Michelle Stafford is used to drama. As The Young and the Restless’ resident firebrand, Phyllis Newman, she’s weathered an evil doppelgänger, love triangles and even a catfight or three. Yet for all her onscreen troubles-and there’ve been a few, trust us-nothing has been more harrowing for the actress than her personal journey to motherhood, a road that at times rivaled the very scripts she was given.
Three years of adoption red tape, surgical setbacks and doubts about surrogacy ended last year with the birth of her daughter, Natalia Scout Lee Stafford. Now, in a candid, emotional interview with Watch!, the actress recounts her experience and the blessings that have come with it.
Suffering through surgeries
“My whole life was spent trying to achieve my goals: to be an actor and get jobs,” Stafford says. But in August 2006 “it dawned on me that I didn’t have someone whose life I was solely responsible for. So I had this idea of having a baby, someone who could look back and say, ‘I am doing this because my mother helped me.’ ”
Like many moms-in-waiting, Stafford started with adoption. But nine adoption cycles and countless months later, she still hadn’t found the right match. “It’s harder for a single mom to adopt than even same-sex couples,” she explains. “The attorney says to the woman who wants to put her baby up for adoption, ‘I have this couple and this couple and I have this single woman.’ And that woman thinks, ‘Well, I am single. So she is out.’ ”
Next stop: artificial insemination. When that didn’t take, she tried in vitro fertilization. All told, Stafford had seven fertility-related procedures, which began to take a toll on her body and spirit. “I thought, ‘I can’t do my job anymore if I have another surgery,’ ” she recalls.
The only co-star she confided in was Tracey E. Bregman, who plays Lauren. “Some old broad would walk by us really pregnant and I would be like, ‘Look at that bitch-she’s older than me,’ ” says Stafford, showing her flair for levity among the gravity.
“But there were times when I came to work right after I had a procedure. I would have to put a coat in front of my belly, go into my dressing room and inject myself with hormones.” Pausing for a moment to collect herself, she adds: “There were some very dark moments for me. They were drug-induced by the hormones, and the rage and depression I felt would be out of my control.”
A surrogate plan
After that experience, a botched surgery and finding out that her uterus was atrophied, Stafford would be unable to carry her own child. She decided to proceed with surrogacy and found a surrogate by late 2008, but the law is something of a judicial gray area-and can cause some serious drama. “One day my lawyer calls me and goes, ‘We have a glitch. The judge does not see a single parent as legitimate. I’m sorry, Michelle. You basically have to adopt your daughter.’ I go, ‘An adoption? This is my child!’ ”
With a binding legal document finally in place-Stafford would be named the mother in the sixth month of the pregnancy-she still faced one last snafu: being present for her daughter’s birth. Because the surrogate lived out of town and Natalia was due around Christmas time, Stafford offered to bring the surrogate and her family to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, Stafford hadn’t indicated her wish in the surrogacy agreement created at the beginning of the process, and so the surrogate said no.”She had every right to refuse,” Stafford says diplomatically. “And eventually, I missed my daughter’s birth. Even now, I am very melancholy when women or men talk about the birth of their baby being the best day of their life.”
Next step: the perfect father
Now, though, all sadness has given way to joy. And almost a year into raising her beautiful daughter, this sexy mama is dating again. “It would be great to meet a great guy, someone who was in love with me and my daughter,” says Stafford. “I am glad that I don’t have a situation where her biological father is a schmuck. He is a fantastic guy and that is what I have given my daughter. One day there will be a father, and we can go along the lines of adoption.”
Stafford also has some advice for anyone considering surrogacy: Put it all in writing. “Everything goes back to the legal documents,” she says. “Anything that you would do or not do while you are pregnant-coffee, sugar-free products, things like that-you put in writing.”
So what would she want Natalia to say about her mother when she gets older? Stafford laughs and replies: ” ‘My mom is such a cool chick. I am so lucky that she went through all of that to have me. I am going to buy her a house in St. Barts.’ “