Jillian Michaels has her hands full. In the last two weeks, two children have joined her household, and the modern concrete Hollywood Hills home she shares with Heidi Rhoades, her partner of three years, has become overrun with burping cloths, bottles and puzzle pieces. On one recent afternoon, her daughter Lukensia, 2, adopted from Haiti, tries out one of the few words she knows. “Mama!” she squeals as Michaels puts her down for a nap.
“I got you, baby girl,” says Michaels, who then massages the feet of little Phoenix, the son Rhoades gave birth to on May 3. “He already knows how he likes to be held,” says Michaels. “It’s incredible how they already have likes and dislikes!”
A patient, soothing Jillian Michaels? Ditching her tough, calorie commando Biggest Loser persona, Michaels, 38, is unabashedly revealing her softer side now that she’s suddenly a mom. “Seeing my two kids together is a magical feeling,” says Michaels, whose intent was to adopt from abroad after leaving Biggest Loser in 2011. Little did she know that she would also fall in love with Rhoades, 31, and double the size of their household in the span of a month. “It was not the way we had planned it! That’s how our life works,” says Rhoades. “It’s always big. It could never be something like one child at a time.”
Adds Michaels: “Life? You can’t manipulate it or bend it to your will. You have no choice but to roll with it.”
It’s a new chapter that Michaels only recently imagined. At age 16, she was diagnosed with endometriosis-a medical condition where tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus instead grows outside of it and can affect fertility. “I understood it would be tough for me to have biological kids. It was something that I accepted, especially because at that time in my life I didn’t even think I would want kids,” she says. Her opinion changed when she hit 35 and worked with families on the show Losing It with Jillian. “Witnessing the bond between a parent and their little ones firsthand really brought home to me how much I was missing,” she says.
But it was a hard road to parenthood. “The adoption process was not an easy one,” she says. “The paperwork took nine months. It’s a full-time thing!” But when she heard nothing from adoption agencies, “I was despondent,” she admits. Still, she never gave up hope: “I felt the calling to adopt. You just know in the deepest part of your being that you are meant to find this little soul and guide them through life.”
Around the same time she submitted her adoption application, Michaels was getting more serious with Rhoades, a former music manager whom she met through mutual friends. “We were dating without any pretense,” says Michaels. “Our relationship happened to intersect with my desire to be a parent, and Heidi was supportive.” Then last year, Rhoades’s biological clock started kicking in as well. “Heidi was feeling invested in us, and she was like, ‘What if I try to get pregnant and whatever happens happens?'” Michaels recalls. “I said, ‘Baby, if that’s what you want to do and that’s what’s meant to be, then I support you.'”
They learned to lean on each other during a heartbreaking year filled with silence from adoption agencies and failed pregnancy attempts. (The couple declined to reveal what method Rhoades used to conceive.) Then last summer, Rhoades discovered she was pregnant at the same time they got news they were matched with a little boy in Haiti. But when they traveled to meet him, the adoption fell apart after the agency insisted that the baby should be in a home with a father. “I was like, ‘Okay, it’s not meant to be,'” says Michaels. As they visited different orphanages, “there was this little girl holding on to Heidi, and in that moment I thought, ‘This is our daughter,'” says Michaels.
She was right: Since Lu came home on May 12, Michaels and Rhoades have slowly introduced her to her new life. “She’s never seen dogs before, so she was terrified when we got home, but she’s gotten much better,” says Michaels, who has a Chihuahua mix, an Italian greyhound mix and a shih tzu mix. One new thing Lu loves? “She thinks a banana is a gift from God.” As for quality time, “the newborn needs breast milk, so when he’s fed and Lu is good, Heidi and I swap kids and bond, bond, bond,” Michaels says. “My son is strong! He almost jumped out of my arms.”
As for expanding the family? “No way!” says Michaels. “I turned around for five seconds the other day and Lu had spaghetti all over her hair.” But it’s messy moments like these that Michaels looks forward to the most. “I want to be in the moment and enjoy all the nuances of their growth and development. I don’t want to rush any of it. I can’t wait for every day.” So even though she hasn’t been to the gym in two weeks and has started drinking coffee again after giving it up two years ago for health reasons, Michaels isn’t sweating the lifestyle changes. “I have yet to figure out how to take care of myself right now,” says Michaels, who would also like to apologize to all the parents she coached on Loser. “Telling moms ‘You need to put yourself first’?” she says, rolling her eyes. “It’s impossible to put yourself first when you’re a mom. Now it’s like, no, we’re not going to watch Mad Men, we’re going to play blocks. Parenting is not for sissies. You have to sacrifice and grow up.”