Media couple’s pregnancy loss leads to March of Dimes collaborationWritten by Bridget Tharp | | firstname.lastname@example.org
On the air, nothing is off limits for Sara Hegarty.
On any given day as co-host of the Morning Rush on 92.5 KISS FM, she might endure teasing about her sex life or participate in any range of shudder-inducing stunts. The perils of guessing the wrong “American Idol” finalist or a Super Bowl champ vary for this radio personality. She has shaved off her eyebrows, swallowed a mouthful of crickets and explored a bathroom with her tongue. (She has video proof for any skeptics.)
When she and her family faced the devastating loss of her pregnancy last year, sharing the experience with listeners felt natural to Sara. Her husband, Shaun Hegarty, an anchor for FOX Toledo and frequent guest on the Morning Rush, agreed. Just a week after the miscarriage, the couple went on the air together. They relived their loss for thousands of radio listeners, even describing the moment they noticed the absence of their unborn child’s heartbeat.
“I live my life on the radio,” Sara said of the decision to go public. “I feel it’s my job to share this. Shaun and I, we let people into our lives every day.”
A year later, she plans to broadcast her story again at the March of Dimes’ March for Babies at Fifth Third Field Downtown on April 15. When she shares her story with the public this time, the tale will have a bittersweet twist: after a year of mourning her loss, dwelling on the uncertainty of her health and coping with the unsettling suspense of various medical tests, Sara is pregnant again.
It’s a boy.
‘Mommy, you just have to be patient’
In the front yard of their West Toledo home on a recent Sunday afternoon, Sara and Shaun are chasing their 4-year-old, Leah. The toddler is gleefully winning as the game alternates between duck-duck-goose and freeze tag. Her 4-foot-long inflatable princess wand might be considered an unfair advantage if she were playing with anyone other than her doting parents.
Leah has no qualms about her new role as big sister. She has volunteered to wash the baby’s face during bath time and to introduce her new brother to the coolest Disney princes during their next trip to Florida. She became chummy with the royalty during her princess makeover on her recent visit to Disney World. Leah is so prepared, she even named the kid. Just call him: “Handsome Santa’s-Good-Boy Hegarty.”
How did she learn so much about being a big sister?
“Because I’m big and I know how to be,” the 4-year-old said.
Imagine having to convince this confident little girl that her sibling wasn’t coming after all.
It was April 26, 2011. Just past the 17th week of Sara’s second pregnancy. Not so very long after she awoke Shaun at 3 a.m. to report they were expecting another child, but not long enough to know that it would be another girl. It was just a routine ultrasound.
Sara knew there was something wrong before she asked the technician why she couldn’t see the heartbeat.
Because the heart isn’t beating, the technician told her calmly.
At first, she argued. But the doctor had her convinced before the appointment was over.
“Things were just in my head, spiraling. And I looked at him, and said, ‘What am I going to tell my daughter?” Sara recalled asking. “I thought this question was going to bring my baby back. If they know that I have a 3-year-old who thinks Mommy is having a baby, I’ll magically be pregnant again. No one had answers.”
It was Shaun who explained to Leah that mommy’s baby went to heaven. When she insisted on singing to the baby in her mom’s belly, they knew Leah didn’t understand. They aren’t sure whether Leah even understood months later, when the family launched balloons into the sky to reach the baby and Shaun’s father in heaven.
Sara’s faith has her suspecting that Leah’s advice to her the day she learned of the miscarriage may have been borrowed wisdom.
“That first day I cried a lot. A lot. And she looked at me, and said, ‘Mommy, you just have to be patient. You’ll have another baby in your belly,’” Sara said. “And I looked at her, and I’m thinking, ‘That’s probably the wisest thing anybody’s ever said to me.’”
‘The beginning of the nightmare’
Two days later, Shaun and Sara returned to the doctor for her surgical procedure, a dilation and curettage, to remove the remains of her pregnancy. The complications began during the final steps of the surgery when Sara started to hemorrhage. The surgical team administered a coagulant injection in order to clot her blood and minimize her blood loss, but, instead, the drug worsened Sara’s hemorrhaging.
Recovery wouldn’t be easy. For starters, Sara’s loss of blood caused a pounding headache that lasted for days without relief. Healing would be slower. And, there would be months of tests before doctors could theorize whether it was a genetic autoimmune disease or a blood clot that killed the baby.
“We were not to try to have another baby until they figured out what was wrong with me. That was the beginning of the nightmare,” she said.
‘Our lives on the radio’
Though Sara felt no pressure from the radio station or her on-air companions to share her story, she had no doubt that she should do so. The first person Sara called after her miscarriage was the host of the Morning Rush, Sid Kelly.
“I think I was building the courage to call my parents,” she said.
Between 10 and 15 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But there was little comfort for Shaun and Sara in statistics. Some comfort came from where they least expected: complete strangers. Radio listeners related to their heartache. Some offered poems to cope with the loss of a child, while others simply shared their own experience.
Kelly recalled the unusual absence of ringing phones as Sara and Shaun recounted their heartbreak. He counts that as evidence that listeners truly care about Sara, and her family’s ordeal.
“I think everybody (listening) stopped their day to hear what happened to Sara,” he said. “She is who she is on the radio, every time she’s been over to my house for dinner, or hanging out after the show. We share so much of our lives on the radio, maybe that is a surprise.”
After Shaun and Sara shared their story on the radio, she was overwhelmed by dozens of phone calls and hundreds of emails. Many of the messages were from formerly expectant parents who had experienced the pain of a miscarriage.
“When this happened to us I was surprised to hear as many people on the air talking to her that went through this,” Shaun recalled. “I guess the numbers just didn’t really hit me until you start hearing personal stories.”
Suzanne Weller, executive director for the March of Dimes in Northwest Ohio, was listening when Sara and Shaun shared their story. She reached out to explain the resources the organization could provide, and explained that the mission of the March of Dimes is for each woman to have a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. Sara’s involvement and willingness to share her story with radio listeners have helped the organization’s largest annual event, the March for Babies, grow, Weller said. There are 3,000 participants registered for the event, which is a boost of 500 since last year.
“The beautiful thing about Sara is she is very honest and very clear,” the executive director said.
As Sara endured several months of inconclusive medical testing to determine the cause of her miscarriage, she learned that her baby had been a girl. Though she expected the news to help her cope with the loss, it created additional pain. What helped was for Sara and Shaun to name the baby she lost. They agreed on Hope, and Sara started wearing a bracelet and anklet with a “hope” charm. When the anklet broke during the family’s holiday trip to Disney World, she panicked. But Shaun had a feeling she didn’t need hope anymore.
On New Year’s Eve in Florida, Sara discovered she was pregnant again.
Though their luck and Sara’s health may be improving, they can’t help but be cautious until the baby comes in September. Sara’s pregnancy is considered high-risk, so she must inject herself daily with anticoagulants to avoid the blood clots that may have affected her previous pregnancy. But she’s going above and beyond doctor’s orders, by cutting out all the foods that any medical study or old wives’ tales suggest might be harmful. Shaun’s persistent superstitions have kept him from buying diapers or baby wipes.
“The last time, with the miscarriage, we didn’t imagine anything was going to happen. It didn’t enter my head that there would be an issue. And there was,” Shaun said. “So this time, we’re not taking anything for granted. I’m certainly not.”
A platform to transform
Since Sara and Shaun first accepted an invitation to host the charity’s annual Signature Chefs Auction this past fall, Sara now embraces additional responsibilities as a board member and active fundraiser for the local March of Dimes. She credits her newfound involvement in the nonprofit organization for helping her to move past the grief of her miscarriage. The charity gives her another platform to transform her grief into something positive, and meet other women who are learning how to do the same. She’s found healing in that.
“I’m such a high-strung person, and I stress out and I worry about everything. And I feel that I’ve really just started letting things roll off that I can’t fix,” Sara said. “There really are no words of wisdom, because everybody goes through this differently, but just for women to know they’re not alone. I think that’s the biggest thing. Not every woman gets an influx of one hundred emails when she shares her story. I feel like it’s my job to get it out there.”