I saw Lexei for the first time in a few years at a cookout recently, shortly after graduating from high school. Vibrant and outgoing as ever, she bounced from person to person conducting conversations. We caught up for a while. She told me about her job, her friends, and cracked a few off-color jokes, some about being pregnant. Interestingly, she found out she actually was pregnant about two weeks later. I became more and more curious about her experience as time passed. At one point I tried to imagine myself in her shoes. I couldn’t begin to try. I realized I had no perspective on what it may be like to be a young mother. Rather, I had a perspective, but it was one formed by media representation of teenage pregnancy. When I contacted her about being interviewed and photographed, she seemed eager.
Audrey Gatewood: Could you describe the family you were born into?
Lexei Gleason: I was born into a really huge family- a big, Italian, crazy family. Christian for the most part. They’re nuts, I was born into a nuts family. My dad has a really small family and he left when I was five, so I was just kinda stuck with my grandmother on his side and my aunt, who is one of my closest family members. Thats about it on his side. My moms side of the family was the side that I related to the most.
A: Do you have a good relationship with your mom?
L: Now I do. I did not have a good relationship with my mom for a very long time. I am exactly like my mom and I think thats why we had such a hard time getting a long, we’re the same. We feel things the same way, we’re angry in the same way, and our anger is so hard to deal with for the both of us. Thats why we bumped heads so often. Then I realized she was the most important person to have a relationship with. And now, being pregnant, I really realize how important my mom is because I find myself saying, “I want my mom” all the time. So yeah, I have a good relationship with her now, but before it was horrible.
A: How far along are you?
L: 26 weeks today, I think. She’s due in February. But I’m almost in my third trimester which is really exciting. And she can live outside the womb now!
A: Would you mind describing when you found out you were pregnant?
L: Ah, that was just like a movie. My really good friend Alistar, who is also really good friends with Tom [the baby’s dad], they both kept making jokes for weeks because I would just cry. I was crying a lot. And eating all these gummy worms, and crying, and they kept saying “Lexei, you’re pregnant, you’re pregnant,” and Tom was saying “Lexei, when are you gonna get your period?” I thought I was PMSing for a while. Alistar, being the person he is, he knew, he just knew I was pregnant. So he forced me to take a pregnancy test. I didn’t want to, I didn’t think anything was happening. So we walked to the CVS and he bought me the pregnancy test and I took it, and I was thinking ‘I don’t know how I’d react if I found out I was pregnant’, and the way I reacted was just… you know how in movies it takes like two minutes for the sign to show up on the test? It was immediate, I didn’t have two minutes to prepare myself, I took the test, I looked down, it said positive, very fast…and I just had the craziest moment of…I knew right then, I’m not getting rid of this baby, I’m gonna be a mom. It’s kinda funny now, thinking back to it, because it was just so big, and I uhm…I just wanted my sister, so I went and saw my sister and I told her and she held me. And then I wanted Tom, so I went and told Tom and he took it really well, he was great about it. Then I felt good. Like I could breathe that day. I felt like it was a good day.
A: I’m sure its indescribable, but when you saw the positive sign on the pregnancy test, was it joy, or panic, or-
L: Oh, panic. Panic. No joy in the moment I saw the test. The joy came when Tom didn’t immediately throw me out of his room. Before that it was all panic. It was scary, really scary, and it didn’t feel real. Nothing felt like it was real. It was all really crazy…
A: Why did you decide to keep the baby?
L: Uhm…I’m 18, and I’m very prochoice, but uhm, I wasn’t using birth control. I wasn’t doing anything to prevent getting pregnant. Nothing. I should have been pregnant way back, ya know? I would have felt that for the rest of my life… That, if I had gotten an abortion, I would have used an abortion as birth control and I would not feel right with that. If it was an accident, maybe things would be different right now, but it was no accident. We weren’t careful. I know I’m capable of being a good mother, and I knew the support in my life was gonna be enough, so that was enough for me to want to keep the baby.
A: Do you talk to Tom much now?
L: No. no, no, no.
A: How did that relationship digress?
L: I was six weeks when I found out, and, for the first few weeks he was awesome. We went to my mom’s house to have a talk about everything and that’s when he told us that he wasn’t interested in being in the baby’s life or being in my life, and that was it. That was it. Yes, I have spoken to him, not on good terms, not about the baby. He’s gone. I have a really good relationship with his mother, but who knows what will happen with him. I don’t talk to him.
A: How did he phrase his…disinterest?
L: He didn’t phrase it, it was crazy. We were all sitting around and talking, and I was standing up for him. I was begin very defensive on his end. I was just trying to show Tom that I was there for him, and he started to say things like “I know I won’t be able to do this,” “I know I wont be able to do that,” and it was making me feel like he was about to say he wasn’t going to try, so I looked at him and I said “Tom, are you gonna help me raise this baby?” and he just shook his head no. He didn’t say no, he didn’t say why, he just shook his head.
I went blank for a while. I stood up and…there was a glass sitting on the table, and I just slammed it down on the ground. It was a really crazy moment cause I just…ah, man. It was the worst day of my life. Because he didn’t say anything, he just shook his head no, and that was worse then him saying anything. And then he left and that was it. He just walked out and left. And the first person I wanted to call when he left was him, ya know? That was hard.
A: Do you feel like you’re better off without him right now?
L: Everybody else seems to think that I’m better off without him. I think about that a lot. He’s not a bad person, he wouldn’t be a bad father because he does have a good heart. But maybe I would be better off without him helping me raise the baby. But I don’t know, the baby isn’t here yet, so I guess I can’t really say. But right now it doesn’t feel like I’m better off without him, right now it feels like he needs to be here, so I don’t know.
A: How have you gotten through this so far? Supportive people, or a mind set, something else?
L: A combination of both. It’s hard, I don’t know how I’ve gotten through this, honestly. I talk to my mom about it all the time and I tell her “today, I don’t think I can do this,” and she’s like “well, tough shit,” ya know, what do you mean you can’t do this, what are you gonna do? When you’re pregnant its apparently normal to feel alone. Even if you’re with everybody that loves you, you just feel alone. I’ve gotten through it by just realizing that it’s gonna be okay, I’m gonna be fine, and I’m loved, and the baby is gonna be loved. Thats really what gets me through it.
A: What is love to you?
L: It’s…. It’s not always unconditional. I think in the most cliche way I could possible say it, it is loving somebody’s flaws. I think it’s just loving somebody for everything they have. And just really understanding somebody, wanting to understand somebody and learn about somebody, and hurting because of them. Hurting because they hurt and hurting when they hurt you. And I think thats what love is to me.
A: How has the process been different then you expected?
L: When I first found out I was pregnant I had no idea what to expect. Everybody kept telling me different things about pregnancy, I had so much input from so many different people that I was just kinda lost, and…it is different then what I expected. Its harder. Physically its harder, I mean the way it feels physically its much, much- I thought it was gonna be like you’re pregnant, you go through it, it hurts- but it is really not fun, haha. Im already 30 pounds heavier then I was before. I’m little, I’m built small, and i wasn’t even done puberty yet, so its like my body is just confused I think.
A: Is being pregnant making you feel stronger or more vulnerable or both?
L: Both, defiantly both. Stronger physically, even though I feel pain, I do feel physically stronger in the way of…if I can do this then I can fucking do anything. But I’m very vulnerable. This is what I am, I can’t hide this. I can wear a big sweater, sure, but I can’t hide this. I walk around and I am this, and people know it. And people also know the situation with Tom. So, it’s…there’s no secretes, there’s no being able to say “every things fine, everything fine,” because everything is out, everything is showing. It is like being an open book. And not necessarily because I want to be but because I have to be. But even in that, the vulnerability makes me stronger.
A: Do you feel like it separates you from people your age?
L: Yeah, I feel one hundred percent separated from everybody. Like I said before, all I am is pregnant. Everybody else is who they are still and I’m just pregnant. I don’t know if that makes sense.
A: It’s defining you?
L: Yeah. No one can really understand. And sometimes I get pissed off because no one understands. Sometimes I feel so separated from so many people. And all different ages, not just people my age, just from people. It’s like I’m going through this, and then the world around me is just…going. It’s a weird feeling, but its not the worst feeling, it just is what it is I guess.
A: Is there anything that you want people to better understand about your situation? Like, misconceptions about being pregnant young, or pregnant at all?
L: Yeah! I’ve been thinking- I always hear that people ruin their lives when they get pregnant young, that you have so much potential- well, nobody has ever said that to me, ahahaha – But uhm, I feel like I was never passionate about doing anything, as like a career or anything, and now I have something. Now I have something that I will be good at and that I enjoy doing and that’s gonna be being a mom. There are commercials on the TV, “don’t ruin your life with a teen pregnancy.” I’m not ruining my life, I’m changing my life drastically and…I’m just growing up now, I’m gonna be a mom, and thats not gonna stop me from doing anything I was gonna do before. Thats what I want, is to never hear a commercial saying “don’t ruin your life with a teen pregnancy.” Its not for everyone, everyone shouldn’t get pregnant as a teenager, no, haha, but if you will, do it in stride. Don’t let anybody tell you you’re fucking your life up, because you’re not.
A:What kind of mom do you want to be?
L: Uhm…I told my mom that I know I’m gonna be a good mom because I learned from the worst and I learned from the best. I wanna be everything that my mother was and everything my mother wasn’t. So I wanna be open like my mother was and I want my baby to trust me, but I don’t wanna be too open and I don’t want to show the world to her too early. And…I wanna be a mother with good balance, thats the kind of mom I want to be, I wanna have balance in how I raise her. And I wanna keep her innocence alive for as long as I can. ‘Cause that’s, I think that’s what happened in my life, my innocence went away very fast, so I wanna keep that with her.
A:What do you wish for the future of your baby?
L: This is funny, but uh I’m giving her the name Solis [latin for sun] and I want her- I want her to play piano. Tom plays piano and its always been something…it’s the most beautiful thing to hear somebody do something that they’re good at and…well I want her to be good at something. And that might sound shallow. But I just want her to love something, love doing something, because I never really had that. And I want her to get a good scholarship to college and I want her to go through a phase where she does really dumb, stupid things and…I just want her to be a person.
A:Speaking of the future, what do you think the world needs more of?
L: Compassion. Empathy. Defiantly. I just feel such a lack of compassion. Maybe its just Baltimore, but I think the world needs more compassion.
A: How would you say this experience has redefined you perspective?
L: I’ve never been optimistic about anything or anyone. I’ve kinda just been…my whole life I kind of just thought everybody was shit, that I was just shit, and this pregnancy has made me feel differently. Its made me feel a love that I haven’t ever felt before- that has really changed my perspective on everything. This crazy, unconditional love for this thing I can’t even hold yet has really changed the way I feel about the whole world, everybody in it and myself. And thats probably the coolest thing about this pregnancy, is that I can finally just love, it comes naturally, and it makes me feel less cynical and a lot more…soft, haha. It’s nice, a nice feeling.