When Alexandra Elle fell pregnant at 17, she hadn’t the slightest understanding as to how her unborn child would change her life. The decision to keep her baby kickstarted what would be a series of hard yet incredibly rewarding choices. Which is the underlying theme of Alex’s story, really: the ability we have to choose in our darkest moments, and how that small glimmer of choice can lead to the brightest outcomes. Refusing to play the victim, Alex healed the relationship with herself and her family, built several businesses, and is raising a beautiful daughter, Charleigh: “At 25-years-old, I’m learning every day how to show my daughter the best possible way to become an awesome person.”
“I got pregnant at 17, and had Charleigh at 18. Motherhood kicked in for me right away. Even though I was so young, I felt really honored to be given a chance to live for someone else. Her dad definitely wanted me to go through with the pregnancy, and in a way I feel like he was looking for a savior. He thought she could be that for him. To an extent I could relate, because I too was so lost and misguided. But we didn’t know what we were getting into. We were young, so I can’t fault our naïveness for that. Because of countless stressors, I contemplated having a late term abortion. But once I decided yes, I’m going to have this baby, I decided to make the best of my decision. That choice really encouraged me to stay on track. I knew I had to make some life changes, that she wasn’t just going to get here and automatically change my life. I knew I had to put forth the work and effort to be the type of mother I wanted to be. And she ended up changing my life in a way I never thought she could.
In reality, I am a statistic. At 17-years-old, I was unwed, African American and pregnant. But I chose not to let that statistic dictate my life. I acknowledged it—yes, I’m young, I’m black, I’m not married—but I also made a choice to bring another person into this world, and I’m going to be the best person I can be. So coming to the realization that just because I had added to that statistic, didn’t mean I had to let it define me. I refused to be a stereotype. People get really weird about that word—statistic—but I’m not ashamed of it at all. I completely own my decision, and it’s something I always tell women:
Walk in your truth, and don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re less than because of the choices you’ve made.
Especially when you’re working towards change. I think that’s extremely important for women to know, because we’re so quickly judged and categorized. It doesn’t have to be that way—we don’t have to take those judgments on. If there was one thing I could tell myself back then, it would be that I was good enough. I didn’t have anyone telling me that. My parents came from a different generation, and had a different parenting style. But to hear that would have been a life-changer for me. I always let my daughter know she is good enough. During my pregnancy and as a new mother, I changed so much as a person. I lost a lot of friends along the way, and transforming into the woman I wanted to be took a lot of detachment. I used to have a very tumultuous relationship with my mother. I was hardheaded and stubborn, didn’t listen, and wanted to do things my way. Being pregnant really slowed me down and made me think about my actions. My daughter was the pivotal change in me and my mom’s relationship. She softened everybody and brought us together as the family we should have been. My mother was able to give me advice from mother to mother, not mother to daughter. It came full circle—we look back now and say, ‘Wow, we came from that to this.’ It’s amazing to see the evolution of our relationship.
I feel extremely proud
to be a strong woman, but particularly proud to be a strong black woman.
I’ve overcome a lot of different things because of my race. I want my daughter to know that regardless of her skin color, her being a woman is one of the best things in the world. We make this world go round. It feels good to raise a young woman of color. I encourage her to embrace her complexion, her eye color, her features, her curly hair, but also ensure she’s aware that appearance is not what it’s all about. I make sure my daughter sees me in all my realms, dressed up or down. There’s so much out there telling women what’s beautiful and what’s not, what they should or shouldn’t or look like—and I don’t want to embed that in her. I started a campaign called Love Your Lines to encourage women to love themselves, regardless of their scars. To show that they’re beautiful with their cellulite, their rolls, their stretch marks… We carry babies if we choose to and our bodies change whether we’re mothers or not. It’s so important that we know our worth goes far deeper than what we look like.
And Charleigh knows that. I’ll ask her—how are you feeling today? She’ll say, ‘I feel lovely today.’ When I ask her why, she’ll say, ‘I feel lovely because I’m smart and funny.’ Not because of how cute she looks. That makes me so proud.
It’s also important for her to know that just because others don’t look like her, it doesn’t make her better or less than them, and to give people love from all walks of life. Kids are so innocent. They see color differences, but don’t know the history or meaning behind it. We recently had the race talk. We were watching a documentary by Spike Lee, and the people being interviewed were talking about segregation. Charleigh was looking at the TV very concerned, saying, what are they talking about? Everybody gets along. It doesn’t matter if they’re pink (she calls white people pink!) or if they’re brown. She was so confused. So my partner and I sat her down, and he put it in 7-year-old context, like—a long time ago black people and white people weren’t friends. They had to use different water fountains. Trying to get her to understand that as a culture, African Americans have been through a lot, and while things have changed dramatically, we’re still going through a lot. She’s still confused, but that’s fine. She has white friends, Asian friends, Indian friends, and that’s what is important. That our kids are able to come together despite their racial backgrounds. We told her that no matter what a person’s skin color is, you are to love them and be kind to them. And that love should be the foundation for all relationships. That led us to the talk where not only men and women get married—that women and women get married, that men and men get married. That some kids have two daddies, or two mommies. She was like, ‘Really? I didn’t think that was allowed.’ We try to teach her that love is love.
The importance of love
was something I needed to learn—I didn’t realize how much we need it.
I feel like a lot of people, in my culture especially, don’t really know how to embrace or give love after we’ve been hurt. I talk to a lot of young people of color about letting people back in, that not everyone is going to hurt you. And that just because you give love that it’s not necessarily going to be reciprocated, and if that’s the case, it doesn’t need to turn into hate or resentment. I know that as long as my intention is pure, with any love I give it will come back to me in some way or another. That understanding takes practice. It also takes practice in learning to trust again. When Ryan (my partner) came into my life, I trusted myself more, so in turn, I was able to trust someone else with my heart. Ryan is the most loving human I have ever met. When he was courting me, he made a point to make sure my daughter knew she was just as important as mommy was. They both love reading, and he would send her books. That common interest set the tone for their relationship. It was the sweetest thing to watch. I can be kind of serious sometimes, and Ryan keeps things lighthearted. He shows us how to have fun and we have a ball together. We all mesh so well! He’s a great father figure and role model in her life. I love having him around as a constant male presence, and as the head of our house.
With my entrepreneurial journey, it’s taken me 5 years to get to where I am now. I’ve always been creative, and have been writing since I was young. In college I took an entrepreneurial course that really sparked my interest in that world. For my final project, I launched a body and hair care line called Safi. My professor told me it would go far and it did. It ended up being a successful business for about 2 years until the demand became too high. I was a one-woman-show with a 2-year-old, and couldn’t fulfill any more orders. So I ended up going back to school full-time and working. I started my jewelry line on the side, which is now exclusively sold in a boutique in Washington, D.C. Now I have Balm & Co, and it’s so good to be back in the kitchen making vegan and holistic products with my daughter. In addition to my jewelry line and Balm & Co, I’ve published two books, and sometimes forget that people know me for my writing. I started sharing my words online 3 years ago, and published my first book 2 years ago. It was a bit scary at first, but a friend of mine told me to stop hoarding my happiness—to stop keeping my story when it could benefit somebody else. And I thought, you know, she’s right. I shouldn’t be ashamed and I shouldn’t be silenced because some people might not like what I have to say. If my story heals ones person’s heart, that’s good enough for me. I’m also far less concerned with other people’s perception of who I am. It took me a long time to learn my place in life, but I know who I am.
I no longer live in fear of being judged or misunderstood, because my story doesn’t have to be understood by everyone. It belongs to me.
I’m thankful for my struggle, because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength. That sums it up really. My struggles have shown me how resilient I am. When we’re going through hardship, it can consume us. It can break our hearts and seem like we’re never going to get out of it. But once we get past it, it’s like, ‘Look who made it through that!’ I try and tell young women in particular that they’re going to get through their heartache, they’re going to get through their adversity. And it’s important to hold that in a higher regard than the hurt and the uncertainty that we go through. Growing pains are a part of life. If we’re not using our discernment to figure out what’s going to work and what’s not, then we’re not evolving. We’re not preparing ourselves for the things we need to get through. The moment I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I was able to embrace the blessings that came from my pain. I played the victim role for so long, feeling like these things were happening because the world was out to get me. I needed to learn how to take accountability for my happiness and my growth, or lack thereof. Owning that I wanted to be happy, that I wanted to be strong. I didn’t want to be the person who was all, ‘Woe is me, I can’t get ahead.’ I realized that we have the choice to stay down or get up.”
As told to Amy Woodside, June 2015
Photos courtesy Alexandra Elle