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Image / Self / Parenthood

Actress Gabrielle Union speaks movingly about her fertility struggles and fighting feelings of failure around surrogacy


by Lauren Heskin
14th Sep 2021

Gabrielle Union on Instagram

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The ‘Bring It On’ and ‘10 Things’ actress has penned a beautiful essay about her journey to surrogacy and how fertility issues combined with past hurt to make her feel like a failure

Gabrielle Union is many things. An actress and a women’s advocate, she’s married to basketball star Dwayne Wade and stepmother to his three children. However, well was not perfect behind the public veil.

Today her collection of personal essays, entitled You Got Anything Stronger? is published as it includes a beautiful piece about the arrival of her little girl Kaavia and her struggle with infertility.

Infidelity

Before marrying Wade, she admits they were in a rough patch when he fathered a child with another woman. They decided to stay together and work on forgiveness but it was not easy, with Union admitting, “To say I was devastated is to pick a word on a low shelf for convenience.”

Choosing to forgive is a hard enough road but when it came to the time that Union was ready to have children, her fertility struggles only seemed to amplify her own inadequacies. His ability to have children while she couldn’t completely shattered her, and while they had worked hard to put those pieces back together again and rebuild their life, “there was no way to disguise where I’d been glued back together.” Going through more “miscarriages than I could confidently count”, she began to tie the losses to her worth in their relationship.

When Wade finally asked admitted he would like her to stop putting her body through punishing rounds of IVF and drugs and instead consider surrogacy as their doctor had suggested, she understood it as a biting sting. “I didn’t receive this as concern at the time. It sounded like an acknowledgement of failure.”

Pregnancy in the public eye

Union also confesses that while she was desperate to feel and be pregnant, she also wanted the public to see it. Growing up in the public eye, she had faced the piercing questions of “When are you and Dwayne going to have your own?” and felt the scrutiny when she gave a vague response. There is a “distrust society has for women who, for whatever reason – by choice or by nature – do not have babies,” she explains and she was desperate to shed this perception. 

However, she began to realise that she had put her relationship with Wade ahead of her own health, from trying to put on a brave face after the infidelity became public knowledge rather than face the humiliation of leaving him, to her inexplicable desire to put her body through whatever was necessary to carry a child.

Surrogacy

Finally warming to the idea of surrogacy, Union found the racism of its chat rooms and guides jarred with her – white women were typically the ones looking for surrogates and women of colour usually the surrogates who offered up their bodies. Deciding she wanted it to be as ethical a surrogacy as she could, they placed almost no restrictions of what of kind surrogate – religion, active lifestyle and diet did not matter.

She describes meeting her surrogate for the first time as “the best and worst blind date ever. I wondered what outfit said, ‘I’m grateful, but I’m also not a loser. And I’m not some actress, you know, farming out her responsibilities.’” Thankfully, they liked each other instantly and the surrogacy progressed. 

Feelings of failure

However, surrogacy wasn’t an easy journey for Union. At the first ultrasound, watching her surrogate cup her bump as her child’s heartbeat rang around the room, she found tears pouring out of her, not with relief but with grief. While she had been going through IVF and experienced so much loss, she had refused to dwell on it. She was always looking to the next cycle, that’ll be the one. But now, seeing “her big-ass head, her spine, her little heart pumping, pumping, pumping” those losses became very real. “Looking at the screen, I understood how many potential babies I had lost.”

However, she took solace in the strength of her baby’s heartbeat and tried to not allow herself to get too excited. When her daughter, Kaavia was born through an emergency c-section, it all happened so fast that Union said she struggled to drink it all in.

And even now, with a healthy and precocious two-year-old on her hands (seriously, you should follow her Instagram account @kaaviajames), there are still moments when Union feels that she is not enough for her. “The question lingers in my mind: I will always wonder if Kaav would love me more if I had carried her. Would our bond be even tighter?”

It’s a feeling that all mothers will be familiar with, wondering if they’re good enough, doing enough, but layered with the complexity of surrogacy Union lays her soul out through her words and it’s a beautiful and poignant read.

You can read the essay in TIME Magazine or keep up Union’s new collection of personal essays entitled You Got Anything Stronger?, out September 14 2021.

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