80. Ep. 338 – Freida Pinto: A Birth Story – Informed Pregnancy Podcast
Elliot: Welcome to the Informed Pregnancy and Parenting Podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Elliot Berlin. My guest today is an acclaimed actress originally from Bombay, India, who has captured audiences worldwide with her performances and award-winning films such as "Slumdog Millionaire," "Rise of the Planet Apes," and the "Immortals." In addition to her incredible acting skills and career success, she is also a passionate advocate for women's rights and a dedicated humanitarian. Today, we'll discuss her journey through motherhood, including some of the differences between Indian and American birth culture. Freida Pinto, welcome to the podcast.
Freida: Thank you so much, Doc. It’s so lovely to be on your podcast. I might have told you that the first time I heard of your podcast was through Mandy Moore. Because she had reposted some of the videos and I started going deeper and deeper and deeper down into your other episodes and guests, and I just found it so informative. I’m a very happy that you’re in my life and being very happy on many, many mother’s lives.
Elliot: Oh, thank you so much. That means the world to me. Especially coming from you, such a giver. Let’s start at the beginning. You’re from Bombay, what was that like growing up?
Freida: Very, very transformative. I can say that now, in retrospect. Because, obviously, when you’re a child, you’re not thinking about, “This is going to be actually a very important experience in my life,” growing up in a culture which is so diverse, so secular, we have all these various religions that coexist in India. We have different people of different classes that coexist in India, in Bombay specifically. I was too young to understand how that was going to shape me or inform how I look at the world, and how open I will be to different opinions and different people. It really shapes up tolerance.
So, I really do credit my upbringing, my childhood in India, in Bombay, to being the open person that I can be today. Even though we’re just surrounded by Indians. No other people from other countries. But there is a lot that is going on within that beautiful, big complex country and definitely complexity. What do you want to specifically know about my childhood? Because there’s so much to it.
Elliot: Well, I don’t know. You’re kind of an amazing person today, so I always wonder where that came from and how it was nurtured. Do you have siblings?
Freida: I do. I have an older sister who is four years older than I am. When we were growing up, I really looked up to her and wanted to emulate her. I wanted her used clothes. I was all about hand-me-downs. Don’t buy me new stuff. What my sister had, I wanted, and she kind of found that very annoying. I was a typical younger sister who was just like following her around everywhere, wanted to live in her shadow. She just found that like her little baby past, and she loved me for that. But she also wanted me away from her.
Like, siblings go through sometimes in their lives, we had moments where we were close, moments where we were not so close. And now, we’re inseparable. We’re like each other’s best friends. I rely on her for her wisdom and her perspective on life, which is different from mine, but also complementary, if that makes sense. I think I almost need someone like her in my life to make sense of what I am going through. I have great perspective, too. I would like to believe. We share that with each other. I think we’re just so bonded. We’re so close to each other.
Elliot: Did you guys leave India for travel?
Freida: Together? Yes, we did. We traveled much later in life outside India. We went to Barcelona. In fact, she was sending me pictures about this fun trip we had when we went to Barcelona. When I was nominated to the BAFTA, she traveled with me, with my mom, to London. That was a lovely experience. But I will tell you, India is such a diverse country. You can find this landscapes and scenes that you see in, let’s say Switzerland, or Morocco, Afghanistan, or the beautiful beaches of Southeast Asia. You can find a little bit of all of that in India.
And so, my parents made it a point that we traveled and really got to know our country. My mom’s brother was in the military, in the army, in the armed forces. And so, he was always posted somewhere in India, and we would go and visit him. From there, use that as an opportunity to see more of India. India is so diverse. I mean, there’s just so much to see. I still don’t feel I’ve seen it all. But my sister and I did make a lot of travels, trips, some vacations together within the country.
Elliot: How did you get into acting?
Freida: I think a part of it was that it was kind of ingrained in my DNA even before I knew it. I have a very dramatic godmother, my mom’s sister. My mom can be very dramatic, but it’s all not professionally used but somehow used in family life and everyday life. I think I inherited it from them.
And, my dad always says this. That if I became a doctor or an engineer, he’d be very worried for me because he just knew from the very beginning I wouldn’t be happy, that isn’t what I was cut out to do. They saw me being creative from the time I was really, really little. I should tell you, I was born in a middle-class family, born and raised as a good Catholic girl. I went to Sunday school. Part of the reason why I enjoyed going to Sunday school was not necessarily being immersed in religion or Catholicism, or any of that. It was really the extracurricular that I found to be very much part of it, which is I was allowed to write and perform my own play. I was always writing. I conducted the children’s choir.
Elliot: Oh, wow.
Freida: Yeah, I did that. I was very passionate about it. One of the things that I always — my sister actually reminded me and I feel like even before I knew it, it was already my life’s mission. I love watching other people shine. I love being part of that journey when someone is shining. I love being someone who either set up the foundation, or came while the foundation was already set, and just kind of mentored or set someone forward. I just love the activity of doing that. I think that has informed the producer in me without even knowing that it was I was already doing it. That was what I feel like I already had cemented my place in the creative world, in the producing world, very early on.
And so, acting happened, I think it was all about being in the right place in the right time. I started off as a model, wasn’t interested in it because no one wanted my opinion and I had a lot of them. I wanted to be part of the journey of creating a photograph, or creating a video. I was always told to just shut up and do the work, “Just do what you’ve been told. You’re a model. Just stand there and smile.” You know what? There’s a time and place for that, and maybe I had way too many opinions but I just knew that was not for me.
And then, I hosted a travel show and I traveled all over Southeast Asia. I traveled to the Fiji Islands for the first time, which is Asia Pacific, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand. Like travel, travel, travel. Loved it so much. Just when that show was coming to an end after nine months, I literally felt, “Oh my God! This is the end of my life. What am I going to do next?” And then, started this six-month-long audition process for a little film that we did not know was going to be called “Slumdog Millionaire.” It was just a little film that I ran an audition for, and there were at least like 3,000, 4,000 other hopefuls all over the world old. And so, I really feel right place, right time, passion, manifestation, always wanted to do this. That’s where I landed. That’s the start of my career.
Elliot: Okay. The travel show around Asia sounds amazing.
Freida: It’s so good. So good. I don’t know! Sometimes, I really talk about [unin], but I really enjoyed it. I was like, “This is a pillar!” sometimes, there is really nothing to show. So, I just talk about a pillar. But, anyway, I really enjoyed it. It really opened my eyes. I traveled so much within India, and it really opened my eyes to culture to — again, respecting things that were different from how I was raised or who I was.
Elliot: You said six-month audition process.
Freida: Very long.
Elliot: What happens over six months?
Freida: Have you seen the film? Have you seen “Slumdog Millionaire?”
Elliot: I haven’t seen it.
Freida: Okay. You haven’t seen it. Okay. There are three age groups in the film. My character’s name is Latika in the film. There is a little Latika, and then a teenage Latika, and then — not adult Latika. Like, I wouldn’t say. I was like 14-year-old, 13-year-old Latika, and then a 17-year-old. I was supposed to be the 17-year-old.
But when we started the audition process, they auditioned me for someone even younger. They thought they were going to shift all the ages. You can only imagine the task that the casting director has upon her, and the entire team has upon them, to find the right children to teenager, to slightly older teenager, to kind of resemble each other. Don’t have to necessarily resemble each other, but feel like they’re part of the same story.
As frustrating as it was for me, because I was like, “I know you like me because I’ve been narrowed down to like the final 10. Just give me the part.” But, they have to find the older character first, and they had to find the main male lead first, and then match us all. It was like a jigsaw puzzle. We really had to put it all together. I feel like those six months auditioning for the film with Danny Boyle, wonderful, wonderful British director. I mean, literally, made me who I am today, was actually my acting course in a way. I was going in every time. They were throwing in new challenges, new hurdles. Also testing my patience. Also testing my level of commitment and dedication. I feel like it was like a mini acting school for me. I’ve never been to acting school, or drama school rather. This was like that course for me.
Elliot: Still today?
Freida: I still haven’t been there.
Elliot: That’s so interesting. So, on-the-job learning?
Freida: On the job learning, yeah.
Elliot: Wow. Okay. Growing up in India, were you inspired by any particular type of entertainment? What were you exposed to? What did you long for?
Freida: That’s a very good question. My father loved old films from the Indian cinema. The Indian film industry is kind of very robust. We have the typical commercial films. But then, we also have something that they call arthouse films, which gets like a negative connotation in India, that it is slow and boring, but it isn’t. They’re very, very well artfully done. But, those were the films that my father really exposed me to.
There’s this actress, who I still say is my role model. She passed away in 1984; Smita Patil. She was absolutely brilliant, absolutely brilliant. We might just have to check the age, edit 1984. I’m not entirely sure, but I think it is 1984. And so, Smita Patil, she was kind of a revolutionary of her time. She would play these female protagonist roles that were groundbreaking, that were bold, that were taking a stand, that was against the patriarchy. I just found it to be just so inspiring because that was not what we were necessarily always surrounded by growing up in India and cinema. But, the roles that she took on really informed that if I ever did something, I wanted to feel that got a role and that like it’s coming from deep within my body. It is matched with my instinct.
Those are the films that my father exposed me to. And then, when I went to college, I studied film and literature, which is one of my subjects when I was studying English literature. I was exposed to a lot of world cinema. And, [unin] became one of my favorite filmmakers. I still feel they, I still harbor the hope that one day I’ll get to work with him.
Elliot: Was it a conscious choice? Because it looks like most of your work is in the British and U.S. industry. Was it a conscious choice to not pursue Indian film?
Freida: Wasn’t a conscious choice at all. It was just about going with the flow, really keeping my eyes open to what was being presented to me. I really trust that there is a force that is greater than us. Some call it God, some call it the universe, call it whatever you might want to. But, I feel there’s a force and that this field of energy that we all feed off. If you kind of just stay committed to putting out what you really want to do, and then going with the flow, I think it just leads you to your — it shows, starts showing you the path. That’s exactly what I felt.
Because listen, “Slumdog Millionaire” was going straight to DVD. A lot of people don’t know this. This was the year of the recession, like Warner Brother was the studio that the film was going to be released under, our distribution angle. They were folding in, and we were going straight to DVD. This middle film was never going to be seen by anybody probably. And then, somehow, we got into the Toronto Film Festival. All of us actors, nobody knows us it. We’ve never done a movie before. We’re just literally nobody’s at this point in time. We walk down the red carpet. Again, a very funny story.
There was no press at the red carpet. Because they were like, “Who are these kids?” Like, “Why should we come and take their photographs?” We have to hire our own photographs and basically stage our own red carpet. And then, release those photos because we had nothing. It was all done in the most playful, innocent way because we were not thinking of the coming stars. We were just happy that the film finally got a chance, that people were going to watch it. We got a standing ovation at the end of the movie. From then on, it was non-stop. That just made me realize that if I don’t seize the opportunity and go with the flow, then this one will be gone too. Just stay open and just go with the flow, and that’s how it happened. There was no conscious decision to be part of Hollywood. There was no conscious decision to just do British cinema or not to Indian cinema. It was just going with the flow.
But, I will tell you when I was very, very young, I would have this vision that I was on a world stage. Now, I don’t know what that really meant. Because my Sunday school teacher asked me the question like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Typical question you ask every kid. I said something like, “I want to stand on the world stage, and I want what I do to make a difference.” That’s all I remember, and I don’t know why I said that. She still reminds me that I did. I actually remember that I did say that. So, yeah, just following my path.
Elliot: You’ve only grown from there. Before we jump into your new role as a mother, do you have a favorite role that you played and something on your wish list that you hope to do?
Freida: Yeah. One of my favorite roles that I played was this TV show called, “Gorilla.” It was on Showtime and Sky Atlantic in the UK. It came at a time when I — various reasons. I think the role was beautifully written, super radical, very required. It was also very misunderstood when the TV show came out. It felt like I was taking away roles from other people, from other communities, but actually that wasn’t true. There was a lot of true inspiration behind the character that I played.
However, despite the backlash the show got, I realized how proud I was of the role. That no amount of backlash could make me not feel proud of it, or no amount of backlash to make me regret it. That just made me realize, I had grown in my profession. That I was fully committed and that I was fully taking responsibility. I went into it with my eyes open, and I walked out of it with my eyes even more open.
Elliot: Wow, that’s so powerful. That’s so powerful. Wow! What a distance from when you were modeling, and they were just like, “Shut up and…”
Freida: “Shut up and pose!”
Elliot: Yeah. And then, what about aspiration? Something you’d like to do.
Freida: Yes. Something I’d like to do. There’s a lot that I would like to do. But I think, from the point of view, I do a lot of drama. I should just say that. I do a lot of drama. I’ve attempted comedy, and I do like it. But, one thing that I’m really hoping to do is a really memorable rom-com. Because there are many rom-coms, right? There are many, many rom-coms. A memorable rom-com would be “Bridget Jones Diary.” I’m really hoping to do a memorable one.
Elliot: Well, I’ll watch that.
Freida: Yeah, I know you will.
Elliot: I always feel bad because I don’t really watch TV and movies because of my face blindness. When a character comes out, and then goes away, and comes out, I’m like, “Who’s that?” Every time. Every time. It’s the most annoying thing for me or for anybody around me. It’s like hard work to try to follow things. But, I will watch your memorable rom-com.
Elliot: Let’s take a little break. When we come back, we’ll find out how you got from there to motherhood, and how that’s going. We’ll be right back.
Elliot: Welcome back. We are talking to Freida Pinto. Okay. Now, you don’t live in Bombay anymore. Where do you live now?
Freida: I live between Los Angeles, California and Austin, Texas now. I do go back to Bombay every now and then. It’s been a few years. Actually, I’m going back next week. I’m so excited.
Elliot: Oh, wow. How nice.
Freida: I haven’t gone back in I think almost three years now. Because of the pandemic, I didn’t travel much. And then, I had a baby. So, I didn’t travel much. Home now is between Los Angeles and Austin.
Elliot: How do you like U.S. living?
Freida: I do love it quite a lot. I feel this is my home, and I don’t know where else I would be at this point. The two cities I mentioned have an equal measure, hold importance in my heart, and my growth, and my friendships, and my friends who have become family. Also, Austin, I particularly chose for peace of mind. I love Los Angeles, but I couldn’t be here all year round. There is a certain frenetic energy that I enjoy, but I can also feel very anxious in that frenetic energy all the time. I need to escape every now and then.
Elliot: Need the recharge.
Freida: The recharge, exactly. The recharge. The rethinking what creativity really means. I feel I can do that in more quiet spaces, quiet places. I will say I’ve been talking about the American dream quite a lot. Especially, after this year’s Oscars even more so. There is still in my mind and in my heart, I do believe, that this is still the land of opportunity. It is still unfair in many, many ways. In many ways. And, no country is perfect, neither is India. No country is perfect. But, this country still presents a lot of opportunity. I also believe hard work always pays off.
Elliot: I think that’s true. Oh, everything that you just said, I agree with. How did you meet your partner?
Freida: I met my partner when I was filming in New York. I was filming this TV show called “The Path.” My co-star, Aaron Paul, the loveliest person ever. He loves love. He loves the idea of love. He wants all his friends to be in love, and I was not in love at that point in time. I was living in New York for the first time. It was actually a dream, by the way. I always wanted to live in New York. But, for some reason, I was always working and traveling. And so, L.A. became home base. And then, this travel, this TV show presented its opportunity for me to live in New York. I was living my best single life, going on non-committal dates, and truly enjoying life. And then, Aaron decides to kind of put a little twist to my single life.
He goes, “What kind of guy do you want to date? You see, I feel like you go on a lot of dates. What kind of guy do you want to date?” I was like, “Aaron, don’t match me. Don’t set me up. I am not ready for that. I also don’t want to do that. Because what if this person you know you set me up with, ends up being a d-bag? And then, I have to come back to set and look at your face for the next six months. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.” He’s very stubborn, and I’m so glad that he’s stubborn, and so full of heart. He introduced me to his best friend, Cory. Because the two things I said was — because he said, what kind of a person you want, right? I just had to kind of shut him up. And so, I just said, “Someone who operates from a place of spontaneity, and someone who just loves travel and culture.” I just left it at that. There you go. The next thing you know, he’s introducing me to his very adventurous friend, Cory, who’s traveled to more than 68 countries.
Elliot: Holy cow!
Freida: Yeah. More than 68 countries. Has literally has a truck and a tent attached to his truck, loves to camp, almost never says no if there’s a plan. Yes, he’s in. It’s amazing that I just said it, and he just knew it. [unin] matchmaker really, really well. Thank you, Aaron Paul.
Elliot: Aaron Paul needs an app.
Freida: He does. He does!
Elliot: Oh, that’s so cool. Okay. And then, how long have you guys been together now?
Freida: We’ve been together now for about 4.5, 5 years. Actually, five years. Have been married for 2 years, yeah.
Freida: Thank you very much.
Elliot: Like, starting a family. Was motherhood, parenting, family something that you had thought about either as a kid or teenager or when you started to date? And, together, how did that come up for you and what kind of thoughts did you have on it together?
Freida: When I was a kid, for sure, I thought of myself having a wedding, and I would get married, and I thought of myself having kids. Most of these things I thought would happen when my mother had kids, which was around the age of 26. I was born when my mom was 30. So, I thought somewhere in the 20s, all of this would happen. But, my gosh, Doc! The 20s are so confounding, and I would never want to be anywhere in my 20s again. Teenage years, great. I wouldn’t mind going back there. Thirty is great. I wouldn’t mind going back there as well, because I’m almost towards the end of my 30s. I’m looking forward to the 40s. But, oh my God!
Elliot: You don’t hear that a lot.
Freida: I am looking forward to my 40s. I hear it gets even better. I mean, I feel better every single day. But, the 20s were really not good.
Elliot: In what way though?
Freida: I really did not know who I was in my 20s. I was really trying to figure things out. I was always left confused. I felt like I had good instincts, but could never really reach out to them. Also, a huge thing happened in the 20s, which is my career. I struck this pot of gold in “Slumdog Millionaire,” and life just changed very dramatically. There was a lot of adjusting to do in my 20s. I actually stopped thinking about kids, and marriage, and all of that stuff. I was somewhere in my late 20s, early 30s, in a very toxic relationship, and I needed to get out of it. Somehow, I found myself going deeper and deeper into it.
And then, a year and a half later when I got out of it, which is when I went to New York, I was like, “Don’t get me anywhere close to the idea of a relationship that could turn into a marriage, and don’t get me anywhere close to the idea of children.” I just ran away from it. I was like, “It’s not for me. It’s not for me.”
My sister kept saying that to me. She goes, “You know, it’s a good phase that you aren’t. Just be in it. Think about it. But also, don’t make final decisions in this phase because I think you’re going to change your mind when you meet someone you really want to partner up with.” Well, that was Cory, who was very sure he wanted to be a dad. Very, very sure. All he wanted to do was be a dad.
On our very first date, I will never forget, it was a lunch date. Because I don’t do dinner dates and drinks if I’m meeting someone for the first time. I do lunch and coffee, which I know is so unromantic for a lot of people, but whatever. That’s how I do it.
Elliot: I don’t know. It seems pretty L.A.
Freida: Yeah. Does it?
Elliot: Does to me.
Freida: Okay, good. Maybe somewhere deep down, I’ve become very L.A., and I don’t realize it. Anyway, I had lunch with Cory in New York. After the lunch, he texts me, “You know we’re going to get married, right? And, I’m going to marry you.” Whoa! I don’t want to ever speak to this person again, but how very interesting as well. I was both attracted and put off at the same time. Let’s say he was right, he was right. He knew it. As I’ve been continued dating Cory and realized that this man doesn’t trigger my anxiety, does not make me feel like, “I have to be on. I don’t have to always be on. I can just be myself.” That’s when I realized, I wasn’t something different for the first time.
Elliot: Wow! That’s pretty powerful, too. You have all these like powerful milestones.
Freida: I think about all of them in retrospect. I think about things now in the moment, because I’m also a mom. I think it has really kind of harnessed my ability to really tap into my instinct and feel confident about it. But, a lot of things I do think of in retrospect as well, “Oh, that happened for a reason. I can see the picture now.” I didn’t see it back then or in that moment. I knew something magical was happening, but I see how it all played out. It’s kind of beautiful. I think some of my stories come from that. The stories that I want to tell.
Elliot: Yeah. What you now.
Elliot: Once you decided on kids, did pregnancy come easy?
Freida: Pregnancy came very easy. But, the first pregnancy did not stick, and that wasn’t easy at all.
Freida: A miscarriage, yeah.
Elliot: I’m so sorry.
Freida: Thank you. I never thought that I would ever have a miscarriage. I’m sure most women don’t think that way. But, more so, because as a woman who gets pregnant, you think health is paramount — and, yes, all of that is paramount. Like, you’ve got to be healthy. You’ve got to be rested. All of that stuff is important. But there are other things that are not in your control, and that design is also dependent on what is going on internally and what is going on with the conception. The pregnancy that I had was defined as a triploidy, which is a chromosomal abnormality. The pregnancy wasn’t going to stick anyway. I was in my 12th week. That’s when we couldn’t find the heartbeat, and it completely destroyed me. In that moment — well, I do want to share this because I think it’s very important.
No matter how knowledgeable, or informed, or wise you think you are, I feel somewhere deep down in the DNA of every woman is ingrained some level of guilt, some level of self-blame, and some level of shame. The first thing that came out of my mouth when nurse practitioner is trying to find the heartbeat and she couldn’t find it and she said, “Oh, mama. I can’t find a heartbeat.” She held my hand and the first thing that came out of my mouth was, “Is it because I exercised too hard?”
Elliot: Oh, my goodness.
Freida: I don’t even know how I put that in my head. I couldn’t even stop it. I just blurted it. The next thing I said was, “Is it because I took my thyroid medication too late?” None of it was connected to why I miscarried, but that’s how we all think. Well, it took me a while to come out of it. Luckily, and unluckily for me, I was filming. I was, literally, in the middle of filming a high-octane thriller.
Elliot: Oh, my goodness.
Freida: Where I had to scream, and cry, and then be scared, and run. I had an emergency DNC. This was all in Albuquerque. I found the most amazing MFM in Albuquerque, who supported me, Dr. Ruma. I feel like that was a very eye-opening experience for me. Really, really eye-opening. Because I was not only going through — the pregnancy was actually very hard, the first pregnancy. I always had a lot of back pain. I was very, very nauseous. I could barely eat. It’s always super tired. I did not connect any of that to, “Oh, the pregnancy won’t last.” Because a lot of women have difficult pregnancies, and they go on to have healthy babies.
Elliot: Especially, that part of the pregnancy.
Freida: Correct. I didn’t think of it. I didn’t make much of it. I think it was very eye-opening. Because what I experienced during the months following the miscarriage was very much a little bit like postpartum. Hair loss, hemorrhoids.
Elliot: Physically like postpartum.
Freida: Physically like postpartum. I wasn’t even thinking postpartum, because why would anyone be thinking postpartum when you get pregnant? You’re thinking about the joy of the pregnancy and the discomfort that you might be feeling with the pregnancy. But, you don’t ever think of postpartum. It really opened my eyes to: A, how misunderstood the postpartum journey is. Because it kind of almost hits early on in a miscarriage if you end up going through it. But also, we’re never prepared for it. Never prepared for it.
Elliot: You know what’s so super interesting to me, obviously, miscarriage is pretty common. I only say that now you know, that miscarriage is pretty common, especially in the first trimester. Although, 12 weeks is very hard. The reaction that you had is pretty typical of what I see. A lot of not just sadness, but “What did I do wrong?” More often than not, it’s almost like your body did something right, which was to identify this is a non-compatible with life pregnancy, self-criminate, and get ready to start again. But, what I never thought about until this moment is the postpartum element after a miscarriage. I never thought about that. It makes so much sense.
Freida: It makes a lot of sense. I had someone really important in my life at that point who held my hand through it all. Her name is Elisa Biddy, and she’s written two books. The first one’s called “The Woman Code,” and the second one’s called “In the Flow.” It’s all about hormones, and it’s all about what happens with your body through your menstrual years. But then, also around pregnancy, and then postpartum, and then finally, menopause and beyond. And so, I kind of really reached out to her. I told her I’m experiencing something that I never thought I would experience. I’d never had hemorrhoids. The miscarriage, the emergency DNC that followed that then led to other gut issues, which by the way was also made worse because I was filming night shoots. Eleven continuous nights right after the miscarriage. It was brutal. Absolutely brutal.
No one knew I was pregnant. Hence, no one — just a few people knew that I had a miscarriage because I had to take one day off. I just had to take one day off. And then, I came back. And then, there were these running scenes and whatnot. I had excessive bleeding actually after my emergency DNC, which is why I had to take the one day off. Because I was in the hospital getting bags of blood. It was also now on a mental level, very traumatizing. Because I wanted to mourn, but at the same time, I just wanted to get my job done. I just felt like this was my responsibility. I cannot let down an entire production. And, I also looked at it as a way to escape the pain.
But, when it all got done, when we finally ended up filming, ended up wrapping the movie, I went back to Austin and I just started eating anything and everything I could. Things that were self-sabotaging, things that just felt good at that moment, and that also affects how your body heals. I learned that the hard way and I don’t regret doing any of that. But, it took me a month and a half to recover from what I was putting myself through.
Elliot: I just can’t even know how hard that is to go through just by itself. But then, to just have to like be so on and on camera.
Freida: Full camera.
Elliot: On camera and active. As if nothing happened and surrounded by people who have no idea that this is what you’re going through.
Freida: I remember that my costume — I had to tell my costume department, the head of the department. I had to tell her because I had to wear these pads to absorb the blood loss, which means the way my clothes would fit would also look weird. And so, I had to tell her. The way that the three women from the department stepped in and held me so close. Because most of the project was surrounded by mostly men, and I do not know who to reach out to. I finally told Alexandra, one of our female producers, but I also told the costume department. Gosh, it just makes me so emotional. The way they held space for me every single day just made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Even though it felt like a very lonely experience, I felt like that space was hell for me. The other person I actually want to credit is actually my trainer, Patrick Murphy, who actually introduced me to you as well.
Freida: He also held space for me. Because I had to kind of physically stay active in some way shape or form for this film. He tailored and changed everything about my workout routine to just help my body cope through what it was going through. I think all of those elements really came together for me. Last, but not the least, Cory. He literally drove down back from Austin. This was all during the pandemic. Drove back from Austin, stayed with me, and really, really took care of me.
Elliot: Wow. I’m so sorry that you had that difficult experience. I’m glad for you that you were able to find support. It sounds like some really solid support. I’m grateful to you for sharing because, as I say it all the time, it’s a conversation that needs to be had and isn’t had on a wide enough scale. So, thank you. Let’s take another little break. When we come back, we’ll find about your recent pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. We will be right back.
Elliot: Hey, welcome back to the podcast. We’re talking to Freida Pinto. Okay. Now, you have a child. How was your pregnancy, your second pregnancy, through the trimesters?
Freida: My second pregnancy wasn’t — again, getting pregnant wasn’t difficult either. Partly, I credit that to my brain that operates like a scientist at times. Which is with my first pregnancy and also my second pregnancy, I tracked everything from ovulation days, and I knew which phase of my menstrual cycle I was, and I was very much on top of it, and very, very in tune with my body. After the miscarriage, after I took about a month and a half to really kind of heal my body and prepare my body once again, it really didn’t take me very long to get pregnant again. I was pregnant four months after my miscarriage, and I was on another film set.
Elliot: Oh, great.
Freida: In Ireland. This time, in a corset.
Elliot: How do you do that?
Freida: I was shooting a period film that I was also producing. I was trying to get this film off the ground for four years. Finally, it happened and I also got pregnant at the same time. Again, on the first day of filming, I literally knew I was pregnant and did not tell anybody. I did tell my co-star. Like, I was saying it changed my perspective on early sharing, my miscarriage. This time around, it was largely a female-driven project as well. I took a lot of people into confidence, and I told them. I also told them I was very nervous and very scared because the miscarriage experience had marred me a little bit, scarred me a little bit, and had made me very anxious. I had enough support from the very beginning.
By the way, this time around, I did everything differently. I did not do any kind of early screening. I just went with my gut, and think. I did call Dr. Ruma from Albuquerque far too many times just to tell him I was scared and nervous. He really encouraged me to just stay with my instinct. He was like, “You’re going to be fine. What has to happen will happen, but you’re going to be fine.” And, it was!
Apart from the bloating, I realized now that one of my biggest tell-tale signs that I’m pregnant is really not my pregnant tummy, it’s my bloating. I bloat immediately when through both these pregnancies, and it was wonderful. I did not have the back pain that I had last time I had. The mild nauseous feeling. I managed to eat bland food through it all. I managed to work out through the entire first trimester with Patrick Murphy. It was a very largely different experience. It baffled me how four months prior to this pregnancy, the previous pregnancy was riddled with so much more pain and discomfort. Like I said, in this movie I was in a corset. Somehow, I got through it and I got through my entire first trimester filming this movie called “Mr. Malcolm’s List” in Ireland. Not a single screening, just keeping myself as healthy as I could. Keeping myself active. Keeping my brain as calm and my mind as calm as I possibly could. That was my first trimester.
Elliot: Did you work through the other trimesters?
Freida: I walked through my second trimester as well.
Elliot: Not in a corset?
Freida: Not in a corset. In a Christmas movie, which you don’t want to see — it was not a pregnant character. But, I had already signed on to the movie. And then, I told the director that, “Hey, you might want to recast me. Because my character — because I’m pregnant, and I’m more than happy to shoot while I’m pregnant. I don’t have an issue shooting while I’m pregnant, but I will be showing somewhere through the filming of this period and this movie.” They were like confident. They could shoot it in ways that you not see my pregnant. Actually, I do believe that you see my pregnancy a little more in “Mr. Malcolm’s List” than you see in the second one.
Freida: Yeah. Because I was so bloated in the first one. Not a lot of people knew that I did have to somehow slip it into the producers, and then the DOP found out, and was trying his best to shoot without like– Also, you don’t think someone is going to be looking pregnant in their first trimester. I feel like my corset did push out at certain points. I was like, “God, release the corset!”
Whereas, the second one, we just can’t shoot certain angles and it was out there in the open. Everyone knew I was pregnant, but it was fun. I had so much fun. I was shooting in London. By the way, all during the pandemic. So, there was a level of fear, which is, “Oh, my God. I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want to be ill.” But, at the same time, there was this excitement that I get to stay active and I get to do the thing I love and make these memories with the child who is soon going to be born.
Elliot: First credits.
Freida: First credit. My gosh, yeah. He was in every film I did
Elliot: What were your thoughts during pregnancy? What influenced your thoughts on how to give birth?
Freida: I think that’s again, a very, very good question. After the miscarriage, my focus had actually shifted from preparing for the trimesters, to preparing for the postpartum journey. That became something that took a lot of importance in my planning head because of what I had experienced. But, because of what I had constantly was told by my American mother friends, that their postpartum journey was brutal, that they had pelvic floor dysfunction, that the doctors didn’t listen to them. And then, they would start sharing their birth stories to me and telling me how certain interventions were forced on them, or they were made to feel scared, that this intervention was required. And so, I kind of backtracked a little bit and I said to myself, “Now, I need to plan what this birth is going to look like, along with the postpartum journey.” I read a book called a “Guide to Childbirth,” by Ina May Gaskin, who is I guess Tennessee’s most acclaimed midwife. I would say America’s most acclaimed midwife.
The first 60 pages of the book are all about various women who have had their babies with phenome gaskin, all of their birth experiences, and how varied they all were. Some of them were having their first child, and some of them were having a V-back, and some of them were having the third child. It was insane how different and vastly different each woman’s experience was. I really took that all in. I absorbed all of that. I sat with all of the stories and started envisioning what I would want my birth to be like.
Now, I did choose Austin to be the place where I would give birth. I did choose a hospital where I would give birth. But, I was very clear to myself, my doctor, and my husband, that I wanted to labor as much as possible at home, in the comfort of my home. I was also very clear that I had a birth intention. I don’t want to say birth plan. Because you can have a plan, but then sometimes, something else might happen which might shift your plan and you just have to stay open to how best you can use this newly thrown curveball into your plan and still make it your own. And so, I had intentions. With intentions, you can mold around it.
My intention was I want to have an unmedicated birth. I wanted to labor on my hands and knees because that’s my most comfortable position. I have a lower back issue, a chronic lower back condition and I wanted to push on hands and knees if the doctor would allow it. Because I know that Western-trained OB-GYNs are not necessarily trained in any other position other than being on the back. I was aware of all of this. I had read all of this in Ina May Gaskin’s book, but I would advocate for myself and my husband and my postpartum doula would advocate for me as much as possible. I will say that 98% of my intentions were met by myself, and by my doctor, and by everyone surrounding me. The 2% that I kind of felt like take the path of least resistance. You are about to push this baby out is when the doctor did not allow me to push on my hands and knees. She put me on my back because I did not have an epidural, and in her mind that would have been the better way to go.
Anyway, path of least resistance, I could hear Cory really advocating for me. “No, she wants to go hand and knees. That feels better for her.” I could hear Jillian, my postpartum doula. I looked at both of them, looked at my doctor, and in the state of like trance-like state, I was like, “We’re not going to argue right now. Because I don’t see her changing her mind and this might turn out into an argument. I will make this as comfortable as possible for me on my back, and let’s go for it.” Rumi came, 10 days early kicking and screaming, six hours of labor.
Elliot: Wow. Okay.
Freida: I had a very Hollywood kind of laboring experience. They say you’re water almost never breaks? I had my water break all over my carpet.
Elliot: Oh. At least you’re home.
Freida: At least I’m home. Exactly. I had all of that happen. I was like, “Oh! You told me this almost never happens. It all happens in a hospital, where someone kind of breaks your bag of water.” But, my body did it for itself.
Elliot: Okay. Why was unmedicated important to you?
Freida: It was important to me because, throughout my life, I’ve had this one kind of — I don’t know. It’s not a mantra really, but it’s just something that I believe in. A belief that I want to experience, and feel everything, and be very aware of what I’m feeling, and experiencing, and be very present. I’m also aware of my threshold for pain. I have high pain tolerance. I was aware of that as well. And so, going into it, I knew it was also a mind-of-a-matter kind of thing, and that I was doing pretty well with my yoga and my breathing techniques. I was also inspired by the things that I read in Ina May Gaskin’s book. I kind of really wanted to enjoy what my ancestors enjoyed. If it was written for me.
Elliot: In the end, you did that. What were the sensations that you had?
Freida: I will never forget. I won’t be able to recreate that pain in any which way. I don’t even want to call it pain, because it’s even higher than pain. It’s not painful, it’s out of this world. But, the pressure that I felt in my abdomen, it was almost like it zapped the air out of my body. It literally was like I couldn’t breathe. Like, I was winded. Every time a contraction came by. I remember that it just like put me in this trance-like phase where I was not moaning very loudly. It was just like [whispers]. Like, my breath was just taken away from me and I was finding deeper and deeper and deeper places to go to find new air. Like, almost creating an imaginary lung for myself, two imaginary lungs outside of my body.
It was a very out-of-body experience. I will say this, which is a kind of scary to say it sometimes, but I will say. I will do pushing a baby out without an epidural any day over breastfeeding. Because the initial days of breastfeeding were possibly the most confusing, it almost like kind of demoralized me at times, because it was so difficult. Well, in the end, I breastfed Rumi for 16 months. I still miss them sometimes. But, the initial days of breastfeeding, God! I wasn’t prepared for it.
Elliot: Okay. That brings me to my next question, because I know you were concerned about postpartum. I mean, with breastfeeding being that much of a struggle, that can be helpful on top of everything else that happens postpartum. What was your general postpartum experience? A: how was it and how was it compared to what you thought it would be? And then, B: how did you deal with breastfeeding struggles?
Freida: Yeah. Along with reading Ina May Gaskin’s book, I had read another book by Kimberly Ann Johnson called, “The Fourth Trimester.” Now, I’m not a lot about reading books. And then, because you can’t put a mother in a book, you can’t put a baby in a book. Everyone has their own individual experiences. But, culturally, I come from India, so I was already informed with the wisdom and the knowledge of age-old practices from Ayurveda, and how you help with the postmodern journey, and help mothers cope with the postpartum journey. I knew I could create a postpartum sanctuary for myself, for the physical healing, which will then also have its benefits on mental healing and just taking time to yourself, et cetera.
I had my mom with me from India. I had my postpartum doula. I also had support from my ayurvedic consultant here in Los Angeles. In many ways, I felt like I was cocooned into a space of a lot of warmth, and nurturing, and nourishment. Food-wise, I always say, it’s really important. The first meal that you have at the hospital, or after you’ve given birth, yeah, go out. Do whatever you want to. Just make sure that you’re nourishing your body.
My first meal was a warm broth with chicken and vegetables and rice, and I just wanted it to be that way and felt so nourishing. But then, as I progressed — and my first three months was brilliant, by the way. Brilliant, because I had so much care. But, the breastfeeding journey, I don’t think I could ever be prepared for that. I had done a lactation course just to help myself, understand what I was going through.
But, Rumi had his own plan. He wanted to have a very shallow, interesting latch that only made my nipples hurt and bleed. And, in the middle of the night, feeding. When I would hear him crying and he’d be brought to me, my toes would just curl from the pain I knew I was about to experience. I would literally sit in bed and cry there. “I don’t want to give up. I want to keep going. But why is it so hard? Why is this so hard?” Everything else is — my body is finding its way to come back. And “come back,” by the way. Not snap back to what it was before, but find its place to heal. But, why was breastfeeding so hard? It took me about two months to figure out our little compatibility with breastfeeding. Rumi and I really struggled. I mean, he struggled because I was always in pain, but he got fed. He was properly fed. No problem. But, it was very hard, for sure.
Elliot: This is a warrior mentality that you’re going to get through it. It sounds to me like I would quit.
Freida: If someone wants to quit because it’s really hard, then so be it. There’s nothing wrong in it. Everyone needs to choose what is right for them. I just have a “don’t give up mentality,” which is sometimes doesn’t work in my favor, by the way. In this case, it works out just fine. Because sometimes, it’s okay to give up. It’s really okay to give up. You don’t kind of become a smaller person or a weaker person because you’ve given up. You’ve made a choice for yourself. And, that in itself, is a very strong thing to do.
Elliot: Oh, Freida, you just made me feel a lot better about my hypothetical mom yourself, struggling with postpartum and giving up. A couple more questions as we’re tapering down here. Number one, your postpartum cocoon that you created, sounds very much like how things might have been a century or two ago, where you are just surrounded by people from your family, your village, whatever that is for you, nurturing you, supporting you, and helping you. It sounds like that kind of really worked for you. Would you sort of compare Indian birth culture to U.S. birth culture? Are there things that we can learn from and improve here?
Freida: Yeah, so much. So much because they’re vastly different. There is a very go, go, go competitive comparative “foster is better” mentality here in the United States. Snapback, still, get match again. Like, it’s just very depressing when a woman has just gone through this complete body-opening transformative experience and is then asked to just shut down and pretend like nothing happened, and just get back to work. And so, I feel like on a big high-level level. Policy change is very much required. I mean, six weeks of paid leave will not cut it. In some cases, that doesn’t even exist. As we all know that, that doesn’t even exist.
On a policy level, there’s a lot that needs to be done. On a more familial level and a more community level, I think understanding what that postpartum journey is for a mother, for a new mom, or for a second, third, fourth-time mom is very important. Family members need to understand what they’re walking into. The expectation to just snapback is something that they have to realize is something that the society and the system has put on us, but it is not natural. It is in no ways natural at all. Sorry if you can hear Rumi crying. Can you? If you can’t, it’s fantastic.
I feel making space for a new mom. One of the things I always say, baby showers are huge in this country and people love doing big celebrations on finding the gender of the baby and whatnot. If we can spend our money for our friends, our family members, on helping them access things like a postpartum doula. Because those things are expensive and policy change, as I’m talking about it, insurance doesn’t cover that. It’s brutal. It’s absolutely brutal. It’s expensive. It’s not lost on me that I speak from a place of privilege, that I can actually have access to these things because my money can pay for it, even though my insurance doesn’t. Education about what your body is going through. Basically, helping the mother through meal trains, or subscribing them to some kind of a meal service, helping them have access to a pelvic floor therapist. The first 30 days if possible to really help the mother just rest and recover because a nourished mother is equal to a nourished baby. So, instead of spending money on a new fancy crib, and lots and lots of newborn clothes, which quite frankly the baby never wears. I’ve now seen that. Your baby is in a nappy or a diaper the whole time, so don’t spend the money on that.
Spend on the things that are far more important, which is put the mother first. Put the mother first. I could go on and on, but there’s books and books available out there. I really highly recommend reading Kimberly Ann Johnson’s book, “The Fourth Trimester.” I also recommend reading Ina May Gaskin’s book. There’s information out there on how we can help moms. By the way, if I have to plug in something that I am working on, I have the chief impact officer of a brand a company called “Anya,” where we are providing verified information from resources like ayurvedic consultants, acupuncturists, chiropractors, pelvic floor therapists, OB-GYNs, postpartum doulas, all on their website for free. The subscription is for products. All of that information is available. Not Dr. Google. Go away from Dr. Google. Dr. Google is damaging.
Elliot: Dr. Google speaks so many languages. Alright, Freida. Thank you so much. This has been an incredible episode. I learned a lot. I really appreciate you sharing your personal journey with us. Where can we find you online?
Freida: On my Instagram account, which is @freidapinto. F-R-E-I-D-A Pinto. I don’t do anything. I don’t tweet, and I’m not on Facebook. I’m not a big social media person. But, if I have something important to say, I always find my way to put it out there.
Elliot: Okay. Well, I’ll look for you there on Instagram. One thing I wanted to tell you is we are doing on Informed Pregnancy Plus, a video streaming platform, a series called “Baby Book Nook,” which is a video reviews of books related to pregnancy, parenting, and postpartum. Two of the books on our list are “The Fourth Trimester” and Ina May’s “Guide to Childbirth.” We’ll have them up there pretty soon, and those are two great recommendations from you. We’ll be covering them. Thanks again. At home, if you want to find us online, you can visit informpregnancy.com.