Lena Dunham opened up about her addiction to anti-anxiety medication and the time she spent in rehab in a candid new essay about her painful battle with infertility.
The Girls creator, 34, shared heart-wrenching details about how she was left unable to have a biological child after having her cervix, uterus and an ovary removed due to chronic endometriosis in 2017 in the essay for the December issue of Harper’s Magazine.
In the wake of that surgery – and a break-up from her boyfriend of six years Jack Antonoff, whom she did not name directly – Dunham said she found herself ‘obsessed’ with becoming a mother, and also realized that she had formed a drug dependency.
‘Around this time, it became clear—first to everyone who knew me, and then, finally, to me—that I was addicted to benzodiazepines,’ Dunham wrote, referring to a class of psychoactive drugs used for treating anxiety.
‘The fact that I had myriad explanations for this dependency (among them chronic pain, heartbreak, the cracking of the brittle facade created by public life) didn’t matter; everyone has good reasons to stay in bed if you really think about it.
‘And so I went to rehab, where I earnestly committed to becoming a woman worthy of the most f***-you baby shower in American history.’
Lena Dunham opened up about her addiction to anti-anxiety medication and the time she spent in rehab in a candid new essay about her painful battle with infertility
Dunham said she realized that she was addicted to Klonopin in the wake of her hysterectomy and break-up from her boyfriend of six years Jack Antonoff (pictured together in 2017)
Dunham first revealed her years-long addiction to the anti-anxiety medication Klonopin in the fall of 2018, six months after she got sober.
At the time she told Dax Shepard’s podcast, Armchair Expert, that she sought a prescription for the drug because her anxiety was inhibiting her demanding work schedule.
She increased her intake after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by a number of factors, including surgeries for her endometriosis and ‘sexual traumas’ in her past.
Reflecting on her years taking Klonopin after she got sober, Dunham said she feels she was abusing the drug under a doctor’s supervision – in part because she was afraid of the withdrawal.
Dunham has spoken publicly about how she went to rehab in the past, but in her Harper’s essay she offered a deeper look into how her recovery was intertwined with her dream of becoming a mother.
She described being fiercely motivated to get clean and get out of rehab as quickly as possible so she could focus on getting pregnant.
‘I was in a hurry. I fantasized in the face of mounting evidence about a quick stay at the facility, a blessing from a doctor, and then — nine months later, give or take a few weeks of processing time — a child delivered into my arm,’ she wrote.
‘But in practice, rehab really puts the brakes on baby plans. To start with, it’s an awkward place from which to ask for adoption recommendations. And in getting sober, I was realizing how sick I really was.
‘The sight of pregnant women began to make me ill. Their bodies made me think of the stretch and tug of the false labor doctors had induced before my hysterectomy, the way the pain sat in my back and climbed its way up my spine in waves.’
Dunham had her cervix, uterus and an ovary removed due to chronic endometriosis in 2017. She is pictured in the hospital in a photo from her Instagram account
While she was in rehab Dunham spent her time researching in vitro fertilization (IVF) and became attached to a community of ‘IVF Warriors’ who like her could not have children naturally.
She said that at the time she didn’t know that IVF was an option for her, but she still found comfort in hearing stories from women going through it.
‘I’d spent time with related bands: the #endowarriors, #adenowarriors, and #pcoswarriors, also known as #spoonies, which is another name for sufferers of #invisibleillness,’ she wrote.
‘These are the hashtags among which I made my home from 2016 to 2018, scrolling through Instagram until my eyelids drooped — from beds in hotels, hospitals, and a residential substance-abuse treatment center where the woman in the room below me used a motorized wheelchair that made her beaded necklaces jangle as she rode to the bathroom each night and the one above me wailed in her closet from unexplained stomach pain.’
While she was in rehab Dunham said she spent her time researching in vitro fertilization (IVF) and became attached to a community of ‘IVF Warriors’ who like her could not have children naturally
Dunham mentioned one moment that she remembered vividly from her time in rehab, when ‘my PTSD treatment required looking at a very specific issue of People magazine that — to use the parlance of our time — triggered me’.
‘It had been sitting innocently in the common area, a celebration of celebrity mothers, full of rich, glowing women in cushy living rooms and lush, green yards, surrounded by well-dressed kids playing with high-tech toys,’ she wrote of the magazine.
‘Many of the women were pregnant, standing at kitchen counters in leggings and linen tops, chopping vegetables. One sat in bed with an eye mask, a toddler cradling her growing belly.
‘I told my therapist that the magazine had ruined my week. “What’s the worst part?” he asked.
‘I described how it made me feel physically — the itchy nausea that set in when I thought about the logistics of a uterus stretching, of a vagina engorging and hips widening.
‘After all, I have had nothing but grief from those parts of my body. Pure grief. I have loved being a woman, but I have hated operating the equipment.’
Dunham said the magazine also caused her to imagine ‘an abstract future in which my ex and his new partner conceived a child’.
She didn’t include the name of the ex, but is believed to be referring to Antonoff, the musician whom she dated from 2012 through the end of 2017.
‘I imagined the paparazzi photo, a loose, long-lens shot from across an autumnal street in our old neighborhood,’ Dunham wrote.
‘She has on a camel overcoat. It hangs open around her stomach, which extends like a beach ball under a clean white T-shirt. He is protecting her with one arm, ensuring that their unborn child is not grazed by oncoming traffic.
‘The image — this projected future page of People magazine — is evidence that his journey toward parenthood did not end with me. My story ended with him.’
Dunham dated Antonoff (above together) for six years from 2012 until the end of 2017
Dunham’s fixation on becoming a mother continued well after she was released from rehab and began dating another man, to whom she was briefly engaged.
She said she was exploring the possibility of adoption when a doctor told her she ‘might have a chance of harvesting eggs’ with her remaining ovary.
‘It turned out that after everything I’d been through—the chemical menopause, surgeries by the dozen, the carelessness of drug addiction—my one remaining ovary was still producing eggs,’ she recalled of her initial excitement.
What is infertility?
Infertility is when a couple cannot get pregnant despite having regular unprotected sex.
It affects one in seven couples in the UK – around 3.5 million people.
About 84 per cent of couples will conceive within a year if they have unprotected sex every two or three days.
Some will conceive quicker, and others later – people should visit their GP if they are concerned about their fertility.
Some treatments for infertility include medical treatment, surgery, or assisted conception, including IVF.
Infertility can affect men and women, and risk factors include age, obesity, smoking, alcohol, some sexually transmitted infections, and stress.
Fertility in both genders decreases with age – most rapidly in their 30s.
If her eggs were successfully harvested, she explained to readers that they would ‘be fertilized with donor sperm and carried to term by a surrogate.’
Despite her then-boyfriend offering his sperm, she selected ‘an accomplished gay friend of child-rearing age’ and went to the fertility doctor with her father.
The process, however, did not work and Dunham recalled learning that none of her ‘eggs were viable on Memorial Day, in the midst of a global pandemic’.
‘I hadn’t been expecting the fertilization procedure to take place for another few weeks. My donor and I were still working on our agreement with a family lawyer,’ she noted of getting the devastating call.
At the same time, she was navigating three of her close friends becoming pregnant, leaving her to wonder about ‘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 became wanting to have a child with a man who was willing to help me have one,’ the director admitted.
‘There is a lot you can correct in life—you can end a relationship, get sober, get serious, say sorry—but you can’t force the universe to give you a baby that your body has told you all along was an impossibility,’ she said.
Now, Dunham explained she is rethinking ‘what motherhood will look’ for her and deciding IVF will no longer be her road to having a child.
‘IVF destroyed my body,’ she told People. ‘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.”
The Golden Globe winner continued: ‘I had hopes it would, but to be honest, I’d already made my peace about becoming an adoptive mother.
‘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,’ she reflected.
On Twitter, Dunham also encouraged fans to read her piece, which she said she’ wrote for the ‘many women who have been failed by their own biology.’
She also noted how slammed ‘society’s inability to imagine another role for them outside of mother’.
Later, Lena further described her writing process and the online communities she fell into to process her grief, who were also ‘IVF Warriors.’
‘Fertility is a complex topic, one that’s easy to reduce to outdated biological urges and gender roles, baby announcement photos and girl on girl jealousy,’ she captioned an Instagram photo of herself in a hospital gown.
Dunham has spoken about how she went to rehab in the past, but in her Harper’s essay she offered a deeper look into how her recovery was intertwined with her dream of motherhood
Dunham celebrated two years of sobriety with a candid Instagram post in April