In November of 2013 I had the great honor of being featured in the Acclaimed Series- Portraits of Adoption hosted by Author, Carrie Goldman and sponsored by Chicago Now.
This is an edited version of my story, focused on the adoption and all that came with it. One that will be shared in great detail along with many other parts of this journey in an incredible book.
Big Tough Girl. My Adoption Story.
They showed me to a private room, with about twenty chairs set up in a horseshoe shape all facing a television set. I was one of the first people there. As I sat there, I let my mind wander, I couldn't believe that I was there, alone. The walls were empty and there was a small bookcase littered with pamphlets. People started to trickle in.
A nurse walked in, did not make eye contact and dumped a VHS tape into the television like she had done a million times before, stated that she would return after the video and walked out. The video started with some bold text that flashed on the screen and it read: What you need to know about Abortion.
And so my story begins.
When I was growing up and planning my future, becoming a birth mother was NEVER discussed with my guidance counselor. I would talk with friends about what we would “do” if we ever got pregnant. Abortion was never an option; raising a child would be hard but maybe adoption would be a good choice.
I have learned a few things since those days, the simpler days. First is that you NEVER know what you would be willing to do in time of serious crisis and second is that being a birth mom is not an occupation, it is not who I am, it is what I am. My life has developed into so much more than that experience.
In 2005 I found myself pregnant. I was not a kid; I was 25 years old. I was an adult, I had a job; I had responsibilities, but I was pregnant, and alone. I was off again in my “on-again-off again” relationship with a boy, a boy who at the time I thought I could not live without. We were toxic together but I was in a place in my life when I didn't know what that meant; I didn't know the difference. I suppose that most of my relationships in my life had followed that same toxic pattern, and I was a little self-destructive. But this boy, this boy I couldn't let go of. So we continued to be toxic together for four years. It wasn't until we were off again and I had moved back home to Utah that I discovered I was pregnant.
I knew I was pregnant several months before I could admit it to myself. I was in total denial that this was happening to me. I was raised in a good, happy and supportive Latter Day Saint home and this kind of thing just didn't happen, and this kind of thing was NOT talked about. In denial that this was happening, I continued to work a full time job, go to the gym, went tanning, went out drinking and dancing with my friends, and carried on relationships. I was determined to will this pregnancy to not happen, prayed around the clock for a miscarriage, and did unspeakable things to force the hand in that direction.
When I couldn't ignore it anymore I forced myself to take a test. In secret, I watched as that stick revealed what I had known for months. At this point -- desperate, embarrassed, scared and alone -- abortion seemed like my only option. I was going for broke.
I waited and waited. It was an eternity. Time stood still.
They finally called my name, and I stood and could feel every eye in the room watch me walk out. They took me back to get an ultrasound. I was in a “community” room. No privacy. No secrets. We all knew what we were doing there. I was going to see my baby for the first time; and then I was going to terminate this pregnancy. I was out of my head. I couldn't think, breathe, or feel. I was blank. Empty.
As the nurse performed the ultrasound, she kept focused on the screen. There was no polite chit chat. She glanced at me over her glasses, hesitated, walked out of the room and returned in a matter of seconds. She very quietly told me to get dressed. I did what she asked, but my expression was very confused. And then she said something to me that changed my life forever.
“You are too far along to terminate this pregnancy. I am sorry. We cannot help you.”
I walked out, received $500 cash refund, and I never looked back.
Somehow through all the fear and pain, lack of faith and weakness and the Grace of God, adoption became my only option. There was a greater plan for that precious, amazing little boy and for the family that was waiting for him.
That was an incredible day. A day that changed my life.
Even though I knew that I would choose adoption, I still continued life as normal. I was still unwilling to admit, embrace or accept what was happening, and I still could not tell those closest to me. As time started to get closer and closer, I started to panic. This baby was going to come whether I was willing to accept it or not, whether I wanted it to or not (it was still an “it” at this point).
It was now time to “choose a family” for the baby boy. It was a boy. I had about a month and a half before delivery. It was all becoming very real. I knew that picking a family would help with the emotional detachment and was a necessary step, but I will tell you, there is nothing in this world that is more stupid and crazy and unbelievable, and ridiculous and unfathomable than to sit down with fifty scrapbook pages and bios and have to pick from the pile for who you want to raise the baby that will forever be connected to you and your heart.
Seriously? How do you even begin to work through that process? I remember it clear as day. I received a phone call as the process of elimination was about to begin. It was my sister, tears in her voice. We want to adopt him. Let us adopt him, to give you some time. As a mother, she knew what I was about to go through and knew that I had no clue.
She knew the instant connection that a mother felt with a child at the time of birth, how quickly that maternal instinct kicked in. Knowing what she knew and the love she had for her children, she didn't think this was something that anyone could survive. She wanted me to have options. I could never take her up on that, so there I was at the kitchen table, a staple meeting place for my family.
I was joined by my mom and dad and brother. We spread out all the pages and started looking through them, pouring over them, studying them, laughing at them, crying at them. Creating the NO piles and the MAYBE piles and STRONG POSSIBILITY piles. Going through piles again, changing our minds, debating on likes and dislikes, deal breakers and requirements. Hours passed.
I knew that I had to pick a family from that first stack of profiles given to me. I knew that I could not look any more. At the end of the night we had narrowed it down to two very different families. Finally I went to bed with these two profiles debating in my mind over and over the pros and cons of each, not knowing them but knowing everything about them. They were being judged.
I was going to deem one family worthy of a child and one family not. I did not want that kind of power over the life changing events for any person.
I was praying for a different perspective in the morning. To see things in a new light. I found that really unlikely given the circumstances.
Something happened to me the next morning that I was not expecting. I was dreading the decision that was placed before me, and I did not want to face the day. But I got up and looked over at the nightstand at the pictures, the faces, the lives of these strangers and I knew instantly. One family was picked; the other was put back in the pile. He had a family, I was carrying their child. The perspective had shifted, just like I had asked it to.
A few days before delivery, I sat down with my case worker and we went over in great detail the paperwork involved in relinquishing my rights as the parent. I am so grateful for the time that I spent with her in the office. She was an amazing support to me. We did not continue our relationship after our time in the hospital.
It was too painful to see her again as a caseworker after what I experienced in the hospital, but I am grateful that she took the time that she did to go over all the fine print of that paperwork because she was right. I didn't hear a word that she said at the hospital and I needed to be of sound mind to understand what was about to happen.
Nothing could prepare me for the reality, but I was glad that I knew what I was signing before I was in that moment under so much pressure and emotion. The birth father had signed his papers a few months before, so I was literally the last thing holding the parental rights in my control.
I sat nervously on the couch in my parents’ family room waiting for the hospital to call, to tell me that they were ready for me to come in to deliver. I was hungry and scared. I wanted to talk with my mom about what was about to happen to my body, my emotions. She didn't look at me, didn't talk to me that morning. We all had to deal and process this in our own way. I knew she loved me and she was going to be there at the hospital but that was all she could do. I don’t blame her for that.
For weeks I had been telling myself that I did not want to see him after delivery. That as soon as that baby was born, I needed to be able to pass him along to the loving arms of his mother....or I never would have been able to let him go! I was very glad that his family was going to be there. They were all SO HAPPY, and they are an incredible family!!! I couldn't have picked a better family for this baby boy, but I was dying inside and it was so hard.
I sat in the delivery room alone for most of the day. A few visitors in and out but everyone left me alone for the most part. Either they were trying to be respectful or they couldn't handle the reality of the situation. I would have given anything to be pacing the waiting room with them.
I learned something so sacred and special that day. There are very few things in this world that are more precious and more amazing to a mother than hearing their baby cry for the first time. The second he came into this world, I wanted him close. They placed my son on my chest and he cried.
That sound, that precious, sacred sound filled the room. My heart was breaking. I knew that I was sharing that very first cry with someone else. That cry wasn't just for me. I knew that out in the hall, listening and waiting through that door was his mother. I know that when she heard the very first cry of our son, she wept.
I am a birth mom. I have owned my story, I get up every day and DO IT ANYWAY even when I can’t even breathe from the reality of it all, I rise above the prejudice and judgments, I love with all my heart, and I know that I can’t do this alone.
I rely on my family, my husband, my community of Big Tough Girls™ and most important my Father in Heaven. He knew there was a boy, a special boy that needed to live and to grow and love and serve and become a great man of this generation. That boy was once my son, he is now the son of another and he is becoming a great man. I am a birth mom, a self-proclaimed Big Tough Girl™ and I am thriving.
I know with the deepest belief in my soul that when adoption was put in my sights and became the only option that there was a bigger plan laid out for my life. I know that I was inspired to pick the family that I did to raise that boy. I know that he is becoming the man that he is because of his mother and her daily commitment to him and to me, making sure that he never wants for anything.
People always ask about him with them and what that is like. I just smile and say “he looks like his dad.” He belongs in that family; he is a part of their family. I carry him in my heart but he is all theirs -- body, mind and soul. I gave him life, and they are helping him live it. I am eternally indebted to them for saving me, for saving him. They are the true heroes of my journey.
My name is Ashley Mitchell. I am the owner of Big Tough Girl™. I am a wife and a mother. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I have survived so much in my life. I am so blessed because of the trials and challenges in my life, they have become great teachers. I love my husband and would not be doing the work that I love without his daily support. I believe that snow is the most magical thing on earth. I am a self-proclaimed Big Tough Girl™. This is my story. www.bigtoughgirl.org