Fertility struggles can feel heartbreaking — and endless. But keeping them a secret can feel like the worst part of all; it’s unfair for any hopeful would-be parent to feel like they’re going through this battle alone. And yet despite the fact that an estimated 10 percent of women (6.1 million) struggle with infertility in the United States, it’s still a topic — along with also-super-common miscarriage — that many feel uncomfortable discussing. Enter: These outspoken celebs who are stepping up to break the taboo.
From Chrissy Teigen to Gabrielle Union, plenty of Hollywood’s major stars have gone public with their personal fertility challenges: from IVF treatments to using surrogates. By opening up the conversation, they’re helping to make others understand they aren’t alone in this often exhausting and heart-wrenching experience. Because even though the struggle to start a family might be ongoing, there is comfort in knowing there are others journeying along with you.
A version of this story was originally published in August 2016.
Union, who wasn’t sure she wanted to have children until she bonded with her stepchildren, chronicles her struggles with infertility in her new book We’re Going to Need More Wine.
“For three years, my body has been a prisoner of trying to get pregnant — I’ve either been about to go into an IVF cycle, in the middle of an IVF cycle, or coming out of an IVF cycle,” Union writes. She also revealed that she has had multiple miscarriages in her journey to conceive.
Yet after all the heartbreak, Union and husband Dwyane Wade welcomed their daughter Kaavia via surrogate in 2018. “We are sleepless and delirious,” Wade wrote on Instagram, “but so excited to share that our miracle baby arrived last night via surrogate and 11/7 will forever be etched in our hearts as the most loveliest of all the lovely days. Welcome to the party sweet girl!”
Former supermodel and actress Jaime King gave birth to her first son James Knight in 2013, and second son Leo Thames in 2015. But it took seven years of trying to conceive for her to get pregnant — and she has been vocal about that trying time in her life. King revealed she had five miscarriages, endometriosis and suffered from polycystic ovary syndrome. In an interview with Fit Pregnancy, she discussed how her second pregnancy differed greatly from her first: “Nobody knew how long it took me to get pregnant: that for seven years I had so many losses, I’d been trying for so long and I was in so much pain,” King said.
“I felt like a part of me was broken because the fact is let’s be real: The only difference between men and women that we grow up with is that we’re able to carry a child. Somewhere in our subconscious when someone tells you, ‘Oh, you might not be able to do that,’ you feel like it’s the one thing that you have that’s this gift, that makes you a woman, and there’s something wrong with you.”
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, Giuliana Rancic had to take cancer-suppressing medications that made getting pregnant a risky endeavor. The television host told People she and husband Bill Rancic welcomed their son Edward Duke with the help of a surrogate in 2012, but that when they tried for a second child with a surrogate, Rancic discovered on New Year’s Eve that she miscarried with their third and last remaining embryo. Rancic called the loss the “toughest blow” and confessed, “It was a really hard time.” She also revealed that she is more open than ever to the idea of adoption because she thinks to herself, “I love Duke so much, if I couldn’t take care of him, I hope there would be someone else who would love him.”
Kim Kardashian West
On Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Kim Kardashian West spoke often about the difficult time she and Kanye West had conceiving after the birth of their first child North West. The reality star and her musician/designer husband tried for more than one year after North’s birth to conceive again, and after announcing their second pregnancy, Kardashian West revealed that giving birth for the first time was no walk in the park. “I had so many complications. I had this condition called placenta accreta. There were a couple little operations to fix all that, so that created a little hole in my uterus, which I think made it really tough to get pregnant again. It was a long road. I would go to the doctor in Beverly Hills every day at five in the morning to get tested to see if I was ovulating.”
Kardashian West said all of the pressure and stress took the fun out of trying to have a baby, and she did everything from consulting a nutritionist to getting acupuncture in order to help. But it’s been worth the long haul: West welcomed son Saint in 2015. She’s also mom to two more kids via surrogate: Chicago, born in 2018, and Psalm, born in 2019.
Legendary singer Mariah Carey opened up to Barbara Walters on 20/20 about her infertility struggles after safely giving birth to twins Monroe and Moroccan in 2011. After marrying now ex-husband Nick Cannon, she had a miscarriage in 2008 and, as a precaution, took progesterone before and during her second pregnancy and had daily acupuncture treatments to help reduce her stress. “The main thing I did that was tough, was to go on progesterone like every month… and then when I was pregnant, I had to stay with the progesterone for 10 weeks,” Carey said.
While pregnant with her twins. Carey discovered she had gestational diabetes, was at risk of suffering from seizures and was put on bed rest. “I don’t think I understood the enormity and the magnitude of what it really does to your body,” she said of having twins. “Carrying two babies. Unless somebody’s been through it, it’s difficult to understand what I went through, because my pregnancy was very unique in terms of what happened to me.”
Former Bachelorette Trista Sutter described the two years she and husband Ryan tried to conceive as a dark time in her life. In her book Happily Ever After: The Life-Changing Power of a Grateful Heart, Sutter reveals that she has always wanted to be a mom and that when that didn’t immediately happen after she and Ryan married in 2003, she began to question their relationship, herself and even God. “It’s a very difficult thing to not be able to do anything about making a dream of yours come true and questioning whether something is wrong with you,” Sutter said. “So that was definitely a dark time in my life.” Sutter told People she and her husband were ready to try IVF, but then they discovered she was pregnant with their first child, Maxwell. She worked with a company called OV Watch to predict when she was ovulating — and it worked like a charm. Since then, Sutter and her husband have also welcomed a daughter named Blakesley, but she says three kids are not in the cards — she had the Essure procedure done, a permanent form of birth control.
Supermodel and businesswoman Tyra Banks welcomed a baby boy named York Banks Asla, who was born via gestational surrogate in 2016. But Banks and her FabLife co-host Chrissy Teigen revealed that they both struggled with infertility issues on a segment of the show. After Teigen begged the audience to stop asking her about children because their struggle to conceive has been a very real one, Banks broke down in tears as she explained the pain she and other women feel when they can’t conceive: “I want to co-sign what Chrissy is saying and say ‘You have no idea what people are going through,’” Banks said.
“Why am I crying? You just have no idea what people are going through, so when you ask Chrissy that or me that or anybody that, it is none of your frigging business, OK? And for any women, it is none of your business what somebody is going through. Whether they want to have a child or don’t ever want to have a child or may have a child on the way, it’s none of your business, OK? Until somebody wants to make it your business.” Banks later revealed she underwent IVF treatments and that the procedure was difficult for her. “We’re kind of going through this similar thing with IVF,” she said. “And, you know, putting needles in your tummy every day and having to come to work and smile when you feel like you want to throw up and lay down… I can’t believe I’m saying this right now.”
The birth of Padma Lakshmi’s baby girl in 2009 was described as a miracle because the actor, designer and cookbook author discovered at age 36 that she suffered from stage-4 endometriosis and had to have two surgeries to help with her condition. Lakshmi, who co-founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America, said doctors told her she’d probably never be able to get pregnant and that she froze her eggs as insurance.
Lakshmi says by some miracle she got pregnant naturally, but that she was very lucky because it’s a rare occurrence in someone with stage-3 or stage-4 endometriosis. Now, she’s doing her part to raise awareness of infertility and how difficult it is for women. “I think infertility is one of those subjects that nobody likes to talk about for obvious reasons,” she said. “It’s very personal, everybody’s different. It has to do with your sexuality, but it also has to do with your own feelings about your womanhood and all the cultural and religious and familial taboos wrapped around that. And we have insecurities about that, so why would we want to be open about something so touchy? But I think it’s important, as a community, to come together.”
One of the original ’80s/’90s supermodels, Naomi Campbell is a woman who truly turned the world into her oyster; but in 2008, when she was 38, Campbell opened up about her personal struggle with infertility.
At a fundraiser for the White Ribbon Alliance, which offers health care for pregnant women around the world, Campbell said she wanted children, but that she was infertile until she received a corrective surgery that year for what she originally thought was a cyst.
“I was not able to have children until March,” Campbell said. “Now it’s in God’s hands. I would love to have a family.” At age 45, Campbell keeps extremely busy with modeling, business endeavors and charity work, but it is unknown whether she has turned to IVF treatments or other fertility procedures.
As a spokesperson for Fertility Lifelines, actor Brooke Shields is an open book when it comes to her infertility issues. The mom of two children had to have surgery on her cervix to remove precancerous cells, and the procedure left scarring that made it difficult for her to become pregnant. She tried artificial insemination several times with husband Chris Henchy, but the procedure was unsuccessful. Because she was 36 when she started trying to conceive, she says her doctor suggested IVF.
She described the process of taking Lupron and being on constant ovulation alert as an ordeal. “I had to take these shots for weeks,” she said in her memoir, Down Came the Rain.
“In addition, there were countless doctor visits for blood tests, sonograms and peeing on sticks, not to mention the estrogen patches I had to wear that made me look and feel like I’d had a skin graft when they were removed. The whole process was quite an ordeal, and we became slaves to the time of day and to little vials of liquid. We’d find ourselves out at dinner with friends, and then we’d have to sneak off to a coat room, where we’d huddle over syringes and a travel-size cooler filled with small bottles of drugs.”
After her first round of IVF, Shields became pregnant, but miscarried. She was ready to stop trying when she got pregnant during her last cycle of treatments in 2002.
“I was about ready to call it quits,” she said. “I was growing weary of the anticipation and the pressure, and Chris said he wasn’t sure he could handle seeing me rip off another estrogen patch in frustration… at wit’s end, we decided to try one more time.” The couple is now raising their daughters Rowan and Grier.
Actor Elizabeth Banks married the man of her dreams, Max Handelman, and was then eager to create a family with him — but it proved a trying time for her. In an interview with Lucky magazine, Banks revealed she had a womb issue and that her embryos wouldn’t implant. As a result, she and Handelman chose to use a gestational surrogate, whom she says she is still close to. “It’s a big leap, inviting this person into your life to do this amazing, important thing for you,” she says.
“And it’s hard losing that kind of control. But our surrogate is so extraordinary, and she’s still in our lives. She’s like an auntie.” Banks and Handelman have sons Felix, born 2011, and Magnus, born 2012, both born via gestational surrogate.
Again, Banks was quick to praise her surrogate. “This experience has exceeded all expectations, taught us a great deal about generosity and gratitude and established a relationship that will last a lifetime,” she said.
Female celebrities aren’t the only ones who feel the anxiety, disappointment and sadness of infertility. After welcoming their daughter Winnie to the world in 2013, TV host Jimmy Fallon revealed he and his wife used a surrogate and tried for five years to get pregnant.
“We’ve tried a bunch of things,” Fallon said. “Anyone who’s tried will know, it’s just awful.” The couple told friends and family they were pregnant in the past, but Fallon said it didn’t work out and it was hard on everybody. They kept Winnie a secret until the very last minute, and Fallon used his position to speak directly to anyone dealing with infertility issues. “We tried for a long time, for five years. I know people have tried much longer, but if there’s anyone out there who is trying and they’re just losing hope… just hang in there. Try every avenue; try anything you can do, ’cause you’ll get there. You’ll end up with a family, and it’s so worth it. It is the most worth-it thing. I’m just so happy right now. I’m freaking out.”
Despite her giving nature on social media, model Chrissy Teigen and husband John Legend didn’t feel it was OK to broadcast their infertility struggle to billions of strangers. Teigen says she wanted to talk about infertility for so long, but that her IVF treatments felt too personal to discuss.
“It didn’t feel right to ever tweet, ‘Ugh, doing my IVF shots again,’” Teigen says. “It just sounded silly. It definitely was not planned in that episode at all.” Teigen was referring to an episode of her show FabLife, where she and co-host Tyra Banks opened up about the difficulties both were facing getting pregnant.
She says she and Legend had dealt with the challenge for years and that they relied on the encouragement and support of close friends to see them through it.
“I think we just have really good people around us that never said anything or else you would have known,” Teigen said. “I have a team of maybe 60 people, John has hundreds and everyone knew. They knew the failures, the successes, everything, but it’s never gotten out.”
Teigen and Legend now have beautiful kids Luna and Miles thanks to IVF.
After giving birth to two sons with now-ex husband Gavin Rossdale, Gwen Stefani desperately wanted a third baby — but told Marie Claire she had trouble conceiving. She was 40 at the time and admitted to the magazine that she was all set to accept life the way it was. “I really, really, really wanted one about two years ago,” Stefani said. “And it didn’t really work out. So… I feel good with what we’ve got. Everything works out how it should. You can’t plan anything, right? You can try.”
Then, in 2014, Stefani discovered at 44 she was pregnant with her third son, Apollo — and she said son Kingston had everything to do with it (leaving us to assume IVF treatments were not involved). “Kingston… has a direct line to God, basically,” Stefani said. “[He started to pray,] ‘Dear God, please let my mom have a baby. Please, God! Please let my mom have a baby.’ I swear to you, he prayed every single night, and four weeks later, I was pregnant.”
Tia Mowry and Cory Hardrict are the proud parents of Cree and Cairo, but the Sister, Sister star says endometriosis made her dreams of giving big-brother Cree a little sister tougher than she’d imagined.
“I often felt like something was wrong with me,” she told Women’s Health. “I thought I was alone because no one I knew personally had dealt with this. And then I realized: I’d never really seen someone African American in the public eye talking about endometriosis or their struggles with infertility. And when you don’t know or see anyone who looks like you talking about what you’re going through, you feel alone and suffer in silence.”
Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson and wife Kristin have two little boys, but they’ve been frank about the secondary infertility struggles that came before conceiving son Maxwell. In fact, Kristin appeared in Pushing Motherhood, a documentary about the topic in which she spoke out about multiple rounds of IVF and other clinical procedures that were unsuccessful. As Kevin said of the process, “It just didn’t feel right, so we were like, ‘Let’s stop this. Let’s reset your body, reduce stress, make you feel happy and healthy, then go back to the roots of how it’s supposed to be done. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, and if not, we’ll adopt.’”
In the end, Kristin conceived naturally.
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