Lena Dunham opens up about unsuccessful IVF journey and 'giving up' on motherhood

Suzy Byrne
·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
·4-min read

Watch: Lena Dunham opens up on unsuccessful IVF journey

Lena Dunham is opening up about her failed IVF journey in a new essay.

“For the last year I’ve been writing a piece for @harpersmagazine about the experience of learning, once and for all, that I would never be a biological mother — and about the Internet communities that I fell into when it felt like the world had no space [in real life] for the grief, pain and rage that comes along with processing something of this magnitude.“

The Girls creator and star, 34, wrote in the piece titled “False Labor: Giving up on motherhood,” that “the moment I lost my fertility” at age 31 when she had a full hysterectomy amid a decades-long battle with endometriosis — “I started searching for a baby.” It led to her first considering adoption, but then going all in with in vitro fertilisation, which ultimately didn’t work as “none of my eggs were viable.”

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She recalled the phone call getting that upsetting news after the difficult process of harvesting eggs.

“I learned that none of my eggs were viable on Memorial Day, in the midst of a global pandemic,” she wrote. “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....When he spoke my name with that sympathetic downturn, the apologetic-doctor voice I have come to know so well, my face crumpled in apprehension.”

She recalled being told, “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 . . . ” She said 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.”

She said the doctor promised to call back with the full results to “discuss my ‘remaining options,’ but he knew that I knew that there really weren’t any. The moment in time when I made those eggs was like a rip in the sky. It rained gold coins for a day. We brought out our buckets.”

Lena Dunham attends Broadway opening night of "Betrayal" at The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on September 5, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jenny Anderson/Getty Images)
Lena Dunham attends Broadway opening night of "Betrayal" at The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on September 5, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jenny Anderson/Getty Images)

Dunham also wrote about a further kick in the face when “a few weeks after I found out that I would never become a biological mother, I started lactating.” Her friend came over to show her “how to express the milk into a mug. It wasn’t much, but when it squirted I felt massive relief.”

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Dunham documented the whole process, which started right after she had her uterus, cervix and one ovary removed. How “bedbound and tending to the five small laparoscopic holes in my abdomen, I scrolled through adoption websites as if they were furniture outlets.”

Amid the journey, she realised she had an addiction to benzodiazepines and went to rehab. Once she was sober, she threw herself into IVF, bonding with women online going through the same experience, called IVF Warriors. She at first was going to have a boyfriend — post longtime partner Jack Antonoff — be the donor, then she considered a sperm-donor friend.

Lena Dunham (L) and recording artist Jack Antonoff attend Pre-GRAMMY Gala and Salute to Industry Icons Honoring Debra Lee on February 11, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage)
Lena Dunham (L) and recording artist Jack Antonoff attend Pre-GRAMMY Gala and Salute to Industry Icons Honoring Debra Lee on February 11, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage)

Her relationship with Antonoff, which ended in 2018, was referenced in the piece.

“It’s wild how far you can drift from yourself in the process of trying to get what you want. What started as wanting to carry the child of the man I loved,” meaning Antonoff, “became wanting to have a child with a man who was willing to help me have one. 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.”

Dunham also wrote that “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.”

Watch: Emily Ratajkowski teams up with Lena Dunham in film to reveal pregnancy