After finding incredible success with her box office hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002, Nia Vardalos couldn’t wait to make another one of her dreams come true: becoming a mom.
Unfortunately, Vardalos’ road to motherhood took much longer than she ever expected.
“It was a sad process for me to become a mom and a long process,” Vardalos tells PEOPLE.
The actress and her husband, former Cougar Town star Ian Gomez, 51, tried for years to have a child. But after 13 failed IVF treatments, unsuccessful surrogate attempts and several miscarriages, the couple realized having a child was not going to happen as they had hoped.
“I felt so embarrassed that I couldn’t have a biological child,” Vardalos, 53, tells PEOPLE.
She also admits this was the main reason for the 14-year wait for the follow-up to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which she wrote and produced.
At the end of the original comedy, she had written that her character had become a mother. Yet, without having the real-life experience, she felt she couldn’t write the role authentically.
“I wouldn’t know the emotions of what to write. I just said, ‘I can’t do it,’ ” she says.
But Vardalos never gave up and found her solution by turning to the American foster-care system. In 2008, after more than nine years of struggling to become parents, she and Gomez got a call they’d been matched with a 3-year-old girl.
Today, the couple’s 10-year-old daughter, Ilaria, is the joy of their lives and Vardalos couldn’t be happier about being a mom.
“I am so grateful and can’t imagine my life without her.”
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 hits theaters March 25.
For more on My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and Vardalos’ personal journey to motherhood, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
— Mia McNiece