Bravo TV, infertility, Moms, Parents, Reality TV, RHOC, Women

#RHOC: Between the Filler Scenes, Bringing Awareness to Fertility Challenges

The past few seasons of Real Housewives of Orange County have disappointed many who expect more than a montage of filler scenes, but we keep watching because storylines are there…Although it oftentimes may seem akin to separating the wheat from the chaff.

One theme this season consists of Emily Simpson, an attorney and party planner in her early 40s, desiring to have another child with her Mormon Persian husband Shane. On RHOC, Emily is clear and candid about her past emotional ordeal trying to conceive. When a viewer – who missed the explanation of why her sister became her surrogate – asked about the backstory, she responded: “I did in vitro. I was pregnant with twins and I lost them both at 4 months. I went into pre term labor and lost a lot of blood. I had to have an emergency D and C and then a blood transfusion. Because of this… my sister then was a surrogate and carried all three of my children.” When Emily lost all that blood, she was greatly at risk of losing her life. All viewers can agree that her sister must be an incredible person. Emily has said that her sister has a daughter of her own who calls Emily’s daughter her “sister cousin.”

Emily is not the first Housewife on RHOC to bring awareness to fertility challenges. Before she joined the group, there was Meghan King Edmonds who married the older, divorced Jim Edmonds, a former baseball center fielder turned sports broadcaster who had retired from babymaking – or so he thought, prior to marrying Meghan – and had gotten a vasectomy. The smart thing Jim did at the time was having sperm frozen, a “just in case” move.

Longtime RHOC viewers remember how Meghan spoke lovingly about her stepkids, arguing with the other ladies that despite not being their biological mother, she felt a strong bond as if she were.

Meghan wondered then if she would ever have kids of her own with Jim and she was anxious about the challenges. Frozen sperm doesn’t always take, but after IVF, Meghan conceived twins. Then we saw her grapple with the fact that one of the twin sacs had vanished and she cried for the early loss of that twin, but went on to have a healthy daughter.

Last year, when I interviewed Meghan, the idea of using more of the frozen sperm was not her major focus as she was pouring her daily energies into the new baby, but Meghan would go on to have twin boys –and a full term (for twins, that is 36 weeks) pregnancy, an impressive feat for multiples. (My own twin boys were born premature and spent five weeks in the NICU nine years ago.)

People have reached out to Meghan, and more recently, to Emily to thank them for their candor about fertility struggles. Hearing about the authentic hurdles that were eventually overcome instills viewers with encouragement, ideas and hope.

When I encounter folks that don’t watch reality television and feel a sense of despair, I try to share my own fertility saga. In my late teens, my hormones were entirely out of whack and my mom took me to see a pediatric endocrinologist. That visit armed me with the knowledge that I would most likely need “help” in order to conceive when the time – which seemed a long way off back then – was right and I wanted to start a family. Miraculously, I had no trouble conceiving my first child after coming off a birth control pill, but when I wanted to try for a second, the old hormonal issues reared their ugly heads.

I spent many months in a reproductive endocrinologist’s office as he scratched his head, trying to figure out why I wasn’t responding to any treatments. After my first attempt at IVF, I miscarried. Following the recovery from that devastating loss, I tried IVF again. However, this time the doctor recommended adding preimplantation genetic testing of the embryos. Out of the 18 embryos that were produced, only one, “Number 17”, was deemed healthy.

I remember saying to the doctor “Everyone always implants more than one embryo. What’s the chance of one even taking?” I expected this to result in more despair and as my doctor was mentioning the possibility of surrogacy and donor eggs, I reasoned that my son would be an only child and that was totally OK. I was ready for it and would have to figure out creative responses to “Mom, I want a brother or a sister.”

Surprisingly, “Number 17” became the boy that is my 12 year old today. We joke that he was a pain in the butt before he was even born because I was informed I was at risk of preterm labor and took progesterone shots (administered in the derrière) throughout the pregnancy as a preventative measure. He was born only 4 weeks early and was a solid 6 pounds and 11 ounces.

Because of the incredibly lengthy, time (and money) intensive, highly emotional ordeal to give my oldest son a sibling, I declared I was done after two. I gave away my baby clothes, my maternity wardrobe and other related accoutrements. So when my husband turned to me and said, “If we want to try for a third, we better get cracking now,” I gave him the side eye and looked at him as if he were a 90 Day Fiance cast member rather than the man I had married. “I thought I had retired,” I said to myself, while half entertaining the very remote possibility of trying for a third and last pregnancy.

I was technically “advanced maternal age” and my husband is six and a half years my senior. Knowing that doctors had told me it was nearly impossible for me to get pregnant any other way than IVF with PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnostics), I said “let me try one round of IUI (insemination preceded by fertility shots) which is covered by insurance. If the one round doesn’t work, WHICH IT WILL NOT, NO CHANCE OF THAT, then we are meant to only have two kids and that’s totally fine!”

Unlike my prior Manhattan fertility practice that had extra long waits and a packed waiting room area, I found a center near me in New Jersey. I thought it might be a worrisome sign to find myself as the solo patient in the waiting room and my antenna went up further when I was ushered in right away to the exam room. But, long story short: This no-frills fertility practice worked its magic. After only one completely insured round of IUI, I conceived and exceeded what the expectations were for my body. The twins are 9 years old today.

So from infertility to 4 children – actually being told at age 17 that I would have a hard time getting pregnant and hearing that so early on – my journey is one I’ve shared with others in need of encouragement. I’ve been able to relate to people who have miscarried because that, for me, was a far greater ordeal than I detailed above.

I’m not a public figure, nor will I ever be, but when I see someone who has a platform, like Emily Simpson on RHOC, use it to bring awareness to options like surrogacy and detail an emotionally fraught fertility story, I know it’s appreciated among fans going through similar experiences.

It is a natural instinct to seek people out who have already been through the journey you have only just begun. When my twins were in the Nicu as preemies, I had no frame of reference. I remember a man telling me that his daughter was born even more premature than my sons, had weighed a mere one pound at birth, and was now obtaining a degree at an Ivy League university. I cannot properly convey how reassuring that was to hear.

Conversely, when I miscarried years ago, many friends came forward to share their sad miscarriage stories, ones I had never been told despite knowing these people for years.

While we watch reality TV often to escape our lives, we also tend to admire the characters whose challenges we are facing or have faced, the ones we discover commonalities with. While many people make fun of reality TV lovers, the real components of it can provide solace to someone going through an ordeal or contemplating their options.

In many circles, people are incredibly tight-lipped and private about these matters. In the community I hailed from, I hardly ever heard anyone discuss fertility challenges when I was growing up. More people end up hearing about these things from their friends when they are the ones to initiate a discussion about their own struggles and frustrations with the challenges. So when Emily Simpson appears on our screens and discloses that her sister was her surrogate after she suffered numerous miscarriages, we’re going to look up, listen and take note.

Bravo TV, Moms, Parents, Psychology, Reality TV

#RHOD: Brandi Redmond’s Adoption Was “NOT as Easy as It Looked!”

Dr. James Mercer stands behind RHOD’s Brandi Redmond in this photo. He is the one who made her recent adoption of a baby boy possible.

Sometimes we’ll see something on television and wonder aloud “Why did that person get so worked up over something so silly?” And then we slowly learn the behind-the-scenes details: The conversation, which we saw a minute of, was actually two hours long. There was a topic brought up that a character pleaded with producers not to show. A third party was involved who would not sign release forms. These are all examples of things that interfere with us seeing more of what actually transpired when something is shown on reality television.

On Real Housewives of Dallas, Brandi Redmond’s adoption of a baby boy invariably did a disservice to the adoption process because it wasn’t as easy as producers made it look.

Although we saw the man who made things possible, Dr. James Mercer, for half a second last episode, he (and others he works with) spent a ton of time with the Redmonds ensuring that the family was 100 percent ready and on-board to adopt a child when one became available.

Mercer explains that there were actually months of scheduled home visits in addition to unannounced, surprise visits for the family. There was psychological vetting, drug testing, reference checking and many other evaluations.

Although you might deem Brandi to be socially messy on the show surrounded by the…er, dynamic personalities (cough cough, Leeanne Locken), that doesn’t change the fact that she “completely has her shit together as a parent.” This was how one Dallas acquaintance of hers so eloquently put it to me.

Dr. Mercer, who possesses his own background worthy of a reality show and went through foster care as a kid, confirms that Brandi “has an immense amount of love to give and is an excellent mother.”

“Through Stephanie Hollman, I was introduced to Brandi,” he explains, “As a social worker, Stephanie had become familiar with my work with Lonestar Social Services, a foster and adoption agency serving the state of Texas. Stephanie is the kind of person I could call up and say ‘This child really wants a Batman bed. What can we do?’ and before you know it, she has donated a bed, bedding and her husband is making himself available to play softball with another child. The Hollmans are the most giving people with huge hearts. When Brandi was having her fertility struggles, Stephanie said to me ‘what about Brandi?'”

“This is not an easy process. It can be a year of totally consuming you and testing your patience and commitment. Then there are times things come up unexpectedly and the process can take longer. Or, there are certain highly specialized requests so things don’t happen as fast as you’d like them to.”

“Brandi was incredible throughout this whole journey. She didn’t get special treatment or have it easy – No one gets ‘special treatment’ in something as serious as this. Brandi never wavered and only became more committed as time went on. She has spent so much time with us that…and hopefully you’ll see this ahead on the season..our cause is something she’s become quite passionate about.”

Mercer is bound by certain confidentiality rules, especially since this was a closed and private adoption. What he was able to divulge is that he works closely with hospitals and social workers and was alerted about the baby, born to notably “young parents”, eligible for adoption.

At that point, Brandi had already completed the scrutinizing and selective vetting process. It is important to note here that a “closed adoption” means nothing is revealed, so the birth mother would not know that the adoptive mother appears on a reality show. When I asked how long it took Brandi to adopt the baby from start to finish, he is able to respond: “Minimum of seven months.”

Brandi was able to become an adoptive mother on the merits of her parenting history, cohesive and warm family dynamic, stable home environment and by meeting other benchmarks built into the system.

Mercer, who himself was eventually taken into a loving home as a child following years in foster care, made a mental commitment long ago to place kids in the best possible homes. “This is more of a crisis than people realize or even talk about,” he emphasizes, “There is a high number of kids who still need families.”

After writing his memoir several years ago, Dolores Catania of Real Housewives of New Jersey reached out to Mercer to say she was in awe of his work. The two have become close friends and appear often in photos together — in the event that you were wondering why his face looks so familiar.

He is no stranger to “Real Housewives” in general because of their common interest in philanthropy (a necessary component of taking care of kids without families and trying to place them in homes).

Dr. James Mercer’s book

One of the benevolent people he’s met through the charity circuit is Lisa Vanderpump. That’s right: The queen bee of RHOBH is not just passionate about pets.

Mercer wants viewers to know that Brandi Redmond and her family were subjected to the same rigorous process as the other non-famous clients he works with, but adds that she did get lucky in the end when the baby became available. “There are other people with very specialized requests and it’s been harder to get things in place as quickly. I really think the timing and how everything worked out for Brandi was a miraculous thing and clearly evidence of God’s amazing work! But there was so much involved during the preceding months that I wish people had gotten to see so they would understand it wasn’t as simple as it looked on TV. That said, I’m THRILLED they are showing this on TV at all! More awareness needs to be brought to adoption and the needs of these children.”

“We didn’t in any way ‘make it easy’ for Brandi as some critics have suggested. Also, it doesn’t matter who you are. Oprah would have to go through this whole process and it would require the same amount of vetting for her, as well as the same intense level of commitment. The priority is to ensure we find our kids the ideal, suitable and loving homes.”

Moms, Parents

#Parents: TV Is Not as Bad for Babies as We Once Thought

A study published in Child Development, conducted at Emory University and sponsored by The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (a division of the National Institute of Health), revealed that infants under 2 can learn signs from television time.

While the American Pediatric Association (APA) issued earlier statements advising parents against it, putting your baby down for a few minutes’ worth of an educational video is not so bad after all.

During the course of the three-week long investigation which took place through the Video Learning Lab at Emory University, parents introduced their 15-month-olds to ASL signs at home, either through videos or a picture book.

The best piece of information gleaned from this study is that when it came to video viewing, babies who watched with parents for approximately 15 to 20 minutes recalled a significant number of the 18 signs presented.

They performed just as well as those who learned from books. In addition, those that watched videos alone (without a parent next to them), also retained a significant portion of the information.

The findings suggest that television time for tots is not as harmful as we’ve been led to believe for years.

Once a week, the Emory team quantified their subjects’ learning outcomes by having them pair pictures with their matching signs. Parents also reported each week whether they observed their babies using these signs.

When the three-week period ended, researchers retested the children one week later to determine what they were able to remember. Recall was assessed specifically by having the infants produce signs when they saw pictures of the objects, and by asking them to point to the picture that matched the signs.

A leading author of the study, developmental psychologist Shoshana Dayanim, Ph.D., explained that the study was unique for a variety of reasons: It was a controlled one wherein the only way for subjects to learn signs was through this study during its allotted time periods. While previous research has been conducted with infants and language, — a murky area where it is difficult to control what is learned — the Emory exploration consisted of approximately 15- to 20-minute intervals of exposure.

The study uniquely presented the babies with expressions to actually employ and simultaneously understand.

Dayanim further explained that infants use signs interchangeably with verbal words and can sign words earlier than they can vocalize them. This not only helps communication in the present tense, but research supports that signing positively impacts vocabulary in early childhood.

Knowing that the American Pediatric Association once advocated for keeping infants away from television altogether, it is interesting to see there are benefits to TV learning — in a controlled environment.

Dr. Dayanim made it clear that Emory was not declaring“Watch TV!”, but that under the right circumstances, instructional learning can actually take place through instructional videos with children under 2.

The one drawback of the study was that researchers were not able to determine exactly when to draw the line on video watching.

Parents may want to play it safe by keeping educational viewing to a minimum as the researchers did.

If a parent needs 15 to 20 minutes to unwind, explained Dayanim, their baby can actually learn something in the process.

Just don’t bother with sight words at such an early stage. The research only attests to success with signs.


#Motherhood: Lessons I learned from Multitasking Moms

I’ve been told by friends and family members that there is a way to do it all. This happens when I complain that there aren’t enough hours in my day to do all of my work plus the necessary house tidying before 3. That fine hour is when I hit the “pause” button on work, fetch my sons from school and begin the arduous process of “Homework”.

While they play afterwards, I go back and hit “play” myself – on work that is – while keeping a careful eye on the floor and their wrestling. I resume my tasks while I simultaneously entertain them, make dinner (or pour bowls of cheerios) and scramble to pseudo-clean so it isn’t total chaos.

I don’t “watch the clock” while working from my home office. I often inevitably go over the allotted number of monthly hours for each of my projects because I need to garner results. Determined to be ever the uber-professional, I strategize, devise, rethink, write and rewrite, then document all of that work. Hence, there are not enough hours in my day.

In an effort to figure out a better way to manage my time (and clean the damn house!), I interviewed 75 women who work, whether it be professional work or caring for a child (which, of course, is the hardest job) from home like myself. During the course of my interviews, some common themes emerged: having a supportive husband (check! Got that.), learning to delegate (who to?), setting a timer to clean, then getting back to work and cleaning again (sounds like “lather, rinse, repeat,” and this occurs in 15 minute increments each), and keeping planners (one unbelievably organized “Alpha Mom” said she has daily, weekly, monthly and yearly to-do planners!).

Mia Redrick is a mom not unlike me, who started her own business and works from home. She founded Finding Definitions, LLC, which offers coaching, classes and seminars “on topics relevant for a mother’s personal growth on her journey throughout motherhood.” She advises moms (she herself is a mom to 3) to “DIPP: Delegate, Incorporate, Plan and Purge.” Also the author of “Time for Mom-me, 5 Essential Self-Care Strategies for a Mother’s Self-Care,” Mia explains how these 4 steps get her through the daily grind:

· Delegate: ask family members to help with household chores or baby duty tasks.

· Incorporate others in your space; consider outsourcing laundry or household cleaning. Hire a mother’s helper from the neighborhood to come over for a few hours to give you a hand.

· Plan by taking 15 minutes in the morning and considering what it is you would like to accomplish that day.

· Purge means getting rid of the unnecessary and learning to say “no” to what’s unrealistic or too much to take on.”

I liked Mia’s tips because, frankly, I’m fond of cute acronyms (DIPP), but implementing the tips is not as realistic for me. My family members are all busy working (my dad’s a busy pediatrician and my mom, a high school principal) and I haven’t been able to find cleaning help that’s both economical and thorough. I “purged” myself of a demanding boss years ago, but now I have myself to answer to, and catching myself for 15 minutes prior to morning prep (of getting the kids dressed and fed before bringing them to their respective places) is quite impossible: I like to sleep for as long as I can before my kids crow to the rising sun through (and despite) the darkest of blackout shades.

LiRon Anderson-Bell of PR firm Crisis Contingency Partners (just hearing the name of her firm stresses me out) is also a self-professed “soccer mom” of 2 kids. “I run the agency out of a dedicated space in my home,” says LiRon, and I realize that she and I have something in common. I start to wonder if her laptop charger cord is tangled up with that of her husband’s, and if press kits sit to the right of her desk with legos at her feet.

“I have a hard stop to my work day at 3pm.” I marvel that there’s someone similar to me, experiencing that same mad dash to get it all done by 3. She ends up playing chauffer to various sports and after school extracurricular activities. Liron goes on to explain that it’s tough, that she’s not in bed before midnight most nights, which implies that she resumes working once the kids go to bed.

She credits the support she gets from her husband, who “wrangles the kids in the morning” (breakfast, school/camp drop-off), so she can start her workday no later than 7. LiRon loves the flexibility of her job and the fact that she never has to explain why she needs the afternoon off.

I love that too. After all, before I became my own boss, I had a boss who wrote me a nasty email with expletives when I left work early because my son was rushed to the emergency room. I quit on the spot. Now, if I have to run out, I don’t need to excuse myself – to anyone. With my day cut short, I also get some of my work done at night. LiRon feels that by taking a break and making that “hard stop” at 3, she is able to recharge for working later on.

But cleaning – the bane of my existence! – What about cleaning?! LiRon doesn’t mention anything about fitting in time to clean, but Brandy Yearous, a stay-at-home mother of two writing a fitness book for women who don’t have the time or money for the gym, does. She says that she allots an hour after breakfast for pure, unadulterated and uninterrupted cleaning time. I consider this: My morning is too hectic. I don’t have an hour before or after breakfast to clean because it’s all super-rushed before we get in the car. When I return from driving my kids, I need to glue my butt to the desk chair and check deadline-driven reporter queries posted to various PR services.

I’m too afraid to miss a potential opportunity in the busy morning hours. Alas, the morning cleaning hour won’t work for me. Morning is prime business time.

Cynthia Powell, owner of home-based business Chicks & Cubs is a work-at-home mom of three kids, who manages her time by using a timer.

I like her approach because for the ADD folks like me who also require breaks for the sake of their dry computer eyes, it prevents boredom, lethargy and discomfort by mixing up the routine. “I set my timer for 15-20 minutes,” she explains. “In that amount of time, I work on the computer for my business. When the timer goes off, I reset it, go to work in the kitchen or wherever in the house. Timer goes off, I reset it and go back to business again.”

Sounds like a game of musical chairs? Cynthia says this strategy keeps her focused, gives her necessary breaks, and assures that she works on the business and the house. I’m going to try it. Now, must locate that timer. Cynthia also uses what she calls a “check off sheet” for each day of the week. I call this a “to do list” but tomato tomahhhto – the fact that bible and prayer are at the top of Cynthia’s list, with exercise a close third, is admirable in and of itself. Her list reads like this: Bible Prayer

Exercise Dishes Laundry Then, each day of the week consists of a house task and an important business task: Monday: Mop Kitchen, Shoe Bronzing Orders Tuesday: Change Sheets, Web Link Exchanges Wednesday: Bathrooms, Detailed Paperwork Cynthia’s list is impressive: Not only does she fit in time for exercise and shoe-bronzing, she finds time to be religious.

Maybe it is Cynthia’s faith that carries her along and because of that, God grants her the miracle of getting it all done. Note to self: I haven’t got a prayer.

After email threads and discussions with these 75 women, one recurrent piece of advice rings through repeatedly: “Lower your Standards.” For some, like Tara Bloom, a divorced mom of a teen daughter who manages online maternity and baby business, those “standards” apply to the definition of “clean home.”

For others like Atlanta-based freelance journalist and mom Paige Bowers, the standards apply to quantitative workload: “Learning to say no has been a major thing for me,” she says. “Understanding that my priorities are my family, friends and writing career helps drive a lot of the decisions I make. If it doesn’t fit, then I don’t commit.”

For stay-at-home mom Sophie Sacca, lowering standards means not being so hard on her-self, and setting aside “me time” which for her includes playing piano, reading a novel and deep relaxation.

For Caryn Sabes Hacker, a psychotherapist, it’s about taking the best possible care of herself. “I credit nutritional supplements for my energy and concentration today,” chuckles the mom whose kids are now grown, “but my commitment to daily exercise and taking time to unwind in the early morning always got me through the work day when the kids were young. Setting aside the time for physical activity and meditation complements my healthy lifestyle and is what still gets me through a multitude of daily assignments.”

When that’s not enough for Caryn, she breaks everything down into groups of 20: handling 20 pieces of paper on the desk, putting away 20 dishes or 20 pieces of clothing. She advises other moms to do the same, saying: “Turn the big job into lots of little jobs and spread that throughout a very long day.”

For publicist Renee Glick, lowering standards is about not expecting herself to be everywhere at once. Instead of going to the store, she orders groceries, shoes and clothing for herself and the kids via the Internet. She pays her bills and does her banking online as well.

Still, others stressed that discipline is essential for how they do it all: “Discipline is key,” stresses work-at-home mom and professional writer Janice Rice, who toils away from the moment her two grade school kids walk out the door at 7:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., when she goes to pick them up. “During that time, I focus on my professional work—not on laundry or cleaning my house. I try to leave the hours between 2 and 9 p.m. open for kids and home activities, and then round out my work day between 9 and midnight. I figure the tradeoff is worth the flexibility, and I’ve discovered—as has every new mom—that the human body can accommodate a different schedule.”

Pediatric nurses Jennifer Walker, RN, BSN and Laura Hunter, LPN burn the midnight oil many nights. From their cheery dispositions when I once asked about my son’s chronic diaper rash (years ago), it seems they don’t get tired. It helps that they were trained as pediatric nurses. Always on the go, with eight children between them (including a set of twins each!), they shuffle between consultations with frazzled new parents, teaching toddler seminars) and answering parents’ questions via email.

Next to a smiling picture of Laura from the “Moms on Call” web site are the words “Laura is a juggler — she juggles life (can you relate?).”

Kelly Robbins of The Copywriting Institute writes to me from her home office: She’s determined to make family time strictly family time, and offers this pithy suggestion that I’ll take most to heart: “When the kids are in school, don’t screw around!”

Moms, Television

#Netflix: Grace & Frankie’s June Diane Raphael Is Just As Amazing Off-Screen: An Interview

(I originally wrote this article for Huffington Post.)

I recently interviewed Peter Cambor of Showtime’s Roadies who also plays Barry, boyfriend of Brianna on Netflix’s hit series Grace & Frankie. While chatting with Cambor’s publicist, I casually mentioned that I am also a big fan of June Diane Raphael who plays Brianna on G&F.

At the time, I considered my admission terribly geeky and was not expecting what I heard in response: “Would you like to interview her?” Uh, hells yeah!

The hilarious Raphael is not only on my radar screen for Grace & Frankie where she shines alongside Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, but since I began my foray into the wonderful world of podcasts, I have listened to her as a guest (Bitch Sesh and Ronna & Beverly) and a co-host with her husband, comedian Paul Scheer (How Did this Get Made?). I have also seen her play a realtor on Netflix’s quirky comedy series Lady Dynamite and have caught up retroactively on earlier work she produced with co-writer and best friend, comedian Casey Wilson (the movie Ass Backwards).

Sometimes when you speak with someone you admire, it’s a let-down – like that certain 90s actor who blew ringlets of smoke in my face and asked me to go on some more about how I liked his work. However, chatting with Raphael was everything I had hoped for and more. She started off our phone conversation by saying she has a “dear friend named Shira Weiss” (sister in law to Casey Wilson who also guested on a Bitch Sesh episode) so it had been funny to see my name in the emails preceding our interview. Instantly, she felt like a “friend in my head” (to quote Wendy Williams) with her endearingly warm tone, humility and the way you could tell she really listens when you talk.

An extremely busy mom to an almost 2 year old with another child on the way, she is currently filming season 3 of Grace & Frankie and spends a lot of time writing comedy when not filming, so we spoke early in the morning for 20 minutes.

SW: I came to know you through Grace & Frankie but as a Bitch Sesh fan, I went & caught up on your prior work, particularly with Casey Wilson. How has being on such a hit show with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin changed your

day-to-day and your fame?

JDR: There’s a misconception that actors and writers in the alternative comedy scene want to avoid the more mainstream. It’s not true for me. I pursued it, but this is the first thing that I’m in that really became a hit in this way. I have to say it’s nice to alternate between different types of comedy. I’ve always felt so supported by the comedy fan community who has been with me since the early days, really smart people who will follow you to the ends of the earth. They have been amazing with feedback and with recommending my work to others who wouldn’t necessarily find it. People who follow more mainstream comedy will say “Who is she and where did she pop up from?” but I’ve actually been doing this for a while so it’s really nice and flattering to be newly discovered by these people who knew nothing about me. Overall, I don’t feel any different. More opportunities are coming my way. More people have seen G&F who are just now seeking out old work I did. As far as ‘fame,’ I can still walk down the street with a lot of ease and comfort.

My dad watches this show and that has felt like great support. His peer group loves it and he loves it! It’s addressing issues that he and his friends are dealing with. On a very personal level, that validation from a parent has been great. The show means a lot to our parents, addressing some stuff that’s not really talked about. It’s been nice to see that they feel represented, which they should.

SW: From what I read, you just announced that your second child is on the way. What’s it like filming Seasion 3 of G & F during a pregnancy & juggling new motherhood?

JDR: I feel supported with the pregnancy. The struggle I’m having, to be honest, is with really putting my body out there. With Season 1, I had just had a baby and now I’m pregnant. I’m not feeling like myself and how I would present myself given the choice. Some women drop pounds from breastfeeding, but I didn’t start losing weight until I stopped. Suddenly, I was the heaviest I’d ever been now doing a job that was going to reach the most people. The reality is that it’s totally normal to have baby weight and I was where I should be: If it takes a year to put on that weight, it should take a year to lose it. So physically putting myself out there in a very public way and not feeling like myself has been challenging. That said, I always say that I have it easier than so many working mothers, and very often when you’ve worked so very hard, the time when you achieve success coincides with when you start a family. While it can be challenging having a young child to take care of while working, I’m not being filmed every day on the show like Jane and Lily are and I have a certain freedom. Though I will say that when I’m not being filmed, I’m busy with my writing career. With my son who is almost 2, I’m feeling a lot more confident today about how I divide my time. And now of course, I am headed into another transition.

Having a child has probably been one of the best things for me because there’s a certain amount of freedom – a not caring what people think. I have this child and know I don’t want to be gone too much so I’ve achieved a balance. If he’s ok, then I’m ok. I’m feeling a lot more freedom to fail. It can actually free you as an artist because you have a different perspective.

SW: You and Casey Wilson (comedian and Bitch Sesh Co-Host) are writing partners and have a certain style as women who are goofy and don’t worry about being ladylike, kind of like Wedding Crashers humor but with girls acting “ass backwards.” With that preamble, how do you want to go down in history as a comedian?

JDR: Well, the movie Ass Backwards we co-wrote (and acted in) and is about the two of us in New York based on our real experiences there and the delusions and dysfunctions of that time period. Of course, we did this with heightened characters. I have such a love of physical comedy and think things can be as broad as possible as long as they’re rooted in some sort of reality. I’m not really as interested in that sort of Indian Sundance comedy…. I enjoy comedies that are going for hard jokes. That said, some of the stuff we’re writing is so different because we’re different. We’’re very curious about female friendships and what goes on, which is Bravo’s ‘Real Housewives’ is so interesting, how they are so aware of themselves being seen on TV as the seasons go on, and it’s actually so funny to get a look into this world. I am absolutely fascinated by female interactions and that will be the crux of my work. The humor in Casey and my work is different because we’re different and want to showcase those type of female friendships. We really do have so much fun together.

SW: You’re married to comedian Paul Scheer. How did you guys meet?

JDR: Paul and I met at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. Paul came to see Casey and my performance since he was one of the mainstays of the theater – He was called on to give us feedback on our performance.

SW: How did the opportunity for Grace & Frankie arise?

JDR: Grace & Frankie came along when I was postpartum lying on the couch. It t was the one script I read and I decided I had to go in and audition for.

SW: I think I’m funny, but one of my son’s cringes with embarrassment sometimes. I’m sure that has to be a little different when both parents are professional comics. How do you envision your kids reacting to their parents’ humor as they get older?

JDR: I grew up in a family where my parents were not comedians. My mom worked as a teacher and my dad was in construction. They weren’t into comedy necessarily but were the funniest people I knew. There was such a premium put on making each other laugh at the dinner table. I don’t really care if my kids see my work – I actually hope that they don’t see a lot of it (laughs) – but I hope for a family dynamic that includes

sharing a lot of laughter.

SW: Some quick words on the podcast “Ronna & Beverly” where 2 comedians are in character as older Jewish women with thick Boston accents. They are hilarious and I know you were a guest. I want to turn my friends on to listening to this absolutely brilliant show— What can you say about these fellow comedians as if you were promoting them? What would your advice be so I can get my friends to listen?

JDR: They do have a really committed fan base which you see at their crowded live shows, but their podcast is not as well-known as it should be. All of us in this group of female comedians based in LA have been on each other’s podcast and are friends (this network includes and is not limited to: Jamie Denbo and Jessica Chaffin who play Beverly and Ronna respectively, as well as comedians Jessica St. Claire and Melissa Rauch.) I’m really proud of that and it’s pretty special how everyone is there for one another.

SW: I wish I were funny enough because I’d love to somehow break into that group!

JDR: (laughs) It’s a pretty elite group. Everyone is so super talented that I’m so happy that I, myself can actually be a part of it. But most importantly, it’s so incredible how everyone in this group of women is so supportive of one another!

You can listen to June Diane Raphael on the podcast How Did this Get Made? & if you haven’t seen it, now’s the time to binge watch Seasons of Grace & Frankie on Netflix.

Moms, Psychology

SH*T People Say To Pregnant Women

twins not twins

I was recently on the Buttered Pop podcast to recap an episode of the wildly popular Bravo show Vanderpump Rules. While there are no pregnant characters on the show… yet, there was a story-line about a character receiving unsolicited comments on her body from another (male) character. While delving into this with the podcast host Armin Mahramzadeh, he and I discussed the concept of a man weighing in to criticize and heavily scrutinize a woman’s body. We wondered if 2018 would finally be the year for men to take a second look at this habitual and (also unfortunately) historic behavior,  realizing how wrong it is to issue these types of intrusive remarks.

pregnant fat

Even men who profess to be feminists and to understand women, should think before making a nasty barb about the female bod…

Because guess what, men? You are men. Whether you are gay or straight, single or in a relationship, live with a woman or do not: You have no firsthand understanding of the female anatomy, hormones and related weight fluctuations like someone with an actual female body has. Often enough, you’ve exhibited that you have no concept of what a realistic female body type is, what is desirable versus what is achievable.

I feel the above frustrations as a woman and I also remember feeling a great deal of annoyance – amplified by overwhelming surges in hormones – when I was pregnant.

Until I actually started to show during my first pregnancy, I had no idea that that time period in my life would open the floodgates to all sorts of unsolicited commentary. It boggled my mind then that folks felt they had license to issue all sorts of rude and tasteless insults to the most hormonal people on the planet, expecting it to roll right off their backs. With the subsequent two pregnancies, I still remained aghast though perhaps, I was a bit prepared. Otherwise, pregnancy is a blessing and having gone the fertility route to achieve a sustainable pregnancy, I felt super thankful and appreciative to even have this time to complain…..Still, the sorts of things that people will say – I will never forget some of those comments!

just one baby

In retrospect, I can laugh at the ridiculousness, but in the moment, I really just wanted to school people on the things they shouldn’t be saying.

Can you imagine if  I walked over to a man and said “Oh my God, you are so fucking bald! What happened to all of your hair?” Something tells me it wouldn’t go over well at all, that it would be seriously shocking and be perceived as terribly inappropriate. So the fact that it is far less shocking to tell a  woman “You are huge!” while staring at her belly (pregnant or not, because people never cease to amaze me) is appalling.

when is it ok pregnant


My experience with pregnancy – three times- is what inspired me to write a little skit that was performed in an Off Broadway production a few years ago under the directorship of Aliza Shane and the 3V Theater company.

big isnt compliment pregnancy


Without further adieu, I present you with “Sh*t People Say to Pregnant Women” and perhaps after you read it, you’ll remember to insert your own pregnant pauses into conversations about women’s bodies:

“Are you seriously eating that?”

“Are you going to eat ALL that?!”

“I never ate that much when I was pregnant…”

[Laughing and pointing] “Talk about ‘eating for two’!”

“You know that you don’t really need to’ eat for two.’ The baby is the size of a lima bean.”

“YOU are going to gain so…much…WEIGHT!”

“Oh wow, [slaps head] you’re pregnant! I thought you just got fat.”

“Your nose has gotten wider; you must be having a girl!”

“Your nose has gotten wider; you must be having a boy!”

“You must be having a girl. Girls suck out all your beauty…”

“Don’t you love how now you can just let yourself go and eat whatever you want?”

“Oh, no wonder you’re letting yourself go!”

“No wonder you’re eating so much!”

“Oh, you’re showing early because you’re so skinny.”

“My other friend who’s pregnant didn’t show as early because SHE’S thin.”

“I wasn’t sure it was a PREGNANT belly. I thought it might just be a MARRIED belly.”

“Oh, I knew it! I just knew it! I knew it before you told me!”

“I thought your face was getting a little fat.”

“I noticed your boobs were looking bigger.”

“Oh, phew, I really was wondering why you were suddenly getting so chunky.”

“Ohhhh. Can I touch it?”

“Should you be eating that?”

“Should you be drinking that?”

“You know you shouldn’t be eating that.”

“You SURE you’re not having twins?”

“Twins? You are going to BURST!”

“One’s gotta be hiding behind another. That happened to my mother’s sister’s cousin-in-law’s best friend’s aunt’s daughter.”

[Whispers confidentially] “Could it be triplets?”

“Well, it definitely has to be twins! You’re too big to be carrying only one. I don’t believe you…”

“You’re too small. Are you sure you’re eating enough?”

“I don’t care what your Doctor says, I KNOW you’re having twins!”

“You’re HUGE! …oh, it’s twins? [Nervously] you’re really carrying small. I hope the babies are ok.”

“Are you taking folic acid?”

“Are you taking your prenatal vitamin?”

“Natural or IVF?”

“Wow, you got pregnant fast at your age!”

“I guess your eggs weren’t fried after all, girl!”

“Wow, so close to your last baby?!”

“Weren’t you JUST pregnant?”

“Didn’t you just get married?”

“Don’t you believe in birth control?”

“What’s the rush?”

“Was this planned or…a surprise?”

“You’re having a baby?… I am so NOT a ‘kids person’!”

“Oh, I so hope it’s a girl since you already have a boy!”

“Will you be disappointed if it’s ANOTHER boy?”

“Are you finding out what you’re having?”

“Are you keeping it?”