

I know that a first birthday is for the adults more than the birthday child (she won't remember) but I would really like to soak it in with her. I'll post pictures next week! In the meantime- I look forward to hearing all about what has worked, tricks and great input about birthdays in your home.

and while you post wonderful stories/ideas/input about birthday and celebrating the life of your babies, I'll be mentally preparing for a whole-lotta people up in my house! Here we go...

Love you mamas!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

and then some...

This past Saturday, a group of us walked in the Hope and Hearts walk to benefit the Missing Grace Foundation. It was freezing cold but everyone's heart was warmed as they honored their little lost lives. We listened as Briana's name was read, as Brody W. and Brody V's names were read, we listened as miscarried babies names were uttered and held our collective breaths as mamas whispered their tiny ones names. We watched hundreds and hundreds of balloons fly sky high as music carried our messages of love to the heavens. We shed tears, laughed, walked, ran, chased healthy, beautiful babies, and held each others hands as new memories were created. We embraced our flesh babies, breathing gifts from God, and choked out prayers of gratitude for the lives we've been blessed to steward. We celebrated being mamas, daddies, family, friends, and relatives of lost little angels. We celebrated them. All of their tiny feet that have left indelible footprints on our hearts.

Thank you so much for donating, praying, attending, walking, celebrating, and remembering our children. Your love and support was what we all needed... and then some.

Today I want to post an easy question- something that ALL of us mamas should have something to offer up. We are stretched to the limit, yes? We are busy ladies! We have support at home from a spouse, or we're doing it all on our own. Either way, we've got little time to be Julia Child in the kitchen. So, bring it on!

Question #6: What is your go-to meal? Your best and easiest comfort food? What do you feel like your heart goes into when you make it? (For all you chefs, maybe you have too many to fit in one comment... well, then do multiple comments! :) AND, leave recipes, people! I want some new ideas... and if they involve a crockpot? All the better!~

Love to you, mamas... as the chill in the air builds, so does the warmth in our hearts. Snuggle your loved ones tightly- they are food for our souls.


And please, join me in remembering and wishing sweet Briana Joy Hanson a Happy 4th Birthday in Heaven. We wish you were here, sweet girl.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thursday. Four Years. Forever.

2011-07-21 10.43.51

It was a Thursday evening. I was all packed up- nervously sorting lenses and memory cards; making sure that I had everything. The wedding I was shooting was for my sister's in-laws so I felt a bit of added pressure since I would be seeing these people for the rest of my life. If they didn't like what I shot, I'd feel horrible. I was always nervous before a shoot- but for this one, I was especially anxious. I heard my phone ring in the bedroom. I remember that I had plugged it into a wall outlet in the center of the room so I'd remember to bring my phone charger.

The caller ID showed my best friend's husband, Dirk's name.

Heather, my best friend since we were 18 (also a beloved member of the Mama Confessions), was almost ready to have a baby. Less than three weeks from her due date, I thought this phone call was it! Our first little one, the first baby of the next generation of our friendship was on her way! Briana Joy was on her way!

I answered with a huge smile, "Hey Dirk!"

He responded softly, "hi."

"How are you?!" Still smiling- oh, how I wish that moment could have been frozen.

"Well, I've been better."

"Why? What's wrong?"

"We lost Briana."

and with that, a cloud settled over my soul. I clutched my chest, curled up, and said all I could think of, "What? Oh no."

I don't remember what I said next, or what he said. I remember bits of our short conversation with startling clarity and bits are lost forever.

He told me Heather told him to "call Sarah" and so he did. I asked if Heather wanted me to call our other angle of the friendship triangle, Katie, and he told me he'd leave that up to me.

I asked if there was anything I could do. He said, "Pray, Sarah. Pray for Heather, she still has to deliver."

I hope I told him to tell Heather that I love her, that I'm praying, that I'm so sorry, but I'm still unsure how our conversation ended.

I do remember what happened next. As I hung up the phone, I raced into our home office where Abe was working and burst into tears, sobbing "Heather lost the baby! Heather lost the baby!"

Abe got up right away, wrapped me in his arms and held me while I cried for my "niece", and mostly for my best-friend, the girl who walked with me through ten years of life by this time; who was in a hospital room a plane ride away, listening to a silent fetal monitor.

I had all sorts of pictures pass through my head- I prayed, but prayed with a complete absence of words. I didn't know what to say to God. I cried out to him and let my tears be words- let my sobs, be petitions- let my cries, be beads of hope for a different outcome. I talked to Katie, figured out how I could get from Iowa to Atlanta in two days- as soon as the wedding was over. We decided that Dirk and Heather needed this time as parents and a couple and that we'd wait to hear from Heather before we hopped on planes to be with her.

And then, I waited.

Can your brain be nauseous? That's the only way I can describe what I felt for the next 72 hours. The next morning, still no word from Dirk, Heather or her family, I got up really early, picked up my friend who would be shooting this wedding with me, and got on the road to Iowa. I waited for news- any news. I waited for a miraculous text message claiming the impossible- that she had been born awake! Breathing!

Instead, Heather's mom called me and confirmed the unthinkable. Still no heartbeat. Still no baby. Heather was still laboring. This was Friday afternoon, September 21st, 2007. I was in a Target, buying a necklace that I could wear to the rehearsal dinner that evening. I remember sobbing in the racks of clothing in a Target in the middle of Iowa and not caring who saw me, what I looked like, what anyone thought. My best friend, the sister of my heart, was suffering in ways I couldn't even begin to understand and I wasn't there.

I shot the rehearsal dinner, the wedding, and the reception- all the while, trying to keep my head in the game. I didn't want to miss anything. I didn't want to make any mistakes. I remember I was caught off guard a couple of times where I felt the walls were closing in on me. The air was being sucked out of my lungs and I had to run outside. Yes, RUN to breathe. I cried so many times that day- in secret. It was the happiest day of the bride and groom's life and one of the darkest for me; the darkest day for someone I love very much. The only person who knew what was going on was my sister. She was a bridesmaid and had lots of duties that day and was busy and enjoying herself, as she should. I wanted so badly to lock myself up in a room and will it to be different.

I drove home the next day- Sunday. I dropped off my assistant and while I was at her door, I missed a call from Heather. The call I had been waiting for since Thursday night. I called her immediately and got her voice mail. I had called multiple times over the past two days, just to tell her that I love her, that I'm so sorry, that I'm here when she needs me and so I left another message of the same. I drove back to our apartment building and got another call from her while I pulled into the lot. That conversation changed my life.

I can't tell you what she said- I can't remember. She did tell me that Briana was beautiful, and perfect. But, I will never forget the sound of her cries. Like a wounded animal, with a broken spirit, she wept for her baby girl. The one she repeatedly said was "perfect". God, if I could have reached through the phone to envelop her, I would have. I would have broken myself to be poured through the receiver just to be with her.

We cried, and we cried; the first of many tear filled sessions for this first girl. At the end of the conversation, I asked her if she needed me to come there. I told her we'd be on the first plane, the first flight, just say the word.

"No, we're coming home."

2011-07-21 10.34.10

2011-07-21 10.33.51

With that, we now live in after. For any tragedy, there is a before and an after. I didn't know it then, but losing Briana was like an seismic anomaly- an earthquake. The actual event, while short in time, leaves the ground changed forever. There is so much more to this story, so many more details, conversations, points of gut-tearing sorrow, and improbable hope. I've tucked many of those moments into a treasure box in my heart that only Heather has access to. Some of the things I remember, we've never talked about. Some of the things I felt, we've never talked about. Even though some things are left unsaid, many things need not be spoken to be shared.

It's obvious that loss changes a person. It has changed Heather. It has changed Dirk. It has changed me. And as I experienced the miscarriage of our first baby, loss again changed me. I felt as Heather did when she was asked shortly after Briana died "how can you believe in a God who let this happen?" Heather responded as though from my own mouth, "I don't know any other way to survive."

Now, as a mama to a healthy, beautiful, breathing baby girl, loss still changes me. I see her and I see what could've been- for Briana and for our first baby. I also feel that I'm grieving for my friend again- in a valley that I didn't have access to until God brought life from my own womb. Sometimes, I ache for the empty place in Heather's heart at the most unpredictable times- at the grocery store while Gemma smiles up at me, in the front yard while she plays with grass, at night when she breathes deeply in her sleep.

I am also intensely grateful for Gemma- I'd like to think I'm infinitely MORE grateful than I could have been had we not experienced loss. I hope that I can balance the fear of the fragility of life with the joy of experiencing all the God has in store for us. I don't even know if I can put into words fully what loss has done to me as a mama. Briana is not the only loss that has changed me. Mark, Ellen, Rachel, my grandpa.. each of these lives has awakened in me questions, challenges, dashed hopes, and fulfilled dreams. On this journey of motherhood, loss always affects us, as does gain.

Loss of a job, a loved one, a promise, your health- loss is loss. No loss should ever be minimized because loss changes us even if we are unaware at the time the impact it will have on us later. It leaves behind an emptiness, a hole, if you will. That hole, never to be filled the same way or completely again. The presence of that emptiness eases some and then aches anew a moment later. The dance of motherhood is loving another while being painfully aware of the gigantic hole their absence would leave in my heart. Motherhood is walking through life with my heart beating outside my body in a now 11 month old flesh baby. Never have I felt more vulnerable and more invincible than when it comes to Gemma.

Never have I felt more empowered or more helpless, more whole or more fragmented, safer or in more danger than as a mama. I think that's because I've loved and lost. I've experienced the joy and the hope of new life and the sorrow and emptiness of a broken womb. I've lived the ecstasy of birthing a squirming purple baby and absorbed the cries of the still mama. Motherhood is delicious paradox; the best of this world, of God's hope for this creation- and the potentially most painful.

Loss has made me aware; in good ways and bad. Of the beauty and the brokenness of this place we call home. Until our Zion (our promised land) is a reality, loss will continue to burrow holes in our heart and we will continue to live swiss cheese lives. Punctured but not popped. Pressed but not crushed.

...and so I invite you to answer this question... or to share. Let this be a place where you feel safe to share and celebrate your loss. NO LOSS is unimportant- no hope dashed to be ignored. For it is in this place of deep wounds that we can most vividly experience His Holiness. God's love is a mighty tenderness to experience.

Question #5: How has loss changed you? How can we celebrate, honor life in our loss? Please feel free to share your story, answer the question, or just offer hope. I hope that you can fill holes a little bit here today.

Please, before you comment and write... please, donate to the Missing Grace Foundation in honor of Briana Joy Hanson. The webpage to visit is


Just click and give. Honor the loss and the life of your loved one and of Briana. She has changed us all.. no, God has changed us all through her tiny and tremendous life. I would be honored to share more of the joy that has come from her life with you. Please give.

The Lord says,
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.

Isaiah 49:15-16