Maria Menounos Reveals How Daughter Athena Changed Every Last One of Her Priorities

Before Maria Menounos could meet daughter Athena, she had to endure fertility treatments, IVF and a terrifying diagnosis. And yet, she told E! News, everything "has been worth it to have her."

By Sarah Grossbart Sep 06, 2023 12:00 PMTags
Watch: Maria Menounos Welcomes First Baby via Surrogate

These days, Maria Menounos is keeping her local fire department on speed dial. 

Because while 2-month-old daughter Athena may be far too young to play with matches, she's a bit of a firecracker. "That smile every morning," Menounos reflected in an exclusive interview with E! News, "I could light up an entire nation with my joy from her one little smile. Actually, it's a big smile. This house might catch fire someday from all the happiness and light she sparks." 

Just 10 weeks in, Athena has already blazed quite the path through the former E! News correspondent's world. 

"She's everything," Menounos gushed. "And, yeah, I would do anything for her. She's changed all my priorities. She's made me just see what's important in life and that's family and health. And, yes, career and all of those things are great, but not at the expense of all of the other stuff." 

Maria Menounos' Best Looks

Because these days the Emmy-winning journalist, 45, is happy to just be with her little goddess

"I'm with her here at every moment and I'm soaking it in and I'm enjoying it," Menounos said of taking a beat to appreciate each new stage as they come. "Yes, I know there are going to be amazing milestones when she walks and she talks and all of those things, but I'm going to enjoy them then. Right now I'm just enjoying her here." 

That mandate new parents are given to enjoy every second with their kids becomes easier once you've faced the reality that you may have precious few left. 

Menounos and husband Keven Undergaro had spent a full decade hoping to realize their dream of having children when they learned they were expecting through a surrogate. And when they got the news, "I started focusing in my meditations on full mind, body and soul healing," she detailed. "I kept saying I want to be my healthiest possible self for that baby when she's born. I would visualize putting her on my chest, and that she knew I was safe for her and that I was going to be healthy."

Which is why the star was so thrown this past January when a radiologist found a large mass on her pancreas—the result of endless scans, testing and finally a full-body MRI to uncover the source of her excruciating stomach pains.

Diagnosed with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer just months before Athena's arrival—the same disease that killed stars like Alex Trebek, Patrick Swayze and Steve Jobs—"It was a pretty scary situation," Menounos recalled. "I had to rely on all of my tools and thinking about what I want rather than what I don't want." 

So, rather than lean into her initial reaction ("My eyes started to well and I just looked at [the radiologist] and I go, 'So, I'm a goner. Cool,'" she recalled on Today), she envisioned surviving a successful surgery ("They took the tail of the pancreas, the spleen, 17 lymph nodes and a fibroid the size of like a baby off my uterus," she shared) and receiving good news.

And now that she's able to look back on the situation with the hindsight that she's cancer free, she can see a world where the tumor was a blessing in disguise. During a recent chat with author and motivational speaker Gabby Bernstein on her Heal Squad podcast, "She was saying that sometimes tumors come to the surface to be healed," Menounos noted. "And so perhaps all of that manifesting brought that up so that it can be healed in time for Athena. Because otherwise it could have taken me."

Maria Menounos/Instagram

But, to be clear, when it comes to honing in on her health, she's not just talking about the power of prayer or positive thinking. 

"A lot of people think, 'Oh, I just say it, and then it will be,'" she said of the misunderstandings surrounding the idea of manifesting. "There's more to it. I always say, 'I pray to God at night, but I also walk the walk here during the day.' So manifesting for me is about putting what you want out there, thinking the thoughts, feeling the thoughts, believing the thoughts can be possible, but also writing them down. And that process of writing it down is really, really important. And then you've got to do the things to work towards them." 

Maria Menounos/Instagram

That's why the RXBAR ManifX bars—her limited-edition collaboration with the protein bar brand—leave a space for consumers to jot down their own thoughts and prayers. 

Noting that people who physically write down their goals are more likely to achieve them, Menounos said, "Every single day, you can look at this bar as your accountability tool. And it could be something you want for that day, it could be something that you're overall working towards." 

Her version of the chocolate sea salt bars, for instance, remind her that she wants to commit to regular exercise, meditation and making time for her family. "I have four workouts per week," she explained of her personal goal. "I got to get in the gym and do that. Santa Claus isn't going to come and somehow work out my body in the ether."

Using her own blend of magic and hard work, Menounos fully believes she can manifest her ideal reality. "I'll be in a meditation like I was the other day," she described, "And I'm like, 'Oh, my God, that already happened. I had a healthy, happy baby, oh my gosh, that worked. Oh, I got that test result back, it was great. Take that off the list.'"

Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

But having spent more than 10 years working toward her dream of a family, she also knows better than most, "You've got to be patient, because it's not on our clocks," the actress explained. "Sometimes there's a reason something isn't coming to you when you think it's supposed to come. If Athena came in the times that I wanted her to come, I would not be having the experience I'm having with her now where I'm present for her. I would have been in my crazy busy days and she would have just been thrown into it. Now she is my day."

So, yes, happiness comes to those who wait and all of that. 

"I live for every moment that I have now," Menounos shared of being at home with Athena. "So many of us spend so much time in the past, lamenting, or worrying about the future that we're never here in this present moment."

But if you'll allow her just one glance in the rearview, she'd say she's grateful for all the parts that brought her to where she is today. Now, holding Athena, said Menounos, "Everything that I've gone through has been worth it to have her. Yes, absolutely."