You know her as John Waters’ teen film star, a former talk show host, and a celebrity weight-watcher. Now meet the acclaimed executive producer. Ricki Lake’s newly released documentary, The Business of Being Born, shines a spotlight on the excesses of US obstetrics and is being likened to An Inconvenient Truth, earning her the moniker “The Al Gore of Home Birth.”

Lake is humbled by the comparison to her eco hero, even if the climate crisis and childbirth are seemingly unrelated. In her eyes, the state of maternity care in the US is also critical because the proportion of women giving birth by cesarean section is now 31 percent — a rise of 50 percent in the last 10 years. So Lake is talking up what you might call the green alternative: home birth. Her film’s harrowing footage shows that there’s virtually no such thing as “natural birth” in most US hospitals. “I love that this issue is being talked about as an inconvenient truth,” she says from her Los Angeles home. “It’s that dire of a situation.”

Those already living green are a natural audience for the film, says Lake, who opted to give birth to her second son at home with a midwife. (Hers is one of several home births filmed in the documentary.) The experience has made her both healthier and more eco conscious, from the pounds she’s shed to the organic veggies she now buys. “I learned to love my body the day I gave birth at home in my bathtub,” she says.

1. Her indulgent parenting sin: Diapers—disposables. I just could not get my head around the idea of cloth diapers. But I have to say, I potty trained my kids very early. My older son was out of diapers by the time he was 2! If I were to have another baby, I’d use G diapers (which are flushable and biodegrade in under two months).

2. Environmental pet peeve: Littering. I yell at people. I scream “Litterbug!” In Serial Mom (another Waters flick, with Kathleen Turner) the lead character wants to kill her neighbor for not recycling. I’m not that bad, but I don’t have a problem getting in someone’s face!

3 Family eco car: Lexus 400 Hybrid. And my ex drives a Prius.

4. Tune pick: The new Radiohead is so good. I love their whole concept of pay what you want—what is it worth to you?

5. Tattoo count: John Waters always told me there’s nothing uglier than an 80-year-old with a tattoo. I’m not into them or piercings.

6. How green she feels: I recycle, I just bought bamboo plates, I’m looking into changing my (home energy) system to solar paneling. I want to do my part—I think we have no choice. I’m not Ed Begley Jr, but I want to be!

7. Most damningly true characteristic of her star sign:  I’m a textbook Virgo. I planned both pregnancies to the day—not an easy feat. I read all the books on how to get it right.

8. Hotel that knows her best: The Four Seasons. Any of them. It’s about as plush as you can get, but I don’t know if it’s so green.

9. Her favorite place on earth: New York City. I’ll always be a New Yorker.

10. Topic that occupies way too much of her brain: Dealing with my weight.

11. Her dream carpool partner: Ina May Gaskin (the “midwife of modern midwifery”).

12. Her worst haircut: Ricki Lake Show, season four. I wanted the Demi Moore Ghost haircut, but it went terribly awry.

13. Top DIY pastime: Knitting. I’m a really good knitter. I made lots of baby clothes and blankets. I’ve been doing it since I was 14, before it was cool. But I was anything but cool!

14. Her fortune cookie wisdom: Always treat people the way you want to be treated. That goes for the
planet, too.

Story by Jennifer Block. This article originally appeared in Plenty in February 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008.