“Nobody should feel alone in this experience”
You might know Laura Prepon as Donna Pinciotti in That 70’s Show and, more recently, as Alex Vause in Orange is the New Black. But Laura’s newest role is that of a writer — she recently published a memoir and guidebook, You and I as Mothers. It covers everything from Laura’s own experience to practical advice on food and self care. Shortly before the Covid-19 outbreak, Laura and her husband welcomed their second child.
Just in time for Mother’s Day, for our Wake-Up Call newsletter (subscribe here!), Laura spoke with our producer Emily Pinto about raising a toddler and infant while socially distancing in New York City.
Wake-Up Call: Can you tell us why you decided to write this book?
Laura Prepon: There are all of these wonderful books about pregnancy, but then after those nine months are over, you have the rest of your life! I felt like there were no resources for me to turn to that weren’t “parenting” books. As a new mother, I was so confused about my own feelings, and I was unsure of what to do or who to turn to. I didn’t feel like myself, and I had no resources to help me relate to this new version of myself, or to help me understand what I was going through and whether it was normal or not.
This isn’t just a “postpartum” book. It’s not just a book for the “fourth trimester.” Most people hear the word “postpartum” and they immediately think of postpartum depression. I used to be guilty of that, before I was a mother. But postpartum literally just means “after birth.” I wanted this book to speak to women in all stages of motherhood and to women in general. Even if you’re not a mother, there’s a lot you can get out of it.
Nobody should feel alone in this experience. While it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through, it’s also one of the most joyous and wonderful. To provide a resource for women that I felt like I didn’t have was really important to me.
You talk openly in the book about feeling postpartum anxiety after Ella’s birth… can you explain what that felt like?
With Ella, I was a complete mess. You see, I’ve always been the person who gets things done. I appreciate that people lean on me. If there’s a situation that needs to be handled, I am the one to handle it. I love being in that role, especially when it comes to work. With directing, which I’ve been doing a lot of, you have a lot of responsibility, and I thrive in roles like that. That’s why I feel like such a fish in water when I’m directing — because it really plays to so many parts of my personality.
So when I had my daughter, I felt like my life turned completely upside down. My anxiety was through the roof. I was grinding my teeth so much that I literally chipped my tooth in half. I was having panic attacks, which I had never experienced in my life. I just didn’t feel like myself. I turned to my husband and said, “The woman you married is gone. I don’t know who I am.” I felt like I couldn’t take care of myself, or my family. It wasn’t depression, it was the complete opposite. It was like the “mama bear” feeling times ten. I was constantly feeling like something would happen to my child, and that I wouldn’t be able to protect her. I didn’t know what to do. That took a long time for me to get a handle on.
I did a lot of the healing and research and investigation. The process of writing this book — of confronting my own childhood, and of talking to all of these different women at different stages of motherhood — that was very healing. My perspective totally shifted, and I healed a lot in the process. I wrote this book because I needed it. I was desperate for this book.
You write a lot in the book about your own upbringing, which was at times unconventional. Was that cathartic for you?
Absolutely, but it was also really hard. I used to be really into kickboxing, and watching MMA fights. I would fly around the country and watch these fights. I was a huge fan. I was friends with a lot of fighters and really appreciated their skills. One thing I learned from them is that you never learn a new move right before a fight, because you’ll always fall back on your instincts. I feel like that can be applied to motherhood!
When you become a new mother, you ultimately fall back on what’s ingrained in you, which is how you were raised. So naturally I looked back to my upbringing, and was faced with the fact that a lot of it was actually not okay. I really had to look back on my relationship with my mother, and for the first time in my life, I came face to face with the fact that some of what I was taught was very dysfunctional. But other things were wonderful, and that’s what I chose to pass down to my kids.
You just gave birth to your second child, a son, in February. Congratulations! How has this experience been different than the first time around?
With my son, it’s a totally different ballgame. I learned all of this wisdom from writing the book, plus my own boots on the ground experience I had with my daughter. So it’s like night and day.
After I had Ella, I went back to work on Orange Is The New Black after six weeks. With my son, my virtual book tour started six weeks after he was born. So I knew how I needed to be supported. My husband knew he was going to have to be very hands on, which he already is. He is truly the most incredible person ever. I don’t know what I would do without him.
The anxiety isn’t happening at all this time. It’s different. But it’s just as special.
You talk a lot about stress in the book… the unprecedented stress of having your first kid, and you offer practical solutions to deal with stress. Now you have a toddler and a newborn, and you’re living in NYC during a pandemic. How have you dealt with that?
It’s surreal. This is an unprecedented situation. None of us have ever experienced this. I am so thankful my son came before this really escalated.
Looking outside and seeing the streets completely empty — it’s devastating. When I think of my friends that are restaurateurs, or small business owners, I am so sad for them. What is the world going to look like after this? It’s so surreal to think about. To see what will happen economically, and have to explain this to our children. It’s going to be a different world. We are all changed forever after this.
When all of this started, we had already planned to be hunkered down and bonding as a family with the new baby, but by no means did we ever expect this to happen. We’re just trying to stay positive. We try to make each other laugh, and find moments of levity. It’s so easy to fall into the doom and gloom, because what’s happening is so scary. We do everything we can to stay informed, be smart, and make sure that our family is safe and protected and positive.
You talk a lot about the importance of community, about your mom squad… in this time of isolation how do you suggest new moms can maintain that sense of community?
Community now is more important than ever. It’s in our DNA to gather together. The phrase “it takes a village” is so true. It does take a village to raise kids. For new moms, the feeling of community is so important, and I worry that social media can be deceptive. It’s an amazing platform to be able to communicate and express ourselves, but one-on-one interaction is so important. I love my community on social media, and that I can go and communicate with people who have followed my career. But to be able to pick up the phone and hear a friend’s voice, or FaceTime and see them, that is so much more of a connection.
I think it’s so important for moms to do phone calls, FaceTimes, and Zooms. Seeing someone’s face is so different. You can prop up your phone and sit down and have a conversation, and feel almost like you’re physically with that person. Make a meal together! Grab a glass of wine and hang out! At least while we’re dealing with social distancing, talking to people through a screen can make it feel like you’re actually having a conversation with someone more than just texting or even talking on the phone. I think that’s important for everyone, but especially new parents trying to navigate this without the normal support systems in place.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This originally appeared on Medium.com