Jesse Williams' Ex Aryn Drake-Lee Breaks Her Silence on Split, Announces New Podcast for Moms: 'I Found Community'
Aryn Drake-Lee is a mom on a mission.
It has been two years since her estranged husband, Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams, filed for divorce. The period since has been a trying one, as the two are currently caught in a fraught divorce and custody battle over their two young children, Sadie, 5 and Maceo, 3.
Opening up for the first time to PEOPLE, Drake-Lee, 39, says she’s found light within the upheaval of her personal life, and she’s ready to share what she’s learned with other moms like herself.
“I think a lot of women are still in the place where we’re pretending like we can do everything. And it’s not realistic, and it’s not holistic, and it’s not sustainable,” says Drake-Lee. “I want to empower women to find their voice, to take the mask off so that they can really find the connection and the community that they’re seeking.”
To reach that goal and help support moms, Drake-Lee and her fellow mom-friend Trian Long-Smith have launched the new podcast BBSARETRASH (Babies Are Trash).
“Trian and I met last year and became very close, very quickly as a result of connecting through motherhood,” says Drake-Lee of her partner for the podcast, which on Mother’s Day kicked off with its first episode about the ugly truths of childbirth. “It’s a very different lane for both of us to come out and share our voices, and show our faces this way. Our tagline is, ‘Two liberated mamas smashing the patriarchy one candid conversation around healing through mothering at a time.'”
As for their show’s name: “It’s tongue in cheek in that when you are in the hard moments, that’s when you learn and that’s when you grow. We’re not over here trying to pretend like everything is cool and cookies and rainbows. That’s not at all what time it is.”
Drake-Lee, a San Francisco native and former real estate agent, says it’s taken a lot of work to get to the positive place where she is now.
“When the divorce process started I had two nursing babies, and I am the one that ran our household for the 14 and a half years that he and I were together in the same house. And for our children, and for the creation of the businesses that we built together when I left my career in New York for us to move to California to pursue his, and then as a result built it…I knew, as the one that was really holding it all together, that I didn’t have a lot of room to fall, even though I was falling.”
What exacerbated the situation, was a feeling of deep isolation. “I was in a place where I needed the support that was going to help to ground me. Most everybody I had spent the eight years here in LA with all went with him,” she explains of feeling shut out.
“It was a blessing in disguise because it was a real slap in the face to see who was around us and why, and at that point it became very clear. And it cleared a pathway for me to make a shift and get back onto a path that was more in alignment with how I wanted to live my life.”
A rep for Williams did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment.
As Williams’ star grew, so did their family and Drake-Lee became a full-time mom after welcoming their children. But many times she felt at odds with her husband’s career environment.
“Hollywood and I bump heads. It was never my value system, and it was never something that I was striving for,” she says. “It never felt comfortable for me because of how superficial it was. And then that all became abundantly clear when everybody went left.”
But through nurturing herself and her children she managed to find her footing—and a new tribe. “I was able to really find people that were more in alignment with my values in how they are living their lives and how they want to raise their children. I found community.”
As for the many reports about her marriage, “Much of what they say is wrong,” she says. “But I’m not interested in a tit-for-tat, because that’s just never ending. People believe what they want to believe because it’s easy.”
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In July 2017 Williams addressed the breakdown in his marriage and cheating rumors on Footnotes for 4:44 the visual component to JAY-Z‘s last album. “I was in a relationship 13 years, 13 real years, not 5 years, not 7 years – 13 years,” Williams said. “All of a sudden motherf—ers are writing think-pieces that I somehow threw a 13-year relationship. Like, the most painful experience I’ve had in my life like with a person I’ve loved with all of my heart – that I threw a person and my family in the trash because a girl I work with is cute.”
For her part, Drake-Lee says she’s opening up now and taking part in the podcast in part because “We’re entering a new phase of how people move around and take back their voices and show our faces.”
“I resisted this for the last 10 years, having a public profile, and then I got dragged into it against my will,” she says in reference to her public split. “It was possibly my worst nightmare. And then it played out, and now I’m better off for it.”