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“It takes a village” isn’t just a saying to Laura Prepon.
The actress and director has made a career out of playing strong, smart, independent women, first as the confident, feminist teenage Donna Pinciotti on That ’70s Show and then as the “impossibly stylish and cool” lesbian drug dealer Alex Vause in the groundbreaking Orange Is the New Black.
It’s not hard to understand why she was so successful playing those characters. The New Jersey native describes herself as “the tough one who knows how to handle a situation” and admits to a love of “high-stress fun” that’s included climbing Mount Kilimanjaro without training on two weeks notice, swimming with sharks and getting so into agen poker that she played in the World Series of Poker, twice.
All those adventures aside, Prepon decided to write a book about one of the most difficult challenges she’s ever faced: becoming a mom.
In You & I, as Mothers: A Raw and Honest Guide to Motherhood, released in April, Prepon writes honestly about the stress and sleep deprivation she experienced after her daughter, Ella, was born in 2017. She talks about her fear of taking her newborn out of the house and into the world, where anything might happen to her. She admits to “holding my breath for what felt like minutes on end, bracing myself for something bad to happen. My hair started falling out, my chest was tight, and when I did breathe consciously, my lungs felt like they couldn’t fill completely.”
I touch on mom guilt and I talk a lot about how we have these kinds of social norms that we fall into as mothers.
And she talks about the “village” she counted on — including her “Mom Squad” — to help her get through each day.
“A mom squad is a group of friends, mothers of all ages, who have children of all ages, different backgrounds, different upbringing, different everything,” Prepon says in a video chat from New York, where she’s sheltering in place with her husband, actor Ben Foster; Ella; and her infant son, who was born in February.
“My Mom Squad speaks to these very relatable topics, such as stress reduction techniques, loss of control, self care. I touch on mom guilt and I talk a lot about how we have these kinds of social norms that we fall into as mothers. I have an entire chapter on nutrition, an entire chapter on keeping your partnership alive after kids are in the mix,” she says. “There are so many things in this book that speak to many different people, which is one of the most important reasons why I wanted my Mom Squad to speak to these subjects as well. So that any reader can read this and see themselves in the book.”
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For moms coping with fear, anxiety and a loss of control, Prepon offers the advice she got from friend, actress Amber Tamblyn. “I realized I had to move the focus, to be less about keeping [my daughter] safe — because I can’t control that — and more about modeling how to change the world that I’m afraid of,” Tamblyn told her. “I know that’s a big, insane idea, but … I’d rather die trying to change the world. I’d rather sacrifice everything to try to change it than be complacent. I’m showing my kids that ‘I fight! I fucking fight for what I believe in. That’s what I do. I hope you do that, too.’ That’s the message.”
For working mothers, Prepon shares wisdom from actress Mila Kunis, the mother of two: “Never look at work as a negative in front of your kids. When I go to work, I say (excitedly), ‘Mommy’s going to work!’ I never say, ‘Oh, baby, I’m so sorry, Mommy’s gotta go to work. I know this sucks.’ Ever. [That way], they can aspire to have the same outlook on life and find a career or a job that’s fulfilling and beautiful. Don’t look at it as a negative.”
Prepon hopes one of the most important things readers will get from the book is a desire to take a closer look at how they were mothered. “We all came from some other figure. We all have a relationship or not with that individual, and that affects us in some way. I mean, how could it not?”
I wanted the reader to be empowered … you get to choose what you pass down to your kids.
She used the book as an opportunity to analyze her relationship with her mother and “how it affects me not only as a mother but as a person. I feel like that’s an example of something that anybody can read, relate to and be empowered by. I can choose what I can take from my mother and what she handed down to me,” Prepon says. “I wanted the reader to be empowered … you get to choose what you pass down to your kids. Or if you don’t have children, you get to choose what you put out in the world or how it affects you as a person. It’s an empowering thing, that it’s our choice.”
Before the birth of her son, Prepon had already worked out her “own version of quarantine.” The plan was to stay at home for six weeks with her family and then head out on a media tour to promote her second book, You & I, as Mothers. (Her first book, the New York Times bestseller The Stash Plan, offers advice on how to eat well and take care of yourself.)
With the book tour now shifted to a virtual one because of the ongoing pandemic, Prepon is ensconced at home, focused on her family. The good news is that her pantry and freezer were pretty well stocked before the coronavirus. The challenge now, she says, is making “frozen foods taste amazing.”
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