Laura Prepon had already planned on spending the spring indoors. Ms. Prepon, who gave birth to her second child with her husband, the actor Ben Foster, at the end of February, had scheduled a six-week maternity leave. She hadn’t put a pandemic on the calendar.
“But, because we had planned to be isolated, I think it was a softer landing for us,” she said on Wednesday from her apartment in southern Brooklyn.
Before she had her first child, a daughter who is now 2, she had enjoyed adrenaline-tempting hobbies like motorcycling, paragliding, high-stakes poker and the occasional Kilimanjaro ascent. Her recent enthusiasm hobby now? Ceramics.
“It’s just very meditative for me,” she said.
So two weeks before her due date, Ms. Prepon, in a chambray shirt and maternity jeans, spent a morning at Bklyn Clay, an airy, shelf-packed ceramics studio in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, not too far from her home.
Her strawberry hair was dyed licorice black, a holdover from her years on the prison dramedy “Orange Is the New Black.” A ninth-month belly strained against the pink split-legged smock she tied around her waist.
“I can’t believe how pregnant you are,” said Laura Vogel, the studio’s operations manager, who has become a friend. “It’s like there’s another person there.”
“There is,” said Ms. Prepon, who has the authority and pep of an unusually glamorous Girl Scout.
Ms. Prepon, 40, who broke out as a teenage star on “That ’70s Show” and has since reinvented herself as a director and YouTube chef, took up pottery last fall. With Ms. Vogel showing her the basics, Ms. Prepon made a glazed blue-green ashtray, a birthday present for Mr. Foster, who enjoys, she said, the occasional cigar.
She was apparently an earthenware natural. “It’s kind of upsetting how good she is,” Ms. Vogel said. “I showed her for like two minutes, and she was able to do it.”
Ms. Prepon thinks of her visits to the studio as a form of self-care, “something that’s really helped me a lot is in terms of dealing with this new set of challenges as a mom,” she said.
As she writes in the introduction, “I felt blindsided by motherhood.”
“I just couldn’t find this book out there,” she said. “So I felt like I had to write it. It took me becoming a mother to realize that there’s so much that isn’t being talked about.”
The book uses personal anecdotes and a lot of big-sister-ish encouragement. She wants women to learn to care for their children without entirely losing their sense of self, so that they, unlike her, don’t have to sit up in bed one night and tell their partners, “The woman you married is gone.
Each chapter combines open-ended questions (“How have you seen yourself grow?”) alongside practical advice, like a breathing technique that Navy SEALs use to reduce stress and a recipe for homemade almond milk. The book also includes personal disclosures, like her experience with a nonviable pregnancy.
“I’ve gotten so much healing out of writing this book,” she said. “If I can help anybody who picks up my book to heal and laugh, maybe cry and feel like they’re heard, that is real.”
After blowing her nose (relax, she had a sinus infection and just finished 10 days of antibiotics) and then powdering it, she pulled a hunk of clay out of a storage bin and began to wedge it, a kneading process that eliminates the air bubbles. She sliced it open with a wire cutter, slapped it back together, kneaded, sliced.
“No bubbles,” she said, proudly.
At the wheel, she spread her knees wide, tucking her elbows into either side of her belly for stability. She affixed a flat square, called a bat, to the wheel and plopped the clay onto it. With the wheel whirring, she encircled the clay with her fingers, wetting down the sides with a daisy yellow sponge. “You have to get it totally centered,” she said.
Ms. Vogel admired her neat handiwork. “It’s almost infuriating,” she said.
Ms. Prepon began to shape the clay, creating a divot in the middle, then widening it out. What would the clay become? Not an ashtray, she said: “We already have two of those at home.” She decided on a bowl.
Sometimes Ms. Prepon misses her old, extreme pursuits. “But honestly, worrying about my child is stressful enough,” she said. She sold her motorcycle because she couldn’t imagine riding it anymore. “I don’t think my body would let me,” she said. “It’s like against every cell in my body.”
The bowl took a couple of tries (the first one wobbled and collapsed under its own weight), but 20 minutes later a wide-mouthed and mostly symmetrical vessel emerged. She deactivated the wheel.
“So here’s a bowl,” Ms. Prepon said, as she lifted it onto a high shelf surrounded by dip-dyed mugs and frilled neck vases. “It’s wonky. My ashtrays were way better.”
Had a novel coronavirus not intervened, she would have returned to trim it, fire it, glaze it and fire it again. Instead, she and her husband have stayed home and developed new routines: tag teaming feedings, baths, naps, meal prep, playtime and grown-up work like a director’s project and a virtual book tour. (Coffee helps.)
“These days are all so raw for us, but we try to practice by being present, finding beauty in simple pleasures,” she said.
Research for the book has also come in handy for the lockdown, especially the chapters on self-care, stress management and easy family recipes. If the book has a second printing, Ms. Prepon said, “I might have added in how to make homemade hand sanitizer.