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Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of childrearing.
After an arduous and emotional struggle with infertility that involved multiple rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and eventually welcoming two sons via gestational surrogate, pregnancy tests are no longer part of Jordana Brewster's life. But the actress — best known for her lead role in the Fast and the Furious franchise — is hoping to shed light on stories like hers in which positive results and overjoyed announcements don't come easily, if at all.
By sharing her story, the 40-year-old's goal is to destigmatize fertility issues, noting how her own experience made her feel like the "odd woman out" among her mom friends. That's why she's partnering with Clearblue for its "Concevinghood" campaign, a new term marking the emotionally fraught period before pregnancy, when efforts to conceive may be slow or unsuccessful. Ahead of National Infertility Awareness Week, which runs April 18 to 24, the brand is amplifying stories of complex parenting journeys like Brewster's to offer hope, support and dignity to those trying to conceive.
The mom to Julian, 7, and Rowan, 4, speaks candidly to Yahoo Life about attempting to get pregnant, dealing with judgment as a mom who used a gestational surrogate and happily co-parenting with ex-husband Andrew Form.
What did your own "conceivinghood" period look like as you experienced infertility and eventually pursued surrogacy?
For me, it started about 10 years ago when I realized that I was kind of at a crossroads and I was going to have to require IVF and ultimately surrogacy. And ultimately it was a long, long journey in which I needed around seven rounds of IVF. At the time, because my friends were getting pregnant super-easily and everyone was going to mommy group and it was sort of a natural progression for them, I expected it to be a very natural progression for me. Like you graduate from school, you get engaged, you get married and then you have to start trying to have a kid and you have a kid.
I took that for granted. And then I didn't realize that, Oh, wow, no, this is something that's actually going to be a challenge. And I tried, as a lot of women do. I think we tried acupuncture. I tried changing up my nutrition. And I think what was missing for me was, I was always talking to experts about what was going on, but I was never talking to [friends]. I didn't have a community. I couldn't go to the girlfriends who I could relate to and where I didn't feel like, Oh, I'm sort of the odd woman out in this equation. And so that's what's really cool about this campaign to me is that you see that it varies across all ages, across all cultures. And it's just something that's happening to a lot of women now. And I think destigmatizing it is huge, and really, really important.
Are there any misconceptions about surrogacy that you've had to push back against?
I think it's far more common in the U.S. than it is in other countries There are some states in which it's not legal. I'm so fortunate because it was the only pathway available to me. I was actually working on creating a children's book to sort of explain it to my kids.
It wasn't difficult for me to wrap my head around it, and I had an amazing relationship with my gestational surrogate, [but] I think sometimes when I would go to mommy group, I found myself over-explaining myself, like, "Oh yes, I'm a new mom, but you know, through gestational surrogacy, because that was the only way I could have a child," and it was like, "Jordana, why are you [explaining]?"
I felt shame for not being able to carry naturally and give birth naturally. And I found myself overcompensating and saying, "I was the first one to touch my baby," because I think inherently there's this culture sometimes where mommies compete and they're like, "Well, you're doing skin-to-skin and are you doing this?" And, "Oh, you have a baby nurse and that's bad." [That's] another reason why I think it's really important to sort of have an open conversation and to sort of say everyone's experience is valid. I found that a lot of people were judging, like, "Oh yeah, you had a surrogate because you didn't want to carry [a baby], not because you couldn't." So that was my biggest challenge, whether that was self-imposed [or not].
What advice would you give to someone who is in that conceivinghood stage and maybe it isn't going to plan? There's that notion that getting pregnant will just happen right away, and it doesn't for a lot of people. What advice would you give to someone who's just figuring that out?
I think you have to be really proactive. In my case, I had to find an IVF doctor that I really liked and trusted. I would say if you're young enough, freeze your eggs. ... And you'll find with each doctor, they have a different take, right? Like a lot of it is science, but a lot of it is also figuring out the right combination for you and what works with your body. So you have to be your own best advocate when it comes to this, and you have to listen to your gut. In a way it's a great preparation for motherhood, because I would give the same advice to a new mom.
Moving on to mom life, what kind of mom are you? How would you describe your parenting style?
It really depends on what phase they're in. I have two boys and my youngest is super-duper mellow and so sweet. His favorite thing is gardening, and he's just the kindest, sweetest soul to be around. And then my oldest is sort of a lot more like me — not that I'm not kind, but tougher. Zoom school this year did not work for him; he didn't learn well that way. I think that the best lesson I've learned is to just constantly be adaptable and constantly switch it up.
I even said something to Julian, like, 15 minutes ago. He was sharing something with me about kids in his school and friendships. And I was like, "Dude, it gets so much easier," but he was like, "But Mommy, like you have to make money and you have to have a job [as an adult]." And I was like, "I know, but that's so much easier than the stuff you have to deal with when you're a kid with peer pressure and your teachers and your friendships." All of that stuff is so big when you're small. Oh my gosh.
What are some of the challenges you have as a mom?
I just want them to be kind. I also have a kid who has a little bit of anxiety, which I also have. So I just want to feel like their safe space and [that they] feel like they can share as much as they want with me, especially coming out of the pandemic. Like, there's so much going on and so many adjustments that they've had to make. I'd always want to feel like that safe space for them. That's my goal.
How have you found co-parenting with your ex? Have you learned anything new about yourself as a mom?
I am learning a lot; I'm learning a ton this year as a mom and just as a person. [What I've found in] my experience in getting divorced — and now I have a wonderful partner — and parenting as a divorced mom, is that it makes things clear. I communicate better with my ex now than we did during marriage. And we sort of delegate better. It's like, OK, here's what's going on with school, and here are the challenges that are coming up. And it's just clear, if that makes sense. I find it to be a much better situation than when we were married, and I think he would agree.
It's been such a rough year, but what have been the bright spots in terms of being a mom right now?
The pandemic made me realize how much stuff [I do] ... I call it hitting the gas while my car is in park. Like a lot of Type A personalities, I just busy myself. And at the end of the day, I'm like, "I accomplished nothing — like running to Trader Joe's and getting coffee and just running errands. Like, I can't be proud of that at the end of the day."
[But] those are, like, really great things. So just stopping and hanging out with my kids is the best thing I can do sometimes to just realize, you know what, I don't have to plan an amazing day, like going to mini golf, going to the park with them. Like, we can all just chill at home and paint, or I'll follow Rowan in the garden outside and listen to what he has to say. I think if you're really quiet, they say the coolest stuff. When you're not constantly, like, "What was the best part of your day and what's going on now?" — if Mommy just shuts up, your kid will come out with something really cool. Just slowing down and shutting up is the best for me.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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