Maria Menounos will never forget what it was like to hold her baby girl for the first time.
“It was the most special moment of my life,” the 45-year-old star, who welcomed daughter Athena Alexandra on June 23 via surrogate alongside her husband, Keven Undergaro, recalls exclusively in the new issue of Us Weekly. “The doctor literally grabbed her and hiked her onto me. I sat with her on my chest, and Keven and I kept looking at each other like, ‘Oh, my God.’ It was just pure joy.”
Adds Undergaro: “It was like Christmas morning times a million.”
Menounos’ 10-year journey to motherhood has been a long and difficult one. Infertility issues led to IVF treatments, which were halted when the “Heal Squad” podcast host and former E! News anchor was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2017; the tumor was removed, and she was given a clean bill of health, but her neurosurgeon advised her against carrying a child. When their first surrogate fell through in 2020, Menounos had all but given up hope — then she and 55-year-old Undergaro, the founder of AfterBuzz TV, announced they were expecting in February. “Athena is our miracle baby,” she says. “I’m so grateful for her.”
Congratulations! How does it feel to be a mom?
Better than I could’ve ever imagined. It’s euphoric. For so long, I’ve felt something’s been missing. I’d go to kids’ birthday parties, and I’d be a little sad because I wanted my own family. And now I feel so grounded, like I finally know where I belong.
What have the first few weeks been like at home with Athena?
The whole house is on happy crack! My dad, her Abuelita, her baby nurse, all of us just, it’s just so much love. People say you won’t care about your dogs anymore, but if I’m not squishing Athena, I’m squishing them.
How did you choose the name Athena?
We knew we wanted a Greek name. We had a list, and everyone says when you see the baby, you’ll know, but that was totally untrue for us. We were like, “What do we do?” Athena is the goddess of war and wisdom, and Keven loved the power of that name, so that was it!
You were in Wisconsin for your daughter’s birth. What were the days leading up to that like?
Athena was born in Milwaukee, and we were there for like a week before, driving the surrogate to the doctor’s appointments and having dinner with her family. But as we got closer to the [due date], we booked her a room at the hotel with us so she’d be closer to the hospital. So we got to the hotel, and it happened that night!
Wow! That’s amazing timing.
She and I were in my room just chatting, and I showed her all of Athena’s stuff and her clothes and I just started bawling about how I’ve been waiting for her. I was like, “My husband keeps saying I’m being impatient, wanting the baby to hurry up and come.” I told her, “It’s not that I’m impatient. I’m just so excited to meet her.” So she left the room, and her contractions started at two in the morning.
Tell Us about being in the delivery room.
Surreal. We were walking in the halls with her, and then they gave her the epidural, and our room was next door, so I went to take a power nap. Then her husband comes in and says, “It’s time!” I set up my iPad so I could film the birth from an angle that was appropriate, and my phone was with the surrogate’s husband because she put him on picture duty.
So everybody had a job.
Everyone had a job. My dad didn’t want to stay in the room. He wasn’t there for [my] birth either. I go, “Dad, new behaviors, new patterns, new results. You’ve never experienced this. Why don’t you want to do this?” Then the surrogate forced him to. [Laughs.] She goes, “You’re staying. What if I need your help?” All of a sudden, [she does] a couple of pushes, and I’m seeing [Athena’s] head. They were like, “Are you ready to grab her?” I kept saying, “What do I do?” [Laughs.]
Were you nervous?
I was so excited. But I was worried I would drop her because I thought she was going to be slippery.
Did you feel an instant bond?
It felt amazing, but also really natural, like we had been together a long time. A psychic said she was going to be my mom from another life. So I remembered that after, and I [thought] maybe that’s what that feeling was.
Tell Us about the beginning of your fertility journey.
I’m pretty sure I did three rounds [of IVF]. I remember calling my doctor and telling her I wanted to drive my car through a brick wall. It was really, really painful, I remember [working at a music festival], and I forgot my needle. And they had to give me a horse needle from the arena. It’s so rough because you’re doing it between interviews, and then you’re trying to do shots on a plane. It was just a lot back then.
Did you ever feel like giving up?
I almost did [when my first surrogate fell through]. Then my lawyer, Andrew Vorzimer — who Kim Kardashian had connected me to — put me in touch with Stephanie Levich from Family Match Consulting. Stephanie called me and said she had someone, and the next day we were on the phone with our surrogate. These angels — Andy and Stephanie and my doula, Lori Bregman — came together to help us.
So Kim Kardashian helped put this in motion?
Yes. I give her so much credit. She helped us get started and guided me through the fears and the process. She was the first to know we were pregnant! We were at a gala [in November], and I couldn’t resist telling her. She’s such a chill, calm person. Anytime I had questions or needed advice, her responses were instant. I had really leaned on her a lot.
Did you have any moments of hesitation before starting the surrogacy process?
Actually, I have a crazy story. Two days before we implanted, Keven and I were sitting outside, and I said to him, “It’s do or die; [the surrogate and her husband are] flying in [to L.A. from Wisconsin]. We are going to implant these embryos. If we don’t think this is right for us, we have to make a decision now.” All of a sudden I hear rustling, and a huge stork flies out of this tree across the street. I have the f—ing video!
It was a sign! You also got close to your surrogate. Tell Us about that.
It was a magical experience. Throughout the pregnancy, I would send voice recordings for her to play for Athena. We love her and her family so much. They gave us the greatest gift ever. We still talk all the time and consider them family.
That’s great that you have such a wonderful bond.
I also lucked out with my surrogate because the first thing she said to me was, “I want to do whatever you would do if you were pregnant.” I was like, “Well, with all the diabetes in our family, I wouldn’t eat sugar. But if you have cravings, I don’t want you to feel like you can’t, because I’d give in in that moment.” I said I’d eat organic, so I provided her with Thrive Market for deliveries and sent her organic products for her house and skin. But I didn’t obsess with her about anything. I knew she was responsible, I knew she wanted to do a great job, and she wanted to take care of this baby.
You were diagnosed with a pancreatic tumor in January. That must have been terrifying, knowing the baby was coming.
I was looking at my church icons on my mantel, thinking, “How can you bless me with a baby, and I’m not going to meet her?” I was guttural crying, Keven was crying, and he never cries. It was a nightmare.
They successfully removed the tumor. How are you feeling now?
Amazing, thank God. The fibroid was the size of a baby. I have a C-section scar, basically, even though I never had a baby — I gave birth in a different way! [Laughs.]
How do you manage to stay positive, considering everything you’ve been through?
I’ve had a lot of low moments, so I’ve had a lot of practice in overcoming them. You have to come out of the victim mentality. Everyone asks, “Why me?” And my thing is, “Why not me?” That helps me get out of things faster. I just beat this tumor because I found it early, and other people don’t, so I’m lucky. I try to focus on how I want to feel rather than the other stuff. It takes a minute; it’s not easy.
You and Keven have been together for 25 years. How are you staying connected with a baby in the mix?
We did one date night already!
Has your relationship changed?
I think the biggest shift has been me going into my feminine side. In years past, when I was flying millions of miles a year, Keven was like, “Maria, stop worrying; when we have a baby, you’re just going to hike it to me, and I got it from there.” So that’s what we thought the journey was going to be like, but our roles have really shifted.
You’re really enjoying nesting.
Yeah. I joke every day I love maternity leave. I called my boss and said, “I might need a little more time.” The boss was like, no problem. I’m the boss! [Laughs.] It’s so great that Keven has been running my show, so I’m able to take this time.
Do you want more kids?
Yes! I want 50 more. I have one good embryo left. We’ll see, it would have to be fast. The joy that Athena has brought to this house — I want more of that. It feels so good. There have been a lot of rough times, but I know all of that is behind us, and all of the good stuff is ahead.
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