Women use many different words to describe childbirth: amazing, painful, miraculous.
For Ricki Lake, it was also healing.
In her new book for expectant moms, "Your Best Birth," the actress, 40, reveals that having her own children — Milo, 12, and Owen, 7 — helped her overcome a traumatic childhood experience. "I was sexually abused [around] age six or seven," she tells PEOPLE.
Giving birth helped her overcome the shame she carried around for years. "I was able to look at my body and see what it was able to do and embrace it," says Lake. "Sort of let go of all the body image issues."
She hopes other survivors who become moms can do the same. "There's a potential healing process that can take place for women," she says, "if they're just in touch with it."
Lake, who had battled weight issues for years, believes the abuse was one reason she ballooned up to 270 pounds at one point. "I didn't want to be attractive," she writes.
In a chapter entitled "For Sexual Abuse Survivors, a Healing," the actress recalls how she lost weight easily after Owen was born.
Lost pain, lost pounds
"Well, it definitely didn't fall off, but it was the easiest time I'd ever tried," she writes. "I kept losing four pounds, losing five pounds, losing all this weight so quickly. I don't know how to explain it other than it just felt like this purging of that pain and trauma from the past."
These days, "life is good," says Lake, who is in the early stages of a relationship — "It's almost too new to even talk about it," she says — and working on a follow-up to her 2008 documentary, "The Business of Being Born." The film will feature interviews with Cindy Crawford, Laila Ali, and Christy Turlington. "We call them birth goddesses," says Lake.
As for her weight, she says she's holding steady at 140 pounds thanks to tennis, hiking, and mindful eating. "I eat everything I want to eat," she explains. "I just don't eat all of it."