Jennifer Aniston has faced an unprecedented amount of scrutiny throughout her public life over her uterus.
For over two decades, the tabloid media has conjured stories about the Friends actress being "pregnant!" sometimes "with twins!" or a "miracle baby!" and always "at last!" Turning the knife deeper — she is a real, live person, after all (yes, it's true!) — there have also been tales about her losing pregnancies, and speculation over why she hadn't been pregnant, with running theories being she was too "career-driven" to have a child or "body-obsessed" to carry one. And while the narrative has largely been one spun by tabloids, the topic has been been widely covered, and likely discussed in a room you've been in.
Aniston managed the great invasion of privacy with grace, having no rule book to follow a worldwide obsession with her womb. She's ignored it, made jokes about it, issued many statements and even penned an op-ed ripping the toxic narrative. All the while, the chatter and speculation continued, photos of her body scrutinized and judgment cast.
Then, this: On Wednesday, Aniston revealed for the first time — at age 53 — that, amid this public dissection about a personal topic, she privately struggled with her fertility. While tabloids erroneously reported pregnancies, she was doing everything she could behind the scenes to increase her chances of just that — "going through IVF, drinking Chinese teas, you name it," she told Allure — and it didn't work out.
"It was a challenging road for me, the baby-making road," Aniston, who was married to Brad Pitt (2000 to 2005) and Justin Theroux (2015 to 2017), admitted "All the years and years and years of speculation... It was really hard."
Seeing as what we know now, let's look back at how she's handled the topic through the years...
The Friends fave starts dating movie heartthrob and "Sexiest Man Alive" Brad Pitt after being introduced by their agents. There is immediately great public interest in the outcome of the golden couple's relationship.
The tabloid the Globe publishes a story, via Slate, saying Aniston, is "about to become a bride and a mother" — while she is neither at the time.
Aniston and Pitt actually do marry in September, opening the door to pretty much non-stop questions about when they'll start a family and analysis of her body.
Newlywed Aniston tells Vanity Fair she's no hurry to have a child. But she plays along when asked how many kids they'll have. "I always thought two or three children, but Brad's definitely seven," she says. "He loves the idea of having a huge family. But you just never know. Whatever will be, will be."
Soon after, the Associated Press reports Aniston is pregnant, quoting Pitt as saying, "No. 1 is already on the way… We're just hoping that everything goes well." However, the quote, taken from the German-edition of Marie Claire magazine, was made up. "Jennifer Aniston is not pregnant," her rep says in a statement.
Aniston's TV counterpart, Rachel Green, gets pregnant on Friends, fueling the gossip that life is imitating art. The same year, Pitt guest stars on Friends, making the public even more obsessed with them.
At the start of the year, Aniston is in a car accident. The National Enquirer, in a story titled "CAR CRASH SHATTERS JENNIFER ANISTON’S BABY DREAM," reports that Aniston, whose car was broadsided, was yelling, "Oh, no — my baby!" on the side of the road. While the story actually says she wasn't pregnant, claiming instead she "wants to have a baby so badly," it kicks off a bunch of stories about how had a miscarriage.
Aniston appears on People magazine with the cover: "Brad, Babies & a Breakout Movie." In the issue, she reiterates that there will be no babies yet. "Absolutely it will happen," she says, "but probably not for a while. Probably Friends will end, close that chapter, and see where we go."
This is the period beginning when the paparazzi and tabloids were at max, leading to practically weekly stories about her for years.
Aniston hosts Saturday Night Live and mocks the obsession with her having a child. She plays a paparazzo in a sketch, yelling questions at an actor playing her, including, over and over, "When are you gonna have a baby?!"
@reesifersbestmoments This cracked me up...WE NEED MORE OF THIS!! 😂#jenniferaniston #amypoehler #jenniferanistonedit #jennanistonbestmoments #foryoupage #fyp #snl #xyzbca ♬ original sound - Lyds AKA Jen's wife
Aniston tells ABC News's Diane Sawyer that she and Pitt would love to have two children — "at least." She talks tabloid headlines, including how tabloids cycle through the same topics: She's pregnant! They're splitting!
At the start of the year, Aniston is asked by The Guardian when she'll have a child. 'It's time. It's time," she says. "You know, I think you can work with a baby, I think you can work pregnant, I think you can do all of it. So I'm just truly looking forward to slowing down." She "declines to set a timetable for babymaking," the article notes (!), but says, "I'll have finished Friends by end of January, he'll be finishing [Mr. & Mrs. Smith with Angelina Jolie] at the end of February. Then he starts Ocean's Twelve. So I, thankfully, will be able to go and travel with him while he's doing that."
While promoting Troy, Pitt is also asked about kids. "Yeah, it's time," he says in one interview. "I finally think I'm at the place where I won't mess a kid up too much. And Jen's in agreement that I won't mess them up too much." In another interview, he says, "I think it's time. I think it's time. We've been in rehearsals long enough."
The National Enquirer reports Aniston and Pitt are "rocked by a devastating miscarriage." Around the same time, Us Weekly reports something similar. Another report claims they are adopting, citing Pitt's brother Doug as a source.
Friends ends. Pitt falls in love with Jolie on the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Cheating rumors swirl.
Aniston and Pitt announce their split on Jan. 24, saying in a statement, in part: "For those who follow these sorts of things, we would like to explain that our separation is not the result of any of the speculation reported by the tabloid media."
The tabloid media goes nuts, especially as he embarks on a relationship with Jolie and becomes "Dad" to her adopted son. A popular narrative is that she isn't ready to have kids — due to career ambitions — while he is, leading to the split. "It's about the children,” an insider says. "She just doesn'r want kids right now – and he wants kids."
Aniston breaks her silence about the split, telling Vanity Fair in September, "A man divorcing would never be accused of choosing career over children. That really pissed me off. I've never in my life said I didn't want to have children. I did and I do and I will! The women that inspire me are the ones who have careers and children; why would I want to limit myself? I've always wanted to have children, and I would never give up that experience for a career. I want to have it all."
Aniston's friends note in the same article that Pitt could have done more to refute the rumor that Aniston wouldn’t have his child, but by then he was off building a family with Jolie. "When Brad and Jen were in the marriage, having a baby was not his priority — ever," an insider claims. "It was an abstract desire for him, whereas for Jen it was much more immediate. So is there a part of Brad that’s diabolical? Did he think, I need to get out of this marriage, but I want to come out smelling like a rose, so I'm going to let Jen be cast as the ultra-feminist and I'm going to get cast as the poor husband who couldn't get a baby and so had to move on?"
Aniston dates her The Break-Up co-star Vince Vaughn and the pregnancy rumors start immediately. According to People, Aniston "appears to have the beginning of a baby bump!"
She tells InStyle, "You know what? If all these (pregnancy rumors were true), I should have had 10 babies by now, married five times. I swear when it happens, you'll hear it." She adds, "I hope to be on the road to having a family in the next year. Ideally, I'd like to have a couple [of children], but who knows? That’s part of the unknown that I like."
Her rep issues a denial that she's pregnant and the baby is fathered by — drumroll — Vaughn, artist Paul Sculfor or Sex and the City actor Jason Lewis. "Jennifer is not pregnant," the rep says.
Aniston next dates John Mayer, on and off for a year. "Spies" tell the obsessive tabs she's quit smoking, drinking, coloring her hair and has begun fertility treatments to have "John's babies."
At one point after they split and get back together, it's claimed by an Australian tabloid that they've reunited because she's pregnant: "She doesn't want to be a single mom, so she is willing to give John the chance to prove his parent potential."
Ahead of turning 40, the theme turns to "baby at 40!" Star reports she's having more than one while the same week In Touch falsely claims her "bump gets bigger!"
Aniston tells GQ: "I am not having his baby. And I have not popped the question."
The book Brangelina: The Untold Story Of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie by Ian Halperin comes out and claims Aniston had miscarriages in 2003 and 2004 while married to Pitt. She continues to be a tabloid fixture unlike any other, with an "unlucky" in love narrative added to the mix.
Aniston appears in the film The Switch which— about a woman hitting her biological clock and her decision to use a sperm donor to get pregnant. The choice leads to, you guessed it, more real-life pregnancy rumors. One is about how Pitt helped her get pregnant amid a "secret arrangement" that was OK'd by Jolie.
It is "confirmed" that sad, lonely Aniston is finally ready to have a baby with her The Bounty Hunter co-star Gerard Butler. He says the stories about them are "ridiculous."
What isn't a lie is that Aniston quietly starts seeing Theroux, whom she met several years earlier but connected with on the set of Wanderlust.
Once it's known Aniston has a new partner, the headlines flow. Star magazine reports Aniston is finally pregnant — with twins — after months of fertility treatments. Her rep denies it, calling the story "a complete fabrication," a denial issued over and over.
She discusses the baby rumors with Elle, saying, "It's not what you read. There's no desperation. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I'm at peace with whatever the plan is."
While promoting her directorial debut, Five, Aniston tells Hello! magazine, "Rumor number one: I am not planning to get married any time soon. I've been married once, and I don’t know if I'll get married again. But I can tell you that as of this very moment, I have no plan to get married... And rumor Number two: No, we're not pregnant. It's just I quit smoking, so I've gained a couple of pounds."
Aniston, still with Theroux, cries tears of joy after learning she's pregnant, Star magazine claims yet again. "It's just another fabrication!" her rep says. "She was just [out at an event] and she certainly does not look pregnant."
Aniston tries something different. She mocks the ridiculous pregnancy headlines in a commercial for Smartwater. The ad is designed to look like security footage from her home. She returns home appearing normal, then removes a girdle that shows a huge pregnancy belly. "How are my little triplets doing?" she says, resting a hand on her stomach.
Aniston denies that she's pregnant again. She says she's gained "a couple of pounds... There is nothing to announce."
Tabloids continue to craft stories about her "baby dreams" and years of "fertility treatments."
Aniston's dress at the Life of Crime premiere starts more rumors. She tells Extra, "I'm not pregnant. I'm not married. What else?" The same week, her rep denies she had a miscarriage.
Aniston's denials and light mocking don't make the rumors disappear — and she admits it's frustrating. She tells Allure: "[I don't] like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women — that you've failed yourself as a female because you haven't procreated. I don't think it's fair. You may not have a child come out of your vagina, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t mothering — dogs, friends, friends' children... This continually is said about me: that I was so career-driven and focused on myself; that I don't want to be a mother, and how selfish that is."
She tells People magazine that questions about kids are "not really fair," saying: "I just find it to be energy that is unnecessary and not really fair for those who may or may not [have children]. Who knows what the reason is, why people aren't having kids. There's a lot of reasons that could be, and maybe it's something that no one wants to discuss... I don't have this sort of checklist of things that have to be done and if they're not checked then I’ve failed some part of my feminism, or my being a woman, or my worth or my value as a woman…I've birthed a lot of things, and I feel like I've mothered many things. And I don't think it's fair to put that pressure on people."
Aniston slams the tabloid coverage in an interview with InStyle, saying, "I realize they need to sell magazines, but it's really getting old. What kills me is when friends send me pictures they've taken at a newsstand. One magazine says, 'Desperate and alone,' and the other one says, 'She's eloped!' I mean, at least consult. Don't make yourself look like an idiot. I'm going to be 50 and they're still gonna be saying, 'She's pregnant!' ... When I'm pregnant and married, I will let you know. Not a tabloid publication. Not Bulls*** Times or Crapass Bulls*** Times Weekly. They will not be telling you And by the way, stop stealing my thunder! Let me have the fun of telling that story."
She tells CBS News she tries not to pay attention to the headlines. "There was a period where I was hell-bent on saying, 'That's not true, that's not right, that's not fair.' And now I just think you have to let it roll off your back and you realize, I think everyone knows it's all BS and, like, soap opera on paper."
Aniston has married Theroux at this point, but nothing stops as far as tabloid lies. First, she's adopting with guidance from her friend Sandra Bullock, who has children by adoption.
That summer, bikini photos from a Bahamas vacation leads to rumors they are expecting. "Jennifer is not pregnant," her rep says. "This is just another fabrication. What you see is her having just enjoyed a delicious big lunch and her feeling safe on private property."
Enough is enough! Aniston writes an op-ed for Huffington Post blasting the tabloids over the constant body-shaming. For the record, I am not pregnant. What I am is fed up," she writes. "We use celebrity 'news' to perpetuate this dehumanizing view of females, focused solely on one’s physical appearance, which tabloids turn into a sporting event of speculation. Is she pregnant? Is she eating too much? Has she let herself go? Is her marriage on the rocks because the camera detects some physical 'imperfection'? ... The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant (for the bajillionth time... but who’s counting) points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they're not married with children. In this last boring news cycle about my personal life there have been mass shootings, wildfires, major decisions by the Supreme Court, an upcoming election, and any number of more newsworthy issues that 'journalists' could dedicate their resources towards. Here's where I come out on this topic: We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child."
Aniston tells Ellen DeGeneres she was "was pretty raw" when she wrote the op-ed — after her mother had died and she and Theroux had gone to the Bahamas to relax. While there "we were mobbed" out of nowhere. "A scary kind of mob... I kept thinking, 'Is Kim Kardashian behind me or something?' ... It turns out that another wonderful photograph, which I've had to sort of live with for the last 10 to 15 years: a picture of me with a bump and a circle around my stomach with an arrow pointing to it. Just in this sort of kind of objectifying way, and I was just fed up with it."
A year later, nothing had really changed, Aniston tells Vogue. "I was finally like, This has just got to stop! I couldn't hear this narrative anymore about being pregnant or not pregnant; you have no idea what is going on personally in our lives and why that is or is not happening… In my own brain, I've shifted my perspective, so who gives a s***!"
Aniston and Theroux announce the end of their marriage — one year after Pitt and Jolie ended their marriage — and it's like 2000 all over again. There are so many stories about Aniston and Pitt reuniting but also that she is finally having his baby.
Tabs also claim that the reason Aniston's marriage to Theroux ended was because her attempt to have a "miracle baby" ended in "heartbreaking failure" and she had a "tragic miscarriage in her second month of pregnancy after IVF."
As the year wraps, Aniston again made it clear she is OK not having a child. "I don’t feel a void," she tells Elle. "I really don't. My marriages, they've been very successful, in [my] personal opinion. And when they came to an end, it was a choice that was made because we chose to be happy, and sometimes happiness didn't exist within that arrangement anymore." By endlessly focusing on whether she's married or has kids, "You're diminishing everything I have succeeded at, and that I have built and created. It's such a shallow lens that people look through. It's the only place to point a finger at me as though it's my damage — like it's some sort of a scarlet letter on me that I haven't yet procreated, or maybe won't ever procreate... Everybody's path is different." She adds, "Some people are just built to be wives and have babies. I don't know how naturally that comes to me. Who knows what the future holds in terms of a child and a partnership — how that child comes in … or doesn't? And now with science and miracles, we can do things at different times than we used to be able to."
2019 & 2020
For the next few years, it's stories about who single Aniston will date next — and the continued narrative about Pitt, whom she invites to her 50th birthday party and whom she publicly reunites with backstage at the SAG Awards. It's rumored they are having a baby — or adopting together. She also remains friendly with Theroux, so there are rumors they are getting back together.
Aniston's rep denies that she told her Friends co-stars at the reunion that she's adopting a child from Mexico. Her rep calls the story a "fabrication."
She, again, addresses tabloid obsession with her having a child. "I haven't seen a tabloid in so long," she says in conversation with the Hollywood Reporter. "Am I still having twins? Am I going to be the miracle mother at 52?" She says she "used to take it all very personally — the pregnancy rumors and the whole 'Oh, she chose career over kids' assumption. It’s like, 'You have no clue what’s going with me personally, medically, why I can't … can I have kids?' They don't know anything, and it was really hurtful and just nasty."
The Morning Show star tells People, "Sometimes you can't help family members or people sending stuff over going, 'What is this? You're having a baby? Are you getting married?' It's like, 'Oh, good gosh, when and how many years will it take for you to ignore that silliness?'"
In the last print issue of Allure, Aniston lets down her guard, revealing a real-life — not all the tabloid garbage — fertility struggle and IVF journey. "I was trying to get pregnant. It was a challenging road for me, the baby-making road" she tells the outlet. "All the years and years and years of speculation… It was really hard. I was going through IVF, drinking Chinese teas, you name it. I was throwing everything at it. I would've given anything if someone had said to me, 'Freeze your eggs. Do yourself a favor.' You just don’t think it. So here I am today. The ship has sailed." And she has "zero regrets. I actually feel a little relief now because there is no more, 'Can I? Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.' I don't have to think about that anymore." She also specifically mentioned the narrative, around her Pitt marriage, that she was too career-centric to start a family "And God forbid a woman is successful and doesn't have a child. And the reason my husband left me, why we broke up and ended our marriage, was because I wouldn’t give him a kid. It was absolute lies. I don’t have anything to hide at this point."
Aniston's comments are everywhere, as well as reflection on what she's had to deal with publicly while navigating her fertility privately. Among those to publicly react to her comments is Theroux, who comments with a fist bump and red heart emojis on social media.