Dr. Deidre Downs Gunn, a former Miss Alabama, once served as the longest Miss America title holder since the Great Depression. She applied for the pageant in an attempt to secure funding for her dream of attending medical school, but never imagined she’d walk down the runway to the classic “There She Comes” song in 2005, or that she’d make history as a title holder for something else: Deidre is the first openly gay winner of the pageant.
I have this background as Miss America – and once a Miss America, always Miss America. I knew when I came out it likely wouldn’t be a quiet thing. (At least a headline, right?) And, that was really really scary…
Once Deidre split up from her husband and realized she was gay, she never imagined building a family with a woman. She says, “I thought – I’m here in Birmingham, Alabama. I have this background as Miss America – and once a Miss America, always Miss America. I knew when I came out it likely wouldn’t be a quiet thing. (At least a headline, right?) And, that was really really scary. I thought the possibility of meeting someone that I would want to spend my life with publicly and come out for, in Birmingham Alabama, was probably unlikely…”
But Deidre met her wife Abbott on a dating site in 2017 and the two knew, almost instantly, that they were meant to be.
Now, Deidre practices as a fertility specialist at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and even performed her wife’s embryo transfer! The couple are expecting their first child together later this summer.
In honor of Pregnantish Pride and a Lifetime of Pride and Joy, we wanted to be the first to share Deidre’s growing family story, and why Dr. Deidre has a new appreciation for what her fertility treatment patients experience.
Q: How did you and Abbott meet and when did you know she was ‘the one’?
A: I decided to go on a dating site and not use my real name or show a photo. Abbott was signed up for the free 7 day trial and I had signed up for a few months! My wife loves to tell the story because she’s not sure why she answered an ad or why she engaged with a profile with no photo…it seemed pretty sketchy! But, she realized we had all these interests in common as mine, so she communicated with me. We went to a wine bar on our first date and had instant chemistry. We basically closed the place down. I think we both knew then.
Q: You’re a fertility doctor. How did you picture your family building to look with your wife?
A: Abbott and I thought we would do reciprocal IVF, where each of us might go through IVF to harvest eggs, and then either one of us could carry the pregnancy pregnancies, however many in the future. We knew we wanted an anonymous sperm donor. So, we had sort of broad outlines about this, but it was still a couple of years before we really pursued the details of going to the doctor to look at our options. I knew we would need to do many tests: bloodwork to look at our ovarian reserve, ultrasounds etc.
Once we investigated, we learned that my ovarian reserve was not great. And it’s interesting, because I think this is where I think I began to see things from the patient’s perspective. From Abbott’s point of view, she thought, “Well, let’s just give it a shot.” And my knowing the things that I know, I knew it may be possible but the odds weren’t great. So, we had conversations about it, re-tested and ultimately decided to go with her eggs and decided that she would carry.
Q: What else did you learn about modern family building, from the patient perspective, during this time?
I learned a lot through this! Like, I had no idea how to order the sperm! I know that sounds ridiculous, and Abbott was surprised, but I usually just tell patients to order it. I didn’t know what type of vile we needed. I had no idea what to order. So, that was another wake up call! I thought, “Here’s something I need to educate myself about so I can explain it to people.”
I realized through this experience how little so many of us know about reproduction, in general, or how many understand the complicated mechanics of an IVF cycle, including how much medication a patient should order so they’re not begging someone to get them a shipment.
Q: What misconceptions are you hoping to break by sharing your family story publicly?
First of all, the traditional ways people think families start are somewhat limited. Today, it’s so much bigger and there are more options than people realize. Even within a fertility journey, it may happen in a way you never expected.
The traditional ways people think families start are somewhat limited. Today, it’s so much bigger and there are more options than people realize. Even within a fertility journey, it may happen in a way you never expected.
There are many misconceptions centered around ovulation and, and even how conception occurs. It doesn’t matter if someone has a PhD or is a physician or in another specialty or we are talking about the average person…it is remarkable how little people know.
I think everything that we can do to educate people about how their bodies work, and about how fertility works, particularly the age associated part of fertility and how it declines, are huge areas of need in terms of knowledge deficits.
Hear more of Deidre’s story on the pregnantish podcast, here.
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