Joan Lunden on women with double standards after having children in her 50s: “Why is it okay for [men] and not okay for me?”
When Joan Lunden started her now-legendary Good Morning America co-anchor, she raised the bar for work-life balance for moms everywhere. Just eight weeks from the birth of her first child – who was pregnant when she was offered the job and fortunately protected by new pregnancy discrimination laws – she told ABC, ” ‘Well, I’m going to breastfeed,’ ” she recalled telling Yahoo Life, “and by the way, back then you couldn’t say ‘breastfeeding’ on TV. “
She had an extra dressing room next to her room – with a small sign on the door that read “Jamie’s Baby” – for her daughter and a baby nurse. “I would come in with this little baby in my arms, put her in her crib, brush her hair and makeup, and read my script,” she says.
“It turned out that [the network director] was just taking a chance,” Rendon said. “But what they got was someone who was sitting in a chair on that show, someone who could really relate to America because they knew I was getting up in the middle of the night to feed, change diapers, you know, go home and figure out ‘how to peel carrots while holding a baby. I’m doing all the things that they’re doing – that almost fell down …… the third wall.”
Before her divorce, she had two more daughters with her first husband – and then she wanted to have more children with her second husband, Jeff Konigsberg, a summer camp operator 10 years her junior. But she was 48 years old, and although she was able to conceive with the help of a fertility doctor, she miscarried.
It was then that Lunden would become another kind of role model mom – by helping to alleviate the stigma of older mothers and surrogacy practices.
“My husband basically said, ‘This isn’t a race to see if you can get pregnant. This is about building a family.’ So we researched surrogacy,” heeding Konigsberg’s advice, they found someone focused and mature, “because when the media found out Joan Lunden was having a baby through a surrogate at 49,” he warns, ” it wasn’t going to stay under the radar.”
They found an “amazing woman,” Deborah McCoy (née Bolig), who had three daughters of her own, close in age to Lunden’s, and had already conceived twins as a surrogate for another couple. Rendon said she did it “for the most selfless of legitimate reasons. It wasn’t because she needed the money.”
Rendon said there are many misconceptions about surrogacy, including that the baby is the child of the surrogate, not the intended parents.
“I think people want to know, well, aren’t they her children? No, she’s just implanting our embryos into her,” she said. “I mean basically it’s like, ‘My oven’s broken, can I use your oven?’ She said, ‘Yes, you can use my oven,’ and then we put the cake in her oven until it was done, and then we took it out.”
In addition, she says, “A lot of people think it’s just about the money …… sometimes it is, and I’m not saying it’s not. But if you go through a reputable agency, they really vet those agents,” and as with Lunden’s case, they usually require that the potential agent be financially stable and already a parent of their own child, she explains.
Word of the surrogacy did get out, and Lunden decided she would have a sit-down interview with Larry King about the process – and he would not only give her enough air time to explore the topic in depth, but through the same surrogacy agency.
“I knew I would get an hour of quiet, serious, non-exploitative opportunity to talk about surrogacy,” she recalls of her decision. But within 24 hours, some journalist had somehow hacked into the agency’s online chat room and recognized Lunden’s agent, who called her and said, “I’ve got a lot of press on my lawn. What do I do?”
Taking immediate action, Lunden returned a call from People magazine – which had already asked for an interview, but she declined because she only wanted to do Larry King – and said she would reconsider. The magazine flew her to Cincinnati, where McCoy lives, and they met at a photo studio.
“When we walked out the door, I put my arm around her and said to a reporter from People magazine, ‘She’s pregnant with my baby.’ That was the headline on the cover of the magazine: ‘She’s pregnant with my baby,'” she said. She gave birth to the children – twins named Kate and Max – and less than two years later to twins, Kim and Jack. (“I felt like I was living on Noah’s ark – they came two after two,” she told People magazine at the time. “We didn’t actually try to have twins again, but of course that’s always on the cards where you implant more than one embryo.”)
Today, Lunden and McCoy remain “very, very” friends, and Lunden recently shared with her a photo of the college commitment of her youngest high school student, Jack, who will play soccer for the University of Michigan in the fall.
“You decide in advance how much contact you want to have after the baby is born,” Lunden explains of the surrogate parent relationship. “She said, ‘Send me a card every year to let me know when they graduate from high school.’ Of course, we did more – we flew her to New York, we flew her to [Jeff’s summer camp], the whole family …… we let her stay in our lives. We wanted our kids, as they grew up, to know that this woman helped them be born and that they knew her very well.”
In fact, each time the twins were born, her three teenage daughters and her surrogate’s teenage daughter hung out at the hospital. “They were all around these two little bassinets, saying, ‘What should we change them into next?’ They were changing,” Rendon recalled. “Those girls, my daughter and her daughter, are good friends to this day.”
Of course, while many moms shudder at the thought of having a newborn (let alone four) and children who are already in their teens and early 20s, Lunden took it in stride. She quickly settled into the role of “older parent,” but she says that aside from a few interesting situations, nothing was different than the first time.
“When we went to our now 19-year-old twins’ first [high school] parents’ night, my husband leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘Don’t look now, but the guy sitting directly across from us was [my older daughter] Jamie’s boyfriend in high school,'” says the father of a high school senior attending.
“And I see him all the time now because our Jack is a soccer player at Greenwich High School and his daughter is a cheerleader. We’re all, ‘Hey, hey!’ That’s the kid I caught in the middle of the night [as a kid],” she says with a laugh. “But when I’m standing in the bleachers at my high school, or when I’m standing in the bleachers at the gym with my daughter who just finished her volleyball season, I don’t think I look any different than anyone else as a woman. I really don’t think of myself, and I don’t think of Jeff and I as particularly old.”
Whenever someone questions her decision to have children at an older age than usual, in fact, she says she replies, “You know, for decades, for billions of years, men have divorced their wives and married younger women – and had children when they were in their teenage years. They’re in their 60s, their 70s. I remarried and had children at 49. Why was it okay for them? Why is it bad for me? I know I’m older, I’m not going to lie, I can do the math. Everyone started the Hoda Kotb case when she started calculating how old she would be when her kids were 20.”
But Lunden – who is also a grandmother with two grandchildren who call her “JoJo” – is active and still has a full career in the media between public television broadcasting and writing books. has had a full career in the industry, is healthy after a 2014 breast cancer attack, is cancer-free and seems to have good genes on her side. “My mom did zero exercise, ate sauce on everything and never owned a pair of sneakers – she was almost 95 when she died,” she says. “You know what? We’ll never know about my father because he was killed on a plane [in an accident when he was 51], but his parents lived until they were 95 and 96. They didn’t take care of themselves at that time!”
In fact, Lunden notes that the biggest difference between raising her first three children and her four children, she says, is the “whole new world” around them.
“For these young girls, they have to live with the Internet, TikTok and Snapchat, taking a group photo every three seconds. They are never alone,” she said of her young girls, who are “more anxious” than they are about older people because of “all the things” that are happening in the world.
“They’re in their own room. But that doesn’t mean they’re alone. They’re talking to about 15 people on the phone …… I sometimes say to them, ‘You don’t know how to be alone. You’ re never really alone,'” she says. “I worry about that.”