Danielle Fishel on how her first son's premature birth has affected her current pregnancy: 'I realized that I am definitely not in control'

·13-min read
Danielle Fishel on parenting a toddler and being pregnant at 40. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Danielle Fishel on parenting a toddler and being pregnant at 40. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of child-rearing.

Nearly 28 years after embarking on TGIF TV stardom at Topanga, Danielle Fishel is about to introduce a new boy to this world. Already mom to 2-year-old son Adler, the former Boy Meets World star, 40, and husband Jensen Karp are expecting their second baby boy shortly.

As Fishel has found, being pregnant — she's currently in her third trimester — while caring for an active toddler is no small feat. On top of that, she's also juggling the responsibilities of running her own cruelty-free hair care line, Be Free, whose products (free from sodium chloride, sulfate, phosphate, gluten, parabens, phthalates and fragrance) were inspired by her first pregnancy and a desire to use safer products.

"When you get to hear the heartbeat for the first time I had this moment of like, Oh, everything I do to myself matters in a bigger way than just for myself now; I can't be totally selfish," Fishel tells Yahoo Life. "I have never been one of those people who cared about what was in the products that I use. I just wanted it to work, and if I liked it, that's all I cared about. But once I knew I was pregnant, I went home and started looking at the things that I had been using on my body and in my hair and on my face... And I couldn't find anything that I felt road the line of still working the way I want shampoo and conditioner and pro hair products to work, [while] also cutting out all of the iffy, terrible, awful, guaranteed-to-be-bad-for-you ingredients. And that's kind of what propelled me to make the line"

Here, she talks postpartum hair, getting parenting advice from Glennon Doyle and how having a premature delivery — Adler was born four weeks early and spent three weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit due to having fluid in his lungs — has affected her mindset as she prepares to give birth again.

You announced your second pregnancy on the day you turned 40. How does it feel to be 40 and pregnant and entering this new chapter of your life?

You know, other than the day that I turned 40, I can't really say I've had too many thoughts about the fact that I'm 40 since... but I'm very excited because I think finally I'm in the decade of my life where I'm probably going to feel like I thrive the most...

My 20s, when I look back on them, I'm like, Oh my God, what a miserable time! You couldn't pay me enough money to go back to being in my 20s. And then my 30s were definitely better than my 20s, but they were filled with just so much growth and so many highs and so many lows that it was just very tumultuous; it was a real rollercoaster. And now, entering my 40s, I'm the most emotionally healthy, mentally healthy, physically healthy [I've ever been]. I'm just finally in a place where I feel very stable and ready to take on anything.

So I'm excited to be entering parenthood for the second time in this decade, but what I will say is that having a toddler and being pregnant the second time is a totally different ball game. My first pregnancy, when you don't have a child [already], was all about reading parenting books and drinking tea and kicking your feet up and napping whenever you can — at least that's how my pregnancy was. I looked at it like, I'm going to indulge in all the things they tell you to do. If I'm tired, I'm going to take a nap. And then this time it's just all hands on deck. I've got a toddler running around and I don't really get those opportunities to just relax and daydream about what this newborn phase is going to be like. But it's definitely also more fun.

Adler was born early, which must have been an intense experience. What did you learn about yourself from that process, and has it affected how you're going into a second pregnancy?

Even though everyone tells you not to over-plan anything, I went into my first delivery and my first birth thinking I was going to have [control]. You know: Here's my birth plan and here's my dream scenario. And my dream scenario is I'm going to find out that I'm going into labor and then I'm going to labor at home until I absolutely can't take it anymore, but I'll be comfortable and I'll be able to be in the bath or take a shower and then I'll go to the hospital just in the nick of time so I'm able to deliver the baby there.

And now I'm like, Oh, I can't plan anything. I have no birth plan. I have no idea when it's going to happen. I'm not going to stress about when it's going to happen. I realized that I am definitely not in control; the baby is in control. That in some ways has been very freeing because I'm a controlling person, and so there are only so many things that I can do in my control.

The one thing I was very happy about with Adler is that thankfully the car seat had already been installed in the car. I had not packed my hospital bag yet, but at least the car seat had been installed in the car. I said to my husband, like, two days ago, "We need to install the car seat in the car because we're at the point now where I'm [approaching the time] where I delivered Adler. We need to have the car seat in the car because if anything happens and I go into labor early again, I at least want that to be in the car." I do remember thinking multiple times, Thank God that car seat was in the car.

What's your parenting style?

I don't think of myself as being strict, but I am definitely routine-based. My own life is very routine. I wake up at the same time every day; I try to go to sleep at the same time every night. I am very schedule-oriented and Adler is very schedule-oriented. I know that doesn't work for a lot of people, but I made the decision — and my husband was on board very early on — with Adler that we are not going to have Adler join our way of life. We are going to go on his way of life for the next couple of years. They are only small for a short amount of time.

I don't want to be the parent who's like, "Oh, it's OK, he's going to be up until 10 o'clock tonight, that's not a big deal." I'm the parent who's like, "No, his bedtime is between 7:30 and 7:45 every single night." And I hit that every single night. And his nap time is between 12:30 and 12:45 every single day, and he eats at this time.

He is very schedule-based, but I also try to pick my battles, like when he's having a full-blown meltdown about something or he's having a real hard time with something, or he's doing something that maybe I don't want him to do. His new obsession is throwing our coasters everywhere. I have no idea why he thinks it's so fun to pick up the containers with coasters and throw them around the house. But he really does, and that obviously drives me insane. I watch him do it and I think, Why are you throwing 12 coasters all over the floor? I think this is just not a battle worth fighting. Sure. Go ahead. Throw the coasters... So I am in some ways very regimented and in other ways, I'm very much like this is what toddler life is.

You mentioned reading parenting books. Who are your go-to experts and accounts?

I joined the Positive Parenting Solutions course, and I started reading that and doing the modules... I really enjoyed that. And then also recently, [I've been listening to] Glennon Doyle's podcast, We Can Do Hard Things. First of all, I love her. I love everything about her. I love her books; I've followed her for years. Her podcast is great and she's recently done a few very good episodes specifically about parenting and parenting styles.

The most recent thing that I really took away from her podcast was that her generation, which is also kind of my generation, grew up with this idea that parenting meant your kids don't get to see you be human, that they see you as being always perfect. Like, Mommy always has it together, Mommy always likes this, Daddy likes that — almost like a robot. And if they see you break down or they see you having a hard time or they see you being a human, they're going to think of you as being out of control. And [Doyle] said, "That didn't work for me as a kid. It made me feel like my own emotions and my own humanness was wrong because the people around me weren't modeling it for me."

And I just thought that was so smart, letting your kids know that they have big emotions and that it's OK; that they're allowed to feel those big emotions and Mommy and Daddy also have big emotions and they feel them too. Recently my husband was going through a hard time and he said, "I'm really sad right now and I don't want to go downstairs. I don't want Adler to see me this way." And I said, "It's OK for him to see you that way. It's OK for you to say, 'It isn't your fault; it isn't about you, but Daddy's very sad right now. So I'm just going to be a little bit sad.'" Let them see it. That really just stuck with me. I'm going to remember that because there are moments where I get very frustrated and you think, Oh, I can't let anybody see how frustrated I am or I can't let anybody see this emotion. But the truth is it's probably much healthier to model all of those emotions for our kids so that they know when they have them that they're OK.

What are the things that you love most about being a mom?

There's so many things I love about being specifically Adler's mom. First of all, waking him up every day and getting him out of bed is something I look forward to from the minute I put him down. That doesn't mean I think to myself, Oh, I wish it would come sooner. The minute I put him down, I'm like, Oh, glorious rest [laughs]. At night, I'm like, Oh, please sleep, sleep, sleep. He wakes up in a really good mood. We don't get him up until 6:45, but he usually wakes up somewhere between 6 and 6:20, and I love just like looking at him. I get up at 6 every single morning and I have coffee and my quiet time and I just watch him on the monitor. And he usually just wakes up and he plays in his crib and he talks to himself and he stands up. He walks around and I get so excited to see him every morning. He just beams. And I walk in, and we have a little song I made up that I sing for him every morning. Our morning routine is one of my favorite things.

Recently we've started having a really fun routine on the weekends since it's summer here now. and we are fortunate enough to have a pool. Every afternoon when he wakes up from his nap on the weekends, we've been taking him to get frozen yogurt and [afterward] going in the pool to go swimming. It feels like it's the first time of being a parent where I'm like, I remember being a child and going in the pool and how much fun summertime was playing in the pool. Those were things I loved as a kid. And I'm like, Wow, we're getting to that. We're getting to that stage now where there are things I can recreate from my own childhood memories. Even just eating grapes by the pool; that's a memory I have, of being in elementary school and my mom bringing out a bowl of grapes and eating them by the pool. And I think to myself, I can't wait to come out there and eat grapes by the pool.

You now have your own hair care line. A lot of moms have spoken out about suffering postpartum hair loss; was that an issue for you?

I did have a little bit of postpartum hair loss, but it wasn't a ton. I did not, though, experience the gorgeous, luscious hair of pregnancy. All of my girlfriends seem to have this really beautiful pregnancy hair, and for some reason I just did not. I take a prenatal [vitamin], I do all the same things everybody else says they do, but I did not notice that my hair was any better during pregnancy. If anything, I thought the texture of my hair kind of changed and it felt a little bit more like straw. And I was like, I do not like my pregnancy hair.

After [giving birth to Adler] I said, "I don't think I've lost any hair," and then I went to my hairdresser and she was like, "No, you've definitely lost some hair." I guess I didn't really quite notice. But then I really noticed when all of the baby hairs started growing back. One of the products that we have is a Scalp Refresh, and it is really, really, really good for hair growth... While I was making the line and I was pregnant, my best friend had just had a baby, and she was sending me pictures every day of her handfuls of hair that were falling out. And she said, "Please make me something that will stop this." So I wanted to do something that was really good for hair growth.

When's the last time you crimped your hair, Topanga-style?

Oh man. We did an episode of Girl Meets World where Topanga flashed back to her younger self. We crimped my hair for that episode and I'm pretty sure that's the last time I used a crimping iron... I've recently seen on TikTok some kids doing crimping things and I'm like, Oh wow. Really? Really? Are we sure we want to bring this back?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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