Five years ago, Joan Lunden said goodbye to early morning television, after co-hosting “Good Morning America” for nearly 17 years. Since then, Lunden has developed a series with A&E, called “Behind Closed Doors with Joan Lunden” and has penned several books about parenting.
She also made headlines a year ago with her decision to have a child at age 54. After numerous failed attempts at in vitro, she was able to have twins, Kate and Max, through the help of a surrogate mother. Her decision was met with some criticism. There have been questions concerning if Lunden is genetically linked to her newborn children (Lunden refused to comment on the subject on 'Deborah Norville Tonight,' as well as other interviews). Others claim it is unfair for a woman in her fifties to raise newborns. Despite all the controversy, she is ecstatic about being a parent to infants again. In an interview with MSNBC's Deborah Norville, Lunden talked about why she wanted to have a baby, the surrogate process, juggling motherhood and work, her years on “Good Morning America,” and her new healthy living book, Growing Up Healthy.
On becoming a new mom again
Deborah Norville, Host: I remember thinking last year when I heard that you and Jeff were going to have these babies through a surrogate, I was reminded of the question a question Jay Leno asked Hugh Grant, “What were you thinking?”
Joan Lunden: Our life is all about the choices we make, and when I was looking for a mate for life, I really was looking for someone who was a family man, somebody who would embrace my girls as much as they were going to embrace me. I guess I just wasn't finished having children yet.
We tried in vitro fertilization many times, but it wasn't working. My doctor said, “No, keep trying, because it's a numbers game. We're going to get this done.”
But when you're approaching 50, it's also a time game and you have to ask yourself, 'Is it really about me being pregnant, or is it about parenting and having babies?' So we decided to use a surrogate.
NORVILLE: Is it different the second time around. You've had such a big space [between children], because your youngest is 16.
LUNDEN: I'm much less daunted by it. I think I'm more patient, more secure. And quite honestly, because I went on my own little journey to health and fitness, I'm much more fit now than I was 20 years ago when I had my first round of children.
On the surrogacy process
NORVILLE: Sadly, there are over nine million women in this country who are dealing with some sort of a fertility issue or another. And many of them do consider surrogacy, but how do you go about this process and deal with all the stress and turmoil that may come along with it?
LUNDEN: That's the reason why I've talked about it. Most people out there hear the horror stories. They hear about the ones that end in the emotional heartache and the tug-of-war. I thought it was important these days that they hear a story that ended with a happy ending. Surrogacy used to be difficult, because the woman that was carrying the child was biologically related to the child. And sometimes you can still do it that way, but you do not have to do it that way anymore.
NORVILLE: Does the mother of your children have any biological connection to them?
LUNDEN: She has no genetic relationship. The embryos were implanted in her. We actually went out to California to do our implantation because the laws in California are tried, true, and tested. You're the parent of that baby before she has the baby.
Whereas in other states you have to wait 6 months to adopt the baby, from the “birthing mother.” You don't have to worry about somebody trying to take a stake in your child later.
NORVILLE: Solving fertility issues can be expensive, particularly in vitro. Most people go the in vitro route before and spend almost $10,000 per cycle, which they can not at most times afford. Do you think that insurance should cover that? Is childbearing a right or a privilege?
LUNDEN: I think that in our society we should do everything to encourage child-bearing and family-making. And I think that if insurance will cover Viagra for men, it should also be covering these kinds of methods to try to build families.
Some of them will, but usually only for one or two cycles. Often it takes five or six cycles for success to finally happen for a lot of these couples. So it drains them. They're emotionally and financially drained.
NORVILLE: How did you select this woman? There are a number of people, through these surrogate agencies who want to be there for the couple that has the child. Yet, how do they match you and your husband up with the surrogate and her husband?
LUNDEN: It's quite frankly one of trickiest parts of the whole thing, because everybody has personalities. And you need to match up the right personalities.
If you have the intended parents—that's what we're called— who want to call every day and be heavily involved throughout the whole pregnancy, and if you have someone who doesn't want to have that kind of involvement, you've set up a situation that's not going to be a happy, wonderful situation for the person who went into it for all the right reasons.
Then, you consider other possible situations that could occur from the get-go. You need to think about the following questions: What happens if you have triplets? Will you do selective reduction? Is she willing to carry them?
Everyone has to be on the same page with these decisions. You have to decide how much contact you are going to have afterward, and put the relationship with the surrogate family into perspective. Do they want to see the babies? Do they just want a card once a year? Do they want to say, “I'm glad I did that for you” and never see you again?
We met Deborah, our surrogate, and we knew we didn't have to worry about anything. We went through the Center for Surrogate Parenting out in Los Angeles. They are probably the oldest and best known. They take care of everything for you, all the fertility specialists in California, where she lived in Cincinnati. We went to Cincinnati for the birth, and we were right there. I cut the umbilical cord.
We talk to them a lot. Their three daughters have become close with my three daughters. They're flying in for the twins' first birthday. I want Kate and Max to always know this woman who did such an extraordinary and selfless and loving thing as to give them life, to help give them life. I don't think that they should grow up and not know her.
On raising newborns at 54
NORVILLE: Your kids are going to have one of the older moms when it comes time for junior high and high school and cheerleading tryouts and all that sort of stuff. But do you predict that there will be other moms in the same age group as you?
LUNDEN: Absolutely. I know so many people right now, even just within my own realm of friends that are doing the same thing.
It's part of our lifestyle. So many women waited until later to get married and then even later after they got married to have children. And then they have problems, and it takes them five, six, seven years to have children.
NORVILLE: Since you've been very public about who the surrogate and the family are, it's also going to be a little different and difficult for your kids. None of these issues that seem kind of new and different to us today, will seem like that big of a deal twenty years from now.
LUNDEN: Believe me, they're going to get to kindergarten and there's going to be eight sets of twins because of all the other moms that did in vitro and had twins.
The mother of my 16-year-old's best friend in school, she's also divorced, had three teenagers, and married somebody eight years younger. She did in vitro and had twins. So already, to my 16-year-old daughter, this standard is old hat to her.
On setting parenting trends on “Good Morning America”
NORVILLE: You know, millions of Americans used to wake up and see you an “Good Morning America,” for 17 years. Do you still hold the record for longest serving woman in morning television?
LUNDEN: Yes. I feel fortunate I have this amazing relationship with so many people in America, because I was in their homes at a very private time of day. They probably might have still had their robe on and their slippers and haven't made the beds.
So when I go out, anywhere I go, they come up and they hug you and they know the names of your children. They know so many intimate details about your life.
It's very different from someone who's on in the evening on a prime time show, where they might look at them and talk to them, but they wouldn't come up and feel like their subject lives down the street.
NORVILLE: The evening news is much more scripted. You don't get to say, “My kids drive me crazy and I didn't get to sleep until 2 a.m. in the morning.” You were a trailblazer in a lot of ways. You did not hide your pregnancy on air. Did you feel pressure about that?
LUNDEN: We had a very low coffee table. My pregnancy was right out there. I had a lot of women write me and say thank you for showing my husband, my boss, that our brains do not get smaller as our stomachs get bigger.
I didn't think of myself as a trailblazer at all. I was just living my life. And I happened to find out that I was pregnant with my first child the same day I got the call and found out I was the new co-host of “Good Morning America,” within an hour of each other.
I remember going out to do the press conference to say I'm the new co-host of “Good Morning America,” and they said to me upstairs, “Don't say too much about having the baby, because, you know, we want people to take you seriously.”
Everybody there, all of the reporters from 'Newsweek' and 'TIME,' they only wanted to talk to me about bringing the baby to work because it was something new.
It was the beginning of setting priorities that are important and sticking to them. The idea that I actually would want to breast-feed my child and bring the child to work every day and make sure that I took the child on the road with me when I went on the road – it started a ripple effect. It really changed policies in corporations all across America.
That's what people really care about. Celebrities come and go. The movie opens and it closes. But meanwhile, they're at the water cooler talking about the interview I did with somebody on a parenting issue or how to deal with their finances at home.
I also shared part of my private life. I think that a lot of people out there saw in me their life, a normal person dealing with raising babies.
On her book, "Growing Up Healthy"
NORVILLE: You just finished your latest book called Growing Up Healthy: Protecting Your Child From Diseases Now Through Adulthood. What makes this book different from other parenting ones?
LUNDEN: This is different from other nutrition books because of the fact that it shows the link between the foods that we eat, our children and their increased risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, hypertension and osteoporosis.
We all hear, 'Feed your kids healthier foods.' But I don't think most parents realize the cause and effect. I don't know if they understand that the consequences of feeding a child a diet that is high in saturated fat, low in fiber, low in fruits and vegetables, high in sodium and high in sugar will increase that child's risk of living with their life with a debilitating or deadly chronic disease.
Obesity is the biggest problem; the biggest cause of coronary artery disease. This country has over 9 million children clinically obese.
They're eating packaged goods; chips and cookies and crackers that are filled with transfats fats, which clog your arteries, that are filled with sodium.
If somebody said “You can make sure your child is going to grow up and not have coronary artery disease or cancer in later life and maybe extend their life for 10, 15 years,” wouldn't you do that?
NORVILLE: There are a lot of great options. Kids will eat junk if it's put in front of them. But if you put healthy options and nothing else, if they're hungry, do you think they're going to go for the carrots?
LUNDEN: They will. But most parents don't think that's true. And a lot of parents just don't want to stand up to their kids. You need to shop the perimeter of the store, buy the fresh foods and make nutritious meals. This is why I felt it was so important to have recipes in this book.
It's not enough to tell them, “Eat the fruits, the berries, and the dark green leafy vegetables.” You've got to give them some recipes, because moms have no time. They are worn out. You have to make it easy for them at 5 p.m.
NORVILLE: What's the answer for a parent who truly wants to feed their child well, but doesn't have the time, doesn't have the brainpower to sift through all of the fine print?
LUNDEN: That's not acceptable. You have to take the time to learn and you have to educate yourself nutritionally, because family is the most important thing in your life.