We’re all familiar with buzz around celebrity baby bumps (culminating in peak baby-bump-watching with the Royal Baby last spring), but recently, a new trend has emerged with regard to celebs and babies: honest conversations about infertility. Over the past year, a number of celebrities have “come out” as having infertility issues, sharing their struggles openly with the world.
This type of celebrity news feels less like gossip and more like an important part of a movement toward honesty around the reality of motherhood. For a while now, moms have been opening up on social media and in personal essays about the challenges and emotional low points that come with being a mom, completely overturning the narrative of maternal perfection that has long dominated social media and women’s mags.
Now, with these celebrities sharing their stories, it seems that the trend of authenticity around motherhood has spread to the issue of getting and staying pregnant — and that’s a good thing. Too many women with infertility issues feel shame and remain silent as a consequence, leaving them isolated and unsupported during a difficult time. “A celebrity speaking up about infertility can serve as a conduit to conveying the emotional pain and general experience of infertility to our loved ones,” explains Dr. Marni Rosner, LCSW, who specializes in counseling women and couples going through infertility. When famous women use their platform to openly talk about their own fertility issues, they lay the groundwork for those conversations to happen on a person-to-person level, as well as “normalize the trauma and loss that comes with infertility, and diminish the shame,” says Rosner.
Here are 6 brave women who shared their infertility stories publicly this year:
Anne Hathaway, Actress, 36
In July, Hathaway shared the news of her second pregnancy via Instagram — but this Instagram pregnancy announcement (a format we’re all familiar with) had a twist. In the caption, she also disclosed that she’d gone through both primary and secondary infertility: “For everyone going through infertility and conception hell, please know it was not a straight line to either of my pregnancies. Sending you extra love,” she wrote.
She didn’t share any specifics of her struggles or how she got pregnant, but in later interviews she did expand on the feelings behind why she chose to share her journey. “Each time I was trying to get pregnant and it wasn’t going my way, someone else would manage to conceive,” she told the Daily Mail. “I knew intellectually that it didn’t happen just to torment me, but, to be honest, it felt a little bit like it did.” Because of this feeling, as she was writing her pregnancy announcement, she was aware that her post could make somebody trying to conceive feel even more isolated. “I just wanted them to know they have a sister in me,” she said in an interview with the AP.
Gabrielle Union, Actress, 46
When she learned that she had adenomyosis, a form of endometriosis that increases risk of miscarrying, Gabrielle Union and her husband decided to consider surrogacy; at that point, they’d gone through years of IVF and nine miscarriages. But, despite the fact that a lot of people view surrogacy as an “easier” way to have a baby, making the final decision to use a surrogate — and then sharing that choice with the world — was far from easy for Union. “I’m so glad I got over myself and my fear of what people would think of me if I did not carry my own child,” Union told TODAY Parents. “It’s OK to bring your child into the world in a way that is not through your own body.”
Dylan Dreyer, TODAY Show Weather Anchor, 38
When she struggled to get pregnant with her second child, Dylan Dreyer decided to share her experience on TV, and then blog about her journey in real-time. This decision is important for a couple reasons: first, because it brings much-needed attention to the issue of secondary infertility, which is barely talked about despite the fact that it affects 3 million women in the U.S. And second, because this is a rare case of a woman being vulnerable enough to decide to share her journey before it has ended.
While it certainly takes courage to disclose infertility struggles after you’ve gotten pregnant, it takes a different level of bravery to chronicle all the ups and downs, the failures and disappointments, the wrought decisions, without any guarantee that there will be a happy ending. She publicly grappled with whether she should keep trying for a natural pregnancy or go straight to IVF, and thoroughly explained the reasoning behind her decision to do the latter (she even shared a screenshot of the text convo in which she and her husband made their decision final!). On a July episode of TODAY, she announced that she’s expecting a boy in January.
Natalie Imbruglia, singer-songwriter, 44
Like Hathaway, Natalie Imbruglia took to Instagram to share her news: “I’m expecting my first child this Autumn,” she wrote in the caption. “this has been something I have wanted for a very long time and I’m blessed that this is possible with the help of IVF and a sperm donor — I won’t be saying anything more on that publicly.”
While Imbruglia’s openness should be applauded, the lack of details in her statement does bring up one of the potential drawbacks of celebrities exposure of the issue. “One of the downsides in celebrities disclosing their struggle to have a child is that we often don’t know the full story, forcing us to sort of fill-in-the blanks,” says Rosner. It’s likely that Imbruglia, who at 44 has a 1.6% chance of getting pregnant through high-tech fertility treatments, used a donor egg. When celebrities don’t disclose that they used a donor egg, says Rosner, it “can create a misleading impression that if you try hard enough and long enough, or have the right doctor, you too can have a biological child well into your 40s.” Rosner says she’s had clients who came into her office crying upon news that a public figure in her 40’s had gotten pregnant, news that left them asking, “why not me?”
Julianne Hough, Dancer, 31
Julianne Hough is no stranger to bringing awareness to an issue that’s normally not talked about: she’s already shared the fact that she has endometriosis, and in 2017, became the face of Abbvie’s “Get in the Know about ME in EndoMEtriosis.“Campaign. She’s now bringing the same openness to the conversation around infertility, as she and her husband recently shared their decision to go through IVF. “I’m here to debunk beliefs that there’s something wrong with you or that you can’t do something, whatever that might be”, she told Access Hollywood.
Her disclosure does more than just create a sense of solidarity and community with women with infertility issues, it might also spur others to share their own struggles. “I think the more I’m open, the more therapeutic it is for me to not suppress it and hide it,” she said. Her whole mission “is just to feel so connected to myself that I’m not embarrassed or ashamed about anything and I’m as free as can be, and people can feel encouraged to have that same freedom.”
Shay Mitchell, Actress, 32
Another star who used Instagram to get real about infertility, Shay Mitchell took to the platform to talk about miscarriage. In January, she shared an Instagram story of photos from the past year, ending with a photo of an ultrasound and a broken heart emoji. “Lastly, although it was an amazing year, it didn’t come without some hardships,” she wrote. “The support and affection that so many of you show me lifts me up during even my darkest days, one of which happened last year after I miscarried and lost the child of my hopes and dreams.” Her transparency on this issue is particularly important, as miscarriage is rarely talked about in public forums, despite the fact that about 25% of pregnancies are lost.
We’re heartened to see more and more brave women be honest about the fact that getting and staying pregnant isn’t always easy — in fact, it’s often not. While celebs getting real about infertility isn’t necessarily always the ideal platform for educating the public and loved ones about the issue, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. As Dr. Rosner puts it, “the more an influential person can contribute to opening a dialogue around infertility, the better.”
Kate Willsky is a freelance writer based in Sacramento via Brooklyn via San Francisco. Her work has appeared in SELF, Eater, Vice, and Food52, among other publications. After a year of fertility treatment, she’s expecting her first child this spring.
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