A few years ago, I laughed out loud as Poppy Montgomery told me how she famously gained more than 70 lbs during her first pregnancy. Most actresses would rather crawl under a rock than admit they ate a pint of Häagen-Dazs every day for nine months. Since then, she’s experienced both pain and joy in her personal life. She split from longtime boyfriend and Jackson’s father, actor Adam Kaufman (they are still good friends). She found love again with Microsoft executive Shawn Sanford and welcomed daughter Violet in April. The family now divide their time between Los Angeles, Seattle and New York, where Poppy is shooting the second season of her CBS show Unforgettable.
You may think you already know most things about Poppy. Looking at her, you can tell she’s a genetically blessed actress. Reading about her, you know she’s a doting mom to son Jackson, 5, and newborn daughter Violet, 10 weeks. You’ve probably seen her name on those lists ranking the hottest women on television. You might even know she has a cute Australian accent when she’s not in character as ballsy detective Carrie Wells.
But what’s easily missed is her determination, drive, fearlessness and ability to laugh at herself. Poppy is not an actress who got famous because of her pretty face. She’s a woman who left her native Australia at age 17 with nothing but a suitcase and the guts to go for her dreams. She gets up at 5 am most days of the week and works 14-hour days. She started shooting the new season of Unforgettable a mere 2 1/2 weeks after giving birth to her daughter via c-section. She fiercely rejects the idea that celebrity moms should look like they never gave birth the moment they step outside the hospital, and insists on breastfeeding her newborn daughter despite not losing weight as fast as if she stopped. And she’s learned how to get back up again after life knocks her down, even though she admits to kicking and screaming in the process.
In my exclusive interview, a funny and wise Poppy opens up about her newborn daughter, reveals how much weight she really gained during her second pregnancy, why her “wild ride” relationship with Shawn works, her views on marriage and her surefire advice on getting back up when life throws you for a loop. I loved talking to her so much I barely cut a sentence, and it’s worth it. Here’s Sweden With Love’s July cover story!
Poppy with son Jackson.
Ulrica: You gained more than 70 lbs. during your first pregnancy with Jackson. How was your second pregnancy different?
Poppy: The biggest difference was that I didn’t gain as much weight! I was so heavy with Jackson. I gained almost 80 lbs. I can’t even remember how much I weighed, that’s how much it was! I felt I had a coffee table stuck to my back. With Violet, I gained about 40 lbs. I moved around a lot and I obviously didn’t eat as much. But other than that, the pregnancies were pretty much the same in that I had no morning sickness and I felt great. I remember being in Paris promoting the show and eating escargots! I had no food issues with either pregnancies. If I’d had that, I wouldn’t have gained as much weight!
Ulrica: Tell me about the birth of Violet.
Poppy: She was about two weeks early and I had to have a c-section like I had with Jackson. That was hard for me, because I don’t think anyone wants to have a c-section. It’s major surgery and it was scary for me. But everything went well and at the end, what matters is that the baby is healthy and that you’re both doing great.
Ulrica: You moved from Los Angeles to New York for your show Unforgettable when Violet was two weeks old, and then started working a few days later.
Poppy: Going back to work that quickly after having a c-section was, of course, difficult. Violet wasn’t difficult, but I was recovering from surgery, breastfeeding and working 14 hour days. She’s such a mellow baby, so it wasn’t as scary as it sounds.
Ulrica: Do you take breaks to feed her throughout the day?
Poppy: She’s a really slow breast feeder, so when I’m working I pump milk for her. I absolutely loathe it! Oh my gosh, I feel like I’m in a dairy. It’s the worst. I love the connection you get with your child when you breastfeed. There’s such a sweet quality to breastfeeding your child, and pumping is so far removed from that. I honestly loathe it, but it’s important for her to get the milk so of course I do it for her. I don’t think any woman is down with pumping. I can’t imagine anyone going, ‘Oh, I love to pump!’
Ulrica: What I love about you is that you don’t give in to the pressure of going on a starvation diet, but keep breastfeeding Violet even though you know you won’t lose the baby weight as quickly. But does it ever get to you, knowing you don’t look the same on screen as you did pre-pregnancy?
Poppy: It’s hell! [Laugh]. When I’m breast feeding, I don’t lose the weight, so it’s hard for me to get the weight off. But I’m not going to put pressure on myself to make my body look like it never had a baby when it did. I’m going to treat my body with kindness, because it’s been through a lot. I’m eating healthy and I’m nursing and I’m exercising as much as I can. I’m absolutely rebelling against the idea that we as women should look like we never gave birth when we did. Instead, it should be celebrated. What our bodies do is really extraordinary, so I’m going easy on myself and thinking about Violet and what she needs. I’m allowing myself to look the way I look after just having given birth. It took nine months to get there, so it’s probably going to take a fair amount of time to get back and I’m okay with that.
Ulrica: That’s so refreshing to hear.
Poppy: Ha! Well, I do get angry at times. I can start to get angry at myself when I look in the mirror and think, ‘Wow, I’m not the same way I used to be’. But then I look at Violet and I know I have to stop thinking that way about myself. It’s not only for my sake, but for her sake as well. She’s a girl and I don’t want her to feel that kind of pressure growing up. It becomes a bad thing that our bodies change as we get older and as we give birth. The focus shifts to the wrong thing when we start obsessing about our bodies instead of celebrating our lives. I’m really adamant about this, and I’m doing it the right way. Slowly and surely!
Poppy with her mother, grandmother and son Jackson.
Ulrica: You’ve gone through a lot of change in these past few years, from ending a relationship to moving to having another child. How do you handle life’s ups and downs?
Poppy: Sometimes I kick and scream and I act ridiculous! Then I realize that no matter what I do, change is going to happen anyway so I try to accept it. I’ve decided to follow the path of least resistance. If you can change something, go ahead and change it. But if you can’t, acceptance is really important because it’s such an energy drain to fight against it. Sometimes it’s hard to roll with the changes in life. My mother always used to say the song ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ was a great spiritual lesson. I always thought she was ridiculous, but the older I get the more I realize she was right. If you really listen to it, it says go with the flow, row your boat gently down the stream. It’s bizarre, but whenever I’m going through something difficult that song pops into my head! I kind of like that.
Ulrica: Your boyfriend Shawn, Violet’s father, is in the tech industry. Is it refreshing to be with someone who is not an actor?
Poppy: It makes no difference to me. There’s a misconception that being in the same industry is a good or a bad thing, but it doesn’t really matter. He understands what I do and he’s not a nightmare when it comes to my crazy hours and that’s the hardest thing for me. He works partially in Seattle and I work all the time, so the challenge is more about having time to be together than what we do for a living. But I actually like the way we have it right now, because our relationship stays fresh and new. He’s got two wonderful kids from a previous marriage, and I have Jackson, and together we have Violet, so we have kids everywhere and it’s great! We’re sort of like a band of gypsies. Of course it’s challenging. I don’t pretend it’s not. We’re in Seattle and New York and Los Angeles, where Jackson’s dad lives whom I’m still very good friends with. It’s a wild ride for sure, but it works. I love it and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The one constant is Violet. She’s always with me and she’s so precious.
Ulrica: What’s Violet’s personality like?
Poppy: She’s so zen. She’s very mellow and sweet. She’s had so much upheaval and turmoil in her life so far. When she was two weeks old, she moved from Los Angeles to New York and I started working a week later. She’s had so much going on around her that I think she decided to be the user-friendly, push button zen baby! She sleeps a ton, she eats and she’s very happy.
Ulrica: What does she look like?
Poppy: She looks like Shawn! She’s a little mini me Shawn. She’s the cutest little angel. I adore her so much.
Ulrica: Has Jackson embraced his role as a big brother?
Poppy: Honestly, he’s not that interested in her. For the first few days after she was born, he thought she was so cute and wanted to hold her and take care of her. But when he realized he couldn’t play or talk to her, he moved on. Now all he wants to do is go and find a water park!
Ulrica: You come from such a big family — you have nine siblings and half siblings. Do you think you’ll want more kids?
Poppy: Oh my, I haven’t even considered it at this point! It’s not a priority. It’s enough for me right now with a new baby and the show. But I adore children and I love having lots of kids around me, so I never say never.
Ulrica: Have you and Shawn discussed getting married?
Poppy: Sean would get married. I think it’s important to him. But I’m much less traditional. Again, I never say never. I understand why people do it and it’s beautiful, but I always thought to myself, if you can just go and get a divorce, what’s the point? It was set up as an institution of forever, but it’s not the case. For me, my commitment is my commitment whether someone signs a piece of paper or not. Life is perfect the way it is now. I’m very happy.
Top photograph courtesy of CBS. All other photographs courtesy of Poppy Montgomery ©2013.