Gabriel’s Gowns

. February 28, 2019.

Local mother transforms a horrible loss into something beautiful

Sara and Shaun Hagerty experienced every expecting parent’s worst nightmare: a regular OB check-up revealed their son, Gabriel, had passed in utero.

“Gabriel was our surprise baby,” fondly recalls Sara. “I was one of those stories–I thought I couldn’t get pregnant because I was nursing. Surprise! I was already 8 weeks along by the time we discovered I was pregnant.”

When the couple found out they were having another boy, Sara was ecstatic. “If I was going to have two babies close in age, then I wanted them to be the same sex.” At that point, her oldest, Leah, was a toddler and her brother, JJ, was just a baby.

The heartbreak

The pregnancy progressed normally with no issues. “We had our regular check up–I was about 5 to 6 months along–and they couldn’t find the heartbeat with the doppler. I instantly knew something was wrong. The night before, I hadn’t been able to feel any movement, but instead of doing what I was supposed to do and call immediately, I just waited.”

Sara hoped that the doppler was mistaken, but “the ultrasound confirmed he had passed,” says Sara.

The doctors hoped that Sara would go into labor naturally as it was the safest option. Even though her previous births had been c-sections, surgery this early in the pregnancy was too risky. Sara explains, “It was more of a question of where they would be cutting into–it wasn’t just all uterus like at the end of a pregnancy.”

Sara spent two days waiting to go into labor, hoping every pain was a contraction, but ended up being induced the day before Mother’s Day. “Everyone kept telling me, ‘You know that’s right before Mother’s Day?’ But I was in such a grief zone, it didn’t matter.”

After a long labor and delivery, baby Gabriel made his appearance late at night. “It was just me and my husband in the room…and we had a few hours to say our hellos and goodbyes.”

“He was tiny and perfect. He looked like all my other babies, just smaller.”

The cause of death was clear once Gabriel was delivered: an umbilical cord accident. “His umbilical cord where it entered his body was twisted very, very badly. Of course I researched umbilical cord accidents, wondering, ‘Did I do this? Did I do that?’ But it’s ultimately an accident…a tragic and rare accident.”

The Hagerty family opted for cremation because they wanted Gabriel to be part of their home. “The funeral home kept asking us, ‘What do you want him to wear?’ And of all the things mothers plan for and research during pregnancy, I hadn’t planned on this…on my baby dying and what he was going to wear.”

The healing

“The funeral home was amazing, and they suggested we find some really pretty fabric to swaddle him in. Fast forward a few months: I read about these NICU nurses in Texas who were collecting wedding dresses and making them into bereavement gowns.”

“I said to my husband, ‘My goodness wouldn’t that be great if we had this here?’ And after hearing me say that over and over, [Shaun] said, ‘If you want it here, bring it here!’”


The rest, as they say, is history. Gabriel’s Gowns became an immediate success, and they still have gowns in storage from the plethora of donations. Sara clarifies that “My volunteers–a core group of Sylvania church-goers who sew for us–are our real heroes. They are the real superstars, and each gown is so unique and beautiful–like a snowflake.”

Sara concludes, “Grief looks different for everybody. For me, it was really important that my friends and family use his name and acknowledge that he is real. I have four kids, and only three of them are here. It’s important that Gabriel is not forgotten…that I can talk about him.”

When Sara isn’t volunteering with Gabriel’s Gowns, the nonprofit she founded, she is working as the executive director of The American Heart Association and raising her three beautiful children who are here, Leah (10), JJ (6), and Nicholas (4).


What’s your favorite activity to do with your family? Anything where we don’t have technology with us–a walk outside, the playground, out to dinner.
Best holiday memory from when you were a kid? As a kid, if you take presents out of the whole thing, 4th of July is my favorite. We’d go to my grandparents’ cottage in upstate NY on the 3rd, and all of my family got together and stayed the night.
What’s your go-to activity when you have a few minutes to yourself? Besides scrolling Instagram? I enjoy reading–anything from memoirs of celebrities to books only moms can look at!
Describe your life in five words or less. Wouldn’t want it any other way.
What is your favorite Toledo hangout? I really like going downtown in the summertime with my friends–The Heights, the movies at Promenade Park, or that little bar at Imagination Station with great views of the water.
Describe Toledo in a sentence? Toledo was only supposed to be a two year stop, and that was 12 years ago. Toledo will suck you in…and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be raising my family.