ESPN’s Nicole Briscoe Talks Journey to Motherhood to ‘Destigmatize Miscarriage and Infertility’

Saren Cassotto Photography Nicole Briscoe and family

When Nicole Briscoe and her husband decided to start trying for a family, she noticed it wasn’t “going according to plan” — but never could have anticipated the journey that was ahead of her before she was finally able to become a mother.

Now 40 and mom to daughters Blake James, 4½, and Finley Evers, 7, with husband Ryan Briscoe, the ESPN SportsCenter anchor opens up to PEOPLE in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week about her own road to conception, which was filled with numerous hurdles.

Nicole and Ryan, 39, tried for 15 months to conceive on their own with no luck, then turned to fertility treatments — which, for the couple, amounted to six intrauterine inseminations (IUIs) and, when those didn’t pan out, multiple rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Luckily, their daughter Finley was born after that first round of IVF, which yielded two embryos (one — Finley — stuck upon their transfer, while the other didn’t). But the “rollercoaster of infertility” wasn’t over yet, and Nicole’s emotional scars persisted.

“You live in this 24-to-28 day window every month for however many years,” she says of trying to conceive. “Sometimes it goes by in a flash and sometimes it’s like, ‘Time to try again. Time to try again. Time to try again.’ And you have this small window, where you just hope, and then you have this window where it’s suddenly dashed, and it’s crushing.”

“And sometimes it feels like it’s going to bury you and sometimes you feel like you’re drowning. And then, sometimes, you’re numb to it,” Nicole adds.

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Courtesy Nicole Briscoe Nicole Briscoe

Courtesy Nicole Briscoe Nicole Briscoe

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Blake, the couple’s second child, was born after another round of IVF — but the process was also wracked with “so many stops” along the way, including several miscarriages and, later, a surprising discovery that taught the mom of two even more about the power of advocation.

“I had severe endometriosis. I lived through 10 years of infertility, countless miscarriages, an abdominal ectopic, two healthy pregnancies, and no one had ever uttered the word ‘endometriosis,’ “ Nicole says, revealing that doctors diagnosed her after she underwent surgery this past January following another pregnancy loss (the abdominal ectopic) and that she’d had “terrible periods” her “entire life.”

“There’s an anger that comes with it,” she tells PEOPLE of the diagnosis. “It’s like, ‘Why was I even in this situation?’ If somebody else had, early on, taken a look at this situation and said, ‘You know what? This is the easy answer, but let’s take a look at a few other things just to make sure.’ … But no one ever did that. No one ever took one extra step.”

“And hindsight is obviously 20/20, but oh my God, through the lens of what we know now, it could’ve been a much different journey,” Nicole muses, adding that she was so happy to finally have “a doctor who’s an ally.”

Courtesy Nicole Briscoe Nicole Briscoe

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During one of her miscarriages, Nicole remembers, she told her boss her alarm didn’t go off when she was late for work, because she didn’t want to tell him what had actually happened.

“He’s thinking I’m being irresponsible, and it’s no fault of his own, because I didn’t tell him the truth,” she says. “And the reality was, if he had known, that’s not going to be his reaction.”

“Sometimes we hold ourselves [and] the people around us to impossible standards, because no one’s talking, no one’s being honest,” Nicole tells PEOPLE. “If we would get to a point where we destigmatized the experience and the process and the failures that are, unfortunately, a natural part of it, I think we would all be healthier, and it would be a better environment for everyone — whether it’s the person going through it or the support system.”

Part of what she’s currently facing is a hysterectomy after her most recent pregnancy loss and subsequent endometriosis diagnosis, which she’ll be undergoing later this year to have her uterus removed. And while it will mean not carrying any more children, Nicole says the “miracle” of her two daughters was “so worth” the struggles she has faced.

“There is something to be said about when you have to try so hard to get that — there’s not a day that goes by that you don’t relish in it,” she says. “You don’t really take it for granted in a way that maybe you would [have otherwise], because you worked so hard to get to that point. Your children are so beyond wanted, and that’s just part of their story.”

Saren Cassotto Photography Nicole Briscoe’s daughters

Saren Cassotto Photography Nicole Briscoe and daughter

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On top of her recent abdominal ectopic and upcoming hysterectomy, Nicole, an avid runner, also recently underwent surgery on her knee (“I would have nine more [cesarean] sections before I ever go through this knee stuff again,” she admits), and had to put her training on hold.

“My goal is to be maybe cycling again sometime this summer,” she says, adding that she hopes to be running again by September with a goal of completing either the Boston, Chicago or New York City Marathon next fall.

Having used a “donor graft” for her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction in her knee, Nicole says it inspired her to do something meaningful as a way of thanking and “honoring” the donor family “who had to make a decision at a really insane time in their life where most people don’t even want to think about having to do that.”

“It’s going to eventually allow me to get back to a point in my life where I can enjoy skiing with my girls and going for a run,” she tells PEOPLE. “So I feel like doing one of those events is like a tribute — in my head, at least — to what this family has offered me.”

“I feel like if you’re going to get something like that from somebody, it’s such a gift that you need to use it wisely,” Nicole adds. “It feels like it’s the least that I can do.”

Melissa Rawlins / ESPN Images Nicole Briscoe

Saren Cassotto Photography Nicole Briscoe and family

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Now, almost five years after the birth of her second child, Nicole still remembers the “unique pain” of the cruel back-and-forth of infertility — and insists that “nothing ever takes away” the “pain and the disappointment, and the roller coaster that you experienced getting to that point” of parenthood.

And to help other women who have struggled (or are still struggling) along their own journeys’ paths, Nicole says, “I want us as women to destigmatize miscarriage and infertility. I want us to have those conversations. I want us to feel comfortable to go to our bosses and say, ‘You know what? I lost a baby and I need a minute.’ “

Nicole also notes, “A lot of times, when you go through something like this, you try to be strong, you try to be tough, you try to power through. And you are strong, you are tough and you have powered through more than you could possibly imagine.”

“Allow yourself the grace that you would encourage in others in the same situation,” she advises. “We are all so guilty of saying to others, ‘Take care of yourself — take the time that you need.’ But when it happens to you, do you ever allow yourself that grace? Chances are no. So reverse it. It’s okay to not be okay. Live in that moment, and take care of you.”