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Ricki Lake

The talk-show queen turned birthing activist is busier, thinner and happier than ever.

Ricki LakeRicki Lake

It seems like Ricki Lake is always reinventing herself. In 1988, when she was just 20 years old, she burst onto the scene as the cheerful and chunky heroine of John Waters’s film Hairspray. Five years later, after a lot of career and weight ups and downs, she launched her own eponymous talk show. Although it started out as a sensational, Jerry Springer-type affair, its tenor—and her life—changed after she became a mom. Lake became so obsessed with the birthing process, she considered becoming a midwife. Instead, she became a natural birth activist, producing the much-buzzed about 2008 documentary The Business of Being Born—in which she delivered her second child on camera—and co-writing the new companion book, Your Best Birth, subtitled “Know all your options, discover the natural choices and take back the birth experience.” Although Lake seems to have been out of the spotlight the past few years, she tells Time Out Kids that she’s never been busier: Her kids and her diverse projects keep her occupied 24/7. Those longing to see Lake back in the limelight will be happy to hear that on May 11 she debuts as the new host of VH1’s reality series Charm School, which brings together bad girls from the casts of Real Chance of Love and Rock of Love Bus in a trashy comedy of bad manners. A paradox, you say? Lake disagrees. She likes trying to do it all.

What inspired you to become a birthing activist?
The birth of my first son. It didn’t go as planned. I mean, you can’t control it, and I’m a control freak. That birth went out of my hands, and I looked back on it and thought, Oh, if only I had known this, if only I had done that, it would have been different. I’m grateful that I had a vaginal birth, no episiotomy, my baby was skin to skin and he was healthy, but I knew I was going to do it differently the next time. For my second son, I had a water birth; I wanted that experience. I had done my research, and thus the movie was made. I want women to have the correct information, to feel empowered and not scared. That’s why Abby [Abby Epstein, Lake’s co-writer and the director of The Business of Being Born] and I wrote the book. There are a lot of books out there that give fear-based information that terrifies women. Abby and I are moms; we’re not experts, we’re not doctors, we are lay people, but I feel like I’m an encyclopedia on this subject. I think our book is really enlightening and inspiring and features, for the most part, positive stories. I realize that no matter how many people are inspired by our film and our book, few are going to want homebirths like me. But they can still go into a hospital with all the information and the knowledge that they have rights and choices that can make the experience that much better.

I read that you considered being a midwife. Why didn’t you do it?
I still dream about being a midwife! But I don’t even have an undergraduate degree. I would have to start over. It doesn’t make sense. It’s just not my path. I think I’m better off being an advocate for midwives. I have the utmost respect and love and admiration for what they do, particularly today with this health-care crisis that we’re in. It’s getting harder and harder for them to stay in practice with the litigious world that we live in.

Why did you decide to write a book in addition to making your documentary?
There were so many subjects that we didn’t have time to delve into [in the movie]. Not only do we have the book coming out, we have a follow-up documentary too. We’ve been working on it for a year and a half, and we're in the final stages. I don’t know what the name is going to be yet. We’ve been interviewing amazing women, like my hero, Ina May Gaskin, the pioneer midwife. We shot her on the Farm Community, which is a working commune where these midwives deliver one another’s babies. I’m surprised that other people have taken an interest in my passion, because at the time when I started my journey, I didn’t think anybody cared. All my friends were having elective C-sections or asking to be knocked out. It seemed so backward to me. Our movie’s been very viral. It came out a year ago, but it’s bigger now than ever. It’s definitely enjoying good word of mouth.

Except for your stunning weight loss, which was written about in all the celebrity magazines, it seems like you’ve been out of the spotlight of late.
It’s funny because I’ve been working harder than I’ve ever worked in my whole career! I have so much going on. We’re launching a social networking site for mothers-to-be called mybestbirth.com. It’s going to be a hub for pregnant women to get information, and to chat and podcast. I’ve got that, I’ve got the book, I’ve got the follow-up film, and I have this show called Charm School Gives Back With Ricki Lake.

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