My wife, Amy, interviewed Sarah with the idea that they’d talk about the death of her father, but this topic quickly came to the forefront. Amy wrote Sarah’s story, and I shot the portrait session. This is one example of our new venture averagejoeandamy, which you can read about here

We tell stories in word and image. Get in touch to have your story captured now, forever.



In the children’s book Charlotte’s Web, a pig named Wilbur is born the runt of the litter. Fern, who is eight, runs after her father, who carries an ax and knows the trouble a small, weak pig can cause. Her tears and cries of injustice finally stop the farmer; he puts the pig in a carton and places it on her seat at breakfast.

“He’s yours,” said Mr. Arable. “Saved from an untimely death. And may the good Lord forgive me for this foolishness.” Fern lifted the pig up, held him to her cheek, and declared him absolutely perfect.

Sarah’s first pregnancy was like a story out of a book.

She and her husband, Dave, wished for a baby, and right away became pregnant. Sarah was the picture of health. Her water broke, she went to the hospital, everyone was briefly nervous because the baby’s heart rate was slowing, but this kid, their first, emerged into the world by way of caesarean and was so perfect and wonderful that Sarah got pregnant again when Isaac was eight months old.

And just like that, the pregnancy ended. But soon Max would come along, on what would have been Dave’s father’s fifty-ninth birthday; calm and serious, he looked at his parents with gray eyes that would make friends easily, on that day and each one to come.

Dave and Sarah took their small boys to an outdoor concert by the singer songwriter Brandi Carlile, who sings in “The Mother,” Oh, but all the wonders I have seen/I will see a second time/From inside of the ages through your eyes. As the sun set against the lovely backdrop of flowering gardens, people seated around them remarked at how beautiful and well-behaved their children were. Sarah and Dave made a baby again that night. 

And everything was fine until just before her second trimester. The boys sat entranced by a video of the pig Wilbur’s adventures in an old barn, where he would grow large and rich with friends. Isaac, who had trouble speaking clearly until the age of four, watched as Fern sat on an old milking stool and marveled at the conversations of the animals, which she could follow.

Max, a mellow, wise soul, listened as Wilbur spoke of the fear that he may soon be turned into food; his friend Charlotte, the spider, assured him she’d do everything she could to make sure that didn’t happen.

And Sarah writhed in pain and bled; she had the distinct feeling that something had ended.

She felt grateful to her body for not making this baby carry on if he wasn’t up for that (she was pretty sure he was a boy). And she wanted to run away from her body, which produced this grotesque, painful, messy completion of a life that she was told to bag up and take to the clinic. The doctor was calm and reassuring, and yet Sarah couldn’t help but feel like a rotting piece of meat. She didn’t want to be with herself, but she wanted to be with him. He looked just like the pulsing little bean she had seen on the sonogram. She named him Avery Carlile.

At age nineteen, Sarah had never believed that her father’s cancer would kill him. Death was someone else’s storyline, not his—he was invincible—and this narrative twist surprised her somehow. When people would say, “I’m sorry,” she wondered if they had all gotten together and decided on a script. Because none of this was supposed to happen.

When a woman’s body completes a pregnancy, a rush of hormones arrives whether or not the baby lives. Miscarriages are a surprise to the body, and not part of the plot. 

The doctor put Avery in a small container of saline, where he floated peacefully. Sarah wrapped this makeshift womb in a receiving blanket and placed it in a gift bag in her dresser. She didn’t tell anyone this because she knew her behavior seemed strange and macabre. She didn’t want to deal with their reactions and their I’m sorrys

No one wants to talk about babies dying, which might explain why so few means exist to honor them when they fill your heart but are too small to be seen legally as a loss.

Sarah asked at the cemetery where her father and Dave’s father were buried, but was offered a crass two-for-one deal if they’d purchase their own graves.

She then met with the man who had taken care of the funeral home arrangements for Dave’s father. He didn’t register shock as others did. He offered cremation services for Avery and a death certificate, listing the date of birth and the date of death as November 2—the same day Dave’s father died.

Sarah found just one place offering memorial jewelry; she chose a white gold ring with a compartment for the ashes. She wore it until she felt she didn’t need to anymore. Remembering the words of a song by Jeff Buckley, Sarah thinks of Avery as the tear that will hang inside her soul forever, but she’s okay with that now.

On January 26, 2012, Yvette entered the world with ease. Her babyhood was a gift. Yvette always wants to be in on the action with her brothers, catching toads in her frilly pink skirt. Right now she tells Sarah everything that’s on her mind. Sarah had been worried she wouldn’t know what to do with a little girl, but Yvette just leads the way.

Avery Carlile


“After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die.” —Charlotte

Using Format