You may know Emilia Bechrakis Serhant as the practical, intellectual foil to Million Dollar Listing star Ryan Serhant and his more-is-more zeal through the journey of New York real estate. But what you may not know is that Emilia has endured a journey of her own in conceiving her and Ryan’s toddler daughter, Zena. Like so many women before her, Emilia was given the frustrating diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” after trying to get pregnant for over two years, and, after undergoing IVF with one embryo, they eventually conceived and gave birth to their miracle baby in 2019.
Now, Emilia is opening up about her experience with a new children’s book titled, To The Moon and Back For You, in which she pays tribute to her journey and to the hard road she traveled in conceiving her daughter. She hopes the book will help all kids – no matter how they came to be – understand how much they are loved, and for parents to feel a sense of pride in their paths to parenthood, no matter how many twists and turns it took. We sat down with Emilia to chat the pokes and prodding that came along with pregnancy, and why it only made her marriage – and role as mother – that much stronger.
Can you describe your journey through the world of IVF and to eventually conceiving your daughter?
My husband and I were trying for around two years to have a baby. In that first year, I was pretty relaxed about it. By the second year, it became, OK what are we doing to do about this? Obviously something was up. So we started the whole cycle of fertility doctors and figuring it out. In the beginning, it was more about why is this happening and less about what can I do? I didn’t know about fertility treatments. I didn’t realize I would end up needing it. I naively thought IVF was for older women or same sex couples. It wasn’t something a young girl needed to do. When the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with us, he said to try IUI and start fertility treatments, which didn’t work. So we switched fertility doctors, because when you don’t get pregnant, you blame the first doctor and think if I quit the first clinic, that’ll make a difference. Of course, I tried everything under the sun and anything I read short of hanging myself upside down.
We went to a new doctor who said, OK here’s your option: IVF. When we went down that route, I think I started out being very positive but I set expectations low. I had heard of other women trying multiple times without getting pregnant. I figured it won’t happen with my first try. But on our first try, we got only one embryo and she was my Zena, my miracle baby all the way. I’d look at her picture and think please stick. I prayed to everything. She was it. It was also very telling back then of her personality. She’s a stubborn child. She held on for dear life. I am forever grateful that she did and that I had the opportunity to go through IVF at a time in our lives where we could afford it. It’s a very big issue with IVF and treatments in general. It’s draining physically and emotionally but also financially. The timing was right for us.
How did the experience in trying to conceive affect your marriage at the time?
We lead a very fast paced life. We’re busy managing our careers and suddenly we had to manage prioritizing having a baby. We had to prioritize reconnecting and connecting in general and talking through it and how we felt about it. That was the struggle we had. It started to take a toll when it was not happening and they couldn’t explain why. But we never reached a point where we blamed each other. It was frustrating that I didn’t have an answer. So we were trying to figure it out and relatively privately. It was hard not having someone else to talk to about it with. It also became more frustrating when people would ask, “When are you having a baby?” Watching everyone around us having kids was most difficult. At that point when we went through IVF, it was all or nothing. Let’s either call it and figure out other ways to have a child, or let’s go all the way.
Many people don’t know how exhausting IVF really is. You see shots and the painful part of it, but what you don’t see is being monitored constantly. Going in at 6am constantly, or some crazy specific time to be tested. It is extremely draining. You’re poked and prodded all day long, every morning for months on end. That’s also very trying. It’s not just the physical aspect of injecting, but Ryan was right there for those appointments.
What’s one thing that surprised you about that journey?
I think the actual process of it. All the time that goes into it, all the money that goes into it. It’s almost a full time job. It was physically taxing on my body, and I felt that the hormones really affected my mental state. I couldn’t remember things. I’m a lawyer and I’m very detail oriented, and I was very surprised in the physical sense of how the hormones affected my brain and focus. It also humbled me in this crazy way, where I was suddenly so conscious and aware of my body, its limitations and its capabilities. I think I know and love my body now in a different way. The process taught me to love my body and what it’s capable of and that I must treat it well.
How did your pregnancy go, and did your experience with IVF impact how you felt during your pregnancy?
I was very shocked that IVF worked. It felt too good to be true. I had a very rough pregnancy. I was extremely sick the whole time, especially in the beginning. We had multiple scares with Zena. In those nine months, I experienced more anxiety than in my entire life. I didn’t believe it until I saw her. I’m not sure if that’s the same for other mothers, but I couldn’t believe it. I looked into her eyes, I heard her cry, and when someone said, “She’s OK,” I exhaled and cried. Throughout pregnancy, I was bracing and holding on. IVF didn’t just stop with the transfer, it was the entire journey until she was born.
What’s something so many women don’t know (and would benefit in knowing) about the IVF process?
You’re not broken. It’s a cliche but I 100% believe it. Nothing you did is your fault. You shouldn’t feel guilty for making life choices, where maybe you put family after career or after a life you wanted to experience. As women we need to stop beating ourselves up for choices we make and stop hating our bodies. It’s easier said than done. I definitely went through a phase where I was really hard on myself. I didn’t have control over my body. Unexplained infertility is happening more and more, especially for younger women. I want women to know to be gentle with themselves and be kind to themselves.
Also I don’t want to compare my journey to someone else’s. Everyone has a different journey, and everyone’s baby will come to them when they do and when it’s time. No matter which way it happens, that baby you wanted will come into your life. It’s very important for me that people know that. Sometimes you’re a mom already in your heart, head and soul, and you need to get the rest of your body to catch up. I hope in some way, whatever I say or share will help someone be kinder, gentler and allow themselves to go through the process.
You’re not broken. It’s a cliche but I 100% believe it. Nothing you did is your fault.
What inspired you to write To The Moon And Back For You?
I had these little words in my head and I’d jot them down in my phone throughout the pregnancy. I never thought it would become a kids book, and when Penguin Random House wanted to do a book inspired by IVF, I thought, OK I have an idea. And it wasn’t to teach about IVF. It’s more of a poetic book about a difficult journey to motherhood. And that there isn’t just one way to motherhood, but many things that can go wrong or right. It doesn’t matter how hard it was because at the end of the day, they were so extremely wanted. It was so worth the journey and you wouldn’t change a single thing because you wanted that child. No matter when and how they came into life, you wouldn’t change it.
What sort of conversation are you hoping to start?
I will get to the point where I’ll have a conversation with Zena about how she came into the world. And I want the first thing for her to know is how much I love her and how much she means to me, that I would have climbed the tallest mountains or braved the roughest seas to have her. I would still do it all over again. So it’s that moment to talk to your child about how they came into your life and how you came to be a family. There are so many ways you can have a child now. The first thing they should know is how much they are loved. And that however much you went through to have them, it doesn’t matter. You’d still do it all over again.
What do you hope people will get out of the book?
I hope it will give parents a minute to bond with their child and tell them they are the greatest joy in your life, that you’d go to the moon and back for them no matter what. I hope it gives parents a moment to feel proud of everything they did to have their child. It’s a kids book, but I wanted a way to memorialize this process.
How has being a mother changed you?
I’m a completely different person. Aside from being exhausted, I think motherhood has humbled me beyond belief. It instantly jolted into this state of, OMG this is why we’re here. Being a mom is my calling. It has transformed me into this very mindful person. I’m more mindful of everything around me. I view things through her eyes and I watch things through her process. It’s just made me way more alert and aware of everything. I’m also more compassionate, more understanding and calmer. It’s made me want to be a better woman. She makes me want to be a better woman. I want her to see me as a role model, and I’m way more thoughtful towards other women and understanding where they come from.
What do you love most about being a mother?
That i get to watch this person have her own personality. She is part of me and Ryan genetically, but she’s her own person. There’s so much of her that’s just her and I would love for other women who don’t have a biological child to know that their child will have their own personality, and it’s such a beautiful, fulfilling part of being a mom. I thought I’d care, if she looked like me or acted like me, but she has her own personality. That’s my favorite part of being a mom, watching little human explore the world.