Gabrielle Union on Her New Children’s Book, Overcoming Loss, and Rising Above It All
From her struggle with infertility to her latest project, the actress talks about why representation will always be a priority
Gabrielle Union has seemingly done it all. From movies to television shows to hosting, there is nothing the actress hasn’t explored. Decades into her career, Union has now unveiled another talent — writing children’s books. The wife to former basketball player, Dwyane Wade, has been very open about married life and more significantly, her struggles with infertility. She revealed in 2018 that she was diagnosed with adenomyosis, which affects a woman’s uterus. The actress has suffered numerous miscarriages and has attempted in vitro fertilization in the past with no success.
Enter Welcome to the Party.
Published earlier this month, Union’s first children’s book follows her 2017 memoir We’re Going to Need More Wine. It highlights the arrival of her 17-month-old daughter, Kaavia James Union Wade, whom the actress affectionately calls Kaav, with animation by Ashley Evans. The children’s book is a “universal love letter” that celebrates nontraditional families in an effort to let them know that they are welcomed and appreciated.
Lamenting over how this affected her family, Union’s vulnerability and the endless lessons she learned from her mother have prepared her for the life she lives today.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ZORA: What is one of the most memorable experiences that you remember with your mother as a child? And how has that shaped you as an individual?
Gabrielle Union: My mom, to say that she’s a voracious reader is a massive understatement. So I grew up firmly believing that the library was the coolest, most awesome place ever. And to get a library card, she did an amazing job of like, really selling a library. There’s also a place called Fairyland in Oakland at Lake Merritt and going there, they would have these different readings in the Children’s Museum. One of my favorite memories is my mom taking me to go see Nikki Giovanni reading poetry at the Oakland Children’s Museum. You would have thought that somebody was telling me I was going to Magic Mountain.
I read in an interview that you wrote this book for adoptive parents as well and mentioned that your mom adopted her first child at a later age in her life. How has that experience been for her?
My parents were married almost 30 years before they got divorced. She wanted to do it all over, her way, without having to compromise with a man. And so, it gave her a new lease on life. She’s a different kind of mother to my youngest siblings, just more free and less muted. She brings her full self to this group of kids. It’s like watching her be reborn.
What were the easiest and hardest parts about writing your new children’s book Welcome to the Party?
[laughs] The easiest was coming up with the title. When we first introduced her [Kaavia] to the world, we said, “Welcome to the party.” The dedication was a difficult experience. The hardest part was acknowledging the fucking brutal heartbreak of this long-ass journey and knowing how many other families have just been in the same spot.
“If I can’t use my privilege to share, then what’s the point?”
How have your stepchildren embraced Kaavia since her arrival?
They were along on the fertility journey, and they saw all the heartbreak and false starts, all the crushing blows of miscarriage. At times they didn’t know what to say or feel. By the time we know that the surrogate pregnancy was in a “safe space” and we could tell them, it’s just been joy. They’ve wanted to just wrap her in protection.
In an interview with Oprah in 2018, shortly after Kaavia was born, you and your husband noted that you were inspired by former first lady Michelle Obama’s IVF story in her memoir Becoming. How do you feel about people looking to you and Dwyane Wade as an inspiration for openly talking about surrogacy?
Sharing is terrifying, and you don’t know what people are going to do with your truth. My whole point in being more transparent is so people aren’t feeling alone. I’ve definitely felt like I was painfully alone and very isolated. I have access to enough therapists and health care professionals that I feel safe enough and healed enough to be able to share in a constructive, community-building kind of way. If I can’t use my privilege to share, then what’s the point?
Why was enlisting a Black animator, Ashley Evans, important to you?
I wanted somebody who looked like me to animate my book. Adding in our editor, and it was our little trifecta. It’s important to understand your privilege and understand that you have the ability to put people on and do that. So many Black editors, writers, and illustrators don’t get these opportunities, and I wanted to make sure, at least with this book, we do. I try to center and amplify the most marginalized of us and give people opportunities that are routinely overlooked and ignored.
Do you have any more plans for writing another children’s book? And if you could give advice to any mother who is currently on a nontraditional journey to motherhood, what would it be?
As for more children’s books, later announcements will be made. As for mothers, do not be led by fear or shame because your journey might not look like other people’s. Know that whatever you choose to do is the right thing. You are loved, you are perfect. There is nothing defective. Reject this notion of failure. Reject this notion that motherhood has rejected you. We waste so much of the time when we feel like if we are not chosen we are not worthwhile. The reality is that you’re beautiful and amazing and deserving of all of life’s joys, peace, and love just by existing.
Welcome to the Party is available here.