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Power Star Naturi Naughton-Lewis on Unlocking Her Power in Motherhood

The Bump sat down with actress and mom of two Naturi Naughton-Lewis to discuss her journey to motherhood and how she balances it all with her busy career.
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By Nehal Aggarwal, Editor
Updated July 2, 2024
pregnant Naturi Naugton-Lewis
Image: Courtesy @naturi4real | Instagram

Naturi Naughton-Lewis is a powerhouse of a woman. Not only is she a two-time NAACP award-winning actress, director, singer and former member of the girl group 3LW, she’s also a mom of two and a leading advocate for Black maternal health. She welcomed her daughter Zuri in 2017 and her son Tru in 2023 with husband Two Lewis. We recently caught up with Naughton-Lewis to discuss her path to motherhood, her birth stories, what values she’s teaching her kids and how her career has helped her grow in her role as a mom. Here’s what she had to say.

The Bump: You’ve overcome quite a bit in your journey so far—not just in your career but also in your path to parenthood. You’ve previously detailed your harrowing labor experience with Zuri, and last year you teamed up with Carol’s Daughter to raise awareness about Black maternal health and the mortality crisis. After having an unplanned C-section the first time around, what did you do the second time to ensure you felt heard, comfortable and safe?

Naturi Naughton-Lewis: My first pregnancy was with my beautiful daughter Zuri, who’s now 6. Being in that position and having an emergency C-section was scary. I actually wound up having a C-section in my recent birth experience with my son, Tru, but I felt heard and like a part of that decision. One of the things I did differently this pregnancy is that we decided to get a doula. And my doula—her name is Janee’ Aiken—was so awesome at making sure I was informed and educated, and that my husband was a part of the birthing process. I was in labor for 40 hours—I labored from home for a portion of that and then went to the hospital.

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The other thing was having a Black female doctor—it did make a difference in my experience, to be honest. I think a lot of women of many backgrounds—but particularly women of color—sometimes feel pushed into experiences when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, and we don’t often feel understood. I had a challenging birth because I wanted to have a VBAC, that was what I was prepared for with my doula and my doctor, Kameelah Phillips. She’s on the national stage talking about Black maternal health. She’s amazing; she’s calming, supportive, listens to your concerns and made me feel heard and like I could do anything.

Image: The Bump

I was a superwoman during my birth. After a challenging long labor, I wasn’t able to accomplish my VBAC—but at least I was able to accomplish peace of mind, a healthy baby and a healthy me. I didn’t have a woman as my first doctor. I didn’t have a person of color on my team, and that made a difference. I didn’t have a doula my first birth. Having that and my doula with me throughout the whole experience and my birth was just so supportive. Even afterwards, with meal prep and making sure that I was eating properly and having lactation consulting. I had a really hard time breastfeeding as well this time around, and having that support really made the difference.

TB: When you’re literally carrying a human being and you’re trying to have that experience, it’s incredibly disheartening to feel like you’re not being listened to, you’re not being seen, even when you’re the one feeling what you’re feeling. That’s your pain, that’s your experience, it’s your journey.

NN-L: Too many women when they’re not heard, they’re either dying, losing blood or hemorrhaging. There’s way too much mortality and issues happening in 2024. When I heard about this and learned about such issues, I really wanted to lend my voice. That’s why Carol’s Daughter and I teamed up because it’s unacceptable and we have to speak out and start to make it a conversation. Hopefully change will come with that conversation.

Image: The Bump

TB: What advice do you have for other Black moms when it comes to finding providers that make them feel empowered and informed?

NN-L: I’d say making sure you have an advocate in the hospital or in the room. I would also say plan, plan, plan—plan out if you’re having a home birth or if you’ll be at a birthing center or in the hospital. Have your plan and do your best to have an advocate—whether it’s your spouse, your partner, your doula, even midwife and also your doctor—but particularly an advocate outside of the medical professionals is really important because sometimes, particularly in the hospital, their goals are like, “Let’s get this baby out. We have to get this done in a certain amount of time,” and all of a sudden it’s like Pitocin and all these things. It’s just like, “Whoa, whoa. Can we just let this be a natural process?” Having an advocate can really help you in the room when you feel weak, when you feel vulnerable or when you’re not feeling heard.

Another thing I’d advise of Black moms and other moms of color when choosing your doctor in this experience: Ask a lot of questions in the beginning. I’m a question-crazed woman, and I think what that does is empower you but also informs you—and information is power. If we’re knowledgeable, we’re powerful. So when you ask a lot of questions in the beginning (“What is your experience?;” “What are your procedures for births?;” How many C-sections do you normally do versus [vaginal] births?;” “What are you likely to do in an emergency situation?”—those kinds of questions), knowing what your doctor’s stance is and what your team believes is important.

Image: Courtesy @naturi4real | Instagram

I also advise Black moms, don’t be afraid to speak up when you’re uncomfortable. One of the key things that I learned this time around is it’s my body and it’s my choice. Don’t be afraid of that. Really, really speak up even after the baby is born, speak up if something doesn’t feel right. Whatever that is, do not be afraid to speak up because when you do, it could literally save your life and potentially baby’s.

TB: After welcoming Tru, you opened up on just how challenging breastfeeding and the postpartum experience can be. How did you overcome those challenges, and what would you say to a new mom who may be struggling?

NN-L: First off, I just want to say, because a lot of women feel invaluable or undervalued if they can’t breastfeed, do not feel that way. Everyone may not be able to have the same experience, but just know you’re still an amazing mother, you’re still doing your part, you’re still doing what you need to do for your baby. My experience with my daughter was actually really easy. She immediately latched and it was great. With my son Tru, it was just more challenging…Truthfully, I think just figuring out the proper latch was the hardest part for me. Obviously we’ve heard horror stories—I’ve experienced them all, like bleeding nipples, cracked nipples, all kinds of bruises and painful experiences, which I know is not the way it’s supposed to be.

The first thing I did outside of my doula was get a free lactation consultation, which is offered with your healthcare. Sometimes they can come to your home after you leave the hospital. She worked with me and my baby, and there was so much that I learned—it’s so weird, I was like I’ve done this before, but it was almost seven years ago, so my brain was like, “Okay, this is starting all over.” It’s harder when you’re stressed. You can’t breastfeed under that level of stress and you won’t produce.

The other thing I would say is have a plan B in the event that you aren’t able to continue breastfeeding and it just isn’t working or is unbearable for you. Make sure you look up different formula options that you feel are the best.

Image: The Bump

Fortunately, I was able to breastfeed until [this past February]…Our latch was seamless. I even posted one day, I was singing him a lullaby on my Instagram and it went viral. I didn’t expect that to be such a thing, but many women were inspired to see that it can be a beautiful calming experience because so many people make breastfeeding sound scary and it doesn’t have to be. I encourage new moms who’ve never done this before to not give up at the first sign of a challenge. Keep going. Stay strong in your journey. Baby will learn. You are learning. Give yourself grace because it’s not always going to be peaches and cream, but you will get to the other side.

TB: What was that transition like for you going from one kid to two kids? What was it like for Zuri?

NN-L: For me with two at different ages, parenting is so different. I’ve learned so much. It was a little crazy, exciting, but also challenging at times for me, because my husband and I were just used to having the three of us. Even Zuri was like, “Well, it used to be just the big three.” It’s so different when you add a whole new element to the family. Obviously, a new baby does change things, and I was nervous. But I also felt like Zuri would be a great big sister. I had an inkling that she would be my little helper. The biggest thing for me was balancing how to be present as a parent of a 6-year-old who needs lots of energy. She started first grade, and I was pregnant. So going to parent teacher meetings and recitals and events and swim class and gymnastics and all the activities that she’s a part of—you want to be present. You don’t want it to feel like the baby has somehow stopped your ability to still show up for your other child. So that was the biggest challenge—finding balance. And my husband is such a good teammate that we did a really good job and split things up really well so at least one of us could be there. If I was home with the baby, he would go with Zuri or vice versa…I’ve taken the baby with me when we go places so that we’re all in this together and she never feels isolated.

That’s the biggest thing with having a baby and an older child: making sure the love and attention remains equal as best as possible…That was one thing that took adjustment, but honestly, I can say now we’re in a really good sweet spot. Zuri’s 6 going on 7, and she is the best big sister. She even has her big sister shirt…She helps change diapers. She’s teaching him how to walk. She’s very engaged in this process. That’s another thing I’d advise people to do: include your kids with the new baby. It really does make it a fun experience when the whole family can grow together…Zuri and Tru are literally best friends, even though they’re [almost]six years apart. They’re literally best friends and that’s beautiful.

Image: The Bump

TB: How have you stayed true to yourself and your beliefs as you’ve navigated motherhood and your career?

NN-L: I’ve been in the music business, I’ve been on Broadway, I’ve been in the film and TV business, and there are so many things that can make you feel like you’re chasing something. You’re constantly chasing this goal and you’re never enough. A lot of times I have felt like I’m never enough—no matter what you do, no matter how successful. I’ve had a hit show that went on for 10 years. I’ve been on Broadway for three years, I’ve won two NAACP awards, and sometimes I still feel like, “Am I enough?” But when I look at my daughter and when I look at my son, I know that I’m more than enough.

That’s the kind of reminder that keeps your values and beliefs in check because you know that you matter to them. If you continue to put them first and do your part, everything else will align. When I was pregnant with Zuri, I was shooting season four of my show Power. I don’t talk about this a lot, but I was so scared because I was like, “Are they going to fire me because I’m pregnant? Am I going to be beautiful or sexy because I’m pregnant? Are people going to say, ‘How are you going to be this hot badass chick on TV because you’re pregnant?’” And it was a total opposite. It let me know that I could still be a beautiful, strong, desirable woman and still be a mother. When I put that first, that’s when my career really took off. So I think making sure you stay aligned, that’s how you maintain your values.

Image: Courtesy @naturi4real | Instagram

TB: What lessons from these experiences are you hoping to impart on your kids?

NN-L: [My daughter] sees me going to events, getting glam, getting dressed up, hair, makeup, clothes, fashion. I always want her to understand that those things are cool and fun, but if you’re not beautiful on the inside and treat people nicely, none of that is going to shine on the outside. The industry is all about physically what you look like, the body, the makeup, the hair, and that’s not really what’s most important.

Another thing is about being a Black actress—letting her know that, as a brown skinned woman, we’re beautiful chocolate brown girls and women. My son is a beautiful brown boy who will grow up to be a young Black man. Making sure that the values I instill in them is recognizing that the world may not always see your beauty. The world actually may not always celebrate your beauty. They may try to diminish you. They may make you work harder in certain areas just because of who you are and what you look like and the color of your skin. But let them know you are awesome, you are equipped, you are more than enough, you are excellent. We work hard, we have to be intelligent. We have to strive for our best at all times. Those are the values that you want to make sure they know in the real world so that they’re prepared. But also knowing how valuable and beautiful—particularly as a Black woman and a young Black girl—[they are]. They have magic in everything they do.

TB: Society labels women and likes to box them in, but you’ve broken out of those boxes, done it all and done it well. But how do you take care of you with all of your different hats and roles?

NN-L: It’s an ongoing quest. I feel like it’s an everyday challenge, to be honest, as a woman, as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, as a friend, as an actor. My husband and I have designated Friday nights as our date night. We’re going to make sure that we have some quality time together, especially after having a baby. I did just get married almost two years ago. But then also self-love is doing simple things. It could just be a bath and candles and my favorite music. I’m off limits for that hour-and-a-half so that I can really just decompress and breathe.

I love going to the movies …and that actually really does help you disconnect and just have a breather from all the craziness of the world. That’s why I love film so much. Also, I’m very big on game nights. That’s also how I decompress. I’ll have game nights and it’ll just be like me, my friends, my husband, just for the grownups, so the kids may be with my parents. I’m kind of a big kid deep down inside. So game nights, movies, spa days, whatever I can do to make sure that I laugh is how I remain sane, because laughter is healing and quality time is imperative.

Image: Courtesy @naturi4real | Instagram

TB: What is something your kids have taught you?

NN-L: My kids have taught me patience and grace, and that if you don’t love yourself first, you can’t love anyone else. It’s like putting your mask on first—because mothering is sometimes draining and exhausting. So many people only want to talk about the glorious side, but there’s an ugly, messy side too. We have to be honest about that. Also, making sure that I listen to my children because they also teach me. My daughter is so smart and she teaches me a lot of times about keeping it simple. The world from a child’s point of view is so simple. Watching my son learn to try to stand up and walk at 9 months old, reminds me how beautiful my faith in God has been because it’s a miracle. When I watch the growth of my children, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, he was literally just inside of my belly nine months ago, and now he’s out here gaga-gooing and trying to walk.” So it actually just humbles and makes me grateful for God’s grace. It also teaches you the simplicity of life. We all learned to crawl before we could walk. It’s okay to take it slow because, eventually, you’ll get there.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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