Less than a year after making her entrance into motherhood, having given birth to her daughter, Charlotte, Sarah Sharp, then 30, started dreaming about filling her house with more children. A twin to sister, Cathey Stoner, and raised in a closely-knit family of four children in total, she and her husband, Richard, who is also a Franklin, Tennessee native, and from a family of four siblings, started swapping their plans about the future.
The beach vacations they’d take with tiny toes scurrying along the shoreline. The conversations and prayers they’d exchange around the dinner table. The stockings they’d fill with surprises at Christmastime.
Sharp left a high-stress corporate career behind in order to float peacefully into stay-at-home motherhood, a decision she never second-guessed. Bringing new life into the world was everything she’d ever wanted. She knew it all the way down in her bones.
That was, until life tossed her a shock of a plot twist. “It was a season where I was feeling excited about the future, but I started bleeding excessively, and it lasted for about 30 days. That was when I finally said to myself, ‘Okay, something isn’t right,’” Sharp says.
There began what Sharp calls “months of bloodwork and question marks.”
Her life, which she’d intentionally slowed down to focus on her newfound role, was suddenly whizzing at full-speed. She was going in and out of doctor’s offices for testing, ultrasounds and emergency procedures before being diagnosed with choriocarcinoma, an exceedingly rare and aggressive form of cancer in the uterus that’s caused by a prior pregnancy.
Her twin sister, Cathey Stoner, a dietician nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, and a mother of two, was often by her side. Or, at the very least, glued to her phone, holding her breath, awaiting updates. “It turned all of our lives upside down. It wasn’t just Sarah’s crisis; it was a family crisis,” Stoner says.
While at the hospital ER for her first procedure, when doctors told Sharp that they might have to take her uterus, Stoner rushed to her bedside. In an effort to lighten the mood, she jokingly said to her, “If they take your uterus, don’t worry. I’ll carry your babies!”
Initially, Sharp thought she was in the clear, but a week later, she got the kind of call that plays out in nightmares: a tissue sample revealed that she had cancer.
After six months of intensive chemotherapy, in February 2019, shortly after the sisters celebrated their 31st birthdays, it became evident that Sharp required a partial hysterectomy. Her eggs could stay, but her uterus had to go. Urgently.
"Life was suddenly dark. My dream of our future would never be more than that: a dream. The desire to grow my family was no longer possible,” Sharp says.
Except Stoner began to revisit the joke she’d made at the ER that night, privately discussing the idea with her husband, Alex. “I feel like God planted that seed in me in that tiny moment of heartache when we had no idea what was to truly come,” Stoner says.
The day of her hysterectomy, Stoner told Sharp, in a far more serious tone, "I don’t know if you remember me saying this a year and a half ago, but if we can make it out of this, I’ll give Charlotte a sibling for you.”
“It was the biggest act of unconditional love I’d ever received. At that moment, she gifted me with a new vision for the future–something I hadn’t had in nearly a year,” Sharp says.
Less than a year later, Sharp underwent an egg retrieval that produced three highly viable embryos with her husband. After a series of intensive physical and psychological screenings, one of the embryos was transferred into Stoner’s uterus in December 2020. Sharp stood at her sister’s bedside in the operating room the entire time, holding her hand and wiping away tears.
Throughout the pregnancy, either Sharp or her husband joined Stoner for each of her doctor’s appointments. And as Stoner’s belly waxed, her sister brought her delicious meals and pies, and pampered her with foot massages. She had her house cleaned often, and helped out with Stoner’s two children. A few months before the due date, both couples ventured to Cancun, Mexico together for a "babymoon.”
Stoner recalls the moment she felt her nephew’s first kick in her womb. “It kind of took my breath away. It was this feeling like, ‘Okay, we’re on this journey together and we share an end goal, which is to get you to your parents. I’ve got you and you’ve got me. We’re going to finish this. We’re good.’”
In August 2021, Stoner gave birth to her perfectly healthy nephew, John Ryder Sharp, with her sister, husband and brother-in-law surrounding her.
Stoner claims she had no instinct at all to reach for him, understanding that her body had simply served as a vessel for his life to grow and land earthside–an honorable and supernatural assignment that she’ll never take lightly. "My heart had longed for him to be in Sarah’s arms. My job felt accomplished,” she says.
After Sharp cut the umbilical cord, she scooped her son into her arms, whispering to him, "I love you so much. We've been praying for you," over and over again.
Most graciously, his aunt would pump breast milk for him for six weeks straight.
At the time of our interview, John Ryder is 4 months old and napping peacefully at home with his parents. As for the twin sisters, they’re busy sifting through media requests, as well as unpacking their heart-warming story on their podcast, Talk to Me Sister. They’re also deep in the process of writing a book about their life-changing experience, and the ripple effect of hope and gratitude that it’s created for so many others.
"There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t remember where we were, but we’re so grateful for where we are now." she says. "I feel like John Ryder’s life is proof that, no matter what terrible things might come, there’s always the possibility that things will get better again."
Stoner adds, “I also hope that our story serves to remind others that there’s nothing more meaningful than being in service to those who mean the most to you. That’s the foundation of what family, and love, truly means.”