She Cried for Months


Mother At 53 Sort Of

Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.

- Michael Levine

The maid brings me green tea in a Japanese pot and lights three candles; the scent of sandalwood drifts through the huge open-plan Hollywood living room.  There is not a sound to be heard.  Just pouring the tea produces a great cacophony of tinkling and gurgling that has me looking nervously over my shoulder for the feng shui police.

I am waiting for Cheryl Tiegs, the world's first supermodel, blonde beauty and original California girl.  In 1978, Time magazine put her on its cover with the caption "The all-American model".

She is 53 now, and famous all over again for producing twin boys, Jaden Joseph and Theo Reid, now almost 7 months old.  Only, she famously didn't produce them herself: she paid a surrogate, a much younger woman, to carry and bear babies conceived in a dish from her eggs and the sperm of her new husband.

This has raised big questions in America about procreation and the biological clock, and suggests that a woman need not organise her life according to her traditional child-bearing years.  "I don't think that age is a criterion in what you want to do," Tiegs says.  "We are setting boundaries today that have never been set before."

Since Tiegs married her yoga teacher, 43-year-old Rod Stryker, she has pushed back her own boundaries in the quest for inner peace.  But where is the noise, energy and visible debris that follows the arrival of not one but two babies?  On the custom-built bookshelves above the soot-free fireplace there are leather-bound copIes of Encyclopaedia Britannica, but there is not a cuddly toy or stray bootee to be seen.  And where is the rubble from her first child, 10-year-old Zak?

"Oh, I am a very organised person," says Tiegs, drifting weightlessly through her home to settle on the sofa.

She is in great shape, and clearly happy, but there is another side to the twins' story, and it is not long before Tiegs is telling it.  For all the Hollywood gloss, becoming a mother at her age, and without a pregnancy, has been traumatic.

"I just cried for months and months before the babies were born and afterwards.  I was so scared of losing myself.  I really do believe that the boys have added to my life rather than taken away from it.  But it can be so overwhelming.  I was so afraid."

Motherhood is different this time around for Tiegs; having looked after Zak for most of his life, she no longer sees the kitchen and nursery as her natural habitat.  "It is being happy within that counts," she explains.  "It takes a lot of work.  You have to monitor yourself not just daily but hourly to make sure you are okay and at peace within."  Every afternoon she must lie down for an hour or so, just to let her pulse rate drop.

Why then, I wonder, did she embark on such a demanding adventure?  "Because my husband is 10 years younger and had never had a child," she says.  "When we married, I agreed that I would try.  I just could not say to him that I have Zak and that I do not need more kids.  I had the energy and the financial wherewithal.  It was at his urging, and I agreed."

But Tiegs also understood that she needed the children herself, because there is a part of her nature that is deeply introverted, perhaps even cold, and she is prone to disappear into lonely self-absorption.  She was born on her family's isolated farm in the frozen north of Minnesota.  There was no running water or plumbing, and she had only her older sister, now a nurse, for a playmate.  "We had one pair of shoes, and they were for winter," Tiegs says.

"In summer, we went barefoot.  There was no tap water; we went to the well.  And do you know, that is not a memory of poverty or hardship because I can still taste that water and I still search for anything that tastes as pure and as cool."

Her father joined the migration from the Mid-West to California when Tiegs was five.  "We had a suburban house and two cars and went to the movies and to the beach," she says.  "To my Dad, California was paradise."

It seemed good to Tiegs, too, but she was always a quiet child, preferring, just as Zak does now, to read books and draw than to join in team sports and party crowds.  It was her best buddy in the late sixties who persuaded her to try modelling, then still considered the preserve of haughty Europeans.

We used to read Seventeen magazine together and my friend would say that I was just as pretty as the models," she says, "so I agreed to see an agent."  The friend turned out to be right.  A new look was needed for the seventies, and Cheryl Tiegs's natural beauty fitted the bill.

By the end of the decade, she was the ubiquitous cover girl for Glamour magazine and Sports Illustrated; the annual "swimsuit issue" was basically created as showcase for her.  She signed record-breaking deals with Sears Roebuck, Clairol and Cover Girl Cosmetics for $15 million.  "Before the Time magazine cover and those contracts, people knew models by their faces, but not their names, she says.  "After that, we had names and personalities.  It was a different world."

Giddy professional success however, proved hard to match in her private life.  In her early 20s, Tiegs married - naively, she admits - a Hollywood film director, Stan Dragoti.  But the relationship ended soon after he was arrested for cocaine possession and dragged off to re-hab.  Her second husband was the Kenyan wildlife photographer and adventurer Peter Beard, a scion of the East Coast establishment who had dropped out to live in the African bush.  For three years, Tiegs seemed happy with him in the romantic living conditions of his camp.

But Beard, who later discovered the super model Iman wandering through a marketplace, proved at least as decadent and narcissistic as the men Tiegs had left behind in Hollywood, and by the mid-80s she was back in California.  There, she married Tony Peck, son or Gregory, and gave birth to a son, Zak.

But marriage number three did not last, either.  Tiegs went to live alone with Zak on a beach in northern California. and lost herself in motherhood and meditation.  She came back to Los Angeles 4 years ago and married Stryker a year later, after meeting him at his yoga class.

"Women today have such independence," she says:  "There are so many new rules.  But with greater freedom comes greater responsibilities, and that is hard.  I was safe on the beach, but I was becoming too isolated.  It's important to get back into the community.  I cried for 10 days before I left that place.  But as soon as I was barrelling along in the car, heading back here, I felt SO happy."

She is talking about crying again and, catching herself, falls silent.  I ask whether this would be a good moment to meet the kids.  Where are they?  Tiegs looks at her watch and says that they might be napping, but we could go and see.  We pass through the kitchen and into an annex that she has converted into the nursery for the children and a live-in nanny.

The boys are awake.  One is cradled on the arm of the nanny and sucking a bottle; the other is on the bed, gurgling as she rubs his back.

Tiegs reaches down to the boy on the bed and pats him gently on the stomach.  We chat and coo for a minute or two, and then Tiegs suggests we should leave them to get on with their routine.

As we leave, I realise that she has made no move to pick the boys up or make contact beyond that tentative touch.  As Tiegs and I turn away from the two little blond boys and their nanny, so quiet and hidden away, we seem to share a profound moment of sadness. - Daily Telegraph

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