Courtney Thorne-Smith: On Her Way to Mommy Place

Interview by Peg Moline


Expecting her first child this winter, Courtney Thorne-Smith, now 40, is also promoting her first book, Outside In (Random House). The novel is about an actress on a prime-time drama who is wronged by her sleazy husband and her co-star. Thorne-Smith's own husband, Roger Fishman, has a digital media company, The Zizo Group; they married Jan. 1, 2007. Currently starring in ABC's According to Jim, she previously appeared on (the prime-time drama) Melrose Place and on Ally McBeal. Here, she talks about her book, her pregnancy, her body and the importance of friendship.

You show no signs of a career slump, so why write a book? It has been my dream since I could read. When I shared that secret with Roger, I kept saying, "I can't write the great American novel." Then I thought, "So what if I don't?" In the beginning, I wrote an hour a day. Then the characters started coming to me, and I started writing at least a scene a day. Every time I had 15 pages, I'd send it out to my friends. And they liked it. At that point, I was embarrassed to say I was a writer, but then my agent read and liked it. He sent it on to a literary agent and she really liked it. That's when I felt, OK, I am writing a book. When I finished it, I said to myself, "You've created something." It was really great; acting is such a collaborative effort, but a book is just you.

Is your novel's main character, Kate, actually you? No, it is fiction. I got to put every annoying person I've ever worked with into Sapphire, Kate's nemesis, and I tell women, "Hamilton [Kate's husband] is whatever horrible, controlling boyfriend you ever had—whoever makes you enjoy the book more." But even though Kate is not based on me, I can totally relate to what she thinks and struggles with—that fighting to find her own voice. She's 30 but seems so much younger. Now, Paige [Kate's friend] is the adult me and all my girlfriends. What I really wanted to show in Kate's situation is what might happen if you don't have a support system, or anyone around you who tells you the truth. That's what we are seeing with young actresses now—they are surrounded by "yes men."

Let's talk about your pregnancy. Is having a baby something you've always wanted? I really have always wanted to be a parent, and when I hit 36 and had just ended a relationship, I remember thinking how much I still wanted it. But I thought I'd adopt. I was very open to it, thinking being pregnant wasn't what was important. Knowing that seemed to quiet my biological clock. Then when I met Roger, he never doubted that we would have a baby. But I was 39, and you never know. I really lucked out.

How are you feeling at 25 weeks? I feel amazing. My back gets a little sore now, so I roll out of bed and do my cow/cat stretches. But I'm having so much fun; the baby kicks all the time, which is beyond heavenly.

Any morning sickness? No, which surprised me because I get carsick. I did have a few migraines in the beginning, and you can't take anything, so I had 12 days of migraine sickness instead of 12 weeks of morning sickness.

How about cravings? Nothing really strange, although cottage cheese is ambrosia to me. I normally chop up tomatoes and put them in, but now it's just salt and pepper, and I also dip apple slices in it. I eat a ton of fruit salad. I love candy, but I don't eat it because I am such a freak about it.

And have you had any aversions? Before I even knew I was pregnant, I made a spicy beef dish and used grass-fed beef. It smelled really gamey to me, and my reaction was so intense, my girlfriend said, "You're pregnant."

What kind of mother do you think you'll be? I honestly don't know. I hope I will be a calm mother; I do yoga and I meditate, and those should help. The one thing I do know is that I will have time for this baby. I'm at a time in my life that I don't feel I have to prove anything in terms of my career. I feel I'm in a place where I can really devote myself to raising my baby. The baby is all I'm doing. And we're going to try going without help outside the family. My doctor had some very good advice about bringing in someone like a baby nurse. He says some of them have very definite ideas, and you need to find your own way of doing things first—otherwise, you're doing everything their way, not yours. I want to figure out what works for us.

So, how do you get your information? I'm mostly talking to my friends, I've read a couple of books, and I have someone come in for an hour and teach me the basics—how to bathe the baby, etc. But I think the books can make you crazy. Each book you read negates the one you just read. I've been careful about what I read, which is really hard when there's so much swirling around the Internet. When I found out I was pregnant, I saw a nutritionist to make sure I was getting the right vitamins, and to find out what to avoid. I've stayed pretty calm.

Have you gotten anything else from your friends? Most of them have teenagers now, and they can't wait to get their hands on a new baby. My friend Jean is a nurse and has six kids; she was one of the first women to have a VBAC. Someone asked me if I was getting a doula, and I said, "No, I have Jean."

Have you been working out? Well, I used to be a compulsive exerciser, but I'm over that. For the past several years, I've been walking 40 minutes and doing Pilates and yoga stretches at home, so that's what I'm doing now. I used to run 8 miles a day, then go to the gym, do weights and then yoga, until I realized that I was so hungry and tired all the time. So I stopped doing all that and started just walking. I feel so much freedom now: I don't have to stay in a hotel with a gym and I'm never so hungry that I panic. A lot of women are in a crazy exercise cycle; they're so afraid they'll gain weight if they stop, and it's especially hard when they get pregnant. What they need to realize is that if you're not exercising so much, you don't have to eat so much, and your body adjusts. It sounds so simple, but you really do have to listen to your body.

I know you struggled with body image for years; how are you feeling about your body now? I feel great: I wanted this so badly. One day I was with one of my friends, and I was rubbing my belly, and she asked me, "How does it feel?" I told her, "It feels really good." And she said, "Great! I hope you keep rubbing your belly with love even after the baby is born." And that was so powerful, because my belly has always been the spot I obsess over. I have come to appreciate my body so much—and I think that's why I was able to get pregnant, because of that appreciation. Now, the baby is kicking and it's all working. It's a miracle what this body can do, and I want to treat it with respect, always, even when I'm not pregnant. And it gets better and better: I know I had a better body when I was 20, but I hated it so much that it feels better now.

Are you going to breastfeed? I definitely intend to.

What about sleeping arrangements? Bassinet in the bedroom? Crib in the nursery? We haven't really decided, but the baby probably will be in a bassinet in our room for the first few months, then move to a crib. Roger doesn't want to put the baby in another room. I don't think we'll have the baby in bed with us, but you never know; if you do that, can you ever get them out?

Any birth plan? I'd really like to deliver [vaginally], but if the baby needs help, I'll go with it. It's just that the recovery with a Cesarean section is so much longer, and I want the total childbirth experience if I can. But whatever happens is fine.

You have dogs. Has owning dogs helped you prepare for having kids? I have a chocolate lab named Norman and a 16-year-old basenji named Ed, so I do have the experience of taking care of someone for years. But you have much more freedom with dogs. My friends laugh when I ask, "Then you put the baby in the crate, right? Or do you have to take care of them all the time?" I love kids; I think they are fun and funny. I love playing and doing crafts, but having my own, of course, will be different. The first thing my friends who've had babies do is ask if I want to hold the baby. I'm like, Do I want to hold this precious being who is a few hours old? Sure, but it's a little weird.

Do you know what sex the baby is? We are not going to find out the baby's sex. Once I realized that I didn't care if it was a boy or a girl, I got into the adventure of not knowing. And the main reason to not find out is so you don't put all these projections on them even before they're born, like, "Oh, the baby's so active, he's going to be an athletic boy." Well, maybe she will be an athletic girl, you know?

What kind of dad will Roger be? Amazing. He already warned me that he would be buying things all the time, but I think he'll be stricter than me. He and I have a really warm, fun relationship, and I think that will be transmitted to the kids. We are in a time in our lives where we appreciate every single moment.

You said "kids." In theory, we will have more. I keep joking with my doctor that we are on a timetable, so it's baby out, and Roger in!

Is your pregnancy being written into the show? Yes, but not right away. I met with the producers, and they said, "Uh, you're showing —Cheryl isn't pregnant in the first episode." I said, "OK, here's the problem: Courtney is 6 months pregnant. It's not like I can take it back." But the clothes are so forgiving right now; it should be easy to hide. People will just think I got a boob job.

Is it OK for me to say—your boobs are so much bigger than usual. Do you like it? I don't; my husband, of course, loves it. They look like cantaloupes, they are filled with whatever breasts get filled with, and apparently they will get even bigger. My friends say that means I have lots of estrogen, whatever that means.

You're a knitter; are you making anything for the baby? No. When I got pregnant, I completely lost interest in knitting for a while, but I'm sure I will again. I've been trying to get everything done before the baby comes, cleaning my closets and getting organized. One of my friends told me that she didn't need help with the baby, she needed help with the house so she could take care of the baby. That sounds like great advice.