Elisabeth Röhm, best known for her roles as Assistant DA Serena Southerlyn on the long-running TV series Law & Order and Detective Kate Lockley on the television show Angel, may be a well-known celebrity, living the Hollywood dream, but she’s also a mother fully aware of the nightmares faced with trying to conceive a child naturally. Through her struggles with fertility, an early menopause diagnosis, and a secret she managed to shield from the spotlight for years, the talented actress made the decision to not only turn her private challenges into a public matter, but shift those trials into blessings and divulge all in her book, Baby Steps: Having the Child I Always Wanted (Just Not as I Expected); a liberating move that’s helped countless women in their journey, and oftentimes struggle, with conception.
We were thankful to have had the opportunity to chat with the down-to-earth mom, and author, as she spoke candidly about her fertility challenges; her yearning to be a mother, and conceiving her daughter, Easton, through in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Elisabeth, we will always love and remember you as Asst. DA Serena Sotherlynn on the TV show, Law & Order. Do you think that was your most career-changing role? I don’t know if there’s a career-changing role in my career necessarily because I think it’s been accumulative. Law and Order was a pivotal moment. It was the longest role that I played so I think it makes it memorable for people.
What was your most challenging career role? I think working with David O. Russell on American Hustle was extremely exciting and athletic, a joyful experience like no other that I’ve had up-to-date, for sure. (Laughs) It required full presence and full participation.
You worked with so many varying personalities on that film. It was such a colorful cast. Yes, everyone that David works with is so passionate and committed in what they are doing that you begin to go into a dream-like state because everyone is so committed to their roles the entire period of the process. It requires a certain level of focus and commitment that is very different from television. It was a humbling and exciting experience.
Do you have a preference for TV or Film? I don’t think in today’s landscape, creatively, there’s much of a choice. They are both now equally as exciting. When I started, if you wanted to be challenged artistically it was to be in the movies, but now there’s incredible opportunities in television so I think they both come with very unique qualities, but I certainly love going on location and immersing myself in a new place with a group of people for an intense amount of time that has a beginning a middle and an end. It creates more heat and experience because you know you only have a certain amount of time to do this and have this experience together. It’s like running a sprint versus a marathon.
I’ve heard you say that your greatest role is being a mother. That is absolutely the truth. I was laughing at myself yesterday because all I wanted to do was be home with Easton. We went and got our nails done and we just got back from vacation, and I didn’t want to leave her, and go to an audition for a film. And, I thought, but I’m a mother and I have to provide for her. I have to go. I want to stay here with her, but I have to go for her, unless we’re going to go live in a box on the boardwalk, or something… Children bring out the best in you. You’re like a phoenix rising from the ashes because they motivate you to press on and press past your greatest expectations of yourself.
Children challenge us to better ourselves everyday. I noticed Easton watching me a lot more. She’s now six and I notice her copying the things that I do. Now, she’s fascinated, without words and with words, in what I’m doing and she’s wanting to talk and really communicate and engage with me and have conversations. Every chapter has been an incredible surprise and mind-boggling beautiful. And, I probably won’t have another child because I had fertility issues so I’m really taking this in.
Do you think things are getting easier as Easton’s getting older? By easier, they’re more independent and they have their friends and their life. But, I don’t necessarily think it’s easier. I actually think it’s much harder as they get older because they’re becoming human beings, little women, little men, so every move you make suddenly becomes much more important. Obviously, when you’re cradling a brand new baby in your hands and their neck is soft and their head’s are soft and you have to feed them, it’s all new and you’re exhausted. And, you find that by the time they’re two you haven’t slept in years, that’s all very challenging. But, once you recognize past toddler that you have a little person that’s going to become an adult, that’s going to become a mother one day, you begin to become much more careful. I have become much more careful in the way that I’m doing everything, and in trying to improve more and more so that she has the chance to become an even greater person that doesn’t have to overcome a lot of garbage that I’ve put on her.
Sometimes the difficulty for moms comes from not knowing whether or not we’re parenting correctly, especially in regard to discipline. You have to pick your battles and you have to speak in a way that they will always hear you and not shut you out because you’re always on them. Like any relationship, you want when you get stern for it to matter. If you’re constantly on them complaining about their room, or their tone… I think you can begin to lose them a little bit because you’re always upset with them. I try to pick my moments and ironically when I’ve had to get really strong with Easton I’m not really upset at her, but I know that this is a really important moment where I need to be strong and not lose.
What tips can you offer to mothers who tend to lose it in the heat of the moment? I think since the day she was born I discovered that sleep was not the biggest necessity and it still isn’t. I find that when you feel like you have nothing left for yourself there’s a panic that sets in. We as women feel like we’re disappearing. I find I lose my temper or get frustrated when I find I have nothing left for myself rather than if I’m just tired. I don’t lose my cool if I’m just tired. I’ve been tired for the last decade, working, career, parent, death, birth, all of that…it’s tiring. I lose it because I feel like I’m losing myself a little bit. Maybe that’s what I recognize in my parenting. I’m at my best when I have a little bit of freedom for myself, even if it’s just at night to feel my own skin again.
What do you think the best form of discipline is? Like every mother I’m out at sea in the discipline arena. I don’t want to be one of those mothers who’s constantly correcting and criticizing and picking, but it’s important to be the disciplinarian. You don’t need to be their friend, yet one day you will be their friend, so you want to treat them with respect and at the end of the day every relationship is based upon respect. Respecting each other’s differences and strengths and tolerating the things you don’t understand that are different from you. Those to me are the cornerstone of people having great harmony, so I want this with my child.
You’ve had so many uninterrupted film and TV projects over the years. When you had Easton did you have to take any time off or did it just work naturally into your schedule? Luckily, God was watching and gave me the right jobs at the right times… There was a period of time where I chose to work less so that I could be with her more, and be okay with financially things shifting. And, that was a choice. Now, I’m in a choice where I’m working a little bit more and she has her school and bigger items going on in her life that I’m planning for, but I have a unique career. I don’t think it’s a relatable career to most women, unless you’re a make-up artist, or interior decorator…freelance in some way. That life would be terror to some people. Because you don’t know when the next job is coming. But, you have freedom.
You’re also a mommy blogger, and have been blogging for People magazine for over 3 years. How did that gig come about? That was a happy accident. They asked me to do a couple, and it was this harmonious relationship… I’ll never forget when I first started blogging. The first two blogs were all about my perfect life and everybody hated me. Then I was like I only have one more to write I might as well tell the truth about something. The other two blogs were truthful but they came from a place of ‘I’m going to help you understand…’ (Laughs) Then I was booed off the stage. Then when I approached the third blog as I was trying to work something out, it was like together we became a community through that blog, and the whole thing shifted… The inspiration is that I’ve always wanted the focus to be on empowering women. That’s what I care about.
In one of those blogs you came forward about getting pregnant via IVF. Was that difficult to admit to? Yes, and still when I talk about it you can hear a pin drop, when I tell people I can’t get pregnant naturally. People still ask me all the time if I want to have a second child, and if they’re not aware of the infertility issues or the fact that I publicly want to create progress around fertility issues they are surprised. I think that’s why I wanted to talk about it because there’s such a stigma for the woman who can’t give birth naturally, and it’s really got to shift because this is lower consciousness. In today’s day and age women have careers and they can choose who they fall in love with, and not be put in an arranged marriage. They are able to become self-realized women who are going to be even greater mothers than our moms, who were like 18, 19… I’m 41. My mother was like 21-years-old when she had me. That was like a generational thing. So, it excites me to see that the new reproductive generation is able to have careers, fall in love with the right person, really become comfortable mothers and really be there for their child, as opposed to being a child when they have them. But, they are running out of time in their child-bearing years, and unfortunately, although we’ve evolved, the reproductive part of us has not evolved, so you’re more fertile when you’re like 20. Not a great time to be a mom.
Your doctor gave the devastating news that you were going into menopause at the young age of 34. What did that realization feel like? Yes, it was very young. I wasn’t expecting it. It was tragic information for me, but in a way it was a blessing because I went and I asked my doctor if he could tell me what my fertility levels were because I was thinking about freezing my eggs. I was really career focused. Thankfully, someone told me that that was an option because I never heard of this before. Now, when you meet a woman who’s 29, 31, 32 it serves to tell them that they might want to check their hormone levels and fertility because unless you’re married to the right person, right now, you may want to empower yourself to know what’s happening with your body, right now, and be an advocate for your future family.
Your memoir, Baby Steps, highlights your struggles with fertility. How will this book help other moms or women wanting to have children? I think that when women speak up on behalf of other women that’s the way to go, not suffering in silence when women are the great communicators and feelers, and the matriarchs of family. We have to support one another. We can’t keep our pain and experiences to ourselves. It doesn’t serve each other. Ultimately, I hope that the book is motivating for women to come together as a community so they don’t feel like they have to be on their own, whether it’s fertility issues, feelings of depression, questions about your identity, or questions about happiness because when women are unhappy the children are unhappy, and women need to take care of each other because they know how to take care of each other; they know how to nurture. I think there are a lot of great male nurturers too, but women can really commune together with great love and harmony and I think that’s what I’ve been lucky and blessed to happily and accidentally land with the book and the blog because it’s easy to be an island.
Having to contend with infertility can be a stressful and emotional roller-coaster. Elisabeth’s courageous move to shed light on this, often, taboo subject and reveal her personal struggles has touched thousands of lives and hopefully thousands more to come. She gives an insightful and authentic look into the inability to conceive a child naturally, and shares an alternative route to pregnancy in her book Baby Steps: Having the Child I Always Wanted (Just Not as I Expected) which is available for purchase on Amazon.