If all you know about Leah Messer is that she was on Teen Mom 2, had three daughters, and went to rehab for prescription painkiller addiction — then you really only have one (very) small fraction of her story. Since surviving childhood abuse, being thrown into the limelight as a pregnant teen, getting through two marriages and divorces, and, yes, rehab, Messer has picked up the pieces and emerged on the other side that much stronger — and wiser, and more determined to break the cycles of addiction and abuse for the sake of her own children.
And now, she’s doing what any smart celebrity with a powerful story to tell would do: She’s releasing her memoir, Hope, Grace, & Faith (named after the values but also her three daughters’ middle names) in order to set the record straight and, hopefully, help other women — young mothers or otherwise — who are struggling with the same things she did.
We sat down with Messer this week to get real about co-parenting, co-sleeping and more, including what it’s been like for her to share her story so openly in her memoir. That, plus the usual dispatches of quarantine #momlife — because oh boy is she living it right now just like the rest of us.
SheKnows: What has it felt like putting your memoir out like that? What’s the reception been like among your friends and family? I know my family hates it when I write about them, ha.
Leah Messer: Haha yes, mine generally hate it when I mention them in my writing, too. At first, when things started, there were a few articles that had leaked, and I didn’t get to speak on them first, and it caused a lot of anxiety for me… Like, oh, shoot, I’m not even saying anything yet and people are angry! My mom, it was super hard for her to actually read my book — acknowledging where she was and where she’s at now, and how far we’ve come as a family. We are in such a great place now; back then, it was hard.
And then, of course, the dads. I don’t know if Corey [Simms, Messer’s ex and the father of her twins Aleeah Grace and Aliannah Hope] will ever read it; he’s kind of like, “Ehh, I’m good.” Jeremy [Calvert, Messer’s ex and the father of her youngest daughter, Adalynn] respects the work I’ve put in, to be the woman and the mom that I am today. I’ve always had a great relationship with both of the dads. I said this in a previous interview: The dynamic is going to be different, because I’m co-parenting with two completely different guys, with different family dynamics of their own.
SK: How are you guys managing co-parenting amid the coronavirus pandemic?
LM: I’m quarantined in the house with the girls. I wish we would have moved before corona, know what I mean? I’ve been here almost five years. When I moved up here, it was really close to the girls’ school…but their school’s further away now. It’s just us girls; their dad is working in the public, and I honestly didn’t want Ali [who has muscular dystrophy] exposed. We didn’t know how this was going to pan out, so what seemed best for her was staying in. We did a few drive-bys to see family.
SK: Has it been a struggle, solo parenting three girls in quarantine?
LM: Yeah, just being in the house all day. And it’s springtime, so the weather has been really rainy. My kids all still sleep with me, and usually they’re sound asleep by 9, but the other night, they were up until 11. I’m like, girls what’s going on? How can I support you? Because usually we’re pretty active. So we’re just trying little things to do online, yoga and dance, TikTok, anything to keep them still active. But they’re used to constant dance practices and ball season, and all of that, and now it’s just thrown it all off.
SK: So you’re all still co-sleeping? My son would love that. Do you try to convince them to sleep in their own beds, or nah?
LM: I tried a little bit, Addie wants to, but not if her sisters don’t want to. So they all sleep in bed with me. It’s so crazy, Addie laid right on top of me and the twins laid on each side of me until I couldn’t breathe anymore. The other night Addie tried to sleep in her bed, but it was too hard. Addie will say to her sisters, “You guys are old enough to sleep in your own beds now!” And they just don’t yet. One day I’m going to miss them not sleeping with me. If I had a spouse it would be different, but I don’t so we all sleep together.
SK: How are they doing with not seeing their dads or other family members during this time?
LM: It’s been so sad. There are days when they miss their Nana and Pop-Pop on that side, their Meemaw, their great-grandparents. This Easter, their Meemaw had just overcome cancer, and they were supposed to spend Easter with her for the first time, and they understood they were not going to get to go, and they were upset. They miss that “normal.”
SK: Yeah, it’s hard. My son always whines about having to go visit his dad’s, but of course now that he can’t he wants to.
LM: Exactly. Usually my girls don’t want to go either, but they’re very considerate and don’t want to hurt their dad’s feelings or anything like that. But Meemaw and Pop-Pop spoil them and they want to go over there!
SK: Have you been open with the kids — especially now that the book is out — about your past experiences with addiction etc.?
LM: At 10, they’re going to middle school after next year, so they’re with it. And I want them to know about addiction and what drugs can do to you, and I want them to know things before they see it. Even with birth control and things like that, if I’m on it prior, it’s going to help prevent it. And honestly, they have that role model to look up to. They have my past to look at and want better — and I truly want that for my girls.
Growing up, my mom was trying to live through me. Because she didn’t have the best life growing up. So if I did better than her, it was like a competition. For my girls, I want them to do greater than what I do. So that’s my only hope, and I’m all about vulnerability, all about honesty. It will get you far in life. So there’s nothing I’d hide from my 10-year-olds. The 7-year-old, she’s a little young and doesn’t understand yet. My twins, though, they know — and that’s okay. They know there’s nothing to be ashamed of; I’m like, “I am the mother I am for you guys now because of that time in my life.”
SK: Do you worry about them growing up in West Virginia like you did? Do you feel the community had a negative influence on you?
LM: Yes. I think we’re very influenced by the community. West Virginia is a beautiful place to visit, but I definitely thing it’s stereotypical for women to settle down, get married, have kids, and not see any life beyond that. My whole goal is for my girls to see their potential and their worth and that they’re capable of exceeding — going above and beyond.
Education wasn’t even expressed when I was growing up. My mom didn’t finish 8th grade, and it wasn’t a big deal for her to get pregnant at 16 or not go to college. But now, I’m not overly strict with it, but I definitely want my girls to understand the importance of having an education and preventing pregnancy at such a young age and why. But yeah, we are who we hang with; we attract who we are.
SK: How do you work to maintain your sobriety and mental health, especially during social isolation?
LM: I love to read. Self-developmental books, books that allow us to grow. And my family loves dancing; as you can see from my social media, Addie is a dancer. We do yoga inside, otherwise we go on hikes — West Virginia is such a beautiful state, and we have a really nice view. We can go on a hike in our backyard where I live now. We’ve been doing things like that just to stay feeling good, because mental health matters. I have mirrors around the house written with, “I am a powerhouse,” “I am beautiful,” even the girls take lipsticks and they’re writing it too, now! I don’t mind. I want them to continue with that drive and motivation.
SK: How did you choose the girls’ names?
LM: I named them so perfectly, and had no idea. Ali was baby A and Aleeah was baby B. We were going to name Ali “Ali Jean” for the longest time because it was my great grandma’s middle name, and last-minute we were like, no, her middle name should be Hope. Aleeah was named after me… Addie, we wanted to call her Addie but didn’t want that to be her name. I would just be creative with it; Jeremy’s middle name is Lynn and his dad’s middle is Lynn, so we went with Adalynn. And their middle names are Hope, Faith and Grace.
SK: How do you feel about them growing up in the spotlight? I know you share their photos on your Instagram, too.
LM: For sharing on social, I actually fight this all the time, because they want all of these accounts their friends have. I’m like, if they want to dance to TikTok, dance to TikTok! But I monitor it, and it’s completely private. As far as my account and having a big following, recently I’ve been trying to turn the comments off. Nobody should have to read some of these comments that people post — and I don’t want my girls to look back and see that. As time went on, I’ve learned which things I want to keep private and not. The filming, though, they’re all about it; Ali said, “I don’t want them to ever stop filming!” Haha. It just became part of our lives.
SK: What are the commenters after you about these days? Just general mom-shaming?
LM: Often it’s over Ali’s cheer makeup. All of the girls on the team, they’re wearing the same amount of makeup; it’s part of it, you wear glitter. It doesn’t define her, she doesn’t need makeup every single day, but if they want to play in it, they’re girls! I’m going to let them. But to respect the privacy of the other kids and my own, I had to shut the comments off, because the mom-shamers are out there, and they’re real, and I’m not about it. We’re just not going to raise our kids the same way. Like, oh, let’s focus on the makeup and not the fact that she’s in an athletic activity that’s keeping her confidence up and her social skills up? Let’s focus on that. Cheer is a sport!
And when I let them play with makeup, my girls get creative with it. To me, it’s like art. It’s not something we need to wear every single day; we’re beautiful just the way we are. But if you want to dress up and play with makeup or paint, go for it.
SK: Do people ask to take your/your kids’ photos on the street?
LM: Yeah. All the time. And I know it comes with the territory; I love everyone, so I have a hard time saying no to pictures. The only time I have an issue with it is if we’re in the bathroom. I went to a concert right before all this started, in Nashville, and this girl was like, “Can we take your picture?” I was like, “Um, can we please step out of the bathroom?” Or if my kids were with me, sometimes it can be a bit much. My kids will even say that, “I don’t want to do this right now.” And they’re right.
I do that with filming, too. If the cameras are here and we’re filming, most of the time, the kids choose whether they want to film for that day or not. Sometimes they’re not feeling it. Their room is their domain, so cameras don’t go in there.
SK: What are you most looking forward to, once quarantine is over?
LM: Vacaction. A beach somewhere. We were planning to go to Costa Rica, and I had to put that on hold… that’s what we want to do, though. I want to go surfing. I want to sit on a beach somewhere and write and watch my kids play.
SK: You and me both, girl.
Here are more celebs who have opened up about their struggles with addiction.