Apiece Apart Woman: Sarah Hammer

Apiece Apart Woman: Sarah Hammer
 
 
Mary Oliver, “Hurricane”:
“It didn’t behave
like anything you had
ever imagined. The wind
tore at the trees, the rain
fell for days slant and hard.
The back of the hand
to everything. I watched
the trees bow and their leaves fall
and crawl back into the earth.
As though, that was that.
This was one hurricane
I lived through, the other one
was of a different sort, and
lasted longer. Then
I felt my own leaves giving up and
falling. The back of the hand to
everything. But listen now to what happened
to the actual trees;
toward the end of that summer they
pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.
It was the wrong season, yes,
but they couldn’t stop. They
looked like telephone poles and didn’t
care. And after the leaves came
blossoms. For some things
there are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.”

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes your life changes course. Sarah Hammer is an LA native and literary agent-turned-film and television development executive. With a career that evolved from discovering new voices in film and television to overseeing creative development and production for films including “Wild,” “12 Years a Slave,” and “The Tree of Life,” in 2014 she experienced a marked shift. Following an emotional stillbirth of her second child, Sarah found herself feeling differently than she ever had about her self-defined role and the narrative she'd told about her life and trajectory. She found herself questioning what it means to reconsider, to challenge typical “pressures,” to feel things without shame or embarrassment, realizing that sometimes the truest healing is the acceptance that our perspective has shifted. Below, a day at home with Sarah and her two daughters and a conversation on letting go of perfection and embracing what you truly need. 

Photos by the Ingalls, styling by Courtney Rawls

Apiece Apart Sarah Hammer

Can you share more about your background and upbringing? What has been most impactful in contributing to the woman you are today? 
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles. My parents are from New England and while they’ve become incredibly devoted Los Angelenos, I always felt like I experienced my home city through a distant kind of lens: a natural-born outsider. There were the expected daily expressions of gratitude for the constant sunshine but more importantly, there was a reverence for the freedom my parents experienced, reinventing themselves in this new place together with their children. Opportunity and potential were abundant and while we had a lot of fun and our house was full of laughter, the message was clear: accomplishments were what life was all about. 
 
I was the only girl with three brothers and I took great pride in doing everything my brothers could do and more.  It always felt like healthy competition but ultimately this approach caused some imbalance. I’ve definitely had to do some soul searching in order to attain a better grasp of my intuition, femininity, and feelings. 

Apiece Apart Sarah Hammer

You shared that following the stillbirth of your second daughter four years ago you experienced a true dialing in of your priorities and perspective. What did this emotional place look like? What was gained from facing loss and sadness head on?
My second daughter June was stillborn four years ago for reasons that were never remotely anticipated or explained. My pregnancy was only challenging because I was so busy caring for my older daughter, Greta who was nearing two at the time, I was still working on developing screenplays, and my husband and I were renovating our first home in anticipation of our growing family. Everything had been going exactly as planned. I was probably the busiest, most "accomplished" version of myself I have ever been when my doctor told me her heart wasn’t beating anymore. And honestly, even then, after receiving that devastating news, I thought for a second that I could take that loss in stride and just get pregnant again and keep moving forward.  
 
I was shocked and amazed to experience time standing still when I returned home. I experienced real waves of emotion but without shame or guilt. I found great peace walking in nature every day. I began to understand a greater connection between all things, dead and alive. I began to understand how messy and how beautiful life can still be, especially when it doesn’t go as planned. 
 
During this time of intense self-reflection, a lot of people in my life, with good intention, offered distractions. Thankfully I ignored the pressure to change course. My husband and I had saved some money and we were able to adjust our life in Los Angeles to one income. My home life took on a new meaning. It was no longer a place of respite to bigger and better myself. I experimented with letting myself just be and I learned so much about myself in the process. Mostly, I came to accept that grief never goes away. A part of me was forever changed and it took time to get to know this new me, to welcome her with open arms and let her make her home inside of me. I’m not sure I would have even met her if I had just jumped back into life or busied myself with work. 

Apiece Apart Sarah Hammer

Were there any tools, books, learnings that were particularly helpful for you during this time?
I read constantly and re-read what I had just read in hopes of finding more answers and explanations for why our baby had died. I found researching to be the most soothing activity available to me. It gave me great purpose. I remember insisting that there had to be an explanation. It felt like everyone I had spoken to or read about who also experienced a stillbirth had a reason for why it had happened. I was desperate for my own. At some point, my doctor told me that “explanations aren’t always true.” This was a real shocker at first and one that I’ve only recently come to understand. Accepting what is can be horrifying. Letting go of needing an answer proved to be the most clarifying and helpful tool in processing my grief. 

Apiece Apart Sarah Hammer

We’re always learning and relearning, discovering and rediscovering parts of ourselves. Tell us about what you’re learning about yourself now?
I’ve worked hard to own up to my perfectionist tendencies and to question those motivations. I feel like a lot of women I know including myself are stuck on the track of to-dos and making sure they’re completing all of life’s expectations with gold stars. The perfect career, the perfect partner, the perfect house, the perfect children, the perfect instagram account showcasing it all… What’s truly been eye opening is the realization that doing things perfectly doesn’t actually mean that you’re doing them well. 
 
How do you show up and care for yourself?
I try to set loving boundaries with my daughters as much as I try to honor their needs. Of course, I make mistakes daily. I can blur the boundaries and take on too much. I can resort to ultimatums or manipulation to get what I want. I can question if returning to my original career might be a more fulfilling path. I’m realizing that forgiving myself for these slip ups, these doubts, in front of the girls is a great way to self care and to model self care. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the “should haves." The language we use to talk about ourselves is so integral to the way we feel about ourselves and the way we feel about others. 

Apiece Apart Sarah Hammer

Do you have any rituals, disciplines, or self-care practices that help center you?
I found that the simplest things are the most nourishing for me. Recently, my husband and I have been walking whenever we go out alone together. My legs often ache for days afterwards as distances in Los Angeles are often far but my mind is always so clear and the uninterrupted time we spend together always leads to learning new things about one another. I also prepare and cook dinner for my family nearly every night of the year.  It has become a ritual that I cherish each day and something I take great pride in it because there was a time not long ago when I couldn’t boil an egg. 
 
What are you reading right now? What books do you always recommend or have perhaps given as gifts?
Right now I am reading "Simplicity Parenting" by Kim Brooking-Payne and Lisa M. Ross, "Exit West" by Mohsin Hamid, and "The White Book" by Han Kang. 
 
I tend to give books as gifts on a very specific basis. Most recently, I gave a copy of "The History of Wolves" by Emily Fridlund to a very dear friend who questions what it means to be female even more than I do and I just gave a copy of "Outline" by Rachel Cusk to my mother because she is traveling to Athens. One exceptional book that I actually think every human should read is "Uncharted Journey" by Don Rosenthal. 

Apiece Apart Sarah Hammer