Brooke Shields: an advocate for fertility issues

Since the '70s, Brooke Shields has been an enduring presence on TV and movie screens. Audiences have practically watched her grow up and go through the highs and lows of her career and her love life. But Shields' life took a serious turn in 2001. One after another, traumas piled on to the star – the death of her father, a struggle with infertility, and her very painful experience with postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter. For Shields, the path from Pretty Baby to baby bliss was a long and winding one.

Shields and her husband, sitcom writer Chris Henchy, knew that they wanted children – but they also knew it might be tricky. Months before their wedding, Shields found out that she had cervical dysplasia, an abnormal growth of pre-cancerous cells on the cervix. The procedure to remove the cells not only left scarring that caused her cervix to tighten and shorten, it also resulted in the loss of mucus glands that help to transport sperm. This difficulty Shields likens to "jumping in a pool with no water. There's nothing to help the little guys swim through."

Despite this impediment, the couple tried and tried for a year and a half to become pregnant on their own. By definition, couples are considered infertile if they've been unable to conceive after a year of regular, unprotected intercourse, or after 6 months if you're 35 or older. Since Shields was 36 at the time, her doctor advised the couple to try in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

Shields gamely went along with all of the requirements. She took the medications to prepare her body for IVF and the ones to stimulate her ovaries. She endured countless doctor visits and the estrogen patches that made Shields "look and feel like I'd had a skin graft when they were removed." Henchy helped out by giving Shields the hormone shots she needed. "The first time, I kneeled down, carefully put the needle in her butt and almost passed out," Henchy has said. "Three weeks later I was doing it with a coffee cup in one hand, not thinking about it."

Their shared effort resulted in a pregnancy, but it ended in a miscarriage. The couple continued IVF and had several failed cycles, during which Shields tried her best to keep perspective. "After a while, when you're not successful, you start to associate the word 'failure' every time you pee on a stick and it doesn't come out the right color. What starts out as a dream becomes a project that's all consuming."

Finally, in what the couple describe as a last-ditch attempt using four frozen embryos, Shields became pregnant again. This time it resulted in the birth of her daughter Rowan Francis Henchy on May 15, 2003.

After her experiences, Shields became an advocate for people dealing with infertility. "When you're having trouble conceiving, it's often tough to know where to turn for answers, and when you're undergoing fertility treatment, it's not always easy to find the support that you need," says Shields. "As natural as we'd all like it to seem, it's important for women to be aware of potential problems and to take control. Two eggs do not an omelette make."

The couple's second child, daughter Grier Hammond Henchy, was born in 2006. The second pregnancy did not require IVF treatments.

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