After Lucy had Ethel, but before Will had Grace, Blossom had Six. It was a tale of two teenage girls who were polar opposites (one wise beyond her years and tending toward quirky, awesome geekdom, and the other a boy-crazy little imp, who was prone to loquacious, annoying surges of dialogue) but whose undeniable chemistry endeared them to one another… and to millions of television viewers across the globe.
Yes, I was one half of a duo that has indelibly marked the sitcom best friend circuit for all of eternity. Blossom and Six have been immortalized in the history books (or at least on Wikipedia) as floppy hat-wearers, wacky clothing trendsetters, and deliverers of weekly adolescent angst, peppered with punchlines. We brought five years worth of “very special episodes” to your Monday night lineup, witnessed the spread of the “Whoa!” epidemic, and tackled pivotal issues such as single parenting and substance abuse. We arguably offered up the idea that looking like a runway model doesn’t have to be a prerequisite for girls who star on TV shows, and that maybe, just maybe, roles intended to represent the average high school girl shouldn’t be played by thirty-year olds (I’m talking to YOU, former 90210-ers!). Saturday Night Live parodied our friendship in skits, and they cracked jokes about us on sitcom giants like Seinfeld. All the while, Blossom and Six were masterfully executing mischievous schemes like dumping bubble bath into hotel hot tubs, and sneaking off to scandalous make-out parties. There were run-ins with various celebrity guests like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, several of The Golden Girls, Little Richard, and even Alf. Yes, I said Alf. Didn’t we have the life?
Now, I won’t lie; most of my Blossom days are a blur at this point. Twenty years (twenty years! Does that make you feel old, or what?) has caused me to shove a lot of my memories into a cluttered mental file cabinet, and I cannot seem to locate the key. What I DO recall quite vividly, however, is my time spent with Mayim Bialik. If I’m being completely candid, though we played the epitome of onscreen best friends, I can’t swear we were always on the same page off-camera. Sure, we both endured bouts of acne, worried about getting our homework done, and had silly crushes on boys who would never love us back, but our similarities hit a brick wall once we got past most of the typical teenage trials and tribulations. Put it this way– Mayim was behind the scenes solving New York Times crossword puzzles in permanent ink, while I was busy doing far more serious things… you know, like chewing bubble gum and bopping around to Boyz II Men. (That’s not to suggest I was entirely shallow, but my interest in indulging my cerebral side only slightly surpassed my desire to streak naked through my high school auditorium screaming, ”My chest is flatter than a three-day old 7-UP!”) Don’t get me wrong– Mayim and I got along swimmingly, and I respected her more than she’ll ever know (that part hasn’t changed); we just had contrasting interests. Those distinctions made for some fantastic storylines for our characters, but didn’t necessarily serve us equally well on a personal level. Which, I suppose, is one of the many reasons why I cherish the fact that Mayim and I still talk, almost two decades after our show has ended. The truth is, and this surprised me as much as is might surprise you, Mayim and I are probably closer now than we ever were back in the day. And while the foundation of our rapport is certainly steeped in our Blossom history together, I can honestly say I owe the strength of our present friendship to breastfeeding.
You read that right; I said breastfeeding. Mayim and I are bosom buddies, so to speak.
Though we have kept in touch on and off over the years, motherhood has truly offered Mayim and I some sturdy common ground, pioneered by our mutual advocacy for breastfeeding. In honor of breastfeeding month (which was actually August, if we’re being honest, but who’s counting?) the two of us were inspired to interview one another regarding some of our favorite topics: namely, Blossom, babies, and boobs… and not necessarily in that order. Since we both have our respective parenting blogs, we thought you might appreciate some insight into our friendship and our motherhood adventures. And who knows, maybe it will satisfy some of your 90’s nostalgia at the same time. So, go throw on an old Ace of Base cassette (if you’re willing to admit you own one), and read on!
PS. You can find my interview with Mayim here, and Mayim’s side of it (not to mention, additional photos) on her wonderful blog on Kveller.com!
I know people have been asking for a Blossom and Six reunion for years, so here it is! (Though perhaps in a slightly different capacity than some might have expected.) In honor of National Breastfeeding Month, you and I decided to come together to discuss an area of parenting where we truly see eye to eye…
Jenna: First and foremost, we spent our formative years dishing about cute guest stars, wearing floppy hats in front of a studio audience, and watching each other go through various awkward phases (including getting boobs in the first place). Did you ever imagine, in your wildest dreams, several decades later would give way to discussions about raising children and breastfeeding?
Mayim: Ha! No way! When we were teenagers, I didn’t think much at all about life after being an awkward teenager… I had no clue what our lives would look like. When the show ended and we all kind of scattered, I really wanted to leave behind so much of my “show biz” life and just try to be a normal nerd, as opposed to a show biz nerd. We never formally “lost touch” but it’s been so cool to reconnect as adults with so many shared interests, largely because we are both moms. I have friends I have known forever who don’t have kids, and I have friends I have known for a short period of time who do have kids; and sometimes, you just connect simply because you are moms with certain people, right? It’s important to have so many kinds of relationships, but it’s especially neat that we knew each other as teenagers and now we get to know each other as moms. And I’m so proud of you, of course, for everything you do and talk about regarding being a mom.
Jenna: Thank you! The feeling is entirely mutual. In fact– you are an outspoken advocate of breastfeeding, as well as a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor. Most people don’t know this, but you’ve also become my go-to guru on all things breastfeeding related! How did placing such an importance on breastfeeding come about for you? Did you always feel strongly about it? What made you decide to take that next step and get certified?
Mayim: The reason I did it is simple: I struggled horribly with breastfeeding both of my sons. “Atypical nipples” (we’ll leave it at that…!), babies with receded chins, babies with mouths smaller proportionally than my nipple (that’s the last nipple reference, I promise), thrush, mastitis, nursing blisters, high needs babies who nursed every 2-3 hours all day and night for years (not exaggerating); name the breastfeeding problem and I have had it. I was in so much pain physically and emotionally, getting through the first months of breastfeeding, that I could not leave the house for weeks. Going to La Leche League meetings was great, but I needed someone to see me in my home to help me with positioning and minimizing damage to my breasts. There were La Leche League leaders and lactation consultants who did this for me, and I felt the only way to thank them– besides continuing to nurse until my sons were done– was to give that back. So I took a course through UC San Diego Extension and I got certified. It was a wonderful class and I have consulted at least a dozen women since then. I often consult by phone, and many breastfeeding problems can be resolved with some basic education, positioning shifts, and the love and support from another mom. I love giving back this way and the moms and dads and babies I get pictures of, who benefitted from my experience, are all the thanks I need!
Jenna: Well, I can tell you your consultations have certainly helped me! They have provided me with unparalleled encouragement, and I’m incredibly grateful to you. Generally speaking, I tend to be more of an extrovert than you. That said, my breastfeeding journey began with many an ungraceful (and unsuccessful) attempt to hide it. I’ve certainly gotten better about it (hence our photos of encouragement which accompany this post!), but I was even worried about breastfeeding in the back seat of my car– which has tinted windows– for a while, because there are so many stories of women getting kicked out of restaurants and being publicly shamed. So many people are intent on making breastfeeding out to be a foul and ugly practice. Meanwhile, you’ve been photographed nursing your son on a New York subway– go you! Tell me your secret to ignoring the obnoxious and angry stares of fellow passengers. Is our right to breastfeed in public protected regardless of where we are? More importantly, why the hell is everyone so uptight about something so natural?
Mayim: It’s so funny; I am a very modest person, but there is nothing sexual about breastfeeding. I absolutely wouldn’t let my bare breasts hang out on the subway, but as a last resort to calming my toddler, I absolutely tucked him under my shirt and breastfed him on that subway; it was the kindest thing to do for all involved! I always breastfed with a thin blanket draped around any exposed skin, and I was self-conscious about that for sure; I didn’t want people staring at my body since, even though it’s not sexual, breastfeeding does involve breasts possibly being exposed! I see women with those “hooter hiders” and I think a lot of that is because we think we should be covering up. My babies would not have liked any fabric over them at all, and I think it would have decreased the eye contact and ability for them to look around, which is a normal part of breastfeeding. Of course, if women want to use those, that’s fine, but it should not be because we “should” use them. Breastfeeding in public is as normal as bottle feeding, if not MORE normal, since it’s what our bodies are supposed to do for the benefit of baby and mom. I think less people will stare if it’s less of a novelty. When I see moms breastfeeding in public, I give them a gentle smile to let them know I think they are awesome. When people did that for me, it always felt so good.
Jenna: What do you typically find to be the most common misconception, regarding breastfeeding? Similarly, what are the most egregious breastfeeding myths?
Mayim: Wow, there are so many. One is that some women “can’t” breastfeed. A very small percentage (less than 1%) of women have a genetic inability to produce “enough” milk. Women who are told they are not making enough are usually not getting the right support and education. Establishing a milk supply takes about 3 months, during which you should put the baby to the breast as much as baby wants to, including at night and with no “substitutes” for your milk or breast. Avoiding any artificial baby milk, pacifiers, and simply letting baby nurse for milk and to satisfy the normal sucking need; all of this helps establish a milk supply for the first 3 months. After that, maintaining a milk supply is not difficult, but without proper information, education, resources, and support, many women think they don’t have enough and can’t make enough. Every single woman deserves the right information to learn how the breast makes milk, how to increase baby’s demand to increase supply, and how to keep the milk supply up.
Another myth is that breastfeeding is the same as using artificial baby milk (formula). There is no substitute of artificial milk that mimics the properties of breastmilk. Of course, not every woman chooses to breastfeed, and there is no way I would ever tell anyone what to do with their body, but it is not correct for formula companies or doctors to say there is no difference between human breastmilk and artificial baby milk. I was told this when my first son was in the NICU, and it was outrageously untrue; of course there is a difference! In addition, the human species is not designed to digest cow’s milk, and many babies end up with diarrhea or constipation from bad reactions to cow’s milk in formula. It’s because it’s hard for their little bodies!
A third myth is that babies need formula in the first days of life as colostrum is gradually replaced by ‘full’ breastmilk. It is normal for babies to be born hungry and to lose a little bit of weight. It is expected, and not generally a medical problem requiring the use of formula. I am not a medical doctor, and I am not giving medical advice, but a lactation consultant and a skilled La Leche League leader can help you assess your newborn along with a pediatrician. Babies put to the breast after birth are designed to regain their weight safely and without stress by ingesting the critical colostrum our bodies produce before the full supply comes in, typically at 3-4 days post birth. Newborns do want to be at the breast a lot in the early days, but that does not mean you don’t have enough milk; it means baby is helping your body establish that milk supply the way babies have done for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. Babies can thrive and survive on mother’s milk; it’s what they were made to do!
Finally– breastmilk, and breastmilk alone, is all your baby needs for at least the first 6 months of life. Babies do not need to eat solid food before then and, nutritionally, babies can breastfeed a full year with no other food, water, or supplements, and thrive. I exclusively breastfed my sons past one year (with nothing else), and with the help of a pediatric nutritionist, I was able to not stress about it as they learned to eat solids closer to 18 months. It may not be for everyone, but exclusively breastfeeding is the appropriate nutrition, natural immunology, and a wonderful source of everything babies need. The Academy of Pediatrics agrees, and although it’s fun to try and feed a baby [solids], they generally don’t suppress the gag reflex until closer to 9 months to 1 year. They don’t “need” food, for sure, before 6 months, and can definitely be fine without it beyond a year.
Jenna: What crucial piece of information do you hope every woman has before considering the notion of breastfeeding, or before her baby latches on for the first time?
Mayim: Babies are born to be breastfed. Our bodies are made to do that. With the right education, support, and resources, breastfeeding can happen and can be a tremendously beautiful and wonderful style of living and parenting for as short or long as you choose to do it. The rewards are infinitely, indescribably fantastic. But you need to have help in place so you can reach out immediately if you struggle at all. One day of poor positioning can take weeks to recover from, so having immediate help in place before you give birth is so important. Attend a free La Leche League meeting when you are pregnant. See other moms breastfeeding, and hear their mother-to-mother support. Not all breastfeeding people are “hippies” like most people assume. They are all different kinds of moms: working moms, at home moms, and moms of all colors, sizes, and backgrounds.
Jenna: I’ve reached out to you with random (and sometimes bizarre) questions such as, “Why is my daughter more interested in my left breast instead of my right?” So we can all commiserate, what is the strangest question you’ve ever received regarding breastfeeding?
Mayim: Ha, so funny. I have never considered ranking the strange questions! Um…I think the “nursing strike” questions are the hardest and sometimes the most mysterious. Sometimes babies can get ‘spooked’ during breastfeeding, often by accident. One mom got startled and screamed in shock while breastfeeding, and baby got so scared that she refused the breast for weeks… These kinds of things can be resolved, but it is hard to know how exactly to ‘seduce’ baby back to the breast. These are challenging questions for sure, but not as fun as explaining breast preference I guess…
Jenna: Breastfeeding really seems to have taken more of a backseat to formula in the last few decades, despite the current movement of openly discussing it and raising awareness. When I was a baby, it seemed most mothers breastfed without considering other options. My own mother, for example, would never even have thought to give us formula. I cannot quote worldwide statistics, but I’m a bit baffled by the number of women I know who have chosen formula over nursing, or quit after only a couple of months. I want to make it clear that I don’t resent or judge them in the least, as it’s their prerogative. But I can’t say I totally understand it either. (As a side note, people also tend to be terribly surprised when I tell them I’m still breastfeeding my daughter at 17 months old.) What do you think the formula-driven trend stems from? Is it our society’s selfish need to have everything done simpler, quicker and more effortlessly? Is it vanity? An onslaught of fanatical formula lobbyists? I jest, but you get the idea!
Mayim: This is a very controversial topic, especially in the age of “me” which I think dominates a lot of Western culture. Meaning, I meet a lot of women who don’t believe that their child should change their life much at all; they still want to have the life they did before…To some of these women, breastfeeding is too much of a change to their body, and schedule, and lifestyle, and I can totally see women saying that. Breastfeeding is, indeed, giving over your body for however long you choose to, and it does “tie you” to your baby to a large extent. Sure, you can pump, but for many women pumping gets so tedious that they don’t want to keep it up, and this eventually leads to weaning.
Some of it might be vanity, but I don’t know that I can speak to that. The rise in C-sections is, I think, often based on scheduling and also not wanting stretch marks in those last weeks, since we hear of many celebrities having ‘early’ C-sections for this reason. A recent study has shown that there may be undesirable side effects to these early C-sections, by the way.
Jenna: I hear you. As a matter of fact, I worried about that greatly when I had my C-section. Vanity just wasn’t part of the equation for me, and I was desperately hoping for a natural birth. It turned out that Gray was in the Breech position, however, and I’d lost so much amniotic fluid that there was just no way to turn her around without risking her wellbeing. Ultimately, I just wanted a healthy baby. Whatever preconceived birth plan I’d had in mind suddenly had to take a backseat! Although I wound up with no choice but to have a C-section (at least according to my trusted ob-gyn and the high-risk specialist I had to see), it took some time for me to reconcile the change in delivery method. For that reason, it frustrates me to hear of folks who are eager to schedule an early C-section without medical cause, just because it suits their timeline.
So… Now that we’ve bared our parenting souls (and our breasts) to everyone, how about a handful of non boob-oriented questions? I imagine there are some folks out there who are ready to hear about the other facets of your life! Aside from your obvious success as an actress, you are a member of (and used to be a spokesperson for) the Holistic Moms Network, and have become widely acknowledged as a proponent and practitioner of Attachment Parenting. In fact, you even wrote a book on it.
Jenna (cont.): This method has drawn a lot of attention from the media and, while you certainly don’t need my defense, I’ve found that people often –albeit oddly– ask me to defend you simply based on our association. If I’m being asked to do so, I can’t fathom what you’re up against! (For the record, I’m a firm believer that your parenting style isn’t something that needs to be defended. I admire your dedication, even if not all of your convictions are in line with my own, and I wish others could find it in their hearts to do the same.) People can be horribly nasty when they feel your choices differ from theirs, are unconventional, or make them uncomfortable. What do you feel people most commonly misunderstand about you? Has it been a struggle to keep your children from witnessing/hearing any of it?
Mayim: I’m sorry people are always looking for some sound bite…! I appreciate your support personally and publicly, but I guess I was willing to take a hit on behalf of all of the non-famous amazing moms and dads I know who parent this way simply because it’s natural to do so, it works for them and their family, and their kids are thriving and content and happy to be alive. The media is so interested in making an “issue” and judging people like me, but I simply do what I feel is best based on my neuroscience education, my talking to other moms, and seeking support and love from people who accept me like I am. My kids are sweet, securely attached, loving, gentle, curious, and they sleep through the night without nursing. I think we are doing fine!
Jenna: Amen. I think you are too! As if you don’t have enough to keep you busy, you pen a weekly blog on Kveller.com. Though I’m not Jewish, I find your posts to be witty, raw, and personal in a way that spans every religion and parenting style, including my own. In the past, you have mentioned that being vulnerable isn’t an easy feat for you, which makes me even more appreciative of how open and exposed you allow your blog posts to be. You seem to wear your heart on your sleeve, broaching subjects such as your recent divorce. You began one article with, “I wonder when parenting/my life will stop feeling like something to survive.” The face of divorce is often ugly and mean. It impresses me that you and your ex have managed to push beyond the pain so you can come together for the sake of your children. How is the co-parenting adventure and “survival” going? What advice would you give for others who are trying to work through the same scenario?
Mayim: I actually credit Attachment Parenting with helping Mike and me navigate divorce the way we have. Our kids’ welfare is of the utmost importance to us both, as it was in all of our decisions. Our sons, through our parenting style, have tremendous emotional capacity to communicate and feel; they are not afraid of feelings, and they expect the world to give them only love and support because that’s what they were immersed in. They feel safe with us and with the world, and that was a huge goal in our early years of parenting them: to let them feel safe and be allowed to experience everything in a safe way.
Divorce sucks, but we have consistently put our kids’ needs first, with literally no exceptions. I respect Mike so much and he is the best Dad my kids could ever ask for. I hope he thinks I am the best Mom too!
Jenna: On a completely different subject– My Chiropractor (who is mildly obsessed with your show) would kill me if I didn’t at least ask one question regarding The Big Bang Theory. This certainly won’t be an earth-shattering question on my part, but what is the most enjoyable aspect of playing the socially awkward Amy Farrah Fowler?
Mayim: Ha, tell your chiropractor thank you! I like that anything can come out of Amy’s mouth; she really says what she is thinking. I also love how she acts so “hot” for Sheldon, but when it comes down to it, he still makes her feel so shy and nervous to take things to the next level. In that way, she is a complicated and “deep” character, which I am happy to bring to this sweet sitcom.
Jenna: Speaking of sitcoms… We played best friends for five years, and I know people are just itching for us to reminisce. What was your favorite part of being on Blossom? (I think mine was our disgusting gum ritual before every episode taping… Just prior to being introduced to the live audience, we would all stick a gob of nastiness on the stairwell leading down to the Russo family living room.)
Mayim: I think doing the “Rockumentary” episode, where we spoofed Madonna’s “Truth or Dare,” was my favorite two weeks ever. We filmed it like a little movie, and we had all these improvised scenes; we got to dance and dress up in all those fun costumes. I loved those weeks so much. We had cool cameos from Neil Patrick Harris, and (then) president of NBC, Warren Littlefield, and Tori Spelling, and David Cassidy; it was so much fun!
I also loved that you and I took tap dance classes together at lunch for years in that upstairs room above our stage. You were as fast a tapper as you were a talker and I really enjoyed all of those years together on our lunch breaks! We also used to sing “Wilson Phillips” songs since you are such a skilled soprano (right?) and I am a manly tenor who loves to harmonize…we had such good times amidst all the craziness of becoming famous people as teenagers!
Also, you and Joey were much “cooler” than I was, and I was into Elvis Costello, and I didn’t shave my legs, and I was this feminist weirdo, and you guys knew all these pop culture references, and I always felt so weird. Even though we were all equals in many ways, I felt like I was the weird kid in high school around you two, which I was! I had a huge crush on Michael Stoyanov, and Joey used to always tease me about that. Such memories!
Jenna: There’s such a strange and wonderful juxtaposition between how we related to one another during childhood, versus how we relate to one another now, isn’t there? Though, in an ironic turn, I always felt like I was the black sheep! I was younger than you and Joey, and not technically considered a regular cast member until the second season of the series, so I always thought of myself as the outsider. I thought you and Joey had this great brother/sister relationship going on, and I was the third wheel. It’s amazing what screwed-up notions adolescent insecurities put in our heads. That said, I had a colossal crush on Joey (I think it must have been his awesome hair), so I guess you and I were both battling our unrequited-crush demons! I hate that we weren’t as close as we could have been back then, but hindsight is 20/20, huh? It’s unbelievably neat that we’ve managed to bridge the gap and bond so many years later, over something as beautiful as breastfeeding. I truly respect you as a fellow mom, and I’m proud of you: your success, your parenting, and our friendship. Thank you for letting me interview you for my blog, and thank you for returning the favor on yours! (Click here for my interview with Mayim on Kveller.com)
I hope this little “blast from the past catch-up session” has been as fun for you as it was for Mayim and me. That is, of course, if we didn’t scare you off with our talk of ancient crushes and breastfeeding woes! With any luck, we’ve resurrected some fond memories of your Monday night TV watching; maybe you’re even whistling the good ol’ “My Opinionation” theme song as you read this. At the very least, I hope we’ve satisfied your hankering for a Blossom and Six reunion. Needless to say, the memory of that friendship lives on in my 90’s-loving heart… and perhaps in yours as well.
Until next time… Peace, Love, & Dirty Diapers,
Jenna von Oy
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