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Image / Self / Real-life Stories

Lena Dunham has spoken about her IVF experience in a personal essay


by Holly O'Neill
19th Nov 2020
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In a powerful and moving new personal essay, writer and filmmaker Lena Dunham writes about giving up on motherhood


Sharing her life, it’s up and downs, it’s musing and lessons, has made Lena Dunham and her work a household name. A new personal essay for Harper’s Magazine, which she’s been writing for a year, is her most open work yet, on motherhood, IVF, pregnancy and all the struggles that surround it.

She writes, “The moment I lost my fertility I started searching for a baby. At age thirty-one, after almost two decades of chronic pain caused by endometriosis and its little-studied ravages, I had my uterus, my cervix, and one of my ovaries removed. Before then, motherhood had seemed likely but not urgent, as inevitable as growing out of jean shorts, but in the days after my surgery I became keenly obsessed with it.”

She recalls a myriad of ways she tried to cope, from adopting hairless cats, “their suedelike texture and general clinginess could pass, in the dark, for the feeling of a newborn’s warmth” to hurling herself into a new relationship, to heading to rehab to treat an addiction to benzodiazepines. She writes about the physical response she’d have to seeing other pregnant women, and seeking comfort in online communities. “These hashtags are what you seek out online if you want to ask questions that doctors won’t answer, if you want to be cautioned or pardoned for excessive medication use, or sometimes just believed,” she writes. “There is talk of fertility, too—who still has it and who isn’t sure and occasionally, if you’re like me, who has come to the end of the road and knows without a doubt that she will never, ever carry a child, an isolating grief that seems to justify weeks or months of hot rage at other women just for existing in their bodies.”

Lena Dunham found that she “might have a chance of harvesting eggs” with her remaining ovary and dove into IVF. She had hopes to use her boyfriend’s sperm, then after their break-up, she watched her friends leave their group chat to take time for their new babies. “I had been unable to hide my ugliness—my need and my desire, my obsession and my inadequacy,” she writes. “I was the guest nobody wanted to talk to at the party. There was no place for me in polite company.”

Unfortunately, the process didn’t go as hoped. “I learned that none of my eggs were viable on Memorial Day, in the midst of a global pandemic,” she shares. “I wondered whether that meant something, whether I was getting what I deserved.”

 

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A post shared by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham)

She signs off:

“The irony is that knowing I cannot have a child—my ability to accept that and move on—may be the only reason I deserve to be anyone’s parent at all. I think I finally have something to teach somebody.”

You can read the full essay here. 

Photography by @lenadunham.

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