“It’s in the Stars” : Actor Angela Lewis Talks Joy After Pain
Episode 4: “It’s in the Stars” : Actor Angela Lewis talks joy after pain
There can be joy even after disappointment, shame, and loss. It often requires the right perspective and a supportive birthing team that still honors your vision even when plans change. This week, actress Angela Lewis, a star of FX’s SnowFall, shares her birth story including how prior miscarriages shaped her experience. Our special guest, Erica McAfee, founder of Sisters in Loss, shares the facts about miscarriages and why we are so bad at processing pregnancy loss as a society/as a people. In the end, Angela’s birth culminates with a moment of true star power.
Watch Angela’s Episode Extras on Birthright’s Youtube Page!
- Click here to watch episode extras on BIRTHRIGHT’S YOUTUBE PAGE!
- Watch Angela Lewis as #AuntLouie on #SnowfallFX. Follow along on IG @luvangelalewis & @snowfallfx
- Learn more about Erica M. Mcafee https://www.ericammcafee.com
- Sisters in Loss a digital media platform where Black Women replace Silence with Storytelling around Pregnancy and Infant Loss and Infertility.
- Natural Birth Center Midwives in LA
- Learn more about having a safe and empowered birth by downloading the free ebook: Birth with Irth: A Mini-Manual to Pregnancy and Childbirth for Black People
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And then I thought, well, well, what does that mean in terms of a baby? Like now that my career is starting to pop, am I gonna stop everything and have a baby, but I didn’t want to say no to the baby energy. So I just said, okay, baby, wherever you are, you let me know when you’re ready and when you’re ready, mommy will be ready.
Three years later, I heard literally in a, as I was waking up in the morning, I heard, “Mommy I’m ready. Mommy, I’m ready. Mommy, I’m ready.” Five times the baby said it and I was like, uh, Okay.
Kimberly Seals Allers
Everyone’s pregnancy journey starts differently. Sometimes finding out starts with shrieks of joy and other times there are uh-ohs and expletives, but if you have already suffered a pregnancy loss the news can be even more complex. The emotions, the fears, the what ifs. Finding joy after a pregnancy loss is an even greater challenge even if you’re a TV Star. Today’s guest is actor Angela Lewis, who currently stars as Aunt Louie on FX’s SnowFall. Angela Lewis was born and raised in Detroit and received her BFA in Acting from the University Of Michigan. And lived in New York City for 13 years as a working actress before marrying and relocating to Los Angeles. Angela graciously shares her birthing journey with us today and how she found joy through the pain.
My name is Angela Lewis. I live in Los Angeles. I am the mother of 18 month old Brooklyn Genesis. And this is my birthright story.
Wow, when I learned I was pregnant, it was, um, the culmination of quite a journey. Um, let’s see, I had it, Oh, the years. It must have been, 2017. I, um, found that I was pregnant and it was a surprise. And, um, my husband and I celebrated and then about eight weeks later. Um, I had had an early miscarriage and so we were like, Oh, okay.
Wow. Well, we didn’t know that we were going to be that excited, so maybe we should try, you know, try again. So we tried again and it was the next month pretty much. Um, I think it was the next month and maybe the month after, but, the next try we got pregnant again. And we were super excited and we told our families on Christmas, we had bought everybody like t-shirts like “bun in the oven” and all this stuff and, and then we had another early miscarriage. And so we were like bummed and, a little bit, dare I say, embarrassed to have to go back to the family and be like, actually guys. And then also like, Oh, and they’re going to be sad. So it was just like a re you know, Debbie downer moment. Um, And, and then also concerned, you know, Oh no, we’ve got two early miscarriages in a row. Like, what does that mean? And so we went to the doctors and the doctors were like, well, we don’t really worry until the third time. And, but, you know, we’ll keep watching and try to figure out, you know, you know, if there’s an issue, whatever, whatever.
My name is Erica McAfee. I am the founder of Sisters in Loss, a bereavement doula, and mom. Sisters in Loss is a podcast and support community where black women replace silence with storytelling around pregnancy and infant loss and infertility.
Miscarriages are very common, more common than people think, um, where 15 to 20% of pregnancies end a miscarriage. So that means about one to four women or birthing people experienced some form of miscarriage within the first trimester. Amongst black women, what we see or what has been shown is that many of the miscarriages. Are due to underlying conditions that we may not know that we have like uterine fibroids or endometriosis or PCOS that prevent us from moving forward with the pregnancy without, um, some fertility management with the fertility specialist, as well as our OB/GYN.
Um, and so. You know, I had been meditating the whole time and in my meditation, uh, shortly after, after the miscarriage, what I heard was, “there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just not your time.” And so I said, okay, well, I’m gonna take that to be the truth and, you know, not, you know, do a deep dive into fear.
And so, um, I, I just, you know, lived with that. And then what I found later, cause I, at the time I didn’t do the math, but I realized later that literally nine months after that, second conception I booked Snowfall. And I was like, Whoa, that’s crazy. So something was, you know, being birthed, you know, through me and, um, and okay.
And then I thought, well, well, what does that mean in terms of a baby? Like now that my career is starting to pop, am I gonna stop everything and have a baby? But I didn’t want to say no to the baby energy. So I just said, okay, baby, wherever you are, you let me know when you’re ready and when you’re ready, mommy will be ready.
Three years later, I heard literally in a, as I was waking up in the morning, I heard “Mommy, I’m ready. Mommy, I’m ready. Mommy, I’m ready.” Five times the baby said it and I was like, uh, Okay. And I’m so sure that now I know it’s a sheet and I’m so sure. She said it five times. I wouldn’t be like, Oh, I think I heard mommy I’m ready, but nah, it wouldn’t be that.
Right. Right. So five times was very clear and I was like, okay. Um, my husband’s name is Jamal. I was like, this is what I heard. Let’s get to it. And you know, oblation time game. And she came, she said, here I am. And I said, okay. So then I had gone to a meditation retreat and, um, I had, uh, saw this beautiful vision of a whale coming up out of the water, like just so big.
And I was like, wow. But then, you know, really, I was only a few days into conception and I wasn’t feeling pregnant. So I was like, Oh, it didn’t work. I was just, you know… and then, about the time that I, you know, would have missed my next period, you know, I took a test. Oh, I said something mean to my husband, he asked me some question and I said something and I just heard myself say it real mean. And I felt myself kind of sitting in all that yucky… I don’t know nastiness. ‘Cause it was just mean for no reason. And I was like, man, that was really mean Ang. Maybe you should take a pregnancy test, take the pregnancy test and lo and behold, um, And it, it was like, I peed on the stick and I wasn’t even finished peeing and it was changing and I was like, Oh, wow! Okay!
I will say that we were very hesitant to tell anybody, uh, prior to the 12 weeks, because it was not fun having to go back and tell family, um, actually, you know, because I think whatever your, um, however you deal with a miscarriage, be it early on or further in that that’s your own journey, but when other people know about it, and are taking that journey with you I think it compounds things now,so I was, I didn’t want to tell anybody.
I tell people to take it one hour, one day, one week at a time, you know, go easy on yourself and really give yourself grace.
We do not. Every path is different. On how people grieve after a loss. And we have to be easy on ourselves and really pour back into ourselves through forms of self-love and self-care, um, but give yourself grace and know that it is something, this journey is a lifetime journey and that you should find joy in those things that give, that may be different for you or something that you’ve put off for a while and you want to pick back up. I always tell people to find joy and using their hands, like doing things of the arts, whether that is, you know, music or painting or planting plants. As many people have done during the pandemic, um, really find joy on things that can ground you, where you can actually work with your hands and be able to pour back into yourself in that manner.
And in fact, um, something was just telling me, um, tell your mom, I think I was probably like eight weeks in and I was just like, “babe, I want to tell my mom.” And he was like, “nah, I think we should wait. I don’t know.”
And that night we went to Target and we were sitting in the parking lot and my mom called and she said, “Hey, I’ve been meaning to tell you right after, because the baby was conceived around Christmas in between Christmas and new year’s, and my mom was like, “I meant to tell you when you guys were leaving, because we had gone to Detroit for Christmas, she said, when you guys were leaving, I meant to tell you that I had this dream and now it just popped up in my head. I need to call you and tell you, I had a dream that you had told me you were pregnant.”
And Jamal and I looked at each other and he was like, “well, you gotta tell her now.” And I was like, “mom, guess what?” and she was like “OH!” (Laughs) So, you know, uh, it was a joyous time, but I just, you know, we were hesitant and then, you know, some people, the people who needed to know, knew.
Mama always knows.
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So when I found out I was pregnant I went about searching for a midwife. I knew that I wanted a midwife and a doula. And, um, I had gone to UCLA because I knew that they had a midwifery program, but they didn’t have capabilities for a water birth. And so I was like, well, this is not the place. Um, so I found, um, a midwife who has a birthing center near my home.
And she was like, eight minutes away. I went and looked at her center and it was beautiful. And she had two rooms with the tubs and I mean, just beautiful. And I thought, yes, this is it. So, um, I went down the rabbit hole of looking for a doula and I found a beautiful woman named Nina Phalon at The Soulful Birth.
And she just had all of these services that ceremonies like closing of the bones and, and, um, I know that’s where after you have your baby, but she just, she just seemed like, Oh my gosh, I have to go with her because she’s going to help me have a magical birth. And she, we met and she was really lovely. And so she was going to be my doula.
So I get to the end of my pregnancy. And I went to 41 weeks and five days or something like that. And I had to go to have an NST twice a week, non-stress tests to monitor the baby. Um, and so, in the stress test, they came back with variables, which basically means the baby’s heart rate would sometimes drop and then fully recover right after, but they didn’t know why the heart rate was dropping.
And it could have been anything from, you know, you know, something terrible. Like the chord is wrapped around her neck, or she’s just squeezing the chord or sitting on the chord, you know? So the doctor there at Cedars, um, there she is, wanted me to have a be induced at 40 weeks. And I thought, I don’t want to do it that early.
Like, no, like if everything is fine and you’re not saying, you know, she needs to come out, let’s see, you know, she’ll come out of her own. So at 41 weeks and five days, or like three days, my midwife was like, I think you should induce. I was like, Oh my God. So I was like, okay, give me a couple of days to think about it.
Let’s see what we can do. And so I tried to induce naturally and that meant I went and saw an acupuncturist three times to try to get things going. I had a masseuse come to my house and give me a full body, rubbed down a track to get it going. I had a reflexologist come and massage the, to try to hit those pressure points…
I thought you’re just supposed to have sex!?
I had sex and that wouldn’t do it! I had the salad, there’s a place with a famous salad. I had the salad twice and she was just like, not budging it. I was like, okay. Oh, I guess I got to go to the hospital. And so my midwife has privileges at Whittier hospital. So, instead of going to my emergency hospital, which would have been Cedars, we drove to Whittier.
So she could be in charge of the whole thing. And that was such an amazing decision. I’m glad that we did that because she really was a rock star and she really made it so that I could birth naturally as close to natural as possible, you know, and made adjustments to things that I didn’t even know could be adjusted.
So I got, went to the hospital and I had to get, I forget the name of the medication, cyber seal or something like that. But it’s. So, you know, to, um, get you dilated. And so I had, you know, one dose, you can only have two doses. I had one dose, you wait 12 hours. I still wasn’t dilated. So I had to take another and I still like dilated just like a teeny bit.
She was like, okay, we gotta go to Pitocin. And here, the thing to know is that, I had heard, you know, I spent my pregnancy, you know, preparing and watching, um, documentaries about, you know, birth in hospitals and, you know, and all this stuff. So I knew that, well, in my mind, I had an equation Pitocin plus an epidural, plus more Pitocin equals death. Like so many Black women, that that’s how it happens. And people not only Black, especially Black women, but all women, you know, you get forced into these situations and people are, doctors are just trying to get home and, or go golfing or whatever it is. And you know, lives are lost.
Every Black woman has done this research and the scenario mapping. Too many have immersed themselves in the details of maternal deaths, in hopes of finding a way to stay alive and even Black actors and celebrities know that their star power is not strong enough to defeat the racism and bias that has permeated our care.
And unfortunately, Angela is correct. Too many lives have been lost.
And so I really had this equation in my head. So when she said Pitocin like, Oh, Oh my God, nooo, but I was like, okay, we gotta get the baby out. So, and she said, and here is where I know that I was in good hands and that women don’t have to die.
She said “we’re only gonna go up to level four,”
To be clear, Pitocin is a synthetic version of the naturally produced hormone. Oxytocin, oxytocin primarily helps with milk excretion during breastfeeding, but the hormone also plays a role during labor by stimulating the uterus and making it contract often, this extra boost of Oxytocin in the form of Pitocin is helpful to speed labor along.
Pitocin has become more in use as birth moved from a natural event that really only needed time and patience to a medicalized version of birth, where time is money and physicians don’t have the patience. Pitocin can cause your contractions to start off stronger and faster than those when labor has been done naturally.
And there is the potential to put added stress on your baby, as well as your uterus. So both you and your little one will probably be monitored more closely. That may mean wearing a fetal monitor belt, which may restrict your movement and make it harder to change positions during labor. So it is understandable that for Angela Pitocin signaled a significant shift in how she wanted to give birth.
And I said, okay, well what’s the highest level. And she said “something like 30”, and I said, There are 30 levels and, and we’re only going to go to four. Okay. That sounds like gentle to me. And now let me tell y’all, level four, ain’t no joke. So the fact that, you know, doctors are putting, giving, you know, these super high dosages of Pitocin immediately is really crazy because it doesn’t have to be that way, you know?
I can’t remember at what point, but it was later in the evening and, um, I was almost fully dilated. She said, when I pushed, then the cervix went you know, fully dilated. So she said, but you’re tired. ‘Cause it had been a long time. So I’m gonna, I think you should have an epidural so you can take a nap.
And immediately I was like, no, no, what happened to her? And I said to her, I said, “Simona, I need to be able to feel myself push” because the thing about having an epidural is you’re totally numbed out. Right. And so. You might think you’re pushing, but you’re not. And your doctor’s telling you to push, push, push, and you’re not pushing.
And then you, and then the baby gets, you know, stressed and your body gets stressed. And then that’s how crazy things happen. Another way that crazy things happen. So it was really important for me to be able to feel myself push so that I could know what I was doing. And she said fine. She said, “we’ll turn it off when it’s time.”
And I said, “okay”. So I took a nap, they gave me the epidural. I took a nap and she came and she woke me up and she said, it’s time. And they turned off the epidural and eventually, shortly thereafter, I felt all the pain come on back and I was like, Oh, they’re right. Maybe I made a mistake.
But it was really, really empowering. And in the process of the labor, they pulled out the mirrors. I see the crowning. ‘Cause that was crazy. Like they be like, Oh, and then I was like, you know, having everybody like cheering at the same time and I’m like, what’s happening. I’m like, So they pulled out the mirror and I was like, Oh my God.
But at the same time, I was like, Oh my God, I don’t know if I can do this because I’m pushing as hard as I can. And she keeps going back up in there, like, what is, how, I don’t know, I don’t know. And so the midwife gave me, um, a sheet and she tied it to the bedrail and she gave the other end to me and she said, next time, just bear down.
Here’s the other thing. Throughout the labor up until the point where they turned off the epidural. She had been telling me when to push, you know, monitoring the contractions. Okay. Now push, bear down, dah, dah, dah. And she said, okay, the epidural is gone. So you’ll be able to feel the contraction. So you push when you want, you tell us.
And that was like, okay. And I was like, do I have to bed? And she said, do whatever you want. And I was like, okay. She gave me that sheet and here I was like, let’s go. And just. Raaaaaahhh. Like with everything. And like, I think I pushed like three times and she was out, I was listening for the baby because I didn’t hear her.
And I, and I, when I watched the video, I can see the moment. It was like, I stopped breathing and it was just a moment. And then she cried and then it was like, Oh my God, it was everything. And then the midwife says, “reach down and grab your baby.” And I literally reached down and pulled her up and I felt, she felt like a knotted rope.
Like I was like, Oh, I wasn’t expecting that level. Okay. And it, she was just amazing and beautiful. And like finally here. And it was, everybody was crying. Everybody was crying.
Wow. Reach down and grab your baby. Angela, what I love about your story is your agency, your ability to see the big picture and remain hopeful.
Despite your previous experiences with miscarriage. The space you were given to advance your labor on your own, and the ways that your concerns even about Pitocin were directly addressed so that you were made comfortable. And ultimately you have in this moment to reach down and grab your own baby. All of these things can make you feel more like a partner in your birthing process instead of a spy standard to it, right? There are ways that birth can feel more respectful, which really should be everyone’s goal.
I close every episode with this question by asking, what is our birthright? First I asked Erica from Sisters in Loss.
Our birthright is healing. Our birthright is joy and our birthright is to birth babies in this country with no trauma and no under, underlying conditions or expectations for what the outcome could be.
And then to Angela, what is our birthright?
I think our birthright is freedom. I think people try to take that away, but, we are beings that are made in the image of source, whatever it is you call it. And, source is free, free to create, free to be, and give and receive love and joy. And I think it is our birthright to be free.
Yes, indeed. And, you know, I hear a lot about freedom when I ask that question to my guests and I always think of freedom in two frames, uh, freedom to and freedom from our freedom to, is to receive love and joy and to be seen as fully human. Our freedom from, is freedom from the racist tropes, stereotypes and judgment that often impact our care and ultimately, we deserve freedom from fear.
Thank you for joining me for this episode of Birthright. I want to thank Erica McAfee from Sisters in Loss for sharing her wisdom with us. And I want to think the amazing Angela Lewis for sharing her story, her personal story.
Don’t forget Angela currently stars as Aunt Louie on FX’s Snowfall. Which comes on Wednesdays at 10:00 PM and the next day on Hulu. Angela has also created a new foundation to help combat black maternal mortality. Please follow her to learn more and please check out my extended interview with Angela on the Birthright podcast YouTube channel. And while you’re there, please subscribe. So you don’t miss any of our video extras. This is Kimberly Seals Allers and thank you for joining me to reclaim our birthright. One story at a time.
Birthright is hosted by me, Kimberly Seals Allers and produced by Domino Sound. Our executive producers are Noleca Radway and Kimberly Seals Allers. Randie Chapman produces the show with Nikki Valdez as assistant producer and help from Homero Radway. Sound design and engineering by Sam Baer with original music from Trel Robinson. Birthright is funded by the California Healthcare Foundation. If you like what you heard today, please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen.
It really helps people find the show. Thanks for listening.
Angela Lewis was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan and received her BFA in Acting from the University Of Michigan. She lived in New York City for 13 years as a working actress before marrying and relocating to Los Angeles. She currently stars as Aunt Louie in FX’s Snowfall (Wednesdays at 10pm, next day on Hulu), has created Moon Child Foundation to help combat Black Maternal mortality, and is a girl-mom to a beautiful and precocious toddler.