Padma Lakshmi: ‘I Was Told I Would Never Have a Child Naturally’

03/12/2015 at 12:30 PM ET

As a young girl, Padma Lakshmi suffered from undiagnosed endometriosis so severe, she tells PEOPLE, “I had to stay home several days a month from school. I missed a week of my life for 23 years.”

The Top Chef host, 44, reveals her symptoms included bloating, cramping, excessive bleeding and severe abdominal pain — but it was something no one really spoke about.

“It’s embarrassing,” she admits. “It’s something that is deeply private and personal.”

It wasn’t until she was 36 that Dr. Tamer Seckin identified her symptoms as endometriosis — which occurs when the uterine lining cannot be expelled with a woman’s period and grows outside the uterus — and performed surgery to remove the excess tissue. From there, Lakshmi partnered with Dr. Seckin to found the Endometriosis Foundation of America.

Padma Lakshmi Endometriosis diagnosis miracle baby
Christina Paige

“I wanted to raise awareness so that no young girl has to wonder what is wrong with her like I did for so many years,” she says. That’s why the EFA — thanks to the support of New York State Senator Jeff Klein — recently launched the The ENPOWR Project, which focuses on education programs to help young girls learn to recognize the symptoms of endometriosis.

After she was diagnosed, there were other hurdles for Lakshmi. “I was told I would never have children naturally, that I only had a 10 to 15 percent of having them in vitro,” she recalls. “When you’re staring down the barrel of your 40th birthday and you hear that you can’t have kids because this disease went unchecked and undiagnosed for so many years, it’s devastating.”

That is why she calls the birth of her daughter, Krishna, in 2010, “a miracle.” She says, “I’m so lucky to have her. Her middle name is Thea, which means ‘gift from God.’ ”

At just 5-years-old, Lakshmi’s “miracle” is getting in on her mom’s efforts. While Lakshmi plans the upcoming April 13 Blossom Ball to benefit the EFA, Krishna is also trying to do her part.

Recently, the proud mom says, “she was separating the coins from her piggybank and she said, ‘Mommy, you can have my money for your charity.’ She knows that Mom has a charity for women with ‘tummy aches.’ She wants to help.”

Padma Lakshmi Endometriosis diagnosis miracle baby
Christina Paige

For more of our interview with Padma Lakshmi, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

— Liz McNeil

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Sara K on

Gorgeous mother and gorgeous daughter, and great cause. Many blessings.

Dogman69 on

I didn’t expect her to be that close to the screen!

Josorio683 on

I suffer from Endometriosis and it took them over ten years to finally diagnosed me. I was told by many OB/GYN doctors, that I would never get pregnant. The ENDO got so bad the pain prevented me from having a normal life. One OB/GYN, an ENDOCRINOLOGIST and my PCP believed they could help me with my pain and with trying to have a baby. In 2010 I gave birth to a child. I still have Endometriosis and it’s painful but at least is not stoping me from enjoying life; and I am so glad that “famous” people with this condition are helping others to be aware about this illness that so many doctors fail to detect (mostly because they don’t want to). Good for Padma, she has her child, and is reaching out to many girls and women that may have this illness, to help them get treatment and to help them not to lose hope. THANKS!

DeeDee on

OMG…this sounds like my life story this article could’ve been easily been written about me, as I was told the same exact thing just 2 months ago. Now at 40, having never been pregnant I’m unsure what to do.

Amanda on

People should be aware that when young girls are told they cannot have children that it only accentuates the teenage ‘it won’t happen to me’ mindset.
Sincerely the girl who was told at 16 she had endo and would likely not get pregnant naturally…and ended up pregnant at 17.
Great cause but I really wish drs would stop telling people they won’t be able to have children. How many stories do you hear about people who weren’t supposed to have children, and yet they had them? I know of at least 5, other than myself, and those are people I personally know. I’m sure I know more that I just don’t talk about it with.

mamacfita on

Very happy for her, and the work she’s doing is great.

However, the term should be have a child ‘biologically’. As an adopted child, I am ‘natural’. 🙂

Annabelle on

Any doctor that tells someone they can’t get pregnant because of endometriosis is an idiot unless you’ve had your tubes ovaries or uterus removed. SOME women with endo have trouble and some get pregnant just fine. You wont know until you try to get pregnant. Saying you absolutely can’t get pregnant before someone even tries leads to unnecessary fear and unintended pregnancies .

nope on

terrible looking portrait!

maryhelenc on

My best friend went through a similar thing. She has a beautiful son but she went through so much. I hope more women speak out & bring awareness to this.

Luna on

Endometriosis wrecked my life as well. Five surgeries, Lupron treatments, natural/medical therapies, and I ended up having a full hysterectomy at age 29. People who don’t understand Endo need to educate themselves, as it is a very common misdiagnosed disease, and a painful one as well. I didn’t know I had it until I was 28 but by 29 and a surgery later, I was never able to have children. Thank you, Padma, for speaking out. May you and Krishna be blessed!

Mary on

@Kathy she had been with Adam Dell for nearly two years when she got pregnant…most couples at that point no longer use protection unless it’s to prevent pregnancy.

I too wish doctors would stop telling women ‘you’ll never be able to have children’ unless it is 100% true. My BFF was also told ‘you’ll never get pregnant without medical intervention’, so she and hubby didn’t use birth control. One day she goes to the doc because she thinks she has the flu and surprise, she’s not sick! We celebrated her flu’s 12th birthday a couple weeks ago…lol.

Terry on

I have endo. I was also told at the age of 17 that I would never have a biological child or if I did it would only be through a lot of medical intervention. Flash forward three years and I was pregnant unintentionally and “naturally”. But for that I am so grateful as I haven’t been able to have another one since and I have a miracle daughter.

OS on

I’ve never been particularly interested in putting my experiences here, but in this case it hits very close to home and I feel like speaking about this terrible disease.
I have just turned 30, I was diagnosed with endometriosis when I was 25, when they found my left ovary needed to be taken out because it was to compromised by that point, it was never detected before.
At that point I was a workaholic, grew up in a very dysfunctional family and put all my efforts in to being professionally successful, cause that was all I had, I ‘ve change my life, my point of view and my actions from that point.
I have met the love of my life, we’ve been together for two years, and I pray for a miracle as well, to be able to be a good mother, to have the chance to have the family that I didn’t had.
My support and honest love goes out to everyone with this horrible disease.

Mara on

I suffered for many years with this before finally diagnosed in my mid-thirties. Although I never could conceive, my husband and I adopted two great kids. Wouldn’t change a thing! As a side note, menopause brought a new lease on life. The endo. doesn’t have the monthly cycle it needs to fuel it.

Fred on

This is probably a good thing. No child wants to see his 45 year old mother in a bikini competing with 20-nothing’s. Really, it’s unattractive to see someone so desperate try to relive a youth she may not have had. Absolutely ridiculous, Padmaja, really! Grow up…you want to be a parent – act like one.

Marky on

Nope, it just astounds me that people like you tend to post only with the desire to be rude and insulting toward whichever celeb the article is about. “Terrible looking portrait”? You wish you could look that good at the same age she is! She looks great, and cooks well too. You apparently have been struck by envy….how sad.

Paula on

She does a great job on the good cause and speaking out about it. Her daughter is gorgeous.

Lily on

Fred, your illiteracy is breathtaking.

Guest on

Padma is a hot lady!

k on

There’s no one that I know of who has this but how awful, how can you have a normal s…x life with this? Periods are bad enough on a regular basis; I can’t even imagine this.