Rarely has an Instagram post caused such a stir. The photograph was one we have seen often enough: the beautiful star looking proud and excited as she delightedly displays a burgeoning baby bump to confirm rumours of her pregnancy.
What set actress Anne Hathaway’s recent post apart from the rest was the message that accompanied it: ‘For everyone going through infertility and conception hell, please know it was not a straight line to either of my pregnancies. Sending you extra love.’
To say it is uncommon for celebrities to admit to any great struggle in their lives — let alone that most ‘fundamental’ female function of getting pregnant — is an understatement.
The conventional wisdom is that they are blessed creatures, soaring above the everyday challenges that face us mere mortals.
But when I meet Anne on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Beverly Hills — she is blooming in a flowery, rose-pink Givenchy maternity dress that skims her bump and flatters her dramatic colouring, while the pregnancy has filled her face out a little, giving her an unmistakable glow — she says her decision to post the message went beyond the issue of maintaining her image. It was a question of solidarity with all the other women out there for whom conception is not happening.
‘I just remembered how I felt when I was struggling myself,’ explains the star of blockbusters Ocean’s Eight (2018), Les Miserables (2012) and The Devil Wears Prada (2006).
‘Each time I was trying to get pregnant and it wasn’t going my way, someone else would manage to conceive. I knew intellectually that it didn’t happen just to torment me, but, to be honest, it felt a little bit like it did.
‘What made matters worse was that I was embarrassed to feel like that because there was no conversation to be had about it. This is something people don’t talk about, and I think they should. So, when I was writing that post, I was thinking about that one follower I might reach, the woman who’s in hell about this and can’t figure out why it’s not happening for her. She’s going to see my announcement and, while I understand she will be happy for me, I also know that something about it will make her feel worse. I just wanted to say: ‘Look, this wasn’t as easy for me as it looks.’ ‘
Anne adds: ‘I sometimes think Instagram makes life look really breezy, but that’s not the whole story. By leaving out the sad part, we make women who are struggling with this feel isolated and lonely; we make them feel like it’s all their fault. I wanted to be more sensitive than that.’
Although Jonathan — the child she had with her husband of seven years, jewellery designer Adam Shulman — is now a boisterous three-year-old, and her second pregnancy is going swimmingly (she politely refuses to confirm dates, but looks to be around four months), she admits that on both occasions, she had substantial difficulty conceiving, but would rather keep the exact details of her struggles private.
What made it worse, she says, was the conspiracy of silence that surrounds all women unfortunate enough to be in those circumstances.
‘There’s a one-size-fits-all narrative that we attach to getting pregnant, and it’s a narrative that only wants to focus on the happy moment. But that’s not the whole story because, for many women, this is just not that easy. I’m tired of it, because it’s not the truth and I like the truth.’
She says the world can end up being actively hurtful to women who are going through fertility challenges. ‘What I hated was when people would say: ‘What’s taking you so long?’ ‘ she recalls, with a laugh.
‘Or they’d try to put a pretty bow on what was happening to me and make it seem not so bad.
‘I would just think: ‘OK, you’re allowed to have your feelings about it, thank you very much, but my feelings are my feelings, and I’m fairly devastated right now, so whatever you say, I’m still going to feel that way.’ ‘
What got her through was hearing stories of other women who had experienced similar difficulties to hers. ‘Of course, my husband was there with me every step of the way, but I was also amazed at the number of women in my life who were brave enough to share their stories with me.
‘When I said to them: ‘This has happened to me, it broke my heart, it broke me,’ so many of them said: ‘It happened to me, too,’ and that was the thing that allowed me to come through it, to feel my pain without having anyone rush in to define it or cure it. To be able to understand what was going on beyond blaming myself or blaming my body.
‘Since I wrote that post, a lot of women have reached out to me to say it made them feel seen and heard, and I’m happy about that.
‘We women who have come through this have become a sisterhood — but, until now, it has been a silent sisterhood, and I would like it not to be.’
Anne’s story, at least, has a happy ending — she even says her second pregnancy is easy compared with the first. ‘With Jonathan, in my first trimester, I could barely stand up I was feeling so ill. But this one is different — I have tons of energy and I actually really like exercising.
‘[Actress and comedian] Amy Schumer said in her recent comedy special that if anybody claimed they were having an easy pregnancy, she wanted a car to flip over on them. Well, let’s just say I’m the person she wants a car to flip over on!’
Anne doesn’t believe in hiding her emotions from Jonathan.
‘I’m not the sort of mother who, if my son comes up to me when I’m feeling sad, is going to do this,’ she says, wiping imaginary tears from her eyes and plastering on a fake smile. ‘ ‘That didn’t just happen, you didn’t just see what you think you saw, Mommy is never sad.’ Because I can feel sad about a lot of things.
‘What I tell him is: ‘Mommy can be sad about something, but I can also be so happy to be your Mommy and I can also be so grateful to be Daddy’s wife.’
‘I try to explain my emotions to him in that way — I think it’s important to teach him how to make layers.’
Beneath her glamorous movie star exterior, Anne has seen her share of ups and downs.
From 2004 to 2008, she was in a relationship with Raffaello Follieri, an Italian-American property developer and self-styled philanthropist, who, four years into their romance, was arrested and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison on charges of conspiracy, fraud and money-laundering, having cheated investors out of millions of dollars. Anne, who broke off their relationship immediately, knew nothing of these dealings and was reportedly horrified.
Today, she is understandably reluctant to comment on the scandal, but her words on her husband Adam, a low-key actor-turned-jewellery designer whom she met in 2009 and married in 2012, are significant.
Soon after their marriage, she told me that, in many ways, her life began when she met Adam and that he was the first person she had been with romantically who had made her want to be a better person.
While they were dating, she felt that she wasn’t good enough for him — which, normally, would have caused her to want to leave the relationship, but she couldn’t do that because she was too in love.
The family now live in an airy apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where, when she is not working, Anne likes to keep life as quiet as possible.
Away from the film sets, she likes to be very normal, doing her own laundry and washing-up and changing bedsheets.
Anne says that she will raise Jonathan and his imminent sibling to be aware their lives are not the lives of most people.
‘This is something I think about a lot, actually, because one of the best things that ever happened to me was that I didn’t grow up in a privileged background.’
She stops, remembering her own hardly deprived childhood as the daughter of a successful lawyer and a former stage actress in a leafy New York suburb.
‘Actually, of course, there were privileges — I don’t want to imply there weren’t — but it certainly wasn’t the environment my children are going to be raised in and I want to stay conscious of that.
‘Not long ago, we went to England — the plane landed and somebody met us in a Porsche and took us to a place where there was a suite with a butler, who immediately offered us coffee and was holding in his arms a toy bear for Jonathan.
‘I turned to Jonathan, who was all of 18 months old at the time, and I got right in his face and said: ‘This is not real life. Son, I need you to understand this is not what we call travel!’
‘So the luckiest thing I have going for me these days is that I do know what it is to be normal, and I’m raising my child to have as many normal experiences as we can.’ Anne has just played a journalist alongside Ben Affleck in the movie The Last Thing He Wanted, will co-star with Marvel series actor Mark Ruffalo in an as-yet-untitled project directed by Todd Haynes, about a lawyer’s battle against the chemical giant DuPont, and is about to start filming the new Sesame Street firm (‘My son gets to meet Elmo!’ she says, excitedly).
On television, she will shortly be seen in Modern Love, a romantic comedy anthology series based on an advice column in The New York Times newspaper, which will be released on Amazon in October.
In Anne’s segment, she plays a woman with bipolar disorder who is terrified that her condition will prevent her from finding a partner — a story that, she says, sheds light on another little- looked-at section of society.
‘The diagnosis of bipolar disorder is not the issue: our shame about mental illness is the issue — that and the way those of us who don’t have the condition approach it, talk about it and value it.
‘That was one of the reasons I loved this episode, because my character imagines all sorts of reactions to herself and her condition, but the one thing she never imagines is that somebody is not going to be scared by her, that they are going to give her the space to be herself and love her.’
In short, it goes back to precisely what Anne was saying before: ‘What good is hiding anything, really? Because, when it comes down to it, we’re all the same. We’re all just people, after all.’
Modern Love will be released on Amazon Prime on October 18.