After a 48-hour labor to welcome her first child, son Kingston Payne Brandt-Gilbert, followed by grueling feeding struggles, Luciferstar Lesley-Ann Brandt was so overjoyed by a successful moment of breastfeeding that she took to Instagram to share the accomplishment.
“This is motherhood. Needing to pee so badly but you just rocked the perfect latch and Bebe is nuzzled in nicely for a good feed. Priorities people,” she wrote in August, later telling ET that “as a woman, your body goes through so much -- hormonally, physically and emotionally -- when you have a child, so to celebrate this tiny little moment felt good.”
However, not everyone deemed the small parenting joy celebratory.
The post and subsequent photos saw Brandt attracting criticism for sharing what some called a “private moment” and insults for “seeking attention” by showing parts of her breasts on social media. The 35-year-old South African native was advised to “cover up,” despite living in California, where she points out temperatures under a swaddle blanket can soar. “Go to the restroom,” wrote another internet troll.
Opening up to ET about internet trolls trying to shame her for something so natural, Brandt says she believes there are double standards when it comes to women’s nudity.
“It was so weird, because I grew up in South Africa, then lived in New Zealand for years, and we just don’t have that view on breastfeeding at all,” she says in her first interview since she and husband, actor Chris Payne Gilbert, welcomed Kingston into the world on July 18. “It’s normal -- it’s just feeding a child. It’s like, you’re quite happy to see these boobs when I’m on a show like Spartacus or if I’m in revealing costumes on Lucifer, but not when it’s me with my child celebrating something that was really hard for me, initially. It was really disappointing.”
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Finding the response to her breastfeeding photos “ridiculous,” she says she won’t be deterred from “feed[ing] my child, and I’m certainly not going to be shamed because I posted a picture of a beautiful, honest parenting moment,” she continues, adding that the negative attention “hasn’t swayed me from posting pictures of me breastfeeding. I sit in my makeup trailer feeding Kingston and my co-stars are walking around and it’s normal to them. But I forget that sometimes in America, boobs sell everything from burgers to Viagra, but the actual thing they were made to do is -- in some people’s views -- a private and gross moment.”
Contemplating why some social media users reacted with such disgust, Brandt -- who hasn’t had any negative feedback while breastfeeding in public -- blames the government for playing a part in how motherhood is viewed by some Americans.
“You have to look at how women’s healthcare is treated by the American government at the moment to understand why some people react like that,” she says, referring over the current administration’s battle to strip fundamental healthcare and reproductive rights for women. “It’s like women are punished for having babies. You don’t get decent maternity leave like we do in New Zealand, you don’t have access to adequate healthcare, they’re trying to [regulate] access to birth control. So, I think it has a lot to do culturally with how the government views motherhood and the pressure to ‘Buckle down and get back to work.’”
Coincidentally, politics was foremost on Brandt’s mind the day she discovered she and Gilbert, her husband of two years, were going to become parents.
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“I found out I was pregnant on the day of the election, which was a bit of a shock because of the nature of what was going on in the country,” she says. “I was excited about the idea of my kid maybe growing up with the first female president, but that came shattering down.”
At the time she was still shooting Lucifer, which airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox, in Vancouver, so Brandt hid her morning sickness until it was safe to share the news. Initially, she was nervous about how she would continue filming, given the action-packed nature of the show and tight costumes worn by her character, Mazikeen Smith. But she persevered, working until she was more than six months pregnant.
On July 18, Brandt gave birth to a 7.2-pound baby boy, a moment she recalls being both powerful and full of relief that channeling Mazikeen while he was growing inside her didn’t rub off on the newborn!
“My first instinct was, ‘Holy sh**, I just had a baby! I just pushed a human out of my body!’” she says. “I was so excited to meet him. My doula was there and my midwife, mother, husband. It was a really beautiful moment, and I felt like I had accomplished the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It still feels that way and I think it always will. He held Chris’ hand, stopped crying and was very alert. I had been worried because I was doing fight scenes while he was in my belly and my character’s pretty sassy, so I was like, ‘I hope he doesn’t come out real angry!’”
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Despite the backlash to the social media posts chronicling her first weeks as a mother, Brandt loves every minute and notes that any attempts to make her feel shamed have turned into a positive. In addition to sparking conversations about the issue, the remarks have also driven her to continue sharing her journey in a bid to help normalize breastfeeding and show other moms who are experiencing similar difficulties that they’re not alone.
Brandt also feels strongly that new moms shouldn’t feel shame about continuing to maintain and build their careers after giving birth. She resumed filming Lucifer six weeks following the birth, after she and Gilbert -- who has appeared on Lucifer, Suits and Chicago Justice -- decided it was manageable since she’s only on set one to two days each week.
“It’s OK to not feel shamed about having a baby who you absolutely love, adore and is your priority, but also loving what you do with your work,” she says. “I know I’m a better mom because I go off and do things I want to do. It is a juggle, though. Many women in this business put off having kids for a long time because our jobs are so demanding in that you’re front of a camera, the hours are long and it’s a juggernaut, so it’s not particularly mother-friendly at times.”
But it hasn’t come without its moments of stress, like when Kingston got his first cold. While it turned out to be nothing major, she says it was still a source of worry for the new mom. “I had to make the choice between going in to work -- where I knew we had a massive day with lots of extras which would be screwed up if I didn’t go -- or going with my child to the pediatrician. We’re fortunate to have an amazing pediatrician who told me, ‘This sounds like nothing major; have Chris bring him in and focus on your work.’ He was fine and greeted me with a big smile when he got back.”
While Brandt has the support of her husband and an understanding cast and crew, the actress experienced an unexpected emotion: “No one warns you about the guilt,” she says. “You feel guilty about going back to work, guilty because you’re crying while you’re breastfeeding, guilty wondering, ‘Am I a bad mother? Should I go with him?’ You’re caught between [parenthood] and working for a big show, which has limited shooting days. You’ll always be faced with those obstacles, but hopefully work for people who are understanding and remember their early days as parents.”
Brandt makes her first appearance this season in a standalone Maze-focused episode (“Mr. & Mrs. Mazikeen Smith”), which was filmed when she was still pregnant. She then returns full-time starting with episode six. She teases that the recent arrival of Smallville star Tom Welling, as police lieutenant Marcus Pierce, will shake things up as the season progresses.
“Maze and Linda’s [Rachael Harris] friendship will be rocked, and I think that will really affect how Maze moves forward in the series,” she says. “You’re also going to see more friendship moments between Maze and Chloe [Lauren German], because Chloe’s relationship is going to go through ups and downs with the introduction of Tom Welling’s character.”
Regardless of what happens onscreen, the tightknit cast remains a “family” away from the cameras. The cast has enjoyed cuddles with Kingston, whose nursery reflects his mom’s heritage -- with South African children’s folk tales and stuffed safari animals, as well as a wooden buzzy bee which “every New Zealand kid has.”
While photos suggest Kingston’s most captivated by Tom Ellis (who plays Lucifer), Brandt isn’t convinced he has a favorite co-star just yet. “Kevin and Leslie Alejandro have a little boy, Kaden, and from the beginning, they’ve been very supportive guiding us as a couple,” she says. “We’re very close to them, but I don’t know if Kingston has a favorite cast member yet -- we’ll see!”
Check out the Lucifer cast meeting little Kingston below.
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