Although a pregnancy can last up to 40 weeks, sometimes longer, actress and singer Deborah Joy Winans, best known for playing Charity on the OWN hit series Greenleaf, is prayerful that she will make it to 28. For the 37-year-old, that will be the end of a nerve-wracking process, but also a beautiful beginning.
“As long as I can get to 28, we should be okay,” Winans tells ESSENCE, 26 weeks at the time of our conversation and expecting a son. “Once we get to 28 weeks, [my doctor] knows that he’ll be good and healthy if he came that early. So, 28 is the goal.”
Winans and her husband of eight years, Terrence Williams, knew from the very beginning that their unborn son would possibly come early. Before she found out she was pregnant, as she consulted her doctor about how to begin the process to conceive last December and stopped taking birth control, she found out, by her own inquiry, that she had fibroids. Not just one fibroid, but eight, and one in particular that is the size of a watermelon, having grown for what’s estimated at eight years. Surgery, a procedure similar to a Cesarean section, was recommended to remove them all.
As Winans prepared to seek out a second opinion, she started to feel terrible. She had just landed a role in the OWN holiday movie Sisterly Christmas and was excited about that, but she couldn’t ignore that physically, something was off.
“I kept telling Terrance, I was like, ‘Baby, something’s wrong’ And he was like, ‘Well, have you had your period?’ I said, ‘Well, no, but it’s coming though,'” she says. “And he was like, ‘Yeah…you’re pretty regular.'”
After four pregnancy tests, two urine options with the lines, a digital one, and a definitive test at urgent care, Winans and Williams found out they were were going to be parents. The pregnancy occurred sooner than she expected. She was preparing to travel to film Sisterly Christmas in Canada by herself for six weeks and the issue of what should and could be done about that massive fibroid still needed to be resolved. When the news was confirmed, her doctor was concerned and in turn, left Winans worried as well.
“When she started to tell me the things that will happen in my body because of the fibroids and the things that the baby might face, I just was like, ‘Okay, this is really, really serious,'” she says.
Soon after that appointment, Winans traveled to Canada and began to have cramps that were much different than the usual discomforts of pregnancy.
“I was in so much pain. I didn’t even understand what was happening. I could barely get out of bed,” she says. “The pain would hit so hard and I would have to crawl to the bathroom, literally crawl. I was in tears.”
The pain would also greatly impact her ability to film Sisterly Christmas. She walked slow around set and when asked to do a scene on the floor, Winans literally couldn’t get herself down to make it happen. She inevitably had to reveal to a producer that she was pregnant and needed to go to the hospital to figure out what was happening to her. They got her to a doctor who sent her to the emergency room. After not being allowed to get on the phone with her husband and being in the dark for hours, she was finally told that her baby was okay, but her many fibroids were degenerating. She was sent home with Tylenol with codeine and had to see the agonizing process through.
“I had all of the basic things like throwing up, feeling nauseous that you would have in your first trimester on top of my fibroids degenerating and just causing the absolute worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life and still trying to do this movie and get home,” she says.
By the time she returned home and visited with her doctor, she got her cervix checked at 24 weeks and found out it was opening. Winans would have to undergo emergency surgery to have her cervix stitched closed. “He would have come in a few days had we not stitched it up,” she says. “He’s sitting so low as it is and he was going to make his way.”
From there, she was put on bed rest and has remained there, waiting patiently to get to 28 weeks. With the exception of a cousin, Winans says fibroids don’t seem to be something the women in her family have knowingly struggled with. But with so many Black women out there, who like her, could have fibroids and not even know it, she decided that she needed to share her story to warn others so they don’t have to go through the same ordeal. She also wants other women to be informed to make sure their doctors are paying attention to their needs.
“The more that we are aware of our bodies and what’s going on and what to look for, the more we can hold them accountable for what it is they should be doing and what they need to be doing to make sure we’re okay. I mean, I’m 37 years old and I should’ve known,” she says. “I don’t want them to experience that physical pain or just the stress that comes over your mind, your body, your spirit, when you’re constantly wondering every day, is your child going to make it?”
“I don’t want anybody to have to go through that,” she adds. “And if I can make them aware of what I am going through, what I’ve been through and different ways to sort of combat that, then I want to do that because we’re all we got.”
In the midst of waiting patiently and attempting to inform other Black women, Winans is also allowing herself the chance to be excited. Of all the feelings she’s had since she found out she was pregnant, this is the one she’s finally ready to embrace.
“I’m super excited. I think it took me, I think week 17. I just was prepared in my mind for a miscarriage. And so, I didn’t really allow myself to kind of get attached,” she says. “And then week 17, I went to my high risk doctor and he did a sonogram and I saw his face and I was like, ‘Oh, I got to meet him!'”
“At that point it just became, ‘Okay, God. We got to figure this out,'” she adds. “There’s been a lot of moments of just doubt and [uncertainty] and now at this point, I just try to wake up every day and just say, ‘Thank you Lord.’ And just be excited about what I believe is going to happen. And I believe he’s going to come. I believe he’s going to make it.”
So she’s preparing and planning for the best. A baby shower is in the works with help from her friends, she’s finally buying things for her son and she recently participated in a maternity shoot to mark this moment in her life. In the images, she cradles her bump in a frilly brown robe, looking stunning as she embraces her miracle. She’s forgoing the stress of what has been to celebrate what’s to come.
“I’m like, ‘Son, I don’t know who you are, but you’re a miracle,'” she says. “‘I don’t know what you are meant to do or who you’ve been called to be in this world, but you are going to do something great because you are fighting your way through this pregnancy.'”
Photographer: Elton Anderson
Stylist: Apuje Kalu
Makeup: Drini Marie
Hair: Velveda Nelms