Reaching for Lifelines:
Brooke Shields’ Struggle with Infertility
Brooke Shields, 40, has spent almost all of her life in front of the camera. From her roles in Pretty Baby and The Blue Lagoon to the infamous ads she did for Calvin Klein in the '70s ("nothing comes between me and my Calvins") to appearing on the covers of Life and Time to her more recent sitcom ("Suddenly Susan") and Broadway ("Cabaret") successes, you'd think her life has been blessed. But she too struggled with infertility in her quest to become a mother.
Shields is now a spokesperson for Fertility Lifelines™, a free, confidential, educational resource that provides information and support to people with fertility health concerns. At a recent event promoting the resource, she talked about her journey to parenthood.
Wanting to start a family is "a dream that you hope will come true," said Shields. Surgery on her cervix to remove pre cancerous cells a few years prior had left scarring that affected her ability to become pregnant. She and her husband, television writer Chris Henchy, tried artificial insemination several times, but the procedure didn't work. Her doctor suggested that given her age (36 at the time), she move on to in vitro fertilization ("IVF") to give her the best chance of becoming pregnant.
She began taking Lupron, which shuts down the body's natural production of hormones, at the end of her run in the musical Cabaret. Then she began taking the fertility drugs that enabled her body to produce more eggs. "I had to take these shots for weeks. In addition, there were countless doctor visits for blood tests, sonograms, and peeing on sticks, not to mention the estrogen patches I had to wear that made me look and feel like I'd had a skin graft when they were removed," she writes in her recent memoir, Down Came the Rain.
"The whole process was quite an ordeal, and we became slaves to the time of day and to little vials of liquid," she continues. "We'd find ourselves out at dinner with friends, and then we'd have to sneak off to a coat room, where we'd huddle over syringes and a travel-size cooler filled with small bottles of drugs."
Shields did become pregnant after first round of IVF, but had a miscarriage. While she and Chris continued IVF, they began racking up failed cycles—and becoming increasingly frustrated. "Everyone around me was getting pregnant. I was starting to feel bitter," Shields writes. "Maybe I really wasn't meant to have kids….I didn't want to be happy anymore for the many other people who were having kids. I knew that their blessing had nothing to do with me, but it felt like a slap in the face."
After numerous unsuccessful cycles, she and her husband decided to try one last cycle in the summer of 2002. "I was about ready to call it quits. I was growing weary of the anticipation and the pressure, and Chris said he wasn't sure he could handle seeing me rip off another estrogen patch in frustration…at wit's end, we decided to try one more time," she recalls.
That last cycle, done with four frozen embryos, was the one that worked. The result? The couple's two-year-old daughter, Rowan.
Getting the Support You Need
While Shields was and is healthy and fit, she still became one of the more than six million Americans dealing with infertility. Infertility is defined as the inability to achieve pregnancy after one year of regular, unprotected intercourse, or the inability to achieve pregnancy after six months if the woman is over the age of 35.
Today Shields encourages women to address their fertility challenges early on by reaching out for information and support. “When you’re having trouble conceiving, it’s often tough to know where to turn for answers," said Shields. "And when you’re undergoing fertility treatment, it’s not always easy to find the support that you need."
In fact, both men and women facing infertility often feel isolated and alone. “A call to Fertility LifeLines can help you get the answers you need, whether you have questions about medical treatments, fertility options, or insurance coverage—or if you just want to talk to someone who understands what you're going through” , Ms. Shields explains. The resource is provided by Serono, a biotechnology company that produces a variety of fertility drugs. Fertility LifeLines isn't associated with any fertility clinics, insurance companies, or financial institutions, however. While talking to someone at Fertility LifeLines shouldn't replace a discussion with your doctor, nurse, or counselor, it can be a helpful resource for you.
Fertility Lifelines provides online information about fertility options as well, and free educational booklets that can be downloaded from the Web site; you can also request that a hard copy sent free of charge.
Contacting Fertility Lifelines is a great place to start, but if you have concerns about your own fertility, you should speak with your gynecologist, urologist, or family doctor about a referral to a see a fertility specialist. With help, your dream of becoming a parent can become a reality.
Sidebar: Some Advice from Brooke
Brooke Shields knows what it's like to face infertility health concerns. She offers this advice to men and women in the same boat:
- Share your concerns with your doctor early on, and ask about seeing a fertility specialist.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions of your doctor. He or she is there to help you.
- Research, research, research – get educated about infertility and treatment options.
- Create a support network of those closest to you—and don’t be afraid to lean on them during this emotional time.
- Remember that parenthood is a journey…be good to yourself along the way and stay positive.
- Take advantage of educational and supportive resources like Fertility LifeLines and Fertility Today magazine.