Jessi Cruickshank on her second pregnancy and attacks from anti-vaxxers

Jessi Cruickshank QandA 1280x720
Parenting

This was supposed to be Jessi Cruickshank’s shot at a simpler pregnancy. Back when she carried her very high-risk identical twins, Rio and Dray, she spent months on bedrest and riding a motorized scooter, had in-utero surgery and, for the first time in her very busy life, stopped everything to devote herself to the babies.

“Part of the reason that I wanted to have a third kid and a second pregnancy was to experience a quote unquote ‘normal’ pregnancy,” she tells Today’s Parent from her home in LA. “Of course, the irony is that that’s happening during a pandemic.”

If that weren’t enough, the host of the hilarious and poignant parenting show New Mom, Who Dis? also chose to film the series’ fourth season (which premieres on May 12) while in her third trimester, where she went as far as posing nude for a maternity modelling agency. Overall, the self-deprecating star jokes that it’s a very “bloated” season, and we’re LOLing in anticipation.

Whether she’s gyrating with her eight-month bump front and centre on a Facebook live or sharing hilarious clips of her three-year-olds giving her pretend nasal swabs, the thing that Jessi always delivers is a solid dose of parenting realness—the good, the bad and the ugly (the latter being the repulsive reactions she recently received after bravely sharing vaccination photos. More on that later).

When we caught up, Jessi shared her very relatable experience parenting three-year-olds during a pandemic, her hopes for baby number three, the most epic reunion she had with her own mom and her advice for women going through their pregnancies during the pandemic.

You’re weeks from giving birth – what’s on your mind these days?

I have to be honest, I’m in a state of panic. I genuinely didn’t realize that I was weeks away from giving birth until about two days ago. I think the reason it hasn’t been top of mind is because it’s a second pregnancy. This pregnancy hasn’t been my first priority—my first is taking care of the two maniacs that I currently live with. So this has kind of been like an afterthought.

The good thing is you don’t need really much at the beginning! A bassinet and some diapers—a few newborn-size, a lot of size one.

Totally. Okay, that I didn’t think of, so thank you. And honestly, all the things that you think are important during your first pregnancy, you know, adorable baby animal prints on the wall, are so unimportant, especially for the first six months while they’re still in our room. Still, at this stage, I’m not feeling 100% prepared—physically, emotionally or logistically.

Pregnancy is such a vulnerable time and you have to deal with a lot of “opinions,” but you made an especially brave move advocating for pregnant women getting the vaccine by sharing your own jab on social. How did you deal with all the anti-vax hate that came in?

I’m so grateful to be able to say this, but I don’t get that much hate on my page. So when I do, it hits. There were comments like, ‘You’re a terrible mother,’ ‘You’re going to have a miscarriage,’ ‘Your baby’s going to die.’ It was things you would never say to your worst enemy, coming from strangers. I was crying reading the comments. You can tell me that I’m stupid. You can tell me that I’m ugly. But if you tell me I’m a bad mom, that will hit me where it hurts. So that was really hard.

What was also hard is that I’m human. I did have some hesitation about getting the vaccine while pregnant. I did call my doctors multiple times to just triple check. I did do all the 4 a.m. panic reading. I mean, up until the moment it was in my arm I was nervous. So when you make a decision that you’re a little nervous about and people tell you that it’s wrong, that was extra challenging.

But I certainly don’t regret sharing it, because for every negative comment, I got dozens and dozens of women, moms, pregnant women, saying ‘Thank you so much for sharing, I didn’t know what to do, I was on the fence.’ People were reaching out to me to get a little more information and I’m happy, happy, happy to share. And I think that that posed more good than harm.

Yeah, people like to assume that you didn’t do your due diligence when that’s never a decision anyone would take lightly.

Exactly. I read everything I could get my hands on. But at the end of the day, my doctors and my specialists—who successfully saved my monochorionic/diamnotic identical twins in utero, who successfully birthed my preemie boys, who have helped me through the most challenging medical conditions of my life with regards to pregnancy and childbirth—were the same doctors who told me, ‘Run, don’t walk, to get it as soon as you can.’

I don’t regret my decision to get the vaccine at all. I feel so much more comfortable moving through the world pregnant. I feel so much better about the idea of going into the hospital.

COVID has obviously made this pregnancy really different, and you penned a beautiful essay on the loneliness of pandemic pregnancies. With numbers still high in Canada, is there any advice you can offer moms-to-be? Or silver linings to share?

It’s not easy. I wrote pretty candidly about my experience with the loneliness and isolation of being pregnant in a pandemic and the outpouring of feedback and support I got from other expecting moms who had gone through the same thing made me feel less alone. For me, as vain as this sounds, it’s been hard to not be seen or acknowledged as pregnant—I miss moving through the world and having friends, family, complete strangers say ‘congratulations!’ or ‘when are you due?’ I need that to make it all feel real.

About halfway through my pregnancy, I decided to change out of my husband’s oversized sweatpants and dress up once in a while. I ordered maternity clothes and I started to put my bump in something cute, just to walk around my house or go to the doctor or take a picture in the backyard, and it honestly started to make me feel better. It started to make me feel like a human being again. I realized, even if the world can’t make me feel special, I can and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.

And what has the experience of carrying a single baby been like compared to twins?

It’s night and day. I’ve been telling people that compared to twins. it’s like being pregnant with a sandwich. And it really was, but now the joke’s on me, because I’m as big as I was with the twins.

Relative to what I went through my first pregnancy, this has been amazing. I’m up and walking, whereas I was on a motorized scooter for two and a half months of my twin pregnancy. So I’ve appreciated every part of it.

Still though, as someone who was seeing a specialist every two days, with this pregnancy, I’m like, ‘Anyone need to see me? Medical professionals need to check? Or no, we’re good? Okay.’ It’s caused me some anxiety. No one seems to really be interested in what’s going on with this baby. It’s just so different.

And you have also managed to shoot an entire season of New Mom, Who Dis?, which is definitely not a desk job, in your third trimester. How did you do that?

The decision to shoot a season of a show in my third trimester—the biggest, most uncomfortable, most unflattering time of the pregnancy—is a decision that I regret already. But that’s what this show is and was sort of why I created it: to show the real, funny sides of motherhood—and to be eight months pregnant and shooting is funny. So at the end of the day, it’s very fitting.

Having been pregnant for 90% of this pregnancy in a lockdown, the only people who saw me were my family, my husband, and my doctor on occasion, so to get to dress up and do my hair and makeup and be out in the world doing what I love to do with a small crew supporting me has actually been such a joy. As vain as this may sound, there’s something to be said for feeling cute while eight months pregnant.

While I deeply regret shooting a season that will live in the world and on the internet forever while in my third trimester, I also am sort of grateful that I get to have something that is documenting this third trimester because otherwise, it’s a pregnancy that has gone largely unseen and undocumented.

Any secret weapons that got you through filming?

My husband ordered me the least sexy belly band support strap system you’ve ever seen. It was almost grounds for divorce when it arrived. He was very worried about me overextending myself, as he knows me well. So this medical device arrives and I’m offended. I’m saying, ‘I have a stylist who’s pulling all these beautiful clothes and you want me to wear this underneath?’ But I gotta say, it saved me. I’m wearing it right now. It lifts, it supports—it’s like a bra for the belly. It shows through half my outfits, but you know what? I’m past the point of caring.

What highlights can you share from the new season of New Mom, Who Dis?

Yes! I’m so excited for this season. It’s a nice mix of comedy, real human stories and controversial stories.

For one episode I went to audition for the preeminent maternity modelling agency in Los Angeles. I had to do multiple photoshoots, one of them being a nude maternity shoot. Third trimester nude posing is one of the most traumatic things I have ever done on camera, but I took one for the team there.

And then a personal highlight for me is an episode where I forced Evan, my husband, who hates to appear on camera, to spend a day with me pregnant. So he is wearing a 45-pound empathy belly. He had to take the kids to school, to the park, and attend a prenatal breathing class with me. It brought me a lot of joy and honestly, it’s changed the way he’s treated me since.

When we spoke to you last you had gone back to work 8 weeks postpartum when your body was still bleeding, leaking milk, you were up all night. Will you give yourself more time to recover this time around?

Yes. I didn’t know! I think first-time moms don’t know the truth. Now that I know, I definitely plan to give myself more time. And the other thing is with the COVID of it all, no one’s going back into the studio anyway. The challenge for me was that I had to be in the studio at 6 a.m. every single day. And now that so much of my work is from home, I’ll still be working but I’ll be much more in control of where and how I do it. And if I’m bleeding below the frame of the Zoom, that’s okay.

Will my three year olds respect my need to rest? Probably not, but I certainly have a better understanding of what’s required.

You’ve said that you and Evan had always planned on having two kids, but the twins kind of put a wrench in that plan. Do you remember when you decided that you guys were going to go for the third? When you were like, ‘I’m going to go for this extreme level of momness’.

I mean, those are the words that really make me panic: “extreme level of momness.”

Those were your words! When we interviewed you last year, you said with two you’re still a human, but with three you’re a mom.

We never imagined having more than two kids. But then we had identical twins. And, as vain as this is, I always sort of wanted a chance at a different face, a different set of DNA. They have this very insular relationship and incredible connection, but I always thought that a sibling would throw something different into the mix that I thought would be really positive for them. So we didn’t really make a decision. We just kept going back and forth.

The great irony of it all is that we did one little trip to an isolated place in Joshua Tree in the middle of the pandemic, just the four of us. It was so nice to have a change of scenery, and to really connect as a family. On the day we got home, I looked at Evan and said, ‘I think this is it. I think our family is complete. Let’s stop trying.’ Later that day, I found out I was pregnant.

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Photo: Courtesy of Jessi Cruickshank

It was meant to be! That’s also a really nice pandemic memory. And I’m curious about what the rest of the pandemic has been like, with Rio and Dray.

It’s been so hard. On the one hand, they have each other, whereas a lot of kids went through the past year on their own. But at the same time, it was like WWE in my house every night at 7 p.m. My boys are not about sitting down and making crafts. I would try to prepare little activities and they would last for no joke, a minute and a half. They were ready to draw on walls and destroy the house. The biggest challenge, obviously, is that my family is in Canada, and I hadn’t seen my mom in a year and a half. So yeah, it’s been difficult—but at the same time, we made a decision to have a third so it couldn’t have been that bad.

The hardest part about pandemic parenting with little kids is keeping them entertained for more than 10 minutes! Have you found anything that works?

They have to be outside. We have to run them like dogs. That’s the only way that I could remain sane. They cannot be cooped up in the house. Otherwise, close your eyes and there’s paint on the wall. It’s much easier to take them out. Everyone in our neighbourhood knows their names, they know where all the best rocks to throw are, they know where the flowers they’re allowed to pick are and they’re basically neighbourhood watch now.

Somehow it’s also less annoying to be forced into playing role-playing games when you’re outside.

Do you know how many times I’ve had to play “The Final Countdown” on my phone very loud and chase them on a space mission through the neighbourhood? Thank god I don’t really know anybody too personally, because I have worn a Toy Story costume on a Tuesday. There’s no more shame.

Are the boys excited for the baby?

As my stomach got bigger and bigger, it definitely became more pronounced in their minds. Sometimes they seem to be thinking about that more than I do. I’ll go a few hours without remembering that I’m pregnant, and then Dray will come up and go, ‘Mommy, is the baby sleeping?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, baby.’

And now, no big deal, but Dray is also pregnant, which is really exciting for our family. He’s due this summer. Some days, it’s a boy, some days, it’s a girl. So it’s a gender fluid baby, and it kicks—he will show it to anybody who approaches. He will lift up his shirt and ask them to touch his belly and feel his baby kick. And, you know, it’s really special to have someone to go through it with so close with me.

That’s adorable.

They’re so cute. They have little toys set aside that they want to give to the baby. And their biggest concern, the question they ask me every day, is, ‘will the baby stay here forever?’ And when I say yes, they say no. But they’re excited. I think with twins, you do have perhaps a bit of an advantage in that they have never been the golden single child. They’ve never had 100% attention. So I think they will have each other when this baby comes and they’ll still be able to play with each other, and fight with each other, and pull each other’s hair, and I think that might alleviate some of that challenge that comes with bringing a new baby home.

You had a lot of trouble coming up with Dray’s name, and now you don’t know the sex either. Do you have names ready to go?

I would say it makes it easier when you already have a name or names established, you can’t just go off the rails and start from scratch. You have to sort of find a name that fits within the category of names that you’ve already selected. So that does sort of make it a little bit less stressful. It is really hard not knowing the sex. And I will say this completely, honestly, just I completely regret not finding out the sex of this.

I did the same, with both my kids. It’s so hard!

Yeah, it’s very hard. I think especially for anyone who hasn’t been able to come to any appointments. It’s been hard to connect with the baby as is and I find that not knowing the sex of the baby makes it more challenging to connect. Not that I will treat it differently, not that I’m desperate to paint a nursery pink, but you do find it difficult to just wrap your head around visualizing who this little person is.

But you learn so much about what you like in a name from having little human beings out in the world and hearing other names at preschool and baby class. It’s really informed me as to what I like and look for in the name in a way that I don’t think I knew in the first go around.

Were there any names that Evan really wanted and you were like ‘that’s a hard no for me’? Or vice versa.

Evan literally wanted to name the twin Shaq and Kobe. That was a real pitch. He has strong opinions when he likes something. And I think that is good for me because I will second guess something until it’s coming out of my vagina. Yeah, but he has this ability to trust his gut and know something is right and just stick with it. And so that has been helpful on the name front for sure.

And did you both agree on not finding out the sex?

With the boys, finding out you’re having identical twins—there’s really no greater shock. They always say you should leave the sex a surprise because there are so few surprises in life. Well, I’ll tell you what’s a big surprise: having identical twins when they don’t run in the family. So with the twins I was like, there’s no more surprises. Tell me everything. And so with this baby, we just thought since this will be our last baby, let’s try doing it the other way and not finding out.

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Photo: Courtesy of Jessi Cruickshank

I won’t ask about your hopes for baby’s sex, but I will ask if you’re still hoping for a redhead?

I’m definitely hoping for a redhead. I don’t care what it is: boy, girl, monkey. I just want a redhead.

Once baby is born, are you looking forward to breastfeeding just one?

I’m so excited. I really did want that ethereal, breastfeed in a flowing linen gown under a tree experience that you don’t get when you have two screaming babies and you’re setting them up on a breast pillow. Tandem breastfeeding was amazing, but logistically it was not effortless. I really hope that I have the opportunity to breastfeed this baby in a little bit more of a relaxed fashion.

The other thing is that, because I was feeding twins and working, I was pumping constantly. So the idea that I might not have to pump as much is a liberating thing. And I think the second time around, I don’t feel as much pressure to exclusively breastfeed or to breastfeed until they’re over a year. This time, I feel like I’m going to be able to let go a little bit.

When a new baby comes home, a lot of new parents want to kill each other. Do you remember any sticking points between you and Evan when you brought the twins home?

You don’t know who you’re going to be as parents. I learned more about Evan in those first six weeks home than I did in our eight years together prior to that. I am and continue to be the far more relaxed parent. He was very nervous, anxious. He was the one getting up 12 times a night to make sure the boys were still breathing. We had a different approach and that was challenging. I’m hoping that his level of anxiety will have come down a little bit, and maybe we will meet a little bit more in the middle.

Your mom made it to LA! How was the reunion?!

She’s been here for a week after 16 months of being apart and it has been heaven. I have a whole new appreciation for my mom and my time with her and, most profoundly, her time with my kids. I’ve been so distraught that she has missed so much in Rio and Dray’s lives and development over the past year and a half, but from the moment she got off the plane, it was like no time had passed with them. They have such a special relationship with their grandma, one that they have managed to maintain over Facetime and Zoom, and now that they are together in person it’s pretty incredible to see. Plus she is going to be here when the baby is born which is just a massive relief. Everything I know about being a mom comes from my mom and I will never take that for granted.

Last time you spoke to Today’s Parent, you said you were hanging out with mostly Canadians in LA. Is that still true?

Right now I’m not doing a lot of hanging, but yep, my Zoom mom crew is very much Canadian. Los Angeles is a crazy city to live in. There are all kinds of people with values that don’t necessarily align with mine. And for me, raising kids here, I’m trying to raise them as little Canadians. All of their little friends are Canadian, they have Canadian values. They’re being raised to understand and know the important things in life. I really try to cut out the LA of it all.

As your boys get older, are you having conversations about how much of their lives to share? Are they into the camera or do they still push back sometimes, like they did on your Today’s Parent photoshoot?

My dreams of having the next Olsen twins have really been dashed. They are so over the camera, whether it is a photo or a video. It’s the last thing that they want to do. They were in every second episode of season one of New Mom, Who Dis?, because they were 18 months old and they would just crawl around. In season four, which we just shot, they will be making no appearance. I think they’re in 30 seconds by accident.

But I just have to respect that that is not something they want to do. The minute they see the crew or a camera, they just go the other way. And that’s fine. And you know what, it’s probably good. It’s probably healthy.

As for the new baby, I don’t know how I feel. I might feel like I want to share or I might feel a little bit more private—I’m not really sure. I’ll just trust my instinct on that.

Any big takeaways from parenting through a pandemic? It’s been agonizing all around, but it’s also taught us a lot about what kids really need and don’t need.

I look back at the initial lockdown, when we were all doing crafts and baking and thinking this thing would last a month or two. Now, we’ve gone through phase 2 and into phase 3 of lockdowns and school closures and working from home and I honestly think we’re all going to come out so much stronger for it. As parents, if we can get through this, we can get through anything.

For me, it was the slowing down that really shifted my perspective as a mom and in my work. I went from shooting a daily show and travelling and doing photoshoots and making weekly episodes of New Mom, Who Dis?, to sitting on the floor doing puzzles with my 2 year olds in my living room. And I needed that. I needed to take that time to just be with my kids, on the floor, doing a puzzle. I needed to re-evaluate what was important to me and I really do think this experience will forever change how I navigate the world as a working mom, for the better. I know what’s important. I know what my kids need. And I know when something can just get done over Zoom!

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