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Fertility

Sharyn Casey on her heartbreaking journey to motherhood and the supportive community she found on the way

When Sharyn Casey had her first miscarriage, she felt alone and ashamed. But in sharing her story, the Dancing with the Stars NZ host found a community who had been there before.

By Phoebe Watt
Sharyn Casey had reservations about doing this interview. It wasn't that she was sharing her story for the first time – she'd blogged about all of her miscarriages.
"But I've always been in control of the narrative," The Edge radio announcer told me over a coffee one morning. "I just don't want to wind up looking sad in a magazine with a headline like, 'Sharyn Casey's tears.'"
Not that there haven't been plenty of those. In the long lead-up to the birth of her son Tyson in January 2018, Sharyn – who returned to TV screens in April as co-host of Three's Dancing with the Stars NZ – has fought a harrowing physical and emotional battle, the scars from which still run deep. Indeed, I was warned prior to meeting the 33-year-old that she was likely to get tearful during the interview, and to prepare to back off if necessary. Naturally then, I was surprised when she sat down on the couch opposite me and told me I could ask her anything.
"Why do you want to do this?" was my first question. Her response spoke to the selflessness that she and her husband Bryce – also a radio announcer at The Edge's parent company MediaWorks – have demonstrated since the beginning of their baby journey.
"When we had our first miscarriage, we felt so ashamed," she begins. "We didn't know anyone who'd been through the same thing, so we thought it was just us. And not having anyone to talk or relate to was incredibly isolating. I want people like us to realise that they're not alone."
Sharyn and Bryce, who co-hosts The Rock's Morning Rumble, began trying for a baby in 2013 and were thrilled that it didn't take long to conceive.
"All of our friends had become pregnant around the same time," remembers Sharyn. "In one group we were literally the last ones, so we were so excited when it happened."
Then came the first of what would be three devastating losses. "They all went for their first scans and it was sweet. And then we went and had ours, and it wasn't sweet."
Their first baby didn't have a heartbeat. Nor did the next one, about four months later. Sharyn says the shame they felt from the first miscarriage spiralled further into feelings of alienation.
"I felt really distant from everyone because I was seemingly the only one who couldn't have a baby."
A small but significant lifeline came in early 2016 from a colleague of Sharyn's who caught her off-guard in the MediaWorks staff kitchen.
"She noticed that I looked out of sorts and asked me what was wrong, and I just burst into tears and told her. Straight away she let me know she'd been through the same thing, and that was the moment I realised that what Bryce and I were experiencing wasn't as uncommon as we thought."
It was also the moment that Sharyn decided she wanted to be that lifeline for someone else. Shortly afterwards, she wrote her first blog about miscarriage.
"I didn't expect it to be picked up by any media outlets because no one was writing about me at that point," says Sharyn, whose main gig at the time was co-hosting The Edge's afternoon drive show. But articles were soon published on local news sites, inviting an audience of thousands to weigh in on the deeply personal subject.
"It was absolutely terrifying," she recalls, adding that the posts attracted their share of trolls, whose comments were incredibly upsetting. "But the number of people who commented to say that they too had lost babies or were struggling with fertility issues – it was so overwhelming, but so comforting. I couldn't believe we'd ever felt alone when so many others felt our pain."

Finding answers

For Sharyn, it confirmed that more discussion around the topic was needed, and the extent to which her story resonated with people also gave "profound meaning" to the lives of the babies she and Bryce had lost. Bolstered by this new sense of community, Sharyn and Bryce persevered with their baby journey, and in mid-2016, Sharyn found out she was pregnant again. Again, she and Bryce went for the eight-week scan, and for the first time, there was a heartbeat.
"I have the video on my phone," she says. "Bryce was so excited because we'd never heard a heartbeat before." Sharyn, however, had learned how to read the information on the screen, and she knew that the baby's heart rate was too low.
"I was just lying there waiting for the technician to say something, and then Bryce stopped recording and she said, 'It's not good.'"
A brutal blow, the one saving grace was the statement that followed. "She said I think you have a septum in your uterus and that's why you're having miscarriages. We're going to book you in for another scan and get to the bottom of it."
Sharyn, who had previously pushed for extra scans and tests and been dismissed, was surprised. "I thought it was weird that this kept happening, but what do I know, I'm a radio announcer. I trusted the medical staff who said there was nothing wrong with me, and who kept telling me it was just bad luck."

Letting go

First though, there was Sharky. "We called him Sharky because that's what he looked like on the scan," says Sharyn, who has a tattoo on her finger in his memory.
Adamant that she couldn't cope with miscarrying naturally for a third time, she opted to undergo a dilation and curettage [D&C] procedure, to be performed under a general anaesthetic at Auckland's North Shore Hospital. During the procedure, Sharyn's surgeon, Ammar Al-Abid, confirmed that Sharyn did have a septum in her uterus that was blocking blood flow and causing her to miscarry.
Having heaped guilt upon herself for years, this information was key to Sharyn accepting everything that had happened up to that point wasn't her fault.
"I thought that because I was so in control of everything else I did, that losing my babies must have come down to something I was doing wrong. I must have eaten something wrong, I must have been too stressed at work, I must have laughed too hard and made my uterus shake too much… ridiculous stuff. It took this last one to make me realise that the only thing I could control was accepting that I had none."

Dream come true

The Caseys are as philosophical as they can be about what was an agonising situation, pointing out that it led them to a diagnosis, as well as to the surgeon who would correct the issue.
The surgery to remove the septum was successful, and afterwards, Ammar joked to the couple that the next time he saw them, Sharyn would be pregnant and he'd be her obstetrician. "He brought sunlight to a really dark situation," says Sharyn who, true to Ammar's prediction, was pregnant with Tyson a few months later.
The pregnancy wasn't without its complications, but thanks to what she calls the "combined powers" of Ammar, fertility naturopath Rene Schliebs, and midwife Denise Johnson, Sharyn passed milestone after milestone.
"Denise was incredible," says Sharyn. "Throughout a pregnancy you're meant to have three scans, and I probably had one every two to three weeks. If I felt panicky that day, I'd ring her and she would come over to the house and we'd do it there, just so I could hear the baby's heartbeat."
Always accommodating, Denise was tough on Sharyn when she needed it. "One day she said to me, 'At some point you just have to believe in this baby. You have to accept that he is coming.'"
And he did. Since his arrival almost 18 months ago, Tyson has turned Sharyn and Bryce's world upside down in the best way possible. A happy baby who loves nothing more than to make people laugh, Sharyn is convinced he has a career in radio ahead, but at whose radio station is up for debate.
Given Tyson and Bryce's close bond, she's anticipating losing that battle, "But I always knew Bryce would be the most amazing hands-on dad ever," she says. "I probably don't tell him enough how much I appreciate what he does. I'm so lucky."
Despite having good systems in place to manage the work/life juggle, the Caseys are still taken aback at how relentless parenting is. "People tell you how sleep-deprived you're going to be, but nothing can prepare you for what that actually means," she laughs.
The harsh realities of parenting are something she doesn't shy away from on Instagram, where she regularly connects with other new mums, sharing stories from the front line.

In the know

"I hate the saying 'keeping it real', but I try to keep it realistic," she says of her social media style.
"Being a mum is so rewarding but it's not all cute outfits and giggles, and I won't ever pretend that it is, or that my baby is perfect and does everything he's supposed to do, because he doesn't. None of them do." She adds that mothers' groups are a real insight into the different stages at which babies develop.
"One baby will have colic and one won't have rolled over yet, and some wake up every 30 minutes, but everyone's kid is doing something amazing. You can't get caught up in comparisons."
She rates social media for its being a 24/7 resource for mums requiring advice and support, and says that the constructive comments make up for the unhelpful ones.
"It's frustrating when people message you just to tell you you're doing something wrong. But if I post a story saying Tyson's been up all night and someone messages me saying, 'Have you tried this?' I absolutely love that."

Life after loss

Having Tyson hasn't made their other babies matter less. Particularly Sharky, who Sharyn explains is the most humanised of the three because she and Bryce heard his heartbeat, and also learned his gender after the D&C. To keep their memories alive, they talk to Tyson about his siblings, who Sharyn says are very much part of the family even though they're not there.
"Tyson has all this shark stuff in his room and we tell him 'That's for your brother'. And he has a bunny for his sister, who we call Bunny – we just decided she was a girl."
She's conscious that this approach isn't for everyone, and cautions that others who have experienced miscarriages might deal with theirs differently, with their own way of acknowledging their loss.
"It's a really personal thing, and this is just how we've chosen to acknowledge it, and our friends and family know the deal and are really supportive of that."
Supportive work environments have also been make or break for the Caseys. When they lost Sharky, they were a week away from going on annual leave. Their bosses at MediaWorks told them to start it early.
"They didn't even dock our pay. They were just like, 'Do what you've got to do and come back when you're ready.'"
She says the time off, and the enforced stand-down period from trying to conceive while she was healing from surgery was the best thing they could have done.
"When you lose a pregnancy there's this compulsion to replace it as quickly as possible. You want to be googling 'How to get pregnant after miscarriage' before you've even finished miscarrying the baby inside you. But you need time to mentally and physically recover."
She would know. Two days after her first miscarriage, Sharyn, who was co-hosting Dancing with the Stars NZ for the first time, was on live television announcing the cast for the show's 2015 season. Describing this as "a terrible decision in hindsight", Sharyn says she went through with the filming because she was too embarrassed to say anything at the time.
"I didn't want to make a big deal about what was going on because to my knowledge, no one else had before."
She says that on a set of 200 people there were only five people who knew, "including the stylist who had to cover up my bloated belly, and the makeup artist who had to redo my makeup every time I broke down crying – which was a lot."
Speaking in the lead-up to the eighth season of DWTS, it was clear that things were going to be a whole lot different for Sharyn this time around. Asked what she was going to enjoy most about this season, she said it was the weekly spray tans "which make me feel like I'm constantly on holiday", stealing chocolate from Dai Henwood's dressing room, and the positive vibes on set. And then, of course, there's having Tyson to go home to.
"Bryce and I stop and stare at him a bit, in disbelief that he's here and that we made him," she says, smiling. As for whether there are plans for another baby, Sharyn says it's completely possible, but if it doesn't happen, Tyson will always have siblings.
"I always say to people, 'He's not my only child. He's just the first to make it across the finish line.'"

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