Sutton Foster plays a mom on Paramount Network's Younger, but for a long time, she wasn't convinced that was the role she was meant to play in real life. The two-time Tony Award winner admits that starting a family wasn't always top of mind. Between starring in half a dozen Broadway plays, singing, and — most recently — playing a character who is posing as a 27-year-old to get ahead professionally, her plate was definitely full.
"I'd always been on the fence about having kids. And when I met my husband, Ted [Griffin] . . . all of a sudden, I had this new sort of idea about what family was about," said the 43-year-old actress when I sat down with her in New York to discuss her struggles to get pregnant and the emotional roller coaster of in vitro fertilization and adoption that eventually led her to her now-2-year-old daughter, Emily Dale Griffin. "Somehow, when we got married, it brought our families together. And I thought, 'Oh. If I was to have a kid, that just makes sense.' So we started trying right away to get pregnant."
Unfortunately for Sutton — who is used to working hard and getting what she wants — it wasn't so easy.
"You spend your entire life trying not to get pregnant. And then the minute you start to try to get pregnant, you're like, 'Oh. It's impossible,'" she recalled. "I was like, 'Wait a minute. Why is this happening?' And I was so frustrated because I feel like I'm such a doer," explained Sutton. "When I set my mind to something, [I do it]. I was like, 'I'm going to make it happen.' And it just wasn't happening. I was also very frustrated that I felt like all of the pressures to have a baby fell on the woman."
After a year and a half of trying to conceive, Sutton and Ted made the decision to speak with a California-based fertility doctor, who recommended IVF. Despite having friends who went through the process, only by experiencing it herself did she realize how physically taxing it is on women's bodies.
"I was the one putting shots in my belly, and I'm the one having to grow eggs," she said. "It was so intense. I had to do the hormones and everything. And I was like, 'Wow.' I had no idea."
To make matters more complicated, Sutton was going through IVF while filming season four of Younger. The combination of her role as a mom on the show and the ongoing storyline about her much younger boyfriend (played by Nico Tortorella) wanting a baby despite her resistance didn't help.
"I was the only one that wasn't a mom for the first four seasons. . . . It was so interesting because all of that storyline was happening while I was trying to get pregnant. And so I was like, 'You guys suck,'" she said jokingly. "I was like, 'You're killing me here.'"
In the middle of her second round of IVF, Sutton admitted that she hit a breaking point while she was in Tokyo for a concert. Somehow, she just knew that the process wasn't working and she and her husband needed to go a different route. She decided that while she was still going through IVF, she would also look into adoption.
And who did she turn to for advice? None other than her Younger costar and onscreen on-again, off-again love interest: Peter Hermann. The actor, who plays Charles Brooks, had adopted two children with his wife Mariska Hargitay.
"Ted called Peter because I [needed him] to spearhead the conversation, because I was like, 'I can't do everything.' I was so over [IVF]," she said.
After connecting with Mariska and Peter's adoption lawyer and meeting the couple for dinner to share their experience with domestic adoption, Sutton and Ted felt they had more support than ever before.
"[Talking to Peter and Mariska] was unbelievably helpful because every single adoption story is different," said Sutton. "There's just different people involved and so many different factors and things. And I think what I appreciated was the, 'Be prepared for anything to happen.'"
They moved forward and had no regrets.
"We wanted a family so badly," she said. "We met with our lawyer, and we got so much information. Our [adoption] experience was so positive. IVF and fertility were so fraught with so many challenges . . . our pursuit of adoption just felt right."
After some careful thought, Sutton and Ted opted to go with open adoption, in which the biological parents take an active role in placing their child with an adoptive family and often keep in contact with them afterward.
Sutton received another great piece of advice from her costar on that front: "You just have to let go."
She said, "You have to have a very open heart about the open-adoption process, because there are so many people involved. It's a very scary time because you want something so badly, but you have to step back. I think that was some wonderful advice that [Peter and Mariska] gave us: 'If she's meant to be your daughter, she will be your daughter. If she's not, another child will come in.'"
In March 2017, Emily Dale became an official member of the Griffin family. "The last two years have been a freaking blur," she said, adding that, "I'd never really been around babies. I have a brother, but they never had kids, and my husband's brother doesn't have [any either], so Emily's the first baby. There's just a huge learning curve. No one ever really talks about what it does to your marriage, how it breaks apart but then forms again in this new little triangle of family."
Now, Sutton and Ted are soaking every wonderful moment of the time they get to spend with their nearly 2-year-old daughter. And while Sutton might look like a pro juggling motherhood and work from afar, she battles mom guilt just like everyone else.
"It's kind of interesting, I realize with Emily, too, she understands that I have to work. She's like, 'Bye-bye, Mommy' or she just started saying, 'Mommy's home!' And I'm like, 'That's right, I'm home!' or, 'Mommy's working.' I'm like, 'That's right, Mommy's got to go to work.'"
As many working parents know, a second set of hands is often necessary — and perfectly acceptable. While Sutton stayed home with Emily while Younger was in a filming hiatus, she needed to find help when it was time to head back to the set for season six, which premieres this June.
"I had to really come to grips with that because both my husband and I work, so we have to have help, and we have to be OK with that," said Sutton. "I struggled with it because I feel like I'm supposed to do everything. I'm supposed to be able to handle everything."
Although Sutton often feels "guilty even going to exercise," one thing's for sure: Emily is thriving. "As long as Emily's good, we're good," she explained. "She's this little force, and we're just like, 'Wow.'"
When it comes to doling out advice to other couples who are considering adoption, Sutton recommends being completely honest with yourself.
"For me, an open adoption made the most sense," she said. "It might not make the most sense to other people. . . . When questions [from our lawyer or prospective birth parents] come up, you have to answer them honestly and not how you think someone else wants. It's the age-old thing: you have to really look deep in who you are and answer things truthfully, honestly, and openly."
She continued, "Adoption has been amazing. Emily's story has been a very positive one. And I couldn't ask for a better sphere of humans to surround this little child. There's just this wonderful army of people who are so happy she's here."