Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson has opened up about the fertility struggle that threatened his dreams of expanding his family.
The singer and wife Kristin are now proud parents to two beautiful boys, but faced gut-wrenching hurdles while trying to get pregnant with their second child, Maxwell.
“Me and Kristin had our first-born, Mason, with no issues at all, then when we tried for our second it just wasn’t happening,” Richardson tells ET while promoting his new film If I Could Tell You, which follows a woman exploring “black market” sperm donors in a desperate bid to get pregnant.
“We both got checked out and Kristin had some issues,” continues the 44-year-old singer. “We couldn’t believe it. It was like, ‘Wow. OK, so this is isn’t going to be easy. Maybe it’s not in the cards for us to have another child.’ That was a realization that smacked us in the face.”
Kristin, who previously shared her pregnancy struggle in the documentary Pushing Motherhood, was told that her FSH level (the follicle-stimulating hormone which helps control the production of eggs) was at 13 -- above the normal level of 10 and decreasing her chances of getting pregnant.
“I never thought I’d hear those words,” the 46-year-old actress, dancer and photographer tearfully recalls in the documentary, about women pursuing motherhood later in life. “It’s tough.”
Receiving the news after a year of trying to get pregnant naturally, Kevin and Kristin embarked on a trying journey of alternative methods, including two rounds of IVF.
“We tried IVF, we tried artificial insemination, and none of that worked,” Richardson says. “She was injecting her body with all kinds of hormones to make her ovulate, then on top of that was all the stress. She also couldn’t exercise and she’s a dancer, so it was totally unnatural. I just tried to be as supportive as I could, let her lead and be there for her.”
While the actor and singer, who is currently working on a new Backstreet Boys record, did all he could to support his wife of 16 years, the couple eventually decided that clinical methods were not for them.
“It just didn’t feel right, so we were like, ‘Let’s stop this. Let’s reset your body, reduce stress, make you feel happy and healthy, then go back to the roots of how it’s supposed to be done. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, and if not, we’ll adopt.’”
Referred to an acupuncturist, whose success rate for helping couples get pregnant was “through the roof,” the pair were thrilled when Kristin naturally conceived Maxwell, now 3, who joined big brother Mason, 9.
“We got started late, so we have to accept some of that responsibility,” the Kentucky native adds. “[I was being a Backstreet Boy] and she was being an actress, so we just felt blissful, grateful and excited when it happened.”
“Taking all the pressure off and getting the unnatural things out [helped]. I’m not saying Western medicine doesn’t have its place because it’s about whatever you need, but it was Eastern medicine, acupuncture, that did it for us.”
The couple weren’t the only ones experiencing fertility issues at the time. A close friend, actress Avery Clyde, and her director husband Robert were also battling to conceive their second child and they too found success after pursuing alternative methods and using the same acupuncturist the Richardsons consulted.
Now, the friends have brought their struggles to light in If I Could Tell You, a 35-minute film they hope will raise hope and spread awareness of the infertility “epidemic.”
Directed by Robert and his brother, Ben Clyde, the movie, which has been selected to screen at LA’s HollyShorts Film Festival on August 12, follows Abby (Avery), whose desperation to have a baby drives her to pursue online sperm donor Derek (Kevin) behind her husband’s back.
While neither couple went to such lengths in their own pursuit of pregnancy, Richardson saw a 20/20 special about online sperm donors and raised the underground movement to the Clydes, while they were writing the film.
“We researched and met a guy who does it fulltime, who had fathered 30 children,” Robert Clyde recalls. “His wife and three kids have no idea what he’s out doing. It’s a very real thing.”
Extreme measures aside, it’s the emotional and psychological ups and downs of infertility that lie at the heart of the film, the intensity of which is conveyed in Avery’s gripping performance as Abby.
The 43-year-old actress says the most harrowing part of her own journey was the loneliness. “Even though you have doctors, acupuncturists, hypnotists, nutritionists, family and other women, you just feel like you’re by yourself,” she says.
“It’s extremely isolating because it’s your body. Everyone has a dream of what their life is going to look like and when that doesn’t go according to plan, it catches you completely off guard. When I finally found out I was pregnant I didn’t believe them and I didn’t tell anyone for five months. I was in complete disbelief!”