“Moms are important. Moms are powerful. By honing our content just for moms, we’re making something more powerful, not less. That’s exciting.” Zibby is joined by Amy Wilson, co-host of the podcast What Fresh Hell, to talk about her 2010 hit book When Did I Get Like This? Amy tells Zibby about her experience performing the one-woman play adaptation of her book many years ago, how motherhood has changed since writing her book (especially due to Covid-19), and what she loves most about collaborating creatively with others.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Amy. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss When Did I Get Like This?: The Screamer, the Worrier, the Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget-Buyer, and Other Mothers I Swore I’d Never Be.

Amy Wilson: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: This is such a thrill for me. I know that you know this since we’ve already done your podcast and everything, but I read your book when it came out, which you reminded me was in 2010. I have that copy over there, which I should’ve pulled out.

Amy: Isn’t that crazy? I’m so honored.

Zibby: I loved it. At the time, I had three-year-old twins, so I was in it with you. It was right then. I reread it now to get a refresher because my memory — I know what I’ve read, but then I can’t remember anything inside it.

Amy: I would imagine. You read all the time, right?

Zibby: Yes. I read it again with fresh eyes. It was so funny. It was so in the moment back then. Let me stop. Why don’t you tell listeners a little bit about what your book’s about? Although, the subtitle is very revealing.

Amy: The book came out in 2010, as you said. At the time when I wrote the book, my kids were one, four, and six. I was really in it, in the salt-mine years, as I like to say. It’s hard from the moment you get up until the moment you go to bed. You are using your hands taking care of somebody. I think things have changed since 2010 and things have not changed. What the book is about, it’s a series of essays. It’s about all the times that I started from the place of wanting what’s best for my children. Who doesn’t want what’s best for their children, right? Of course, I want that, but then these insidious messages we get. If you want what’s best for your children, you have to start using these flash cards. You have to mill your own baby food. That kind of thing. Each chapter in the book, whether it’s my birth plan or getting my kid into preschool or making mom friends, it would be something where I would always start saying, okay, this time, I am not overthinking this. I am super chill. I’m not going to fall for that this time. Then over and over again, I do, I think because, a little bit, it’s how I’m wired. I also think society sort of makes us that way. That’s the bee in my bonnet. I think society makes mothers crazy. Then it’s like, oh, why are you mothers so crazy? It was the assignment. You told me to be. You told me to worry about every little thing. That’s what the book’s about.

Zibby: Amazing. In the beginning, you said it doesn’t affect fathers the same way because the marketing is all to moms, this manipulation that we need this particular product or else we won’t — you made up some really funny examples. The whole book is so funny. Do I need it? Do I not need this product? Of course, I want to be good, just like you were saying. It’s impossible to get away from the guilt when people are intentionally trying to guilt us into buying things for their own benefit. As a result, now we’re all a mess.

Amy: Yes. I’m a researcher too, so this probably was even worse for me. My spouse, when we were going to into the delivery room, he didn’t know that there was something called vitamin K eye drops that the baby was going to get in their eyes ninety seconds after the baby was born and that that was either a must-do or a must-not-do depending on what website you were on that day. He avoided all of that because who would even care about that stuff? I think there are mothers who are more blissfully like, I’m just going to go with the flow. I needed to have the best, right answer for each little thing, which is, of course, bonkers. I needed to learn that the hard way.

Zibby: You guys talked about getting a doula. He was like, why would we need a doula? I can do this myself. There was that whole conversation.

Amy: I probably should’ve gotten a doula. He was great. When you’re in labor and they see you in pain, they freak out a little bit. I think any partner would. How my partner reacted was, uh, I think I really need a turkey sandwich. He was super, super hunger and thirsty and had to keep leaving the room to get more food, I think to leave the room.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I also loved your whole segment on the doctor and the nurse and your weight as you were gaining weight for each subsequent baby and how they made you feel and how the doctor kept saying, well, maybe not so many desserts. You were like, you said that last time. I already gave up desserts. Now I’m eating the equivalent of some keto diet, or whatever you were doing that was trendy at the time. You were like, this is terrible.

Amy: Yes. If there’s anybody who is listening to this who happens to be pregnant or about to be pregnant, your body wants to gain weight. It is your body’s assignment. You can spend forty weeks, as I did, sort of digging your nails into the ground while it drags you towards maternity pants or you can not worry about it and eat when you’re hungry. I gained the exact same amount of weight in the two pregnancies where I did each of those things. That was a real eye-opener for me. This feel-bad culture, I don’t know why they care so much if you gain thirty-eight pounds instead of thirty-five pounds, but they do. It’s something you just have to be ready for. Put a shield around yourself. I’m not going to gain eighty-five pounds. Maybe I will. It won’t be because I’m a bad person. It’s because my body is going a little bonkers. It’ll be okay. You see what I’m saying? You have to come up with that reserve of reassurance for yourself, which is really hard when you’re in a time in your life when you’re so off-balance and unsure.

Zibby: It’s also the only thing you can control when you’re pregnant. There’s so much fear, even the story you told about finding out about being pregnant through the center and not ever being able to celebrate that.

Amy: I struggled with infertility with my first child. It’s a long road. Some other people’s roads were longer. If you go through that at all, wanting to be pregnant and not being able to, it’s extremely painful. When I finally got pregnant, it was the last thing I felt like — and thank god. That child is now nineteen and at college. Finding out when I was pregnant with him, it was cautious. It wasn’t exuberant.

Zibby: There was no time to celebrate. Although, eventually, you did, but even having that joy removed. All to say, there’s so much anxiety at every step of the way. What can you do but wait? Everyone’s like, wait until this week. Wait until that week. There’s nothing you can really do. There’s just all these things you can’t do. That’s what you pointed out too. It’s the land of all the things — how do you exist in a state of not doing a million things? What do you do then? Maybe food is the one thing you can do and you can do right.

Amy: It’s quantifiable from the outside. If I gained thirty-one pounds, I’m okay. If I gained thirty-three pounds, I’m a bad person. It’s something you can watch while you’re wondering what’s going on in the factory inside.

Zibby: I also think — like you, I had three pregnancies. I have four kids, but I have twins. I feel like my comfort level with my changing body and the knowing that it would go up and it would go down came over time. I want to share that, but you never can really internalize that, maybe, until you’ve gone through it once or twice. Anybody who tried to reassure me, I was like, no, I’m still going to be in my head about this because I don’t know what’s going to happen.

Amy: That was the whole point of my book. I really wanted people to be able to sort of jump the line. I hope maybe they did, that maybe you avoided ten percent of the beating yourself up because you read about me doing it and thought, okay, I’ll skip that part. I hope that that’s true. I do think you’re right. To a large extent, you just got to go through it to figure out, okay, I was crazy when I did X, Y, Z.

Zibby: I think the book is great. I will sing from the rooftops and try and tell people all the things I feel like I’ve learned. The instinct is to share and help. I’m just not sure how much people — it’s not just with this. It’s really with anything. You can prep people for grief. You can prep people for all sorts of things that will happen in life. They can kind of know it, but I think internalizing it — anyway, I’m obviously of the school, let’s share and help people. That’s all we can do. I do feel it’s our responsibility in some way to help in case we help one person. Maybe then it’s better than no people.

Amy: Right. I do think that’s much better than our mom’s motherhood. People will bear witness to all kinds of things. You do realize that you’re not alone. There’s a lot of different ways that moms can connect and have that connection during a time — during the pandemic, this is the hardest time. Anybody who’s home with little kids right now, you are doing something harder than anything I ever had to do when my kids were little, but there is this opportunity for connection in other ways, which is helpful.

Zibby: I think about that too. My kids are all able to put on their clothes and all those things. It’s less the hands-on. I’m like, what would I have done? I would’ve just done it because we all have just done whatever has happened and do one day at a time. There’s a lot of stress, even with not even having a vaccine for the younger kids and having that anxiety on top of the anxiety of everything else.

Amy: And the mothers who feel left behind in this conversation. Okay, I guess we’re going to let it rip. Everybody should just get back to their lives. Wait a minute, I have a two-year-old. I have kept him in a plastic bubble for the last two years. Now you’re telling me — it doesn’t make any sense. We’re asking them to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense.

Zibby: It’s true. Then, of course, none of us know the long-term, even, emotional effects this will all have. Then I’m like, is this going to end? What if my kids have to wear masks the entire time that they’re in school? Ugh, anyway.

Amy: Let’s bring the room down, right, Zibby?

Zibby: I’m really sorry. I’ll circle “the worrier” on your cover here. Yes, that one, that’s me. I’ll just worry for everybody. In addition to writing this book, which was absolutely fabulous and just as relevant today as it was then, you turned this into a one-woman show and took it around the country. It started Off-Broadway. It went national. Tell me about that experience.

Amy: It was so crazy. It was terrific. I went to about sixteen different cities. If I was going for longer than a day or two, I would bring my baby with me. My youngest was learning to walk while we were doing this show. If I had to go for a week, I’d bring my babysitter. We’d all be hanging out in the hotel together. It was such a privilege to perform. I’ve performed for lots of different groups. I have this past life as an actor. There is nothing like a room full of moms on a night out. They’re with their friends. They got their own babysitter. Maybe they’ve had a glass of rosé, or two. They are ready to laugh and have a good time. As I would be telling these stories, just looking out in the audience — it was a one-woman show, so I’m looking at the audience the whole time. Watching somebody reach across two or three people and punch her friend in the arm, like, that’s you, she’s talking about you right now, and the woman being like, I know, I know, and the two of them laughing, just a shared experience, it was such a privilege. It was so exciting. A one-person show is a total high-wire act. You get out there, and it was just me and the person in the booth playing the sound ques. If you forget where you are, you just got to dig yourself out. When you’re on stage with another actor and you forget your lines, you lock eyes. You communicate. The other person is like, weren’t you going to tell me about that thing from that time? They can lead you back to the path. When you’re out there alone, it’s scary, but it was exhilarating as well.

Zibby: Wow. Did you have a script you followed? Did you improvise each time?

Amy: I did. No, it was a very tight script. It’s interesting you say that because I looked at Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up. He’s just very funny, but there’s also something extremely conversational about his work, and I think most stand-ups. John Mulaney is another one. They sound like they’re just thinking of this right now for the first time. There’s a cadence. There’s an approach, but it’s very carefully calibrated. This was like that. It was a script that was down to the word. I was always letter-perfect about it because that made me feel safer on stage. I actually very rarely diverged from the script, including when somebody walked in late or whatever. I didn’t stop the show. It wasn’t a stand-up act. I wasn’t engaging the audience. It was very letter-perfect. At the same time, I realized you get more laughs the more you are this person. You are Alice in Wonderland going to the prenatal class for the first time. The more the actor on stage can be experiencing it for the first time, the funnier it is.

Zibby: I saw Jerry Seinfeld twice at the Beekman because I took my kids back. I was like, I’m sure it’ll be different this time. It was the exact same show, which was still hilarious. I still cried laughing. Yes, to your point, it was basically the exact same thing.

Amy: It only seems off-the-cuff. It’s nailed down. That’s me. That’s my style.

Zibby: I love that, wow. You’re not still doing it, right?

Amy: No. It was a great experience. What kind of derailed the tour or brought it to a premature end, maybe, was the recession of 2008. Do you remember the Bernie Madoff days?

Zibby: Yes.

Amy: There were so many theaters that I was going to perform at who reached out to my agent and said, we’re canceling our entire season. We’re really sorry. It kind of came up against that. I loved it. I did that show a couple hundred times. I guess I could’ve tried to pick it back up two years later. There is a point in your life, in my life when I think, have I gotten out of this what I will have gotten out of this? I think that was true for that, that I wouldn’t have learned anything more from doing it fifty more times even though it was super fun. It was, of course, hard work too.

Zibby: Wait, back to the acting for two seconds. I read that you had a regular role on Felicity? Is that true? Who were you? I loved that show.

Amy: Yes. I was recurring on Felicity. There’s regular, and there’s recurring. Regular is, you’re on every week. There were a couple shows where I was on every week twenty years ago. Felicity, I was recurring. Her friend who was African American had an affair with a professor. Are you that level of Felicity ?

Zibby: I don’t remember that.

Amy: is the actress. Anyway, that was a plotline for her in a season, that she was having an affair with a professor. I was a college student who had had an affair with the same professor. I came to warn her off in a couple of different episodes. It is funny. It was a great show. That show, out of everything I’ve done, is the one that women of a certain age are like, you were on Felicity?

Zibby: Oh, sorry. I’m dating myself here.

Amy: Although, kids, they’re funny. It’s on some streaming platforms. I’m including myself in women of a certain age, by the way. Just that you remember Felicity, Ally McBeal, that kind of…

Zibby: Yes, yes, yes, oh, my gosh. I literally can feel the couch I was sitting on at college watching Ally McBeal with my two girlfriends. I’m immediately, when you say the words, in it right then.

Amy: There was so much less TV then. Ally McBeal and Felicity, they were shows for us. They were shows with a young woman as the central character. She wasn’t just chasing boys. They were revolutionary. I’m sure that seems silly now, but they were.

Zibby: I’m glad I was following a revolutionary pattern. I feel good now about all my binge-watching.

Amy: We were watching revolutionary television. Don’t you understand?

Zibby: Love it. Thank you, CW, or whatever it was on. Then fast-forward. When did you start “What Fresh Hell,” the podcast?

Amy: That was five years ago. After that tour, I worked on a second book. I pitched a second book, sort of a version of When Did I Get Like This? that was for seven- to fourteen-year-olds, my experience of that stage of parenting, which I think is a very interesting, liminal stage. My experience of that stage of parenting was very much that people were like, just you wait, you’ll see, that sort of thing, which always kind of freaked me out. I didn’t understand what they meant. That’s what the book was about. Couldn’t sell it because the publishing industry sort of felt like, that’s not an age group that there are books about, so I was like, how about this one? There wasn’t proof of concept in the marketplace, books for that middle age. I didn’t know what to do with that and was working on some other projects. Then an old friend of mine, Margaret Ables, who had been head of video at NickMom — Nickelodeon had a channel called NickMom. Do you remember that? It was on at night for a while.

Zibby: Yep, I do remember.

Amy: She was with that. Then that ended. She called me and said, “Let’s have coffee.” We went out for coffee. She said, “I have this idea. Do you want to do a podcast with me?” It’s like a punchline now. At that time, I was like, a podcast? I’d listened to Serial. That was about it. Thought about it. I had sort of been telling myself and the universe, I’m tired of working by myself. I’m tired of working on a book that didn’t sell. I want to collaborate. I want to work with somebody. I had a collaboration with a guy that just didn’t work for me because we were doing what he wanted to do more than what I wanted to do, which is all on me. I was like, okay, my next collaboration’s going to be with a female and something I want to do. Then this, “What do you think if we try to podcast together?” I said, “Okay.” We bought microphones and figured it out. We have about four hundred episodes now. When we started, I did not know her kids’ names or ages. I had a vague sense. It’s funny now because people assume, “So you started a podcast with your best friend.” She’s become, of course, one of my best friends, but at the time when we started, it was almost like we were interviewing each other like we’re talking to each other right now. I think it really helped the show. We would pick a topic. Should you help kids with their homework, or should you just throw up your hands and let them not finish? We would sit down to record, and I really wasn’t sure what she was going to say. Now I could probably predict pretty well, and vice versa. At the time, I had no idea what she would say. It kept it very fresh, the conversations.

Zibby: It kept “What Fresh Hell” fresh. I like it.

Amy: It kept “What Fresh Hell” fresh. “What fresh hell” is something that Dorothy Parker used to say. She was a humorist about a hundred years ago. She died. She used to answer the telephone or the door, supposedly, and say, what fresh hell is this? Margaret’s mom, who died a couple years ago, she used to say that walking around her 1970s cuckoo life with four little kids at home, “What fresh hell is this?” when she walked around the corner. When Margaret came to me that day and said, “I think we should start a podcast. I think it should be called ‘What Fresh Hell: Laughing in the Face of Motherhood –” It really happens like that, right?

Zibby: It’s perfect, yes.

Amy: The first title is the title. I’m like, “Okay, sounds good.” We never looked back.

Zibby: I love it. Wait, so whatever happened with your book for seven- to fourteen-year-olds? I happen to have four of those right now.

Amy: It’s sitting on the shelf. I didn’t write the manuscript. I have the proposal. It’s sitting on the shelf. It’s funny because now, of course, I would probably write something a little different if I was going to write it out because now I do have the perspective of a nineteen-year-old. At the time, I was really writing from, I’m not ready to teach them how to drive. I’m not ready to have them leave the nest. I’m not ready to talk to my kids about sex. Of course, now I’ve done all those things.

Zibby: We should talk if you have — I’m running Zibby Books. I love how you write. If you want to talk about stuff, projects, that would be really cool. I would love it.

Amy: Yes, I would love that.

Zibby: We’ll offline about that after.

Amy: That’d be great.

Zibby: Amazing. What are you working on now? You have the podcast. You’re about to write this book for me. No, I’m kidding.

Amy: Yeah. The world is ready for my new parenting book.

Zibby: What else is going on?

Amy: I wrote a musical in the last couple of years, the book for a musical. I’m a somewhat musical person. Two friends of mine from Yale who are much more in the musical theater world were writing a musical, had developed an idea about the wellness industry. It’s a small musical about the wellness industry with an all-female cast. They wanted a woman to write the book; in other words, the scenes of the musical, everything that happens when they’re not singing. They came to me. I said, “I would love to do this. I haven’t really done this before.” They were like, “Don’t worry. We’ll teach you.” It’s in process. It’s done. It’s ready for its first readings, which in a play is like, it’s done. It’s done enough to do it full-out, full-through around a table. Then you say, oh, that part doesn’t work at all. This thing doesn’t come across. We’re ready for that. I’m really excited for those next steps. I really do like collaborating. I like working with partners. There’s accountability. There’s also immediate feedback. You can tell if what you’re doing is working.

Zibby: Yes. I think it’s finding the right partner, for a show, for a team. Then it can be amazing. It can be really amazing.

Amy: And then the podcast itself. Our podcast has been around for five years. We started a podcast under our umbrella for younger kids called “Toddler Purgatory.” That launched in the spring of last year. That’s still around, so whoever’s seeing that. We have this kernel of an idea that we’re going to start bringing more podcasts under our wing and run their advertising because there is a real burgeoning opportunity in podcast advertising. Of course, there is for Joe Rogan, but there’s a lot of smaller, independent podcasters who are women who have an all-woman listening audience. I’m sure yours is largely female, not all female, but largely. That’s an incredible advantage in podcasting, to have the demographic your listeners be the people who advertisers want to reach the most. I’m becoming a podcast advertising nerd, which I couldn’t have foreseen, but I love it. It’s really interesting to me.

Zibby: Is your show on a network now?

Amy: No. We sort of are our own network. We work with a bunch of these different agencies. We have resisted becoming part of a larger network because we’re doing it. It’s working. It’s working without the network.

Zibby: That’s great. Good for you. That’s amazing. I’m on the Acast network, which I love. For the first three years or something, I did it myself.

Amy: You did it yourself. It’s a lot of work. It is nice to sort of hand it over. We’re realizing that having a group of people that reach moms — you know, it’s funny. Writing parenting or creating content about parenting I think is so crucial. I love the connections we make with each of our listeners. It’s harder to make that seem relevant or important to the larger world. It’s in a very narrow column. That can be frustrating. You can’t get the larger world to pay attention to you because it’s just a parenting podcast. Therefore, it must not be very good. It must be a bunch of mommies complaining. It is in the advertising that I’ve found out, no, actually — I know we make a good product. Actually, we’re reaching a really — moms are important. Moms are powerful. By honing our content just for moms, we’re making something more powerful, not less. That’s exciting.

Zibby: I got advice when I started my podcast about how limiting it would be that I had the words “moms” in it. I was like, if I could cover that entire demographic, I would feel good about myself. There are a lot of moms. Of course, my show is not just for moms, much less, I think, than yours.

Amy: Yes.

Zibby: That’s just sort of the platform. I was like, yeah, I’m cool with that. There are a lot of moms out there.

Amy: Right, who are looking for connection and content and something that’s just for us and somebody to say, I see you. I know exactly what you’re doing. I think there’s a lot of worth and value in that.

Zibby: I agree. Similar strategies here. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Amy: The book that I wrote is sort of a memoir, funny with a point. Everything I try to do is funny with a point. It isn’t just comedy. It isn’t reported nonfiction. You’re getting something out of it. Back in the day when I was a full-time performer and I was writing solo shows, I always wrote my own material because that was how I got somewhere. That’s how I got agents and people to see me. I wrote a solo show, not Mother Load, an early one called A Cookie Full of Arsenic. It was in the HBO Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, which was amazing. Then HBO gave me a first-look deal for two years and stuff. I was working on something else. I was creating ideas to pitch. I said, I’m from a small town. I’m from Scranton, Pennsylvania, which is sort of a typical small town. It’s kind of quirky and interesting. It really shaped who I am. I think I spent a lot of time trying to not seem like I’m from Scranton, but of course, I am. There’s something universal in that. This HBO executive was like, “Okay, why are you telling me this?” He said, “Usually when I go to see one-person shows, the difference between the ones that are indulgent and the ones that are affecting is that they know why they’re telling me this. Why are you telling me you’re from Scranton? Why are you telling me that mothers are sold their own insufficiency so they buy more things?” That has really helped me. That’s become sort of the guiding principle for when I write so it isn’t just like, motherhood is crazy, and here’s some essays about how motherhood is crazy. Yes. Why are you telling me this? If you can answer that question in your writing, then it’s ready. Then it’s ready to be written or to be pitched or whatever.

Zibby: I love that. Why are you telling me this? That’s great advice. Awesome. I’m going to have to apply that to my own writing. Why am I telling people this? I don’t know.

Amy: Right. You really have to unpack it. It’s not something you can answer in a day. I think it has made the stuff that I do better. This musical or this book or whatever, I can answer that question. Hopefully, that makes it more worthy of somebody’s time if they pick it up. I think it’s different for fiction. Although, even fiction, I suppose that that’s probably true. I wrote one novel. It just didn’t really work. What I learned from writing a novel is that writing a novel is really hard and it’s not for everyone.

Zibby: I learned that too. Life is long, so who knows?

Amy: Hats off to you, novelists.

Zibby: Failed novelists. Amy, thank you so much. This was so much fun. I really appreciate your coming on.

Amy: Thanks, Zibby. I really appreciate it.

Zibby: Tell everybody how to find you. Where are you on Instagram and all the good stuff?

Amy: Oh, yeah, all right. is where you can find my podcast. You can listen to it anywhere you listen to podcasts, but that’s our website where you can find all the players. We are on all the social media as @whatfreshhellcast except on Twitter where we’re @whatfreshmedia.

Zibby: Amazing. Thank you, Amy

Amy: Thanks, Zibby.

Zibby: Have a great day.



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