Donatella Arpaia is always ready to feed an army — maybe a little too ready according to her husband, Allan Stewart.
“He teases me like, ‘Why are you always cooking as if another eight people are showing up?’ ” the Food Network star tells PEOPLE for this week’s issue. “I don’t know how to cook for a small amount of people.”
But soon, that will be less of a problem. At age 46, Arpaia, who shares 6½-year-old son Alessandro with Stewart, is pregnant with twins, due this fall — the result of a difficult journey toward expanding their family.
After many failed rounds of in vitro fertilization, the couple, who split their time between their lake house in New Fairfield, Connecticut, and Miami, where Stewart works, were about to stop trying and consider adoption.
“IVF is like a roller-coaster ride. It’s not fun because of hormones, weight gain, and it’s just a very painful process,” she says. “You get close and then it’s destroyed.”
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But then Alessandro woke his parents up one night to share a dream he’d just had. “He said, ‘God told me that you’re going to have two babies — not one, but two babies,’ ” recalls Stewart, 49, the chief of cardiac surgery at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, who has two children from a previous marriage. ” ‘They’re going to be a boy and a girl and their names are going to be Noah and Emma.’ ”
Arpaia was inspired to give IVF one more try, and two months later, the stick turned blue. The celebrity chef admits she was shocked by “the fact that I even got pregnant,” but when she found out she was expecting twins, she was even more floored.
“At the doctor, when we first saw the heartbeat, I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ and all of a sudden he just moved it to the left and there’s another one,” she says. “I was in disbelief.”
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“I didn’t think it was possible, even as it was happening,” adds Arpaia who, along with serving as a judge on Iron Chef America, runs Prova Pizzabar in New York City. “Now that I’m getting bigger, it feels more real.”
Her advice to other women struggling to add seats to their own dinner tables: Don’t give up. “I encourage my friends in their 30s to get their eggs frozen. There are so many options today — be open to exploring them,” she says.
“If you want it, nothing should stop you from having a family,” adds Arpaia. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
For more on Donatella Arpaia and to get her grilled garlic-and-herb skirt-steak recipe, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.