Sitting at her Mumbai home with the inevitable bookcase in the background (a real one, not a virtual Zoom wallpaper), wearing a chic red dress and looking cool and relaxed, Kareena Kapoor Khan is not a stock photo idea of a typical mother of two—stock photos tend to portray new moms as harried and stressed, and here’s someone who looks every bit as spectacular as the version of her you see in her films.
And yet, Khan comes across as very real. A bit restless at times, she talks fast and gesticulates often, leaning forwards to peer into the screen and shifting back into her chair in a more relaxed moment. Her book, Kareena Kapoor Khan's Pregnancy Bible: The Ultimate Manual for Moms-To-Be published by Juggernaut Books, is messy and real as well. It might be a guide to pregnancy with all the correct medical advice and co-written by Aditi Shah Bhimjyani, a professional writer, but it lets Khan’s voice through, incorporating her personal experiences during her two pregnancies. From pizza cravings to dealing with excruciating morning sickness and the fears that came with being pregnant in the middle of the covid-19 pandemic, it addresses the needs of a modern mum-to-be, who needs to know as much about whether it’s safe to have an occasional glass of wine during her pregnancy and how often she can have sex as the gazillion medical questions racing through her mind.
In an exclusive interview with Lounge, Khan talks about the process of writing the book, managing work and parenthood, and dealing with the challenges of celebrityhood.
Q. What does your life look like at the moment?
Well, it’s busy with the two boys. They constantly keep me on my toes. Jeh (younger son Jehangir) is five and a half months old now. And I’ve been working throughout the pregnancy and post pregnancy; I completed Lal Singh Chaddha and I’ll start another film in November. And I’m trying to keep fit, keep moving, and do stuff that makes me feel good.
Q. During your pregnancies, did you miss having a comprehensive guide to pregnancy written with a contemporary Indian context in mind?
When Chiki Sarkar (publisher and founder of Juggernaut Books) asked me to write the book, I thought it was a brilliant idea because you never really had any mainstream actor address their pregnancy so openly; talk about what it’s like and what actually happens behind the scenes, how you feel mentally and physically. So I think this book works in the way that expectant mothers can just pick up any page and read it and feel that support. That’s the idea of this book—that it should be one for the shelf, and one that you can gift your daughter or your friend who’s pregnant. It has information for years to come.
Q. And how did you make sure that your voice was in it?
The idea is that all these topics — whether it’s breastfeeding, or weight gain, or cravings, or sex during pregnancy — these are topics that people don’t really talk about. Mothers can be a bit shy to talk about all this with daughters. Or, you know, the fact that when a new mom comes home from the hospital, no one really checks in on how she feels mentally. They are concerned about her physical wellbeing and her baby but what about how she’s feeling emotionally? We don’t address these issues. I was hoping that if I leant my voice to it, new mothers would relate to me and would understand that, okay, you know, if Kareena also went through this, it’s okay to feel this way. I think it even works for someone who’s not yet pregnant and is maybe thinking of becoming a mother — I think there’s information for that person as well.
Q. What was your research process like?
We had a panel of doctors, sonologists, psychologists, nutritionists to approve all the medical aspects, and the fact that the book got a FOGSI approval (from the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India) is a huge deal. At the same time I wanted to make sure that the book is not boring. That’s where my experiences are constantly coming in because I think that makes it more readable, accessible, and relatable.
Q. You don’t gloss over the messy aspects of pregnancy…
I tried to capture the realness of it, whether I was feeling bloated, or nauseous, or exhausted, or if I was upset. There were good days and bad days, and there were things no one really tells you, like breastfeeding for instance. I mean it’s not a walk in the park—it’s not like okay, you have delivered and now your milk is going to start flowing, and everything’s going to be amazing. It’s one of the most difficult parts, actually. So I have spoken frankly about what I went through, and that it’s not all hunky-dory. The first few days post-delivery can sometimes be the most difficult. The mother’s just gone through a stressful experience but she’s supposed to sit up and take care of her baby and be hands-on.
Q. Did you have any worries about your career, about whether you could continue working? What do you want to tell women about ‘having it all’?
I’m ambitious about my career, but I’ve always prioritised and balanced my family life. When I got married in 2012, it still wasn’t common for actresses to be married and working, but that has changed a lot. So I know that I will continue to work, my work is important to me, and I will also have to maintain work-life balance. But what I really want to tell women is that it’s so important to take care of yourself first. Because if you are happy, your child is automatically happy. It’s like when you’re on an aircraft, and there’s the announcement about the oxygen mask and you are supposed to wear it before you help your child? It’s a very tricky relationship and mothers tend to forget that in the initial stages of birth, because everything is so overwhelming, everything is so new. But I think looking after your mental sanity is important, and your physical wellbeing also, of course. Having a supportive husband is key, or some sort of help. Most mothers shy away from asking for help or keeping a nurse or keeping a nanny or requesting your family to help. If stepping out to work makes you happy, where you in turn come back home happy to make your children happy, I think that’s just the perfect way to be.
Q. As an ordinary person, I am curious to know how you handled things like doctor visits and ultrasound appointments while being followed by paparazzi, your every move watched...
I think I’m a very calm person, so I don’t react to that sort of thing. So if the paparazzi are following me, asking questions, I’m the least bothered. I don’t even bother to dress up or anything. I might be looking like a wreck, but it’s fine. And that’s the way I navigated my pregnancies. Saif (her husband, actor Saif Ali Khan) used to get a little stressed but not me. It was the most normal thing for me to be out going for an ultrasound, but if you think that this is an event, fine. I just switched off. How else is one supposed to live? There is no other way.
Q. Was there anything that you put in the book about which you feel ‘I wish somebody had told me this’?
I think with both the pregnancies, with Tim and Jeh, the accounts in the book are very different. Tim was born in 2016, but with Jeh, I was pregnant during the lockdown, during covid time, so it was A to Z. Everybody's lives just took a 360 degree turn, nobody knew what was going on. We had never even heard of covid. I never thought I would be pregnant during covid. But we never lost hope. We never lost courage. There have been good days, and they have been terrible days. There have been times when I felt I couldn’t get out of bed. But there were good times as well. I watched a lot of TV shows, lots of Schitt’s Creek and stuff. I did some yoga, some guided meditation. At times, we couldn't even go for a walk, but I did do a little treadmill walking. But what was amazing is that we, as a family, also got a lot of time together because everyone was at home. I think Tim benefited a lot because he had both parents at home, so I think there was a silver lining.
Q. There’s so much talk when it comes to women and their bodies, especially with pregnancy. Being in an industry, where there is a premium on looks, did you feel a lot of pressure to “go back to your pre-pregnancy body”?
Oh, you know, I have never felt that pressure. I never felt that. I do what feels good to me and I do it at my own pace. It's very sad that these days vanity is being clubbed with fitness, but a good goal to have is that you want to look good and feel fit. It's not only about being vain, it's about feeling good and feeling healthy in times like these. Health is wealth is what covid has taught us. I want to be fit for my mental sanity and physical well-being.
When people talk about ‘getting back in shape’, I'm still on the road to that. I'm still in the midst of training, I'm doing a lot of yoga. For me, the idea is to have sort of movement every day so I just get up and do something, get up and dance, get up and do some cardio, get up and do some yoga. I don’t have goals like ‘now I have to lift this 30 kg weight because this is going to make me get amazing calves or amazing legs’. I'm not in that zone. But I want to just do something that makes me look and feel good. So it could be I put on a YouTube dance video and follow that dance. I think covid has taught us to live with ourselves, and even how to work out on our own.