At 26 and pregnant, Chelsea Houska DeBoer was living her best life.
Asked to elaborate on her third go round while chatting with Teen Mom 2 costar Kailyn Lowry and Lindsie Chrisley on their podcast Coffee Convos, she shared, "With Aubree it was super easy. With Watson, first of all, I got huge and I was miserable. And then my third has been the easiest one of all of them."
Motherhood gets better with age as well.
"Sweet baby" Layne DeBoer arrived Aug. 29—as Chelsea was celebrating her own 27th birthday—rounding out the reality star's happy family of five with daughter Aubree Lind DeBoer (her 8-year-old with former boyfriend Adam Lind), 19-month-old son Watson DeBoer and, of course, husband Cole DeBoer, the man who makes her constantly marvel at her good fortune.
Where Adam has failed to live up to his dad title, Cole has been an overachiever, the type of guy who makes fans throw around terms like #husbandgoals. "I just admire how much he's taken on the dad role for Aubree," Chelsea recently told E! News,. "He's been above and beyond what a dad should be for her and Watson. He just really is amazing. There's never been a time where I've asked for help and he says no."
Which is good, because she's had her fill of rejections.
Back when Chelsea was a Vermillion, S.D. teen, pining after the perpetually disinterested Adam on 16 and Pregnant, the word no was on repeat. As in, no, he did not feel like coming with her to visit their still-hospitalized premature daughter. And no, he'd rather not tag along to the doctor to find out if Aubree was suffering from respiratory syncytial virus. Really, he'd prefer not to do much of anything except work on his beloved muscle cars and talk down to his long-suffering girlfriend.
"Watching previous seasons when I was going through a lot of hard times with Aubree's dad, it's difficult to watch because it's frustrating," she admits to E! News now. "You want to shake me and go, 'What are you doing?' It's going to get better!'"
But first it had to get so much worse. Bad dad behavior was just as commonplace on 16 and Pregnant, the precursor to MTV's Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, as missed proms and flimsy marriage proposals. And yet more than eight years later, Adam's vicious remarks still stun.
Irked that Chelsea would dare attend the homecoming football game (after responsibly arranging for her dad to stay with a months-old Aubree), he lashed out, labeling her a bad mom before sending what may go down in history as the meanest text ever crafted by a Teen Mom Dad. (Poor spelling, lack of punctuation and cruelty is all his.)
"i want u to feel like the most worthless stupid [expletive] in the world u better beleive its so over for the rest of our lives ya fat stretch mark bitch," he wrote, "tell me where and wen to sign the papers over for that mistake."
The hateful words seemed to jar the teen from her Adam-induced stupor, albeit temporarily. As the episode wrapped, she worked up the nerve to consult a lawyer about changing her newborn's last name and vowed to do better for them both. "With Adam out of the picture, it's time to focus on moving forward," she insisted. "The reality is, he's just, he's just not ready for this and he's not ready to grow up and take responsibility. He's not ready to get a job and be a little family, which is sad, because that's what I wanted."
Of course as anyone who's ever been a teenager and in love at the same time knows, bad habits are hard to break. And no sooner had the ink dried on her Teen Mom 2 contract then Chelsea was back with Adam, letting him crash at her rental, much to her father's displeasure, and play house, convinced that the 20something really could change if given a chance.
Besides, as she explained to moderator Dr. Drew Pinsky on a 2011 reunion special, "We have mutual friends, and we miss each other." As she would later reason to Us Weekly, thanks to Aubree, "I mean, he's going to be in my life forever. He hurt me but I knew I needed to forget it and move on from there. As long as he's following through and being a good dad, that's what's important to me. Our relationship comes second behind his with Aubree."
Wanting to successfully coparent is admirable. And continuously being drawn to the guy you know is bad for you simply because he was your first, real love? One hundred percent relatable. "We were just the fun couple that partied and stuff like that. It was just young love," she shared with website Cafe Mom in 2012. "You know when you first fall in love with someone and it's, like, "Oh my God!"? That feeling, that's how it was. I haven't had that with anyone else since. I guess that's why I go back to him, because you always want to go back to that feeling."
But that stomach flip sensation only goes so far. And after umpteen breakups, cheating confessions and more than a few encounters with the police (his rap sheet includes arrests for everything from missed child support payments to domestic abuse and drug possession), Chelsea reached the painful conclusion that Adam wasn't really interested in prioritizing his relationship with her or their daughter.
It was time to embrace life as a single mom, she reasoned, and after years of being treated poorly, any future suitor was going to have to work to impress her. "After what I went through with Adam," she told Us Weekly, "I'm really picky now."
She knew what she was looking for, though. And when the right guy rode into view, she was certain she'd found him. "He was across at the other pump," she recalled to Us Weekly of her first 2014 encounter with Cole at a local gas station. "And I looked, and he was staring at me. We didn't even talk. We just kept looking at each other because we're both shy."
Too timid to approach, Chelsea nonetheless unloaded to good pal Chelsey Grace when she got home. "I was like, 'I just saw the guy I'm going to marry at the gas station, but we didn't talk!'" she admitted.
Thankfully the meet-cute didn't remain a missed connection. Clued into Chelsea's reality star status, traffic control specialist Cole slid into her DMs. "A few days later he contacted me on social media and was like, 'Hi. I got gas next to you the other day,'" she said. "And I was like, 'Thank you, Jesus.'"
Because by that point, even before they went out on their first, tentative group dates, Chelsea was already imagining her friend recounting that tale in a wedding toast. "I knew right away," she insisted on Coffee Convos. "There was, like, a feeling."
Adam did his part to drive home Chelsea's good fortune by continuing to act generally awful. When he wasn't arguing with Chelsea, he was complaining that the MTV show painted him as a villain, but when they attempted to film him with his daughters (he also shares 5-year-old Paislee Lind with ex-girlfriend Taylor Halbur, who now counts Chelsea as a good pal) he'd blow off producers.
And then there were the legal run-ins and bad headlines (he had to be pulled from his Corvette after it crashed into an 87-year-old woman's Lincoln Town Car in 2014), the worst of which came last December when he was arrested for violating a no-contact order just months after Chelsea revealed to MTV cameras that he had tested positive for meth. "It's very serious—and it is scary," she told her producer Mandi, confessing she didn't really want him to be around Aubree . "If I had my choice, I don't want her in the house because he's doing drugs." (He has since been stripped of custody with his monthly visitation going to his parents and his time with Aubree restricted to a visitation center and weekly lunches at her school.)
But for every bad Adam reaction, there was an equal and opposite one from Cole. "Honestly, there's just no one that I've met that's so respectful and just nice and I trust him, which is a big deal," Chelsea gushed to Us Weekly of her "old-fashioned gentleman type of guy."
Best of all, he eagerly embraced his new father-figure role, pitching in on the day-to-day duties at their shared South Dakota home and even filling in at the grade schooler's daddy-daughter dance. "He's so good with her," Chelsea said. "And I seriously am not an emotional person, but I cry all the time because I'm so happy."
By November 2015, he was ready to make his role official, leading Chelsea to a wooded cove near their home where he proposed first to her, with a stunning oval-cut diamond, then Aubree. "He was acting weird. He was acting so weird," Chelsea would later recount on Teen Mom 2. "He took me to this spot he likes out in the woods, and he had me come out there. There was a whole bunch of trees and there were pictures of us three nailed up on there. I seriously covered my eyes and I was like, 'Holy s--t, is this really happening?!'"
Before they could even finish planning their Nebraskan vows for the following October, they learned their family was set to grow. So they scrapped the big celebration, gathered a handful of their nearest and dearest and made things official in a small, private ceremony.
"I wanted the full experience of a wedding, but I didn't want to wait to get married, so we just had a little intimate thing," she explained to Us Weekly. "We just threw it together. There were probably 10 people. It turned out perfect."
Son Watson—and what can only be described as all-out bliss—followed.
In a well-earned reversal of fortune, Chelsea says she and her husband of nearly two years rarely argue. "We don't have big blowout fights, but we definitely bicker," she explained on Coffee Convos, noting most of the tiff start when Cole is being "really pokey" while she's running around trying to get out the door. "But, I mean, there's not really anything crazy," she says. "But that's because he's, like, very patient."
Patient, empathetic, kinda perfect, really. "I could go on and and on about this," she told E! News in May, shortly after revealing they were expecting again. "I know people always say their husbands are great or whatever, but I think mine is the best. He's patient. He works all day and still comes home and helps me with what I need. He makes sure to get time in with the kids before bed. He's just a good guy all around."
Which is why she doesn't blink when he sends text asking, for instance, if they could maybe have 10 kids. "We're going to have the DeBoer Dozen," she told Lowry and Chrisley. "That's what we always joke."
Or at least one more anyway. "The max is two more," she reasoned.
Seeing where she is now, it's almost surreal for her to look back on all those years of being treated less than.
"I think I had pretty low self-esteem, you know, high school times," she recalled to Pinsky on the Aug. 27 reunion episode. "I feel like a lot of girls go through that. And they always want to get the guy that they think they can change. Or you get stuck with someone who makes you feel s--ty about yourself and you just want to be enough. And I think it was finally getting confidence to, like, step out of that and be like, 'No, I don't deserve that.'"
Now she can finally say she's gotten everything she truly deserves. As she told Pinsky, "This is definitely where I always wanted to be."