From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
From her earliest days as a bright-eyed young television reporter at a local Washington, D.C., station, Connie Chung was a woman of singular ambition, her sights set on a success somewhere over the horizon. Would she, a reporter once asked, be happy with a nightly network anchor slot? "My dreams are much more ambitious than that," she said. "I figure on being the first woman to land on Jupiter."

Now, nearly two decades after she first stepped in front of a TV camera, it is obvious that Connie Chung still has strong ambition—but of a quite different sort. On July 30, in a statement issued by CBS, Chung, 44 this month, announced a major cutback in her grueling schedule as anchor of the weekly newsmagazine Face to Face and CBS's Sunday evening news. Career goals, she made clear, were not what was at stake. Instead she and husband Maury Povich, 51, "have reached an important point in our lives. We want very much to have a child. Unfortunately time is running out for me when it comes to childbearing."

With that unusually candid public statement, Chung joined the growing number of American women now seeking to become first-time mothers after the age of 40—women who, for a variety of medical reasons, now have less chance of conceiving than they would have had at 20 or 30. Though Chung has been told, according to a source, that she is not infertile, she has enlisted medical help. "Just last week, after consulting with my doctors," Chung said, "I became convinced that to make this effort, I now need to take a very aggressive approach to having a baby."

Getting pregnant after biological prime time can be a difficult and often unnatural affair, one that can strain a marriage, cost a small fortune and breed a kind of heartache from which wealth and fame afford little protection. Perhaps mindful of the odds, Chung had not simply postponed childbearing for the sake of her career. "It's an assumption that she waited late in life to have a kid," says another source. "It's been going on for quite a while."

The youngest of 10 children of a financial manager in Washington, D.C., Chung once said that she never felt pressured to procreate: "I often feel like my father's son. I believe I've carried the family name on in a different way." But with the recent death of her father, a former intelligence officer under Chiang Kai-shek, there may have come a new urgency: "I think she may be feeling a generational imperative," says an acquaintance.

Unfortunately, for a woman used to running on her own timetable, it's tough to face up to an immutable one. "She took a long time to decide that she wanted to be married," commentator Linda Ellerbee says of Chung, who married Povich (he has two grown children from a former marriage) in 1984. "My guess is she gave it time to see if it worked out. Now is the time. It's also the last chance."

All too many women, it seems, are finding that out. When newscaster Mary Alice Williams, 41, who spent years climbing the ranks at CNN before joining NBC last year, married reporter Mark Haefeli in 1988, the last thing she expected was to become pregnant. During her first marriage, "I went through in vitro a number of times without success," she says, referring to a favored medical fertilization technique. "It was not my choice to wait."

But in January 1990, after conceiving—naturally—Williams gave birth to 8-lb., 9-oz. Alice Ann. Even now, she describes her two years in treatment for infertility as "the most difficult, emotional experience of my life. Every time it didn't work, it was devastating beyond description," she says softly. "I'm a writer, and I can't find a word to describe that."

Certainly not all over-40 first-time moms experience fertility trouble. In 1979 actress Ursula Andress unexpectedly found herself pregnant at 43, and, after a remarkably easy pregnancy, gave birth to son Dimitri. She says the decision to delay motherhood had absolutely nothing to do with her career. "I've always felt the most important thing was to have a marriage that goes well," says Andress, who was wed just once, to director John Derek, and lived for eight years with actor Jean-Paul Belmondo. "I never got to the child part because I was always thinking first about having a very stable marriage." Nevertheless, she did not marry then boyfriend Harry Hamlin, 15 years her junior, and has raised Dimitri on her own.

Like Andress, Glenn Close, 43, decided that matrimony wasn't a requisite for maternity. In 1988, after two divorces, she had a child with her live-in, producer John Starke, and announced that they had no intention of marrying. When, eight months pregnant, she arrived for her first costume fitting for Dangerous Liaisons, designer James Acheson, she said, told her, " 'I'm very pleased with your cleavage. Very pleased.' " She began filming her Oscar-nominated performance just seven weeks after daughter Annie Maude was born.

Some women, like Bette Midler, find their laissez-faire attitude about childbearing changing as the years tick by. At 34, Midler kidded with an interviewer that she'd like to have children someday—"before my uterus falls out." Yet her then boyfriend Aaron Russo insists she was hardly cavalier. "For her, being in love with the right guy was the issue," he says. "She waited because of that."

In 1986, two years after marrying Martin von Haselberg, the 40-year-old Midler gave birth to daughter Sophie, insisting then that it would take "at least two more babies to make my life worth living." A miscarriage in 1987 left her grieving. "Sometimes it's a brutal world," she said at the time, referring to the solace of her marriage. "It's good to have a haven."

Sadder still are the stories of women who endure years of artificial intervention without result. Now the mother of an adopted baby boy, actress JoBeth Williams, 39, gave moving testimony last year to a congressional committee about the eight years that she and her husband, director John Pasquin, struggled to have a baby. In 1988, after surgery and a series of artificial-insemination attempts, she did become pregnant, only to learn in a 12th-week sonogram that the fetus had died. "Over the next few months," she said in a faint voice at the hearing table, "I wondered if I might lose my mind."

For others, like actress Dee Wallace Stone and her husband, actor Christopher Stone, the birth of a baby (in this case, the now 21-month-old Gabrielle) almost erases the painful memories of infertility. "They shot dye in me and took X rays and all that stuff." Dee, 41, says of her five years of treatment, which included rounds of artificial insemination. "That's a real boon for romance, let me tell you. Getting up in the morning, taking your temperature and then saying, 'Honey, it's 8 o'clock. Here's your sperm cup.' "

Yet whatever the outcome, the attempt at motherhood by those who choose it, say veterans, is more than worthwhile. Like many of Chung's friends and colleagues, Mary Alice Williams offers nothing but encouragement. "I am so proud of her, so pleased for her—and I told her so," says Williams. "I didn't understand the word joy until my daughter was born. I didn't understand the word peace. It is worth it."

—Susan Schindehette, Sue Carswell in New York, Vicki Sheff and Robin Micheli in Los Angeles and bureau reports

  • Contributors:
  • Sue Carswell,
  • Vicki Sheff,
  • Robin Micheli.