Sonia Kruger speaks out against IVF stigma

Friendly and unpretentious: Rosa's Kitchen was bustling with the Friday working-lunch crowd.
Friendly and unpretentious: Rosa's Kitchen was bustling with the Friday working-lunch crowd. Photo: Anu Kumar

Within a day, possibly only hours, of revealing she was pregnant, TV personality Sonia Kruger had intimate details of her personal life splashed all over newspapers and the internet in a manner that might make even an over-sharing celebrity wince.

Not that staying silent was an option. For the past fortnight, Kruger's baby bump has been evident beneath the va-va-voom outfits she wears as host of Big Brother. By the time the show wraps, her bump will be the size of a watermelon.

Nor would it be the straight-shooting Kruger's style to not be frank and honest about herself.

Small antipasto, stuffed sardines and calamari with parsley salt at Rosa's Kitchen.
Small antipasto, stuffed sardines and calamari with parsley salt at Rosa's Kitchen. Photo: Anu Kumar

"I've never lied," says the gregarious Kruger, who looks at least 10 years younger than her 49 years, over lunch at Rosa's Kitchen. "When someone asks me a question I answer it as honestly as I can. More importantly, it's important to me to not mislead women out there as if it was some kind of miracle baby," she says; a thinly veiled riposte to Women's Weekly magazine, which plastered the line "My Miracle Pregnancy ..." on its cover after Kruger announced her pregnancy at the end of her first trimester.

"It's science, not a miracle," says Kruger. "Unfortunately, that (headline) is really misleading to women. Thirty years ago when IVF first came up people were very suspicious about it. Questions about ethics and morality all came up. If you look at how common it is now, people don't bat an eyelid."

Though TV has come a long way since the days of I Love Lucy, when the word "expectant" was considered safer than "pregnant", baby bumps are still notable for their scarcity on screen. A decade ago, baby bumps – be they real, imagined or a trick of a camera lens – were tabloid fodder. But these days, it's the IVF ordeals of TV personalities, such as comedienne Mary Coustas and reporter Leila McKinnon or at the other end of the popular culture spectrum the so-called Octomom, that seem to capture the public's attention.

For her part, Kruger is resolute about shining a light on IVF and late parenthood, if only to take away some of the stigma.

"I hate disappointing people. I'd be very disappointed (not talking frankly), I'd want to know more. Coming from that side of the fence of being the person asking the questions I also want to be as honest and open as possible unless I feel there's some danger in doing that."

A large part of Kruger's appeal and popularity is her unfiltered and often cheeky spontaneity on live TV. Her first breakthrough was as Tina Sparkle in Baz Luhrmann's 1992 musical film Strictly Ballroom. But she fast discovered that dramatic roles, crying-on-command and pre-rehearsed lines weren't for her.

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She learned the ropes of TV on the afternoon kid's show Wonder World, before being offered the co-hosting duties of the breakout, family-friendly competition show Dancing With The Stars.

She's now the host of Big Brother, the real-life soap opera. "It's the romance, the drama, the conflict, all that stuff becomes compelling after a while."

To the kids at home, the contestants – invariably they're a motley bunch that includes a handful of desirable young men and women, an oddball, an extrovert with narcissistic tendencies, a mysterious dark horse, etc – are larger-than-life characters whose sequestered situation they can relate to.

Sonia Kruger: "When someone asks me a question I answer it as honestly as I can."
Sonia Kruger: "When someone asks me a question I answer it as honestly as I can." Photo: Anu Kumar

"I think viewers put themselves into their situation. I know I have. If I went into the house, how would people in the outside world see me; would they like me, would they hate me?"

And while some contestants, Kruger believes, are driven by the hope of building a career in the media, the majority aren't.

"I think why so many of them go onto have radio careers is because the people who are conversationalists in the house stand out and it's a natural progression to go into radio. They don't necessarily go into a breakfast slot in Sydney or Melbourne, but they get a foot in the door if they have natural talent. It's not that way for everyone. We've had interesting people in the house – Tim Dormer (winner of the 2013 series) was a strange cat who liked to stir the pot – but that's just him. Those people have meant that we don't just get the show ponies. The average age this year is 27, in the past it was 23. It's about their life experiences."

Kruger's professional plans beyond the Big Brother finale are unclear. "I imagine that three months is the norm in terms of maternity leave," she says, before relating a characteristically wise-ass anecdote about a colleague who boasted about how awesome her network was about taking-off time after having a baby. "I'll probably get the weekend off," her friend said.

"I guess the thing is we have it a lot better than most working mums."