Angel Lee: Teen MomMarch 8, 2019
Photos by Brittney Lohmiller
Story by Leann Burke
For Angel Lee, 19, of Jasper the day before her 18th birthday is more memorable than the birthday itself. That July 2017 day is the day she found out she was pregnant with her now-1-year-old daughter, Naomi.
After her doctor’s appointment, Angel remembers going home and taking “a bunch” more pregnancy tests. She couldn’t believe the results. She was on birth control. She thought she and Naomi’s father, Willy Schmidt-Burnett, were being careful. But the tests didn’t lie.
Angel held on to the news for a while, then she mustered up the courage to tell people. First, she told her grandma, Connie Thewes, who raised her. Connie, Angel remembers, was mad at first, but she calmed down and offered Angel any support she needed. Though not thrilled, Willy’s parents were also supportive.
A lot has changed for Angel in the almost two years since she found out she pregnant. Most notably, she’s now the single mother of a 1-year-old — Naomi’s birthday is tomorrow — and although it’s tough being a young mother, Angel is thrilled to be Naomi’s mom.
“I would never, ever take it back,” Angel said. “But I wish she had come into my life later.”
Angel always wanted to be a mother, and she envisioned herself having her first child in her late 20s — after she’d graduated both high school and college. Life, she said, had other plans for her, and that’s OK.
She and Willy did consider their options early on in the pregnancy. They decided against adoption because Willy had been in the foster system and didn’t want that for his child. They considered abortion, too, but Angel didn’t think she could go through with it. Angel decided to keep the baby, knowing it would mean being a single parent, as Willy planned to join the Navy.
“I knew I could give her everything she needed with my support system,” Angel said.
The first few months were difficult. As kids around Jasper High School started finding out, some of Angel’s and Willy’s peers called them dumb or stupid, and their hypocrisy wasn’t lost on Angel.
“I know I’m not the only one having sex,” she said. “I’m just the only one that has proof.”
The hardest part of the pregnancy for Angel was feeling isolated and lonely. Eventually, people stopped asking her to hang out, and she didn’t invite people over, either.
“I just felt like, ‘Who wants to hang out with a pregnant person?’” she recalled.
The stress got to be too much. Angel had a miscarriage scare a few months into the pregnancy, which the doctors attributed to stress and too much physical exertion carrying a heavy backpack up and down stairs every day at school. After that, she decided to finish high school as quickly as she could and transferred to online courses she could complete in one of the school’s computer labs. She graduated a semester early in December 2017.
Once Naomi was born, Angel was busy taking care of her, so she still didn’t have time to go out and be a normal teenager. Angel also remembers feeling like she didn’t really fit in with her high school friends anymore. The things that mattered to them— like the latest gossip about who was dating whom— didn’t matter to Angel anymore.
Still, Angel had some friends she could hang out with. She participated in Redemption Christian Church’s Embrace Grace program for young moms and made some new friends through that. She still hangs out with a lot of them, and their kids play together.
At JHS, Angel found some support, too. Some students and staff put together Kindness Corner, a resource that offers donated baby and maternity clothes for young moms free of charge, and Angel used that a lot. Now, she donates clothes to it as Naomi grows out of things. Angel also found a friend in the family and consumer science teacher Kyla Beier. Before she graduated high school, Angel spent a lot of time in Beier’s classroom, and Beier became a mentor for her.
Like Angel, Kyla is a Jasper graduate and had a baby as a teen. Angel frequently takes Naomi into Kyla’s child development classes to talk about her experiences as a teen mom. During one class visit in September, Angel talked about how society views young moms differently, as though they won’t work as hard for their children as older parents.
Angel shared a story about one of her professors at Vincennes University Jasper Campus. The professor wrote the statistic for how many teenage pregnancies there are — just over 232,000 in 2015, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a decline since the 1990s — and said, “Isn’t it sad that most of them will live off taxpayers?”
That hurt Angel’s feelings, she said, because while she does get some help, she receives less than $100 a month, works part time herself and is attending college full time, studying psychology and criminal justice with aspirations of becoming a forensic psychologist.
“I don’t need everybody reminding me that I need help,” Angel told the class. “If I had it my way, I wouldn’t [need help] ... but it’s because I’m trying to provide for [Naomi].”
Angel wasn’t the only one feeling the pressure of becoming a teenage parent. The experience took a toll on Willy, too.
The stress of dealing with a pregnancy combined with the assumptions about what kind of parents they’d be became too much for the couple’s relationship to handle. They broke up for a few months before Naomi was born. That was hard, Angel said, but she understood Willy’s desire for some space. It was a scary time for both of them.
They got back together after a few months apart, both because they wanted to and because they wanted to try to make it work for Naomi. Willy was with Angel when she gave birth, although he slept through most of it in a chair next to Angel’s bed. Looking back on it, Angel laughs. She wasn’t mad about it, she recalled. She was in labor for 24 hours. If she were in Willy’s place, she’d have wanted to get some sleep, too.
During the pregnancy, Angel was most scared of giving birth. When she went into labor on March 9, 2018, she remembers being terrified. When the epidural failed to numb her right side, her nerves got worse. She toughed it out, and even managed to get some sleep.
At one point, she remembered, she woke up to find herself surrounded by doctors and nurses. It turned out Naomi’s heart rate had fallen, and medical staff had to hook up internal monitors.
For a while, it looked like Angel might have to have an emergency C-section. The scare didn’t help to calm her nerves.
“I was scared right up until they told me I could push,” Angel said. “After that, it was just like, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’”
Looking back, she describes the first time she held Naomi as “surreal.” She couldn’t believe she was a mom.
“I just looked at her like, ‘Oh, my God, that is my kid,’” Angel said.
Angel and Willy stayed together for a while after Naomi was born, trying to make it work after he left for basic training in June 2018. After a few months, they put their relationship on hold, though Willy still video chatted with Naomi regularly and sent Angel money to help with expenses. After awhile, the two tried to make it work again, but ended up breaking up. Willy isn’t involved with Naomi much anymore, but his parents, Janet and Chris Schmidt, are still a big part of Naomi’s life.
As she and Willy tried to make it work, Angel said, they were always conscious of what kind of relationship they were modeling for Naomi. Both came from a childhood with parents who didn’t model healthy relationships, Angel said, and they didn’t get out of those situations until they were teenagers — Willy when Janet and Chris adopted him, and Angel when she moved in with Connie.
Neither Angel nor Willy wanted the same kind of childhood for Naomi.
“It’s hard to break away from what you know,” Angel said. “I don’t want her to be in a bad relationship.”
Angel tries to model all kinds of good habits for Naomi. Even though Naomi is only 1, Angel knows she’s watching everything the adults in her life do, and Angel wants to be a good example. That’s part of why Angel is still pursuing her dreams and attending college.
Angel still remembers her first day of classes at VUJC. It was the summer of 2018, and it was the first time she left Naomi with a babysitter. Naomi was about 5 months old and handled being left with a babysitter better than Angel handled leaving her.
Naomi seemed to settle in with the other kids quickly, but Angel cried on her car ride from the sitter’s to school. Though Angel still doesn’t like leaving Naomi with a babysitter, she’s gotten used to it. Angel knows a babysitter is inevitable if she wants to get a degree and work, and she’s grateful for the support.
Angel remembers the pregnancy as an exciting and scary time. Now that Naomi is born, she said, she’s still scared, but her worries now are run-of-the-mill, parental concerns about Naomi’s health and whether or not Angel is making the right choices for her daughter, even if that means giving up some of the plans Angel had for her life.
When she was younger, for example, Angel wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. As a young, single parent, that’s not an option. Angel also missed out on a lot of the pomp that comes with the end of senior year of high school because she was at home with Naomi, and Angel knows a normal college experience is out, too. But none of that matters as much to her anymore. When Naomi was born, Angel said, her priorities changed. Now, she just wants to be a good mom.
So far, Angel said, she thinks she’s doing a good job. Naomi is a happy, healthy baby, and anytime Angel picks her up from the babysitter, Naomi smiles and starts giggling.
“I know I’m doing something right if she loves me that much,” Angel said.
In the year since Naomi’s birth, life has evolved for them both. Angel still attends college full time at VUJC and has a work-study job on campus, as well as a job with Qualicare.
In October, the two moved out of Connie’s into an apartment on Jasper’s northside with Angel’s long-time friend, Manny Valtierra. Angel and Manny started dating last fall, and they adopted a puppy — a boxer, mastiff and cattle dog mix named Tucker — that loves playing with Naomi’s toys as much as she does.
Although nothing ever goes as planned and Angel has learned to expect the unexpected, she’s settled into life as a young mom. As long as she knows that she’s doing her best and that Naomi is being taken care of, Angel said, she can ignore the criticism that comes with being a young mom.
“When you’re a young mom, people look at you differently,” Angel said. “It shouldn’t be that way. I’m just a mom.”
Now, she’s getting ready for Naomi’s first birthday. She rented the Knights of Columbus hall for a birthday party with family and friends, and she ordered a smash cake for Naomi.
Angel said she’ll try to get through the day without crying, but she’s not making any promises.
“Everybody tells you it’ll go by really fast. You don’t really believe it, but it really is like the blink of an eye,” Angel said of Naomi’s first year. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs, but most of them were ups, so it was worth it ... I just love her so much. I’d do anything for her.”
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