Written by Allison Relyea (Perfectly Marilyn Monroe)
Labels – people loving putting labels on each other…
Marilyn Monroe said those very words to reporter W.J. Weatherby in 1961. And by that time, she had several trademarks of her own: icon, movie star, sex symbol, cheesecake… wife, daughter, and sister. But never mother.
During the decades since her death Marilyn’s distressed fertility journey has been under scrutiny. Yet what is rarely talked about is just how far she went to be a mother and what she chose to endure as a result of her endometriosis.
A DESIRE FOR A FAMILY
Marilyn was born Norma Jeane Mortenson to a single mother on June 1st, 1926. From foster homes to an orphanage to living with family and friends, she seldom had the ideal mother-figure. As she aged, she yearned more and more for a child, to give a son or daughter what she herself had never received: a loving family and a stable upbringing.
“Someday I’d like to have a baby,” she told a reporter for the Deseret News in 1951. “But right now my career comes first… that’s the way I can express myself best.” And Marilyn did just that. She was unbreakable in the years to come, with successful films like Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry A Millionaire and more.
Still, her dream to be a mother was always there. Both Jane Russell and Lauren Bacall, who worked with her in 1953, recalled the famed blonde asking questions about their families and gushing about one of her own someday.
From as early as her first few periods, Marilyn’s excruciating menstrual cramps foreshadowed a lifetime of surgeries, difficulties in getting pregnant, and tragic miscarriages. Her contracts even stated she did not have to work while menstruating. However, due to stress, etc., these cramps sometimes lasted for weeks—even up to a month—as her costar Robert Mitchum, from River of No Return (1954), recalled.
Diagnosed with endometriosis, Marilyn had a painful life ahead of her. In 1956, her mentor’s daughter recalled an intimate conversation, when asked why she doesn’t go through with a hysterectomy, which would have alleviated most – if not all – of her sufferings. Marilyn simply responded that she wished for children. It’s worth mentioning that she chose to sustain a lifetime of pain for the opportunity for a child.
In 1952, she met baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. They dated for two years before marrying in San Francisco. A rocky nine-month marriage never resulted in a pregnancy, though the couple longed for a baby.
Not long after just after their divorce announcement, Marilyn had a gynaecological operation to relieve chronic pain caused by her endometriosis. Joe was by her side every day.
Was this surgery planned pre-divorce? Were they having infertility struggles? Likely, though it’s more likely we will never know.
“I STILL WANT LOTS OF CHILDREN”
After her divorce from Joe, Marilyn still had hopes she would one day have a family and did not give up hope for a baby stating, “I still want lots of children.”
When she married famous American Playwright Arthur Miller during the summer of 1956, it seemed like half a dozen children could still be a possibility.
There has been speculation of pregnancy in 1956 while she was in London, England, during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl.
In the book, Milton’s Marilyn, a 4-6-week pregnancy was recorded by a doctor. It had also been reported by Irving Stein (Marilyn Monroe Productions lawyer) who told Milton Greene. The pregnancy ended in a September with a miscarriage. Arthur who had been in New York visiting his children said, “It’s absolute rubbish. There’s not a word of truth in it.”
During her marriage to Arthur she sought out fertility treatments but it wasn’t until June 1957 she learned she was expecting.
“We knew of a section in Roxbury, Connecticut, which we thought was perfect,” Marilyn told Peer J. Oppenheimer in 1960. “It was near Arthur’s former home. And we knew that in New York there would be no problem while the baby was small. As he or she grew older, we could spend a lot of time in places like Central Park.”
During that summer whilst gardening Marilyn experienced incredible pain. An ambulance was called and she was taken to hospital.
Heartbreakingly, an ectopic pregnancy squashed all of her dreams that were finally coming to fruition. She was in the hospital for about 10 days before she left, still glowing but with a heartbreaking smile on her face. Confidently Marilyn stated she would try again. The New York Times reported it was her first confirmed pregnancy following several rumours. She spent the remainder of the year in mourning.
During the fall of 1958, while filming Some Like It Hot, Marilyn was pregnant once again. The pregnancy was high risk from the beginning. She was told by her doctor that if she didn’t stop drinking or taking her barbiturates (for insomnia, depression, and anxiety) her baby would be in great danger.
When not working, she put herself on bed rest. Filming was stressful enough when, due to exhaustion, she collapsed. Understandably she was worried she suffered a miscarriage. She was relieved when she discovered she hadn’t.
When she arrived back in New York, she was determined to take care of herself and carry the baby to full term.
Devastatingly, that December, she suffered yet another miscarriage. It was her last attempt at becoming a mother. “I just couldn’t stop in the middle of the picture,” she told Peer J. Oppenheimer in 1960. “I had agreed to do the film. I had a responsibility to my co-workers.”
After both pregnancy failures, she attempted suicide. She was revived by doctors after Arthur found her nearly in a coma. “Alive, bad luck,” were her exact words when friend Norman Rosten visited her.
In 1959, Marilyn told Motion Picture magazine, “I can think of no happiness greater than motherhood.”
That year, underwent more another surgery to correct her endometriosis. This operation was to unblock fallopian tubes and remove scar tissue. The surgery was unsuccessful in giving her the ability to carry a baby to term. With the little strength she had left, she still managed to say, “I haven’t given up hope,” to Louella Parsons in 1960.
THE 1960 “PREGNANCY”
Concluding with 1959, brings us to 1960; a year that has been repeatedly stated she was pregnant, once again.
In the 1950s, a fan group called The Monroe Six had formed. One of their members was Frieda Hull, an employee of Pan American Airlines, who never married or had children herself, had taken several photographs of Marilyn over the years and befriended her as merely a passionate fan. Their relationship never went beyond the streets of New York.
When she passed away in 2014, a collection of her photographs was found and sold by Tony Michaels, her neighbour, claiming to be a close friend of Hull.
Likely to increase the sale of the photographs, Michaels told a story that Hull disclosed to him Marilyn was pregnant in the photographs taken on July 6th, 1960.
Hull herself stated she would never use her “friend” Marilyn as a profit or commodity. At the same time, Marilyn was very private, especially when it came to her fertility, and it is highly unlikely that both Marilyn would share a pregnancy, that is speculated to have been the result of her affair with Yves Montand, with a fan. At the same time, it is highly unlikely Hull would have shared such an intimate fact with Michaels. The story was sold to the Daily Mail Online, a somewhat famous editorial that is notorious for scandals and inaccuracies.
Marilyn’s weight fluctuated during early 1960; another side effect of endometriosis is bloating. She was heavier than her 115lbs she had been most of her adult life, but only up to 140lbs. You can read more about her battle with endometriosis here.
The rumour of pregnancy in 1960 seems small compared to the never-ending rumours of abortions over the last several decades.
In 1984, Dr Leon Krohn told a BBC producer, “The rumours of her multiple abortions are ridiculous. She never had even one. Later there were two miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy requiring emergency termination, but no abortion.”
Marilyn was an enigma throughout her life and continues to remain a mystery. Her character, as free and beautiful as she was, harboured many pains. Rumours of abortions come from un-reputable sources like Robert Slatzer and Norman Mailer. These sources, if we’re speaking of “labels”, don’t deserve the one of the author. Especially since they have been continued by various biographers and even a close friend of Marilyn’s – who later retracted.
If Marilyn had had an abortion early in her career, I don’t feel comfortable speculating or putting words in her mouth giving a reason as to why, but no such surgery was ever recorded at any time or in the years to come as per her medical records.
Numerous rumours of abortions and that she gave birth in her teens have been called out by unscrupulous people over the last two decades.
Several old Hollywood actresses had abortions during their youth, including Jane Russell, a co-star and good friend of Marilyn’s. Her back-alley abortion resulted in infertility. Yet Jane’s sexuality and character isn’t pulled between the ends of the earth to degrade her worth as a woman or an actress, and it absolutely shouldn’t. Yet Marilyn, who hasn’t been proven to have had one, always is.
Marilyn’s label as a sex symbol comes with conspiracies involving sex, drugs, and alcohol because it fits the narrative the media has written for her. The lack of drawn attention for less known stars who have as much, dare I say, scandal, as Marilyn comes with their lack of sex appeal. There is no intent to pin Marilyn against other Hollywood women or judge their actions, but the prolonged dig at her sexuality in the form of abortions, sex, and affairs immortalize her as nothing other than that: a label for sex. It fictionalizes a Marilyn that has never existed.
Over the course of her life, doctors and friends suggested she get a hysterectomy. Again, she opted not to. A conscious effort. The physical pain of menstrual cramps, and even an ectopic pregnancy and miscarriages, could not — and did not — compare to the depths of her emotional pain of knowing she would never carry a baby to term.
The subject of abortion, giving up a child, infertility, and miscarriages are sensitive and highly personal to each individual. To make Marilyn Monroe the punching bag for so many conspiracies is despicable and inexcusable.
In an effort to help keep these allegations at bay, another is that Marilyn had a child during the 1940s/early 50s and gave the baby up for adoption. This is once again not true.
And since her death, several women have come out as “Marilyn’s long-lost daughter.” Marilyn’s niece, Mona Rae, debunks this hearsay on her website: “[Her] gynaecologist certified that Marilyn never gave birth. We get mail from many women — and occasionally men! — who fantasize that they are Marilyn’s offspring. Some are scams to solicit money via the internet.”
There is seldom an explanation as to why these tales exist. None. None whatsoever, which makes the job of a researcher and fan that much harder. It’s just as difficult to pinpoint the origin, and yet that is why we continue to fight for those whose voices can no longer be spoken. It feels appalling to have to dispel rumours about supposed abortions and “secret births” of children.
To conclude on a happier note, below are a list of my favourite quotes in which she talks about children and motherhood:
Marilyn on why she’d be a good mother:
Because I know how lonely a child can be without real love.Marilyn to Louella Parsons, 1953.
I know how I’d feel if I had children. I’d want to be with them every minute. I’d never want them to feel I didn’t love them more than anything else in the world. If I ever have a little girl, I think I’ll be a wonderful mother to her, because I’ll remember all the things I used to wish would happen to me.”Marilyn Monroe to Isabel Moore, 1954.
I’m going to have a lot of children, and I am getting great experience now with Arthur’s two. They were with us most of the summer. I’m a very good step-mother, but they are two very nice children, and we have a lot of fun together.Marilyn Monroe to the Star Tribune, December 1957.
The thing I want more than anything else? I want to have children. I used to feel for every child I had, I would adopt another.Marilyn Monroe to George. Barris in 1962.
With her babies now, Marilyn can safely rest as our mother, watching over her thousands of sons and daughters who protect her as nothing less. ♡