Lena Dunham pens powerful essay about her fertility struggle and journey through IVF

The ‘Girls’ actress and creator revealed 'none of my eggs were viable.'
Published November 16, 2020 2:19 p.m. EST
Last Updated November 18, 2020 11:00 p.m. EST
In a powerful new essay, writer, director and actress Lena Dunham reveals that she spent the last few years trying In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) in an attempt to become a mother, and shares her complicated feelings when her efforts were unsuccessful.“I learned that none of my eggs were viable on Memorial Day, in the midst of a global pandemic,” she writes for the cover story of December’s Harper’s Magazine. “I was in Los Angeles when I got the call from Dr. Coperman, the slight Jewish man who was my entry into (and now exit from) the world of corporate reproduction.”
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Lena, who has always been candid about her personal journey and struggles through life (especially when the fallout in the public eye is great), candidly discussed her decision to have a total hysterectomy back in 2018, which involved having her uterus, cervix, and one ovary removed after suffering from the debilitating effects of endometriosis her entire life. As she writes for Harper’s, it was that hysterectomy that sent her on the journey for IVF, but her doctor informed her this year that none of her eggs were viable for fertilization.“When he spoke my name with that sympathetic downturn,” she writes, “the apologetic-doctor voice I have come to know so well, my face crumpled in apprehension. ‘We were unable to fertilize any of the eggs. As you know, we had six. Five did not take. The one that did seems to have chromosomal issues and ultimately . . . ’ He trailed off as I tried to picture it—the dark room, the glowing dish, the sperm meeting my dusty eggs so violently that they combusted. It was hard to understand that they were gone.”Revealing on Instagram that she has been working on this essay for the past year, it comes on the heels of Lena directing model and actress Emily Ratajkowski’s pregnancy reveal video. The Girls and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood star also delves into many other issues in her essay surrounding her personal fertility struggles, including going to rehab, turning to Instagram hashtags for inspiration, turning chat groups into a support network, and dealing with a cheating boyfriend in the middle of it all.“What started as wanting to carry the child of the man I loved became wanting to have a child with a man who was willing to help me have one," she writes. "Soon that became hiring a lawyer to draft a contract for a sperm-donor friend and calling a surrogate who came highly recommended by another celebrity. I was forced to admit just how much of it was about finishing what I started. I tried to have a child. Along the way, my body broke. My relationship did, too. In the process — because of it? — I became a functional junkie. I had lost my way, and a half-dozen eggs sitting in Midtown promised to lead me home. Instead, each step took the process further from my body, my family, my reality. Each move was more expensive, more desperate, more lonely. I stopped being able to picture the ending."She also acknowledges the way IVF is a service almost exclusively enlisted by white women (“White women are five times more likely than women of colour to undergo fertility treatment”) and that this privilege is something IVF forced her to confront.“Women who look like me, women who come from privilege like me, we think we're going to get what we want, how we want it and when we want it,” she states. “And we need to sometimes realize that we are going to accept an extreme change of plans and our life is going to look really different from what we had planned for ourselves, and that maybe that will actually be for the absolute best."Speaking to PEOPLE in a follow-up interview, Lena reveals that she has left IVF behind and now has a different idea of her future, calling this “the defining topic for me.”"This journey has forced me to rethink what motherhood will look like," she told the outlet. "IVF destroyed my body — as a woman who tends towards rampant endometriosis, filling my body with estrogen ... and because of what my body has been through, subjecting it to such excruciating pain, only to come to the end and learn those eggs were not viable after working so hard through illness and discomfort and going through anxiety and depression, it is just clearly not something I can ever repeat."She continues, "I think women often have a keen instinct about what is happening with their own bodies — and I had an instinct that it probably wouldn't work. I had hopes it would, but to be honest, I'd already made my peace about becoming an adoptive mother. But then when everyone got so excited about there being this possibility that my one ovary could produce eggs, and with IVF and surrogacy, I could maybe still have a biological child, it pulled me away from what I think I already instinctively knew.""My entire career, the thing that has felt like a driving factor for me in many ways has been this thought of, 'What can I do to normalize challenging topics that many women may feel like they are alone in experiencing but are actually universal and yet women have been made to feel shameful about?' " she adds. "Never has been that truer than in grappling with my infertility and the loss of my fertility, and the pain and the shame that came with it."She concludes by saying that she will still be a mother through her original plan of adoption, and there is much beauty and joy to be found in that. “I am in a moment of joy right now feeling freedom from certain expectations, from the IVF cycles, and feeling joy just in the act of preparing my life to welcome a child. Working really hard, doing things I know I couldn't do if I had a baby in my life and getting myself ready emotionally for when that day comes. But absolutely, there are moments of joy and grace even before that child."[video_embed id='2064901']Before you go: Chrissy Teigen opens up about pregnancy loss in new essay[/video_embed]