Bravery is… Savannah
In Memory of Savannah Maria Illumina Corley
It took me some time to gather my thoughts and emotions for this post. This is the second blog post in my “Bravery is…” personal project and it was pretty difficult to decide on the name I would use, what I would write about, what photos I would include, and if it even belonged in this category. I’ve defined “Bravery is…” to be a long term project for families who’s lives have been flipped upside down by traumatic news… and while this may or may not be long term (as in never-ending), I strongly believe Savannah’s story needs to be apart of the project.
Trigger Warning – With the parents approval, I have included photographs in this blog post to commemorate and celebrate the life of Savannah. Some photos may trigger an emotional response if you have experience with miscarriages, stillbirths, or the loss of your baby.
I first met Tiffany (the Mom in these photos) while photographing for a local Midwife (Teri Mitchell with BundleBorn Midwifery) during a Day In The Life session full of prenatal appointments. This beautiful Mom was pregnant with twins for the second time! With this pregnancy she was going to attempt a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean), which is a pretty unique and rare moment for birth professionals. Teri and I had been talking quite some time about me taking photos/videos of her working a birth, so we put two and two together and thought Tiffany’s birth plan would be a perfect story to tell!
Tiffany was already far into her 3rd Trimester, so I reached out to her and scheduled a day to meet her and talk about what to expect with Birth Photography. The morning before we were scheduled to meet for lunch, I got a call from Teri saying Tiffany was in labor! What! How?! Apparently she was already considered full term at 36 weeks since she was having twins! Duh Lawren… Sometimes I wonder if I have a brain at all!
Birthday – March 21, 2017
As the morning went on, I waited for updates about Tiffany’s progress. Since she had a scheduled sonogram appointment that morning, they were going to keep it and see where the babies were positioned. I felt like I waited all morning long for another update! And then my phone finally beeped! I finally received the “It’s Go Time” text message I was waiting for! Except something wasn’t right, this text message didn’t say what I thought it would say…
“Go straight to Baylor Dallas. Baby B doesn’t have a heart beat.”
My heart stopped. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe. I immediately called another birth photographer (Kourtnie Scholz) who I’m really close to, but the lump in my throat made it impossible to speak. Despite the fact that I couldn’t form complete sentences, she still knew exactly what to say to keep me going. I called my on-call babysitter and drove way too fast to get to her, dropped off my daughter, and then drove even faster to the hospital. A few texts were exchanged between Teri and I, and she was able to get approval for me to go into the OR as this was turning into an emergency c-section. When I finally parked I looked at my phone and the next message said “Run”. Without skipping a beat, I ran. I ran as fast as I could, down the stairs in the parking garage and through the cars driving on the street with my giant birth bag flopping all over the place. I can’t even imagine what I looked like!
I ran to Labor & Delivery gasping for air while trying to mumble out the Mom’s name to the front desk. Teri was there waiting for me and gave me the scrubs to put on. As soon as I finished getting dressed, I went to the room Tiffany was in and they were already taking her back into the OR to prep. I introduced myself as I met Tiffany’s Mother and Husband (Jonathon) for the first time, and got my camera ready to go. Time seemed like it stood still as we all waited outside the OR doors for the nurse to come get Jonathan and I. Few words were exchanged as we prepared ourselves for what was about to happen.
“My mind was filled with disbelief. I felt angry. How could she tell me my child doesn’t have a heart beat?! We sat in the car silently staring at each other. How could this happen to us?! When we got to the hospital I didn’t care how we had baby Jay, I just wanted her out safely so of course the doctor recommended c-section. I kept focused on bringing one healthy baby into this world. I had to or I would fall apart. Her heart rate dropped and they brought me into the OR. I was signing consents after they had already injected me. It happened so quickly. After the epidural I was exhausted and defeated. I failed my child. She was gone and there was literally nothing I could do to change it. I closed my eyes and sank into lost hope.” – Tiffany
“Before I heard the news that we lost our beautiful baby girl Savannah, we were at the MFM office looking at the babies before we were to deliver. As we were there I noticed that she found baby A’s heart beat, but when she went to baby B she didn’t stop. Then I was told to get the car ready for Tiffany. As I left I was wondering why she didn’t stop to see baby B’s heartbeat. When I got to the car I got the call to hurry back as fast as I could. This was another red flag that something was wrong and that I needed to be there for Tiffany. On the way back to the room I knew something was wrong, but hoped that it was not what I though it was. When I got to the room and heard the news I could not believe it. My baby girl had no heart beat. That was not possible, she has been healthy this whole pregnancy. Why? Why? Why our baby girl? After some time I left to call Tiffany’s dad. I could barley tell him the news without crying on the phone. When I finally got the message across I went back to the room to see our next steps. In the car ride to the hospital I did not know what to say or really do. I felt hopeless and weak. Tiffany and I both knew that the baby girl that we lost was Savannah, and we wanted to get Jay Lee out as quick as possible.” – Jonathon
“What felt like a minute later I heard her screaming. Baby Jay had arrived. She was alive and needed her mama. My whole body woke up with joy and excitement to hold onto my newest little. I somehow felt at peace. It was the kind of overwhelming indescribably peace they talk about in Philippians 4:6-7. When they took out Savannah it took a little while and I was anxious to see her. They finally brought her to me and I burst into tears. She looked just like her brother yet had such a perfectly feminine appearance. I would give anything to see her alive if only for a minute. I just wanted to hear her cry or see her eyes open on her own. It hurt so badly. I miss her dearly. With each question that flooded my mind I had to replace it with truth and reality of the situation. God allowed this to happen and it is now apart of my story. God has the power to make the worst of stories into something beautiful. He wanted to take her home with Him and this is the hope that I have. When I get to heaven I will be able to hold my baby Savannah who will be fully alive!! And for that day I will live and die!” – Tiffany
“Being in the room waiting for Jay Lee to come out felt like the longest minutes of my life. Hoping she was still okay and well was hard. That fear went away as soon as I heard her sweet voice. This was my third child but something was different this time, I heard life in the middle of it all. After that Savannah was born next, but I was not ready to see her. I was scared again that I would never hear her sweet voice like I did for her sister Jay Lee. As soon as I got a chance to hold her I found myself not wanting to let her go. She was beautiful and looked so much like her older brother when he was born. Her dark brown hair, dark blue eyes, chubby cheeks all made her most beautiful. The fear I had was gone and it settle in that God had a reason for this and I might not ever know why, but one day I will get to see her and hear her sweet voice call me, ‘Daddy.’ ” – Jonathon
The room was filled with so many emotions… devastation, sadness, and complete happiness all at the same time. The nurses and doctors that came in to check on the family were also showing their sympathy and compassion… something I hadn’t ever witnessed before.
As the photographer for this family, I would be lying if I said this was easy to photograph. It was hard… and still is hard. But in this moment I was beyond thankful for everything I had pushed myself to do in the months prior. When I started practicing documentary photography, I photographed situations that weren’t always the easiest to photograph… such as children having meltdowns, getting hurt, or doing something they shouldn’t be doing and could get them in trouble. I’ve photographed adults going through hard times and completely bawling their eyes out, and the elderly mourning the loss of their loved one. If there was something happening at that moment, something that would make people feel uncomfortable…. that was the moment I would be photographing the most. And on this day for the birth of baby Jay and Savannah, I was thankful that I could give this family what they needed the most.
“Now adjusting to our family of 5 I find it takes a ton of energy. But Not a day goes by that I don’t remember her. I love her dearly. I enjoy seeing her in pictures and touching her hands and feet molds that the hospital made for us. I love talking about her. I am so thankful when someone outright asks me how I’m dealing with the death of Savannah instead of just a, “how are you dealing with things?” I pray for strength on a daily basis. Some days are harder than others. Sometimes my heart aches more than I could bare, but God always gives me hope through beautiful thoughts of her running free of worry in a Heavenly field or lying in a hammock with a romantic gothic novel. Whatever she is doing I know she is pain free and filled with joy and for that I am filled with comfort.” – Tiffany
When we were setting up baby Jay and Savannah together for photos, the most incredible thing happened! That thing you hear people talk about but never actually witness it… you know what I’m talking about! When they were placed together and Jay Lee could feel her sis next to her, she would quit fussing. She was so calm when held next to her womb-mate, as if that’s right where she belonged.
I photographed for several hours taking pictures of the family meeting the babies. As I was about to head out, I told Tiffany and Jonathon that if there was something we were forgetting to please let me know and I could arrange to go back up to the hospital. As it turned out… we were forgetting something! Their first set of twins (Ayla and Calvin) have yet to meet baby Jay and Savannah! The next day I went back to the hospital to take more pictures of the family and the twins meeting their twin siblings.
In this photo there are 3 sets of twins! THREE! Tiffany has twin sisters (the older ones) and then her twin babies, all in 1 photo!
Throughout the next few months, the family had received different plants from close friends and family as a way to honor Savannah’s life. They had already started putting together one part of the garden and posted some photos of it on Facebook, so I reached out to them to see if they had more to do so I could come out and take pictures for them. This was the perfect way to complete this photographic story of Jay Lee and Savannah.
When I got there, I didn’t realize how many people would be there to pitch in and help. My heart felt so full to see all the support and love this family has, and how everyone wanted to have a hand in putting together Savannah’s Garden. The first couple of hours was putting together the 3 tier garden beds and filling with dirt. Once the plants were arranged, each person or couple dug a hole and placed the plant they had brought for Savannah.
After everything was planted, it was time to water the garden. Of course, any time you have toddlers around you are bound to get interrupted with their silly games and turning every chore into fun! Ayla and Calvin had a blast and were soaking wet by the end of it!
After everything was done, the family gathered around the garden to admire its beauty.
If you’ve read this entire post, you are probably wondering what everyone else has wondered… “When did Savannah pass away? How did this happen? What caused this?” … and the answer is, we don’t know. The doctors and nurses checked the placenta and both babies over and over again, and the result comes up inconclusive. The only thing we know is that Savannah had passed away just hours before labor started, and that’s probably what induced labor altogether. All we can do is thank God for keeping baby Jay safe and sound and take comfort in that he had bigger plans for Savannah in Heaven.