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Gabrielle Union reveals heartbreaking surrogacy journey in powerful essay

"This growing bump that everyone thought I wanted to see was now a visual manifestation of my failure."
Lanvin : Photocall - Paris Fashion Week - Menswear F/W 2020-2021
Gabrielle Union attends the Lanvin Menswear Fall/Winter 2020-2021 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on January 19, 2020 in Paris, France.Dominique Charriau / WireImage
/ Source: TODAY

Gabrielle Union is opening up about the journey to surrogacy and questions that still linger.

In a recent essay published by TIME from Union's new book, "You Got Anything Stronger?" the actor, 48, details her surrogacy experience after experiencing multiple losses.

"I had been through an adenomyosis diagnosis and more miscarriages than I could confidently count," Union said, adding that her doctor said her best chance for a healthy baby was via surrogate. "I wanted the experience of being pregnant. To watch my body expand and shift to accommodate this miracle inside me."

Union revealed that she also wanted to be pregnant after enduring years of public scrutiny for not becoming a mom.

"I also wanted the experience of being publicly pregnant," she said. "I would shake off the distrust society has for women who, for whatever reason—by choice or by nature—do not have babies. I had paid the cost of that for years, and I wanted something for it."

Union, who is married to NBA player Dwyane Wade, 39, revealed that Wade's previous relationships, including a baby with another woman in 2013, weighed heavily on her mind while making the decision to pursue surrogacy.

Once she agreed to it, Union pursued as much information as possible.

"I got the sense a lot of white families-to-be were more comfortable with brown people as surrogates—Latina and South Asian—who were often classified as 'breeders,'" she wrote. "Now, I am Black, and I am used to hearing how people speak of women of color, but this was some Handmaid’s Tale sh-t."

Union and Wade chose "the most ethical agency we could find" and within two months, were introduced to their surrogate over the phone.

"She said all the right things about how she experienced the gift of life having her own kids, and wanted to give this gift to others," Union said. "But I was cautious, wondering if people were prepped to say that."

When Union prepared to meet her surrogate, Natalie, in person for the first time, she waffled over what to wear.

"As I got dressed that morning, I realized this was like the best and worst blind date ever," Union said. "I wondered what outfit said, 'I’m grateful, but I’m also not a loser. And I’m not some actress, you know, farming out her responsibilities.'"

The surrogate was a match and the couple received a positive pregnancy test in March 2018, but at the first ultrasound, Union was overcome with a surprising emotion.

"This growing bump that everyone thought I wanted to see was now a visual manifestation of my failure. I smiled, wanting to show I—we—were so happy and grateful. But part of me felt more worthless," Union said, adding that tears streamed down her face. "They thought these were tears of gratitude. The awe of witnessing the start of life. I was reliving death. Of course I was grateful, it would be impossible not to be. But what I was grateful for was that this life might be spared. That this heartbeat might continue, beat strong for decades, long after my own stopped. So many had stopped inside me."

Before their daughter was born, Union and Wade decided on the name Kaavia James.

"When I was in my 20s and thought my life was going to be a little different, I’d begun keeping lists of baby names," Union said. "That name made it onto every hopeful list I kept. Dwyane knew the list by heart, too, and we both felt it."

On November 7, 2018, Kaavia James was born after 38 hours of labor and an emergency c-section.

"I had hoped that the second I saw her, there would be a moment of locking in," Union explained. "I looked over at Natalie and her husband. There was a stillness to them. I looked at Kaavia James on the table, and then back at them. It took all of us to create her, so I wanted to share this time with them."

Nearly three years since her daughter's birth, Union revealed she has lingering questions.

"I will always wonder if Kaav would love me more if I had carried her. Would our bond be even tighter?" she said. "We met as strangers, the sound of my voice and my heartbeat foreign to her. It’s a pain that has dimmed but remains present in my fears that I was not, and never will be, enough."

Those fears are not limited to Union's role as a mother.

"I can never know if my failure to carry a child put a ceiling on the love my husband has for me," she said of her marriage to Wade, with whom she co-parents Kaavia, 2; Zaire, 19; Zaya, 13; Xavier, 7 and Dahveon, 19, Wade's nephew.

In sharing her story, Union hopes to open the conversation about surrogacy for fellow moms.

"If I am telling the fullness of our stories, of our three lives together, I must tell the truths I live with," Union said. "And I have learned that you can be honest and loving at the same time."