But for Lakshmi, 39, conceiving a child was the fulfillment of a wish she once thought would be impossible. Earlier this year the cookbook author, jewelry designer and actress co-founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America, and revealed that she had undergone two surgeries for endometriosis.
The condition, in which tissues lining the uterus grow outside the uterus, is a common contributor to infertility. "If you have stage 1 or 2 endometriosis, it may decrease fertility by 10 to 15 percent," says Dr. Andrea Rapkin, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "If you have stage 3 or 4 endometriosis, which affects the fallopian tubes, the fertility rate even after surgery can be under 20 percent."
(Laksmhi hasn't revealed what level endometriosis she has, though experts say doctors typically only operate on stages 3 or 4.)
Fancy Meals for BabyLast week on Regis and Kelly, Lakshmi said that as a result of her condition, she waited as long as she could to share her happy news. "It was a little touch and go," she said. "But everything's fabulous. Now that I told everyone, I think my body has relaxed and I've just got this little Buddha belly!"
That belly – which Lakshmi told PEOPLE gets slathered in butter daily – is being nourished with some haute cuisine. In recent days, Lakshmi has catalogued her meals on her Twitter page, ranging from chilequiles with refried green enchiladas and green apple mint chutney to mangoes grown in her mother's garden.
Father a MysteryFor now Lakshmi, who divorced author Salman Rushdie in 2007, is keeping mum about the identity of her baby's father-except to say it isn't her frequent companion Manu Nathan, who she says is "a cousin and dear friend."
Raised chiefly by her mother Vijaya in India and New York City, Lakshmi has a strong example of a single mother should she be facing motherhood on her own."If she happens to be a single mother," says Mendelsohn, the chef and owner of Washington, D.C.'s Good Stuff Eatery.
"She is definitely one of the women capable of doing that without a problem," he says. "She's well traveled, she's seen the world, she's embraced different cultures, and she's really into food and cooking. She's going to nurture her child in those ways."
Fellow contestant Nikki Cascone adds, "I'm sure that baby will be well fed, and well loved!"
Reporting by LIZA HAMM, NATASHA STOYNOFF and ALYSSA SHELASKY
PeopleTV Archive: Padma Lakshmi Talks Chefs & Showgirls