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Gabrielle Union doesn’t do passive.
When she found herself unfavorably comparing her successes to others’—”I felt like you see everyone is having so much more,” the actress admitted on the Today show Apr. 9—she decided to implement a change.
Turning to her vision boards, she stopped “chasing after specific things and asking for stuff,” she explained and pared down her desires to one specific request. “I asked for more joy, peace and grace,” she noted. “And it’s been coming in abundance.”
Take her four-year marriage to NBA champ Dwyane Wade. Having weathered a lawsuit from his ex-wife, a brief pre-engagement split and what the We’re Going to Need More Wine author describes as “eight or nine miscarriages,” in their nine years together, they’re still rolling.
The actress, set to star in the Bad Boys‘ spinoff L.A.’s Finest with Jessica Albanext year, and the 36-year-old Miami Heat guard are the type of enviable power couple that can’t seem to stop bragging about one another (in a February Instagram referencing his stints in Chicago and Cleveland, the pro wrote, “Get you a ‘woman’ who supports you—even if you take her out of her newly built dream home and the sunshine in Miami,”) and always seem like they’re just having more fun than everyone else.
Plus, they’re a strong enough team to tackle an entire home renovation—as they did in their April HGTV special All Star Flip—and bank an impressive $130,000 for charity.
And now they’re celebrating a different kind of addition. Yesterday, mere days after the NBA champ made all of his wife’s ’90s-related dreams come true by throwing her a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” 46th birthday bash at Miami hotspot Byblos complete with a Gwen Stefani costume and a performance by Lil’ Kim, the couple welcomed a daughter. Quoting Bill Withers‘ upbeat “Lovely Day,” Union shared the news on Instagram earlier today. “We are sleepless and delirious but so excited to share that our miracle baby arrived last night via surrogate and 11/7 will forever be etched in our hearts as the most loveliest of all the lovely days. Welcome to the party sweet girl!”
It’s quite the coveted invitation, and yet the masterpiece that is the Union-Wade, um, union almost didn’t happen. When the pair first crossed paths co-hosting a 2007 Super Bowl party, they barely interacted, not seeming to instinctually just know they were destined to become one of those #couplesgoals, please never break up type of pairs. “I stayed on one side of the room with my people,” she would later tell Essence. “We like to party and he doesn’t drink at all. He was on the other side of the room holding bible study.”
And in the moments they did connect, the actress—who, by then, had already starred in a slew of teen hits such as She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You and Bring It On—was left unimpressed.
The Chicago-bred basketball pro was 25, a standout on a newly minted championship NBA team and in the process of splitting from his first wife, high school sweetheart Siohvaughn Funches. “His ‘resume’ looked like crap: athlete, going through a divorce, nine years younger than me,” she bluntly surmised to Glamour. “None of that screamed, ‘Let’s have a lasting relationship.'”
And the Nebraska native was wary of athletes. In her memoir she reveals NBA star Jason Kidd called to dump her two weeks before prom. And she claims NFL running back Chris Howard was unfaithful throughout their five-year marriage. Less than 24 hours after his proposal (which somehow involved a bucket of KFC potato wedges), she says she “discovered a message on Chris’ computer that hinted at an affair.”
But after dismissing Wade, something happened: She got her heart broken. Again.
“After I had a heart-crushing breakup with yet another immature jerk, I thought, ‘It can’t be any worse if I date a fetus,” she explained. “Let’s just see what happens.”
Union was left pleasantly surprised. “Turned out he’d been on his own since he was 15,” she said. “He had wisdom that comes with facing an insane amount of adversity. He’s sweet, funny, honest about his shortcomings.” The lesson in all of this, she explained, “When I put my preconceived notions to the side, I found someone cool.”
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She also unearthed a mountain of drama. By the time the duo quietly started dating in 2009 (they were snapped together at basketball pro Alonzo Mourning‘s four-day charity event that June), Wade’s divorce with Funches was already, how you say, contentious. She accused him of abandoning his children, cheating and infecting her with an STD. He, in turn, sued her for defamation. And at one point during the drawn-out financial portion of the divorce, she sat outside the Chicago courthouse with a cardboard sign that read, “NBA Miami Heat star, mother of his children on the streets.” (She was later awarded their six-bedroom Chicago mansion, four cars and $5 million.)
When Wade filed for sole custody of their sons Zaire, now 16, and Zion, now 11, in 2010, alleging Funches couldn’t “be considered a fit and proper person” to raise them, she went on the offensive.
Two months later, she named Union in a lawsuit filed on behalf of their sons. Along with claiming the couple didn’t properly supervise the boys, she alleged the actress “engaged in sexual foreplay” with Wade in front of them and that her actions had caused their eldest so much stress and anxiety that he was forced to seek medical treatment.
Union’s rep labeled the claims, allegations that were later dismissed by a judge, as false. And amid all that mess, in the ultimate power move, the pair make their red carpet debut at the same charity event they were snapped attending one year earlier.
By March 2011, a judge handed over sole “care, custody and control” of the boys to Wade, scolding Funches for embarking “on an unstoppable and relentless pattern of conduct for over two years to alienate the children from their father.” Wade’s response: “A huge weight is off my back.”
Through it all Union remained silent, even as she was labeled a mistress. But in April 2012—two months after she and Wade posed together for the cover of Essence—she had the opportunity to clear her name. “I think people mistook me taking the high road as an admission of guilt,” she noted to Jet, but she and Wade “made a decision very early to not react to the negativity.” Instead, they quietly submitted proof to the courts refuting Funches’ claims, “So, it was like, obviously you’re not telling the truth.”
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And while being publicly branded as a cheater wasn’t the best, she insisted she had no regrets about their pairing. “This kind of love is a gift,” she said. “It’s so consistent. There’s no way that I would trade it for people who refuse to simply acknowledge the truth.”
But even with the ex drama behind them, the duo couldn’t fall into happily ever after quite yet. Starting in January 2013—as Union was launching into her BET series Being Mary Jane and Wade was dealing with a nagging knee injury—the pair quietly separated for several months.
“It was because of distance and scheduling,” Union later explained to Glamour, blaming a calendar that forced her to go right from filming her show to shooting Think Like a Man Too in Las Vegas. “I couldn’t take time off, and I missed some quality togetherness we desperately needed.” And while she said she’d always dreamed of a career so hot it required her to work on projects back-to-back, “I realized I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my relationship for it. Moving forward, I decided my work schedule has to make sense for our family.”
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Ultimately, the pre-engagement split proved successful just as it had for other couples before them. (See: Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel and even Prince William andKate Middleton.) “At the end of the day, we came back together and said, ‘Listen, we want to continue this. We want to continue to get better each day,'” Wade explained during a September 2013 appearance on The Tonight Show. “She’s been with me and I’ve been with her all summer long. We’re going strong now.”
That December, the 6-foot-4 athlete got down on one knee with an 8.5-carat cushion-cut diamond as his sons and nephew Dahveon, 17—who he is raising—stood behind him with signs asking, “Will you marry us?”
At first Union assumed the boys had acted on their own. “The thing is, they ask me all the time, so I’m thinking, ‘Well this is embarrassing, now they’ve made signs,'” she explained on Live With Kelly and Michael. “I turn to D like, ‘Ugh, they just made some signs,’ and he’s down on one knee—and he’s like, ‘Will you marry us?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, you’re serious!'”
In one of her most endearing moves to date, Union celebrated the relationship upgrade with some wood-fired grilled shrimp at her favorite restaurant: Red Lobster.
Her cool girl chill remained through the lead up to their vows. Just 10 days after their engagement, news broke that Wade had fathered a child with longtime pal Aja Metoyer, now a member of the Basketball Wives cast. Fans were aghast, but Wade calmly confirmed the recent arrival of his third son, Xavier, now 4, in a press conference, calling him “a blessing.” And that was that. Because of course Union knew. One of the tenets of their relationship, she told Glamour, is honesty: “I believe in full disclosure. No weird secrets. Let the chips fall where they may.”
While she surged forward with the logistics of legally entwining herself with Wade—she joked on the Arsenio Hall Show she would be getting a prenup because “the reality is I’ve never seen Dwyane balance a checkbook, so I gotta protect my stuff,”—he went into full-on party planner mode.
Joking to Us Weekly that he’d become a “groomzilla,” she revealed that when the athlete realized she was trying to turn their June 2014 affair at Miami’s Chateau Artisan “into a frat party with k-cups and beer pong,” he took over. “He really Kanye’d himself and really doubled down, and it’s his princess day and I’m just along for the ride.”
Really all she did to prep, she told Vegas magazine, was to attend a wine tasting and pick out two Dennis Basso gowns. “That’s the joy of getting married to a man who loves clothes and wardrobe changes: You can have more than one dress.”
And while flouncy white dresses are great and all, Union said she was more concerned with what would come after they tied the knot.
“A lot of times, we become grown-ups and we feel like we have to act ‘grown,’ and that part of acting ‘grown’ is to somehow eliminate fun,” she told Refinery 29. “We should always keep a little bit of fun and immaturity as a part of our life, and certainly as part of our sex life.”
To that end, says Union, both she and Wade make affection a priority. “Dwyane generally gets up before I do to go to the gym, and he’s never left without kissing me and telling me he loves me,” the New York & Co. designer told Glamour. “As for me, I am complimentary to the point where I am almost a little Chester the Molester-y. I think he’s delicious. Watching him get out of the shower never gets old.”
They also do their best not to get bogged down in petty arguments. “He lets me off the hook, and I do the same,” she said. “Is it annoying that he refuses to put the cap back on the toothpaste? Yes. But at the end of the day, I just screw it back on myself. It’s give-and-take.”
And to the star what she reaps is well worth it. Calling her husband “a Nicholas Sparks book exploded into an NBA player” she told E! News, “he’s very romantic and a great gift-giver.” Among his best: the time he told her to pack a suitcase for their first anniversary and didn’t reveal they were off to Bora Bora until the plane was in the air or the poetry he pens himself.
Union isn’t shy about listing his other attributes either, explaining to Glamour, “Sometimes my girlfriends will mention sexting or certain positions as something they’d only do with a guy on spring break. They’ll say, ‘You don’t do that with someone you love.’ And I’ll say, ‘That’s who you’re supposed to do it with.”
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Still, she stops short of revealing all their secrets. In the initial years after their wedding, she politely deflected questions about when they would procreate. But by last fall she was so tired of people prying into what may or may not be happening in her uterus, she gave the sort of brutally honest response that’s designed to halt all inquiries. Revealing her series of miscarriages, she wrote in her new book, “For three years, my body has been a prisoner of trying to get pregnant—I’ve either been about to go into an IVF cycle, in the middle of an IVF cycle, or coming out of an IVF cycle.”
Then she made it perfectly clear that’s all she would be saying on the subject. Should she be spotted holding a newborn, by all means, she’ll address it. Until then, she told E! News, “If we are or if we aren’t, that’s, like, totally our thing.”
So, now they are and, as promised, she addressed it. While she understandably chose to keep mum about the proceedings out of deference to the challenging process and the surrogate involved, she was so bursting with excitement she couldn’t even wait a full 24 hours to let her fans in on the new developments.
“Gabrielle loves being mom to his kids and runs that house,” a source reveals of the couples’ continued journey to create a child together, “but she definitely wanted a baby.”
After all it’s the one item on her yearly vision board that hasn’t come to pass. (We’re fairly confident the Flawless by Gabrielle Union creator will achieve her desired cosmetics line and trip to Machu Picchu.) “As goals manifest, I’ve been able to look at my boards and say, ‘Damn, I put in a lot of work and deserve it,'” she explained to Redbook earlier this year of celebrating each success. “That’s helped me to stop feeling suspicious of joy. To not sabotage something before I’ve had a chance to do it because I assume I’ll be rejected.”
Because, frankly, there’s a whole lot of joy in the star’s life, starting with a husband who’s still doling out surprises nearly a decade into their romance. In fact their married life is so “freakishly awesome,” Union told E! News, “It’s almost kind of embarrassing to talk about. We really enjoy each other.”