Top Chef's Gail Simmons has had an incredibly busy year. Her latest cookbook, "Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating" entered the world not long before her second child, little Kole Jack Abrams, was born in May.
At 42, Simmons is now a mother of two, and spent the last year balancing life with a 4-year-old (daughter Dahlia Rae) and a book tour, TV projects, and a pregnancy she wanted to keep to herself for a while. It's been a busy season for Simmons, who recently scheduled some well-deserved down-time.
She was enjoying a beach vacation with her family when she took the time to speak with Motherly about planning pregnancies, planning book tours, and outsourcing support in the absence of a traditional "village."
On having a second baby
According to Simmons, the decision to have another baby with her husband, Jeremy Abrams, was "sort of planned," because IVF was a factor in both her pregnancies.
"I don't easily get pregnant. That was never my forte. I also decided to get pregnant later in life, in terms of fertility years," she tells Motherly. "So, our second pregnancy was definitely something that I had to think a lot about, and take very specific steps towards, if we wanted to have a second child."
Having a second child wasn't "a given, by any means" for Simmons. She says she definitely knew she wanted one, but wanted to see "how that goes, and how much I can handle." While a lot of families do value having kids close in age, Simmons says she never saw herself taking care of two babies at once.
"To me, in my own head, for my own life, that was never gonna be possible," she explains.
When her daughter was approaching school age, Simmons felt the time was right, and that a four year age gap would give her the bandwidth to revisit the baby days with a second child.
"She's out of diapers. She has her own friends, and life, and she's starting kindergarten in the fall. So, she's in a place where she's a little more independent," she explains. "That was the only way that I could wrap my head around having a second child, was if there was a little space so that I could sort of get myself together, and be a bit more of a whole person before I went through it all again."
On her second first trimester experience
Simmons isn't just a whole person, though, she's also a whole brand. When she and Abrams first started talking about having another child she was right in the middle of writing "Bringing It Home" and by the time she was pregnant she was embarking on a book tour. During her first pregnancy she'd spent her first trimester shooting Top Chef in New Orleans in the middle of summer, an experience she describes as both decent and difficult, in that she wasn't vomiting, but was exhausted and had "mild but consistent queasiness" basically the whole time.
With a book tour itinerary that included 17 flights, and visits to a dozen cities in two months, Simmons worried what it would be like to be pregnant on the road this time around, but the fatigue that plagued her while she was pregnant with Dahlia thankfully did not return.
"The second time around, I was fine. I felt great the whole way through. I did my whole book tour with this little secret, and felt great about it. Then when I got home from the biggest part of the book tour, around Thanksgiving, was right at the end of the first trimester, and I could start telling people," she explains.
So many mothers can relate to the relief one feels in that moment where you finally feel comfortable telling your friends and family that you're expecting, and can finally put on some maternity pants. "I had to buy a lot of new clothes that I hadn't anticipated, just so that I had things to wear on book tour that fit. But, I wasn't full on into maternity clothes, and I didn't want to look pregnant, because no one knew I was pregnant, so I had to be very smart about concealing it. That became a bit of a struggle. But, in the end, I felt great, and it worked out perfectly," Simmons recalls.
On building her own village
These days, Simmons' closet isn't as much of a concern as the bed is. She tells Motherly Kole is a pretty good sleeper, and she and Abrams are more relaxed about his sleeping patterns than they were about Dahlia's, but of course with a new baby in the house, "no one's getting enough sleep, ever, as a new parent."
That's one of the reasons Simmons has been strategic about building a support system for her family in New York City, because her family isn't there and she can't just drive over to Grandma's house for a break when Kole has kept her up at night.
"I realized as soon as I had my daughter how valuable that is. It would've been incredible if I had chosen to live in the same city as my parents or my in-laws, and we would've had built-in support and family, and cousins, and aunts, and all those people. But, we don't," she says, noting that today, a lot of people don't.
"You need hands. You need help. It is so exhausting, and there's so many pieces to it. You can't be alone, and it's very isolating, the experience of early motherhood, those early weeks. So, the second time around, what has been great is we already have a system. We know what to expect, and we have help."
The family already had childcare in place for Dahlia, something that Simmons has been sure to budget for in her quest to "create and outsource" a local support system in NYC. She says it's a big part of her financial planning.
"Sometimes it feels counterintuitive to be making a certain amount of money, and spending it all on childcare. Like, what's the point in working? I could just stay home and save all that money," she explains, adding that there's a lot of trade-offs and reasons why it is so worth it to her. "It's very fraught with layers of back and forth. Mom guilt versus work life, and the career that I spent 20 years creating."
On why moms need support
Simmons says she loves her work, she's proud of it and that it's made her a better mom. "I can show my daughter that I can go and do it for my own mental health, and then can come back and be a mother to my children, too, and be more present when I am."
A Canadian whose career brought her to America, Simmons points out the United States could do better in supporting working mothers, through affordable childcare and parental leave.
"I come from Canada where all of my friends got 365 days off with each of their children, no questions asked. Now, there's also paternity, or co-spouse leave, that would tack on another six months if they wanted. So, those examples are hard to look at when I find that I'm going back to work after just a handful of weeks, which seems insane," she tells Motherly.
"The physical and mental weight of returning to work so quickly after having a child, no matter who you are, and how fraught that is with complicated feeling, not only emotions, but physically...Even in the best case scenarios, childbirth is still really intense, and physically taxing."
Simmons obviously isn't going to take a year of parental leave (she's already back at work in a some capacities), but she is taking time now to prepare herself and her family for the TV projects she has on the horizon.
"Right now, I'm hoping to have a really quiet and lovely summer with my kids, and get to know this little guy who has just come into our lives, and just kind of take care of myself, because that's I think the biggest factor in motherhood," she says.
Rest up Gail. You deserve it.