They tried to start a family but split after IVF. Now Sofia Vergara’s ex-fiancee raises a troubling issue: ‘They are not just frozen embryos. They’re my daughters – whether Sofia wants them born or not’

Sofia Vergara’s divorce was finalised last week, in relatively straightforward fashion.

The star of Modern Family and Griselda — who is one of the highest paid actresses in the world — split from husband Joe Manganiello last year, after seven years of marriage. Divorce proceedings were concluded ‘amicably’, with Joe getting custody of the couple’s chihuahua-pom Bubbles.

It helped, of course, that there were no children involved.

In an interview, Sofia admitted that the will-we-won’t-we question of babies contributed to the break-up.

‘My husband was younger; he wanted to have kids and I didn’t want to be an old mum,’ she said, candidly.

Sofia Vergara and Nick Loeb were together for ten years from 2010, during which time they created four embryos through IFV. Two didn't take; the other two remain frozen to this day

Sofia Vergara and Nick Loeb were together for ten years from 2010, during which time they created four embryos through IFV. Two didn’t take; the other two remain frozen to this day

The glamorous actress said the will-they-won't-they question of whether she and Loeb would have children was a contributing factor to their eventual break-up

The glamorous actress said the will-they-won’t-they question of whether she and Loeb would have children was a contributing factor to their eventual break-up

Sofia, 51, already has a son, 32-year-old Manolo, from a previous marriage, and admitted that she was thinking more about becoming a grandmother than a mother again. What woman, in her position, wouldn’t sympathise?

One man, however, has a very different — and rather startling — take on what the change in Sofia’s circumstances might mean, both for her, for him and for the children they both once wanted.

Between her two marriages, Sofia was in a relationship with Nick Loeb, an American businessman and actor, and a scion of the famous banking family which started Lehman Brothers.

He was a younger man too — ten years her junior — but the couple were together for around four years from 2010, got engaged and planned a family. They underwent IVF, creating four embryos. Two were implanted in a surrogate, but no pregnancy resulted.

The remaining two? This is where it gets messy.

They still exist, having long survived the relationship of the couple who created them.

These embryos are effectively frozen in time, cryopreserved in a clinic in California — and Nick still wants to use them, even if his famous ex unequivocally does not.

Not that Nick refers to them as ’embryos’. To him, they are more often ‘my children’, ‘my daughters’.

From time to time during this interview, he uses their names, Emma and Isabella, which he says the couple agreed upon during their fertility treatment.

‘They are ancestral names. I’m very big into genealogy and I have an eclectic ancestry,’ he tells me. ‘I’m a quarter British, but I also have Spanish, Danish and German ancestry.’

Who publicly names an embryo? Perhaps the same sort of person who sets up a trust fund for children who do not yet exist. And the sort who reacts to the simple question of whether you can actually have a relationship with an embryo with horror.

‘What are you talking about?’ he says. ‘People have relationships with embryos all the time. Every time a woman gets pregnant, she and her husband start building a relationship with that child, even at embryonic stages. What’s the difference whether those embryos are implanted or in cryopreserve?’

For an astonishing ten years now, Nick, an anti-abortion activist, has continued to fight for the right to gain custody of these embryos and to raise the children they could become.

It has been an extraordinary battle, raising serious legal and ethical questions but also — by dint of Sofia’s celebrity status — seeming like a particularly outlandish soap opera storyline.

However Nick’s continued insistence that his embryos are children seems less outlandish when you consider the new front in the U.S. battle over reproductive rights that was opened up in the States this week when Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos should be considered children.

The ruling, delivered after a wrongful death lawsuit involved embryos that were lost at a fertility clinic in 2020, sent shockwaves across the States and led to Alabama’s largest hospital suspending some of its IVF services, over fears the questions of the rights of frozen embryos could expose them to criminal prosecution.

Some potential parents are now caught in the hellish situation of investigating whether they can move their embryos to different states.

Pro-life activists — Nick among them — are watching this ruling closely. The question of when an embryo or foetus is legally considered a person is at the heart of his fight, too.

‘My embryos are in California, a state that doesn’t recognise them as human persons, but if the U.S. Supreme Court takes this up, it will have larger implications than for just IVF,’ he says.

Until now, every court has denied Nick the ‘right’ he feels he has — which effectively is to force biological motherhood on a woman who no longer wants it.

Sofia Vergara, who played Gloria in Modern Family (pictured), already has a 31-year-old son and has said she is not looking to become a mother again at 51

Sofia Vergara, who played Gloria in Modern Family (pictured), already has a 31-year-old son and has said she is not looking to become a mother again at 51

In the States, as in the UK, no embryo that has been created during the IVF process can be implanted without the consent of both potential parents. Only in a couple of recorded cases has a court sided with a parent who wants to use an embryo despite their former partner’s objections and these have involved scenarios where it is a woman’s only chance of parenthood, following cancer treatment.

Yet disputes involving ‘custody’ of embryos are becoming increasingly common.

And because the law on both sides of the Atlantic now allows indefinite storage of frozen embryos (before 2022 most embryos in the UK could only be stored for ten years), this high-profile case should serve as a real-life warning as to how things can go catastrophically wrong.

Today, Nick even suggests that Sofia’s divorce could be a positive step for him, because her new single status — coupled with the passing of time — might lead to a change of heart on her part.

‘She is divorced now, single again. She didn’t want to raise children, but maybe, as she gets older and has more time on her hands, that will change. If she doesn’t want to raise them, maybe she will want to… visit them. I don’t know.’

History would suggest that pigs might fly sooner, because from the moment Sofia split from Nick, she made it clear that she had no desire to have the children they had once planned together and was horrified at his refusal to accept the status quo.

After hearing the story from his side, I imagine the one thing he says she would agree with is that couples embarking on a fertility treatment that involves putting embryos on ice need a lawyer in the room, before they need a list of baby names.

‘I think you should be told you need a lawyer. In every other contract in America you need a lawyer. These informed consent documents run to 30 pages. There is no way I would have signed them had I known how this would go,’ says Nick.

There are so many breathtaking aspects to this story, but one of the most surprising is that — a whole decade after this debacle with Nick and Sofia began — he is a father in the more conventional sense.

Our interview takes place on Zoom. Colourful children’s drawings are displayed behind him, although he refuses to elaborate on many children he has, or their ages. Nor will he say much about their mother, other than to say she is from the south of Italy, Catholic, and shares his pro-life views.

‘When this first started people said, “you want kids, Nick, you can have kids with anyone”, but you know what, being a father has made me want my embryos more. I play with my kids. I see the lives in them and I think “that’s what I have, frozen”. It gives me more anguish, actually. My children would have sisters.’

There was nothing particularly strange about how this story started. Nick and Sofia met at a party in 2013, and immediately became one of those beautiful Hollywood couples. He had trained as an actor, had political ambitions but was most known for being an entrepreneur (creator of a condiment topping called Onion Crunch, to be precise).

He suspects Sofia never really wanted more children but he did — ‘she said she was doing it for me’ — and the decided route was via IVF and surrogacy. Sofia is on the record as saying previous radiation treatment for thyroid cancer left her unable to carry a child, but Nick also surmises that carrying them could have affected her TV show.

Whatever the motivation, they were thrilled when the fertilisation of her eggs with his sperm resulted in multiple embryos.

‘I’ve got texts from her, referring to them as saying “our babies”. She was so excited. These were not embryos to be put on hold for a rainy day. We broke up in the process of implantation.’

Ms Vergara is the star of Netflix's new series Griselda, which is based on the life of the ambitious and ruthless cartel leader Griselda Blanco

Ms Vergara is the star of Netflix’s new series Griselda, which is based on the life of the ambitious and ruthless cartel leader Griselda Blanco

Nick Loeb refers to the frozen embryos as his 'daughters' and even refers to them by the names Emma and Isabella. Pictured: Loeb and Ms Vergara in 2012

Nick Loeb refers to the frozen embryos as his ‘daughters’ and even refers to them by the names Emma and Isabella. Pictured: Loeb and Ms Vergara in 2012

Court documents later revealed that the relationship, which ended in May 2014, had been far from perfect. There were lurid claims, from him, that she had been abusive, that ‘she physically punched him on four separate occasions, she punched him in the face on two occasions, kicked him and threw her phone at his head,’ as well as calling him names such as ‘loser,’ and ‘worthless’. Sources close to Sofia vehemently denied these claims at the time. ‘Sofia never got physical with him. It just didn’t happen,’ a source told a U.S. website. Yet in his eyes they were linked forever. 

After the split, Nick texted Sofia, saying: ‘We still have those 2 frozen babys (sic) so I guess we r always going to have some kind of weird connection.’

Nick’s fight for these embryos since has involved courtrooms in Los Angeles and Louisiana (a state which also supports the idea that an embryo is a person).

In March 2021 LA County Superior Court issued a permanent injunction banning him from using the frozen embryos without her written consent. Last year he attempted (unsuccessfully) to sue the fertility clinic, arguing that it failed to tell him he could be blocked from accessing the embryos.

To date, no court has accepted his argument that, because Sofia herself once regarded these embryos as ‘children’, they have the right to be born.

His distain for her position is laid bare. ‘In my eyes for her to go from that to ‘these are not human’ is hypocrisy. Of course an embryo is a human life.’

In his eyes, things are crystal clear. Life begins at the point of fertilisation, therefore disposing of an embryo is akin to killing a baby.

Yet the IVF process puts tens of thousands of couples in the position of having to decide what to do with leftover embryos. Would he then condemn all those who opted for disposal?

‘I think they are killing human lives,’ he nods. ‘They should not be creating more embryos than they should use. They should donate to couples who want to use them. I think the solution to this is to create and implant one embryo at a time, so removing the storage question.’

What further complicates this case is that Sofia could have pressed for the destruction of the embryos without her ex’s consent, but has not done so. ‘She wanted them destroyed, but then she changed the narrative to say that she wanted them preserved forever.’

He considers this is tantamount to ‘killing them’, but at the same time seems to believe that while those embryos exist, there is hope.

‘Maybe she will go to church more, pray. Maybe God will speak to her. Maybe she will have a change of heart and make sure that those little souls don’t end up in purgatory.’

His pious stance would be easier to understand if Nick hadn’t personally sanctioned abortion. In his 20s and 30s two partners had terminations. ‘I did not understand, then,’ he argues. ‘I saw it as a clump of cells, not human life. I didn’t really start understanding the pro-life issue until I got into politics.

‘I grew up in a socially liberal household. If I knew I’d created a life, if I truly understood that, I’d have taken responsibility. Of course I still think about them. Both those children would be in their 20s now.’

His political ambitions never materialised, but he has had considerable success positioning himself as an anti-abortion activist.

In 2019 he directed (and starred in) a controversial film Roe v Wade, and remains utterly convinced that the days of the ‘liberal left’ on this issue are numbered. ‘I genuinely believe abortion will be outlawed in the States in my lifetime.’

Obviously, his sternest critics depict him as a crazy stalker, motivated by some vendetta against Sofia.

‘How is it a vendetta?’ he says. ‘I want nothing from her. I am not asking for money. I will waive any childcare costs. I will even pay her. I would give her money to save the lives of those children.’

Little wonder Sofia Vergara has now adopted a position of silence on this matter and has made it clear she wants to move on. She is rumoured to be in a new relationship, with orthopaedic surgeon Justin Saliman.

While those embryos exist, however, her ex will not give up. He points out that there are now children routinely being born from embryos that were frozen ’16, 18, 20 years ago’.

And the current shifting of the sands in the battleground over reproductive medicine also gives him hope.

‘I believe in potential. In the future. Things could change. The laws could change, override this agreement,’ he says, clearly believing that time — which cannot be frozen — will be on his side.

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