Medical Challenges, Dog Drama and More: A Look Back at Lena Dunham's Emotional Year
Dunham underwent her fifth surgery in hopes of living an endometriosis-free life, and the procedure seemed to gone seamlessly at the time. “My surgery went off without a hitch,” she wrote in an edition of Lenny Letter after going under the knife for endometriosis — a disorder that causes tissue that normally grows inside the uterus to grow outside of it, leading to intense pain. “When I emerged, cotton-mouthed, [Dr. Randy Harris] told me something I hadn’t expected to hear, maybe ever: there was no endometriosis left. Between my surgeries and hormonal intervention, I was disease-free. That doesn’t mean it can never return, but for now, once my sutures have been removed and my bruises have changed from blue to yellow to green to gone, I will be healthy.”
Dunham has been open about her struggles with endometriosis and how it’s impacted her life over the years.
Following the 2017 Met Gala, Dunham was rushed to the hospital due to complications from endometriosis. After a day in the hospital, she returned home to rest. A few weeks after, the Girls star wrote candidly about her struggle in Lenny Letter. “I’m in the greatest amount of physical pain that I have ever experienced,” she said.
In June, Dunham opened up about a personal pet struggle she’d been dealing with on Instagram. She and Antonoff decided to re-home their dog, Lamby, following “four years of challenging behavior and aggression.” Dunham faced criticism on social media for the decision, in particular, for claiming that “terrible abuse” in the pet’s past caused the behavior issues she dealt with in Lamby. Robert Vazquez, a spokesperson for BARC, the shelter that Dunham adopted Lamby from, said that Lamby “wasn’t crazy” when Dunham adopted him. However, Dunham’s dog trainer Matt Beisner, came to her defense. “She was at her wit’s end,” he said.
Dunham echoed those words in her original social media post. “Sometimes when you love something you have to let it go,” she wrote. “Especially when it requires tetanus shots and stitches.”
In an edition of Lenny Letter, Dunham said that she had started experiencing rosacea for the first time in her life after taking a course of steroids to treat joint pain. She said that the loss of what she had called her “perfect” skin was “hard.”
“Seven years of being treated in the public eye like a punch line about female imperfection may not have felt like it was wearing me down, but it had actually forced me to rely emotionally on my one area of fully conventional beauty: my perfect skin,” she wrote. “They couldn’t take away the fact that I was able to eat seven slices of pizza, a wine spritzer, and three quarters of a chocolate cake and still look like my face was kissed by sweet, sweet angels when I woke up.”
In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, as more and more allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the entertainment industry came to light, Dunham was swept up in scandal when Girls writer Murray Miller was accused of sexual assault. After actress Aurora Perrineau filed a complaint against Miller, Dunham and her Girls co-creator Jenni Konner released a statement defending Miller.
“During every time of change there are also incidences of the culture, in its enthusiasm and zeal, taking down the wrong targets,” Dunham and Konner said in a statement. “We believe, having worked closely with him for more than half a decade, that this is the case with Murray Miller. While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story, our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the three percent of assault cases that are misreported every year. It is a true shame to add to that number, as outside of Hollywood women still struggle to be believed. We stand by Murray and this is all we’ll be saying about this issue.”
The social media backlash to Dunham and Konner’s statement was swift. People called her a hypocrite, with one Twitter user writing, “Never call yourself an advocate for women again because you’ve just proven that you are NOT.” Within 24 hours, they released an apology. “I now understand that it was absolutely the wrong time to come forward with such a statement and I am so sorry,” they said. “We have been given the gift of powerful voices and by speaking out we were putting our thumb on the scale and it was wrong. We regret this decision with every fiber to our being.
Just a few days later, Dunham gained another outspoken critic: Former Lenny Letter writer Zinzi Clemmons, who announced that she would no longer be writing for Lenny Letter, due in part to Dunham’s response to the Murray Miller sexual assault allegations. She also accused Dunham of hanging out with groups of people rampant with “hipster racism,” which she describes as “typically [using] sarcasm as a cover, and in the end, it looks a lot like gaslighting — ‘It’s just a joke. Why are you overreacting?’ Is a common response to these kinds of statements.” Though she didn’t name a specific instance in which Dunham herself engaged in said talk, she said that Dunham ran in circles with those who did in college.
After over five years together, Dunham and Antonoff announced their breakup in January. Throughout their time together, the two were at the center of engagement rumors, particularly after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage; they had previously said that they wouldn’t marry until marriage was legal for all couples. A source told PEOPLE that the breakup was “amicable.”
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After the launch of Time’s Up, Dunham was a pictured with a group of the movement’s organizers, including Michelle Williams, Reese Witherspoon, Rashida Jones, Tracee Ellis Ross and Tessa Thompson. The Thor: Ragnarok actress was the one who shared the image, and comments began to gather about Dunham’s presence in the photo, wondering why she was there given her statement about Murray Miller.
Thompson addressed the backlash in a comment of her own. “Lena was not anywhere present in our group during the countless hours of work for the last two months. We hosted an open house for the actresses for red carpet messaging and Lena[‘s] presence was a surprise to us all. This is a time of reckoning. And for many, a re-education. So many women also have real work to do. I’m afraid it’s too nuanced a conversation to have on this platform. But I hear you, and know that your thoughts and words are not lost on me. It’s been discussed.”
Thompson later deleted the comment and clarified her statement: “I sometimes lack finesse in navigating social media,” she wrote. “Hard to discuss issues with nuance there. A response I made to comments on an Instagram post became fodder for a piece that I believe was designed to create conflict where there isn’t any. It’s perhaps more complex than that,” she continued. “But I, in no way, want to diminish Lena Dunham and her work, her voice, and her importance. We have spoken and she knows my heart.
On Feb. 13, Dunham announced that she had undergone a complete hysterectomy to remove her cervix and uterus in an article for Vogue. She decided to have the surgery after years of therapy and other surgeries in an effort to alleviate the severe pain her endometriosis wrought on her life. In the article, she talks about how she made the decision to undergo the hysterectomy despite the fact that she has long dreamed of being pregnant and giving birth.
“I wanted that stomach,” she wrote. “I wanted to know what nine months of complete togetherness could feel like. I was meant for the job, but I didn’t pass the interview. And that’s OK. It really is. I might not believe it now, but I will soon enough. And all that will be left is my story and my scars, which are already faded enough that they’re hard to find.”
The actress also added that she wants to explore her options for having children, from using any remaining eggs for a surrogate to adoption.
“I may have felt choiceless before, but I know I have choices now,” she continued. “Soon I’ll start exploring whether my ovaries, which remain someplace inside me in that vast cavern of organs and scar tissue, have eggs. Adoption is a thrilling truth I’ll pursue with all my might.”