Humbled Behind "Enemy" Lines

The pain of adoption does NOT start with loss for the Birth Mother. It starts with the woman who is forced to look outside herself because everything about her body and nature has failed her.
— Ashley Mitchell, Birth Mother

Adoption is scary.  There is SO much fear with the unknown.  The "other sides" that force us to act and do so many things based on our lack of understanding.

Never let fear dictate your relationships.  You will be greatly deprived of something magical.

I had the incredible opportunity to attend a Steering Retreat for the upcoming CHOOSE JOY EVENT in Palm Springs this past weekend.  I knew that we would talk about the event, I knew that we would talk about Adoption and I knew that we would all share our stories....but what I didn't know was how I was going to feel through this process.  What happened almost put me on the floor.  

It takes a lot to ruffle my feathers.  I have seen so much and experienced so much that I forget sometimes what it feels like to have one of those core shaking moments....those reminders that God brings to us to keep us focused, to keep us humble and to HIT US LIKE A TRUCK so that we will get out of our own damn way.  

I love Birth Mothers.  I always have.  This journey of mine started because of my overwhelming desire to connect with women who, like myself, chose adoption when at a crossroad.  I wanted to know them, to understand them, and to serve them.  

But I have a great conflict in emotion because I have a deep and overwhelming love for the Adoptive Families.  The woman that adopted my son is a part of me.  We are connected.  

As I think back to some of those precious moments with her I am deeply humbled.

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.

People always ask about him with them and what that is like for me.  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.
— Ashley Mitchell, Birth Mother

Birth Mothers can be proud creatures.  We need to be a little proud.  We need to be validated and lifted up in strength for our choices. We need that to put one foot in front of the other.

 I think that we sometimes blur the line between needing to be lifted in love and light and needing to be lifted in praise and entitlement because of our choices.  

Let me make one thing very clear in my experience.  I am not a "proud" Birth Mother.  I am not proud of the choices and decisions in my life that made me a birth mom.  I am not proud that I got pregnant, I am not proud that I strongly considered abortion and I am NOT proud that I had to put myself in a position to make the choice of adoption to begin with.

If I am being honest, the majority of my pain and anger during those first years after placement was really directed at myself.  I was SO angry that I was in this place.  I was so angry that this was my new reality...and I could only point that finger at myself.    

I truly believe that in the worst circumstances I made the best possible choice.  I truly believe that I did what was right given ALL the information at the time.  Has that changed?  maybe.  Does it all look different almost 10 years later?  absolutely.  But that is a choice that I made.  

For me it wasn’t about making the decision to place with 100% confidence. I never had that kind of clarity. It was about making the decision and then choosing to live with it everyday for the rest of my life.
— Ashley Mitchell, Birth Mother

This past weekend I sat in a room full of amazing women.  Women that shared the sacred and emotional experiences of Infertility, countless miscarriages and their deepest and purest desires to become a mother.  

Photo Cred:  Kelly Treadway

Photo Cred:  Kelly Treadway

Some were called to become a mother through Foster Care, some through Domestic + International Adoption.   

One by one they shared their hearts.  They shared their pain and their struggle.  They shared their hope and their faith.  They shared their prayers and their triumphs.  

They were open, honest and vulnerable.  They didn't hold back, they didn't sugar coat and they didn't pretend.  

I felt like I was trespassing.  Like I was hearing some secret sisterhood code that only this elite group of women were allowed to hear.  So many times I felt like I needed to honor their privacy and leave the room.  As I leaned against the back wall and just listened and watched I could not stop the tears from streaming down my face.  

The conflict of emotion almost brought me to my knees.  

I had to step out for a minute.  I had to remove myself, very aware of how I was feeling.  

Those moments of picking a family, those first meetings, those sacred moments in the hospital, saying good-bye to my son.  I was right back there.  Like it was yesterday I was right back there.  Engulfed in my pain and emotion, yet not wanting to be disrespectful of the realities of the other side.  The women that were overcome with emotion as their babies were brought into this world, as they were becoming mothers, as they were living out their answered prayers.

I slid down the wall, crumbled to the floor.  Sobbing uncontrollably.  Trying to hold it in, trying to keep the sound muffled.  

I am so grateful for moments like these.  I am so grateful for reminders that no matter how long it has been since placement I feel great pain and loss.  That no matter how "fine" I am I will ALWAYS have moments of complete and utter breakdown for the experiences in my life.

I am so grateful to be humbled to tears from the realities of the experiences of others.  To truly understand those on the "other side".  To see and hear and feel their experience so deeply.  I am honored to know them and to call them my friends.  

Almost ten years SHE has been the mother to our son.  SHE is the one that has been there day in and day out.  SHE has suffered and celebrated.  She has been burdened and has been lifted in prayer.  SHE has struggle through her own battles and fought her way to motherhood.  SHE is one of the most important women in my life.  

These women have read unflattering and unkind posts about "their side", about who they are in the lives of these children and about the great pain and damage they have caused.  

We are all GREATLY uneducated on the sides of Adoption.  We have a long way to go in learning to love ourselves and to love each other.  

I will always tell my story.  I will always share the realities of this journey.  But I will always keep in mind the hearts that are reading it.  

Thank you.  You know who you are.  Thank you for allowing me to come, for sharing your hearts with me and for never holding back.  It is a sacred honor and I am forever changed for this experience.  

Crushing The Egg Shells

I believe that one of the greatest issues that keep us from being able to move forward with a healthy and functioning open adoption is understanding our role and communication.

When I placed that baby boy for adoption over 9 years ago I was very clear on my role.  I knew who I was to him, I understood greatly and deeply what it meant to relinquish my rights as his mother and I knew that I would never have claim over him.  

I was OK with that.  This was MY choice.

I also knew that when I placed that baby boy for adoption over 9 years ago that his mother, the amazing woman that was willing to adopt him knew her role.  She knew that she did not give him life and that she could never have that biological bond with him but that she would have a bond with him that would be equally as strong.  

And I was OK with that.  This was MY choice. 

I knew that I would be jealous of her.  I knew that as I watched her raise him and love him and have him call her mom that I would be jealous.  I knew that there would be times that I hated her.  I knew that during his life I would miss so much.  I knew that I would be able to make a guest appearance in his life and I knew that they would do their best to keep me involved but I knew that there was NO way that it would ever be enough.  I knew that I would always want more but would take what I could get.  I would be jealous of their time, their love, their laughter, their tears, their bond as mother and son.

And I was OK with that.  This was MY choice.

I knew that she would be jealous of me.  I knew that she would feel great loss and jealousy as she watched me bring our son into the world.  I knew that she would be jealous that he looked like me and that there would be little things that he did, little quirks that do not come from her.  I knew that she would be jealous of his longing and wanting to know me, to understand me, to ask questions about me.  I knew that as they sat together and he asked about me that she would be jealous.  I knew that she would be jealous of our biological bond, that strong tie between us that will forever connect us and pull us together.  I knew that she would be jealous of my love for him.  

And she was OK with that.  This was HER choice. 

I knew that I would have great moments of fear.  I knew that I would always fear that the baby that I placed would grow to hate me, that he would never be able to forgive me and that he would blame me for the pain in his life.  I knew that I would have fear about how she would talk about me, that she would not honor me or respect me.  I knew that I would be in fear that she would not honor her promises.  I knew there would be fear that he wouldn't want to know, that he wouldn't ask questions, or care, or feel that connection with me.  I knew that I would fear the future, the unknown, the change of season, and my future. I knew that I would fear his reaction to my children, to my life without him, separate from him.  I knew that I would fear the pain I caused him....but I would also fear the joy.

And I was OK with that.  This was MY choice.  

I knew that she would have great moments of fear.  I knew that she would fear that he would never love her like a mother, that she would never love him like her own.  I knew that she would fear his pull to me.  I knew that she feared that he would want me, leave her, blame her for taking him away.  I knew that she would fear me and my rejection of them, or my acceptance.  I knew that she feared drawing the line, creating boundaries and protecting what was hers.  I knew that she feared that I would disappear, not care, not love, be in too much pain.  That I would blame her and hate her and forever be tied to my anger for her.  I know she feared her ability to care for him, of letting me down, of being a disappointment, of feeling like I could have done it better.  I knew she would fear the age when he could leave.  I knew she feared that it would never be enough.

And she was OK with that.  This was HER choice. 

We knew there would be conflict.  We knew that we would disagree.  We knew we would disagree on parenting style, and life choices.  We knew that we would not always be happy with each other and we knew that we would not always support the other in choices being made.  We knew that we would butt heads and argue and wish and pray that things were different.  We knew that we would feel that our opinions were more important than the other, and we knew that we would hurt each other.  We knew that there would be tension and awkwardness, we knew that there would be sadness and tears.  We knew there would be bitterness and loneliness.  We knew there would be stupidity and anger.  We knew it would be a battle.  

And we were OK with that.  This was OUR choice. 

We knew there would be respect.  We knew that there would be a level of understanding and a level of love and appreciation for the other that could never be matched in any other relationship in our life.  We knew that there would be honor and joy and celebration.  We knew that there would be gratitude and overwhelming humility.  We knew that there would be love and sacrifice and peace and family.  We knew that we could learn from each other and grow in this life together, we knew that we could lean on each other and we knew that we could count on each other.  We knew there was trust and that there was a child that needed it all.

And we were OK with that.  This was OUR choice.  

It is impossible to know everything about adoption. It is never the same and it is always changing. But for all the unknown there are things that we can always cling to: Faith, Love and Kindness. For everything else all we simply have to do is ask.
— Ashley Mitchell, Birth Mother

Crush the egg shells.  Communicate with each other.  Be open to each other and be kind to each other.  This is NOT easy for anyone and it did NOT just happen to you.  

Let go of the selfishness, the jealousy, the fear.  Approach this journey with humility, love, respect, faith and the reality that THIS will always be a part of you.  You can't make it go away and you can't ignore it forever.  Sit down, have the hard conversations, set the boundaries and always remember the role that you play!  

PHOTO-A-DAY Challenge for Adoption.

On IG we did a Photo-A-Day Challenge on all things Adoption for National Adoption Month.  I wanted to share all the photos with you.  Here was the challenge:

   Be sure to head on over to @bigtoughgirl on IG to see all the amazing images that were shared by others.  Search #btgadoption

 

Be sure to head on over to @bigtoughgirl on IG to see all the amazing images that were shared by others.  Search #btgadoption

HERE ARE ALL THE IMAGES I POSTED FOR THE MONTH!

We look forward to this challenge again next year and we hope more of you will join us in sharing our adoption journeys!!!  We love you all and we are so grateful for where the path of adoption has brought us.  

Adoption Means...

I am so honored today to share an AMAZING post by the beautiful woman that adopted my birth son.  She has brought great peace to my life and offered so selflessly to do what I could not.  I am forever in her debt for the love that she has shown our son, for the sleepless nights and the stress and the responsibility and the love that has been poured upon him has been above and beyond my expectations.  She has allowed me to grieve, to share my story, even the hard parts.  She respects me and honors me by the way that she loves her son.   I love her, I respect her, I honor her and my life has been forever changed because of her.  xo, Ashley Mitchell OWNER BTG

Since I was young all I wanted to be was a wife and mother and have a family of my own. I was married to an amazing man at age 18 and at the age of 24, we were blessed with a beautiful daughter. At her moment of birth I remember thinking I could do that ten more times. It was such an amazing and spiritual experience. (Little did I know it would be my only opportunity to give birth to a child.) A year later we were ready to start the process again to increase our family and provide a sibling for her. This is where my story really begins.

Never had I suffered beyond the heart break of boyfriends, occasional illnesses, surgeries, challenges with friends or the demands of life. I had been blessed to grow up in a loving home with all my needs met. But the next several years proved to be my "cross to bear" , filled with grief, emptiness, anger and frustration.

Having to see pregnant sisters, sister-in-laws, friends and anyone having children, and all the joy they were having as their families grew was unbearable at times.

Why me? I would try not to say that, but it seems the natural thing to ask in the midst of trial. I didn’t want this one. I wanted a family. Why couldn’t I have what everyone else has? I didn’t know at the time, but God was saving me for one of the greatest privileges and experiences this life can bring.

After several years of fertility appointments, procedures and surgery, my husband and I sat across from our good friend and M.D., who told us our chances of having another child would take a miracle but we could possibly try a very expensive procedure. At the time we had just moved to a small town where my husband started his first job out of college. There was no money for fertility procedures, drugs and travel, especially ones that offered a slight "chance" of conception.

After much prayer, fasting and seeking God’s help, the idea of adoption entered our minds. Sometimes it takes life-changing moments to remind us who is in charge of our lives. It seemed like this might be the "window" opening after the big door had been shut.

We joined Families Supporting Adoption, a support group through LDS Family Services that promotes adoption in local communities. Here, we found others who could relate to what we had been going through. We found friendship, love, comradery, a place to serve and learn more about adoption.

Then came the extensive paperwork, the home studies, the ever hopeful days of waiting. This, again, was a trying time. Since there are so many other couples trying to adopt, it was easy to compare ourselves.

As other couples were chosen we felt like we weren’’t enough, that we didn’’t have what an expectant mother was looking for and it took a lot of faith to keep our hope alive.
— Lana

After two years, we received "the call". It is hard to describe the moment and how it feels when someone has chosen you to be the parents of their child. You are deeply humbled and grateful. It almost seems like it can’t be real, just like a dream. We had the opportunity to adopt twice. First, a daughter came to our home, followed by a son, four years later.

Even though it was hard in its own way, adopting these amazing children has added so much more to my life than I could have ever experienced having had all biological children. I would never trade the experiences.

Adoption has meant a lot of things to me. First and foremost, my children mean everything to me! They are the treasures of my life and I will forever be grateful for their birth parents and the choice they made to place them in my arms.

Having had both a biological child and adopted children I can say there was absolutely no difference in loving or accepting them as my own.

Perhaps the greatest part of adoption has been the sweet relationships we enjoy with our birth parents and their families. This had brought even more fulfillment and joy than we could have possibly imagined.

Through adoption I have experienced so much personal growth. I have struggled through the process –enduring the emotional roller coasters, surviving placement and the intense guilt that comes with it, and I have continually prayed for, worried over and tried to provide all I could for struggling birth mothers.

I have had the added bonus of trying to be the best mother I could be, knowing there was another mother counting on me to provide and give her child everything she could not.

I have a greater faith and understanding that God has a plan for each of us, that He hears and answers our pleadings and blesses us when the time is right. Sometimes he lets us struggle only to make us better and stronger.

I also believe one of the greatest expressions of love and courage is found in birth mothers and fathers who place their trust in someone else to raise their children.
— Lana

Adoption is all about love– the love of birth parents wanting what is best for their child, the love of adoptive families who open their hearts and lives to these precious children, the love of those who are adopted who accept it, understand it and celebrate it.

I believe those connected with adoption are special and strong and are given these experiences because God needed them to bless lives. Together we can make a difference as we share our stories, support one another and continue to promote adoption every way we can.

This month and always, I will celebrate adoption–one of the greatest gifts and miracles of my life.

CLOSURE.

In February of 2014 I ordered my own personal copy of CLOSURE.  I watched this documentary with my jaw dropped and tears streaming down my cheeks.  It was hard to put into words how I felt about this movie.  It brought so much emotion to the surface.  I was sad and furious and laughing and crying and happy and more all at the same time.  

I have had the great privilege to talk with Angela and I have a great love and appreciation for her and her voice, her perspective and her Moxie!  Through her story I have had the great opportunity to reach out to Angela's Birth Mother.  I will be sharing and EXCLUSIVE interview with Deborah as she shares her incredible story with you all next week! 

UNTIL THEN.....We are so excited to be giving away 3 signed copies of the adoption documentary CLOSURE that is sweeping the nation and bringing a whole new light to this community.  This compelling and inspired film bring a voice to adoption that is so rarely heard or understood, the voice of the Adoptee.  

Enter the contest below!!!  

WINNERS WILL BE ANNOUNCED MONDAY NOVEMBER 24th!  

We will picking 3 random winners to receive a copy of the DVD signed by Angela Tucker. 


I was the Stereotype

*disclaimer- This may be my bravest post yet.  I have shared many things in my journey.  This shares a lot of the behind the scenes action that took place during the darkest years of my life.  All legal action that was required has been dealt with and all needs were met with great humility.

As birth mothers we tend to get a bit defensive when it comes to the stereotypes that the uninformed and uneducated society tries to peg us with.  There are many opinions and ideas of what a birth mother is and why she makes the choices that she does.  

I have to say that at the time of placement and for several years after I was many of the stereotypes that birth mothers try so hard to fight, to redefine.  

I was in a relationship with the birth father.  We dated on and off for several years.  We spent a lot of time together and obviously we were having sex.  ( I wont treat you like you are stupid and don't know HOW I became a birth mom to begin with ).  We were also drinking a lot and had some additional choice pills etc in the mix when it was available.  

Now, I am the first to throw myself under the bus so I will tell you that as I share this with you I want you to know that regardless of what you are thinking of me at this point I thought a lot worse, and I have come a long way to dig myself out of the bottom that was below rock bottom.  This story gets a lot worse before it gets better.  

It is amazing now, looking back,  I can see how much pain I was in, how much I was suffering, how much I was grieving all the signs were there but I didn't know it at the time.  I had no idea the tragedy that was coming and I had no idea that I was heading for an all out war against myself that would lead to my breakdown.  

After placement I began to self-destruct.  Every once in a while I would hit a moment where I would be "doing better".  I would be clean, go back to church and would straighten myself up, more just because I was just trying to prove to myself and everyone else that I could.  

I continued with the drinking, some stages were heavier than others.  And I continued with my casual relationships.  Sometimes someone would be around longer than another, but at the end of the day I would sabotage anything that had any potential and I would be alone, in pain, grieving and spending my days getting to know the darkness, intimately.  

I placed in the early spring of 2006, April to be exact.  By the end of that year I didn't even recognize myself.  I was so careless with my life and others.  I hated everything about myself but man did I put on a show.  I was everyone and everything that I needed to be.  I was so co-dependent and I killed myself to be accepted from any stranger that crossed my path.  I had no self acceptance and I was in such denial of the things that had happened and I refused to stop long enough to allow the feelings to hit the surface.  

I had to keep going, keep moving, keep numbing the pain because I knew if I stopped I would break down.  

In 2007 I was in a devastating accident......

As I sit here in tears I can't bring myself to share the details of this...not yet.  

I almost killed someone in a drunk driving accident.  

Some day I will share this story, someday I will be brave enough to share the details of this story, someday I will share my journey through the legal ramifications of this accident and the year I spent working through my court ordered requirements.  But not today.  

Today I am sharing the events that took place after this accident, the full breakdown of who I was, and the rebuilding of who I am now.  

Now at this point you would think that enough is enough.  That after something so tragic and life changing that I would be all about acceptance and healing, that I would finally stop so that I could finally work through all my issues, but I wasn't.  It had the opposite effect.  Now on top of everything else I had this weight piled on top of the existing pain and grief.  The burden was so heavy, the shame and the guilt and the pain, years were piling up, indiscretions were too many to count.  I was trapped in my own personal hell.

There is a saying that describes what I was feeling, why I kept my finger hovering over the self-destruct button "Why do I keep hitting myself with a hammer?  Because it feels so good when I stop."

In the fall of 2007 I ran.  I ran away from all of it.  I was living in constant fear and pain and so I ran.  I met someone that offered an "out" from all the pain that I was living in.  AGAIN remember that the stage of denial was so great that I literally convinced myself that none of the past stuff had happened, that I was not grieving, that I was not a birth mother, that I was not struggling with substance abuse, that I did not have the guilt of that accident sharing my body with me.  I was FINE!  I WAS FINE! 

I married this man and moved across the country.  I moved from all of it not realizing that it had jumped into the trunk when I wasn't looking and came with me.  

I deeply regret the pain that was caused to that man.  He was a victim of my carelessness.  He was a necessary step in my un-doing.  He played a giant role in helping me become who I am now.  

Without him, without that move I would have died.  I know without a doubt in my mind that I would not be here with you today.  I thank God for that move, for that chance meeting.  I am grateful for him and the doors that were opened.  I pray that he finds the true happiness that I could never offer him.  He didn't know what he was getting into.  

In our journey as birth mothers we have this moment, the AH-HA moment, or game changer as I like to call it, when the light turns on, when we decide that enough REALLY is enough and everything changes.  Sometimes it is a very small, insignificant moment, and sometimes it is a huge and undeniable moment.  

This was my game changing moment.

I had divorced the man that brought me to Tennessee and I was living with my NOW husband and love of my life.  We were figuring life out and we were both on a journey.  I was starting to get the feeling back in my life, but with the happiness and excitement of the future as I was allowing myself to be open to possibilities I was also stirring the beast that had been asleep for all of these years.  As I was allowing myself to feel on deeper levels I was also forced to feel the pain of the past.  

That pain, that grief, that shame and regret, that acceptance of the past finally surfaced and sent me into a spin that forced my breakdown.

My breakdown included pills, a night in the hospital, and 5 days locked in a Mental Health Facility.

( I told you this story got worse before it got better ).  

BUT something amazing happened.  Maybe the greatest miracle of my life.  

I survived. With the support and love from my husband that stood by me and through the Atonement of my Savior I survived. Sometimes it takes an overwhelming breakdown to have an undeniable and life changing breakthrough.
— Ashley Mitchell

And then the true journey began.  I started to pick up the pieces.  Every day since that time I am learning to pick up the pieces, I am learning to look in the mirror and love and respect the woman starring back, I am learning to accept my life and learning to co-exist with the things that have happened.  I am learning my triggers and I know my weaknesses.  I know what I can and can't do, I know my boundaries.  But more important I know love, and I know my worth and I know joy.  I know peace and I know faith.  I know hope and I know light.  I know who I am.  

The pain of a birth mother is real.  I am not naive and I know that adoption as a whole is created through great pain and suffering...But I believe deeply in hope for the future, and for a life of happiness for all those that are willing to fight for it.  I believe that there is great work to be done.  I believe that a birth mother needs to find herself in a place where she can have help to fight through the grief at the early stages.  

I am not the norm.  My story of healing is unique.

Too many women are falling through the cracks, to many birth moms are stuck in their own personal hell.  It is real and it is a lonely path.

I was the stereotype.  But I have come a long way since that time.  I never fear that I will become that person again, and I pray that I don't stay who I am now.....

I know that I will be even better and I can't wait to meet her! 

From Pain to Purpose

My dear beautiful friend, Jenny Jerkins over at Our Not So Engineered Life is sharing with us on the blog today.  They ( Jenny and her partner Courtney) are doing a beautiful Thanksgiving Series, Thankful for Infertility.  Be sure to go and read the inspiring stories this month.  Jenny is an adoptive mother and shares an incredible testimony.  Even though we have never met in person she is a soul sister and I look forward to the day that I get to hug her and share tears of joy with her for our beautiful and blessed life!  


It is well with my soul….

These words to the beloved hymn took a long time to truly resonate with me.  I had sung them in church my whole life.  I knew the all the words in my head, but they didn’t feel them in my heart…even until well after the word “infertility” was spoken like a dull knife, slowly and painfully cutting through me. 

I knew that “whatever my lot” then it should be well with my soul.  But it wasn't.  I was angry.  And I was broken, which is exactly where God needed me to be. I had done everything my whole life in the right order – graduate high school, college, get married, get a good job, and now it was supposed to be my time to have children.  And it was my time.  It just wasn't exactly how I had planned for it to happen. 

But you know what?  God had a far better plan for us.  Because of our infertility, God led us straight to adoption.  It was always on my heart to adopt, but He just made sure I got there.  He closed every other possible door so that the child that He meant for us would be placed in our care and so that we would witness the miracles that only come from Him by doing so. 

It took me a while, even after our son was born, to be truly grateful for our infertility.  As the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.  And of course the highlight of our infertility is our son.  His whole life and the details surrounding him coming to us are truly miracles and details that only God could orchestrate.  He gives our lives more meaning and more purpose than anything else in this world ever could, apart from that of God himself.  Adoption is the most beautiful picture of God loving and adopting us all into His family.  And even though our Adoption Journey  is one filled with God’s perfect timing and details, it is not entirely why I am now grateful for our infertility. 

I’m thankful that infertility led us to adoption in the way that it did and when it did.  God knew that we would struggle off and on for the 5 years that we did.  He knew we would pause.  He knew we would question His will.  He knew we were not quitters and would keep trying – until we reached a dead end.  And then in December of 2010, He said it was time to adopt.  Why was it time?  Because that is the very month that our son was conceived and he would be due 9 months later.  That still blows my mind to this day!  Our paperwork would be ready and our birth mom would walk into the office of an attorney – one whom God said to show our profile to her first because she would be choosing us.  His timing is never off by a day, minute, or second – it is absolutely perfect.  Had we not experienced infertility, we would have missed out on one of the most divine appointments of our lives.

And I would have also missed out on some of the most beautiful souls on this earth – birth moms. Open adoption has changed the way that I look at many things in this world. It has changed the way that I see people and the way that I love people.
— Jenny Jerkins

It has truly given me the opportunity to be in a relationship where I can show the true, unconditional love of Christ.  It has opened my heart to be without judgment and to love without expecting anything in return.  I love that I can share life with this woman and the love of a son together. 

 

I’m thankful that God broke me and took away my foolish thinking that I was in control of anything in my life. 

Certainly I have free will to make choices, good or bad, but ultimately He is in control.  I’m grateful that He sent me to my knees and started a life change in me.  It has allowed me to experience God in my life in ways that I never anticipated.  It gave me purpose – His purpose -  to bring Him glory.  He took one of the greatest pains of my life that gradually became my greatest passion.  He gave me a story to tell – a story that has led to some of the greatest and deepest friendships I have ever had, and provided encouragement and healing for others who have come along behind me. 

At the start of our journey, I never anticipated how God would grow my faith and change me.  He flipped our world upside down to show us that His journey was better than ours.  Adoption changed our whole course in life. 

It began a ministry – truly a purpose from my pain – that would have never been there otherwise.  I un-became everything I thought I would ever be, to become everything He wanted me to be.  And for that, all of the pain of infertility became worth it.

ABOUT:

I am a wife and former engineer turned stay-at-home mom of God’s gift to us in the form of an energetic, smart, and hilarious little boy.  His larger than life personality is the reason I must have coffee in large quantities every single day to function! But he also teaches me more about what is truly important in life.  I am a Christ follower molded by His outpouring of grace and mercy.  I love people and believe in living missionally, and my life’s motto is “it’s not about ME.”  I became a mom through adoption which has opened my heart in ways I never new possible, drawn me closer to God, and brought me some of my dearest friends.  It also taught me that instead of our own “engineered” plans, that the Lord has far greater plans when we put our faith and trust completely in Him.  You can read all about my story over at Our Not So Engineered Life where I co-write with my dearest friend Courtney.

 

World Adoption Day.

Today is the FIRST EVER World Adoption Day.  

We wanted to share with you a custom piece that I co-designed with Stephanie Chavez Designs for Ms. Katherine Heigl.  

In 2009 Ms. Heigl and her husband Mr. Josh Kelley adopted their first daughter, Naleigh from South Korea. 

My sister Meg is Korean, and my parents adopted her three years before I was born. I wanted my own family to resemble the one I came from, so I always knew I wanted to adopt from Korea.
— Ms. Katherine Heigl
this picture was taken shortly after the couple returned from Korea with their daughter.

As a fellow Utahn, I reached out to Ms. Heigl and her husband to celebrate adoption.  I was so honored to design this necklace for her.  The necklace was inspired by a song that was written and performed by husband Josh Kelley titled Naleigh Moon.  

The necklace is made of sterling silver.  The hearts are hand stamped with the initial of both of their children (Adalaide was added to their family through a domestic adoption when Naleigh was 3 1/2) The words LOVE and MOTHER are stamped on the other hanging tags with the Korean spelling for each of those words on the opposite side.  It includes their birth stones and  the moon of course is for the heart of this song and this adoptive family.  


I am always inspired by any and all adoptive families.  

I am so excited about the progress that is being made in the world of adoption.  The community is growing, the education is being shared, men and women are using their voice.

There is so much more work to be done but I am honored to be a very small part of it. 

Congrats to those that have been blessed with a child through adoption.  

They’re yours. You love them the moment they’re put into your arms.
— Ms. Katherine Heigl


HAPPY WORLD ADOPTION DAY!

xo, Ashley Mitchell

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Testimony for a Grief Booklet.

I was asked by a fellow Birth Mom if I would include my thoughts on two topics for a grief booklet that she is putting together for her office that will be distributed to birth mothers post placement.  

This is such a beautiful and vital gift for these women, to hear from others, to educate themselves and to be able to prepare themselves for what is coming.  It is NEVER easy and having access to other stories gives hope for their own future.  

I am honored to be a part of this project and I wanted to share my two topics with you here.  

5. How you are or did rebuild your life post placement-

In April 2015 it will be 9 years post placement.  I am married and we have two beautiful children, a daughter and a son.  We live in a beautiful home and I own and operate a nationwide women community.  I am so deeply blessed with a loving family and friends.  I have an open adoption that is constantly changing and adjusting.  I am very happy in my life.  But this was not always the case for me.  Life after placement has not been easy and it took years to truly come to a place of acceptance and healing, and then the true journey began.  I struggled for years with substance abuse, casual sex partners, depression and more.  It is my prayer that you will have an open mind and heart as I share some of these things with you.  I want you to know that you are loved and that you are not alone.  This is an impossible time and the task seems daunting.  Learning who YOU are after placement is one of the greatest challenges of a birth mother.  Everything you are experiencing right now is normal.  There are just a few key things that I wanted to share with you that worked for me and I hope you will find comfort in them as well. 

The real question that I think you need to ask yourself if how bad do you want it? You will have an ah-ha moment, that one event that will “flip the switch”.  You will know it when it happens, and that is when everything changes.  I had moments over the first few years of placement that I would make small changes, tell myself that things were going to be different, that I was going to stop doing this or that but I was NOT connected to any of it, my body mind and spirit were not in alignment and I didn’t truly want it.  Then my moment happened.  My ah-ha moment and I knew it was time to fight. To fight for a life that I truly wanted and one that I truly deserved! 

1.  Make the Sacrifice.  Like so many things, there has to be sacrifice to truly work for what you want.  Whether that is time, money, energy, emotion....You have to be willing to do the work!  I put in a great deal of work into my healing, I sacrifice little pleasures to pay for the classes, books, and coaches that I need and want.  I make the time in my crazy life to work on myself. To meet those things head on so that I am not digging things out of a hole years later.  

This is NOT going to be something that will fix itself, it won’t fix overnight and you can NOT expect others to do the work for you.  We tend to get in a cycle of feeling sorry for ourselves, waiting for God to step in and tell us what we need to be doing, and expecting others to carry us.  Do I believe that others can encourage and lift and support? Absolutely I do.  

"I believe that community healing is vital to this journey, we can NOT do it alone no matter how you process...at some point you are going to need to surface and have help." 

 Do I believe that God is with us and has a plan for us?  YES.  But I also believe that he is NOT going to tell you what to do.  You have your agency here, you are in charge of your life.  He wants you to make decisions for yourself and he will let you know if you are on the right track!  

How bad do you want it?  Are you willing to DO THE WORK? 

2.  Have a Daily Practice.  Every single one of my #soulmagic people have taught me a great deal about having a daily practice.  Whether that is a spiritual practice of prayer and scripture study, a practice of meditation and soul searching, or simply sitting with your list of desires for the day.  No matter your belief system, your connection to God or the Universe, your thoughts about spirituality. Get in a daily practice of setting up your day with intention.  What do you want from your day, what will you do with your day, how is your day going to make you feel, what will get accomplished and why?  These are all things you should be sitting with every. single. morning.  

I promise that if you will get in the habit of sacrificing (there is that word again) 15 minutes of your time in the morning to set up your day it will change your life!  Before you check your phone, before you wrestle the kids, before you jump into routine...take 15 minutes.  Get quiet.  Process.  Feel.  Get aligned with your soul desires.  Feel your feet here in the present.  And then, get after it!

*a bonus tip.  Taking 15 minutes at the end of the day to process your day, to release the hard and celebrate the good, and to give thanks {GRATITUDE} is a great way to book end your day!!  

How bad do you want it?  Will you set your day up with intention?

 

3.  Keep your Space Positive.  I know we all say that we are going to "clean up" our Facebook pages, and remove those in our life that don't lift, support and encourage, and we are going keep happy and positive thoughts at all times.  How many of us actually do that?  

The recovering co-dependent in me has to work very hard at this.  I know that so many of us, especially women, are typically "people pleasers" but I have learned from my #soulmagic that those that are truly living their divinely inspired lives, those that are getting after it every day, those that are showing up for their life are the ones that are saying NO unless it is a HELL YES. They are not trying to please you, they are not trying to be something that they are not, and they are not competing for attention or friendship or approval.  They are living their authentic life, they are true to their word and they are loving and lifting and encouraging in every way that they can, allowing haters to hate, and lovers to love.  

Doing this kind of work for yourself, working this process is selfish work.  You have to be willing to let go of the "people pleaser" and just do what you need to do.  This includes actually cleaning up your social media, putting on your Big Tough Girl panties and getting out of bed and doing it any way, walking away from bad relationships, putting the drink down, WHATEVER it is that is NOT keeping your space clean has got to go.  

I am in love with social media.  It truly makes the world go round.  

How many times have we seen this or done this our self??  

You are in a place of healing and processing and you are scrolling through your news feed and all you see is hard, because we all have it, you see negative and you want your space to be clean and free so we make the public post:  I am sick of all the negativity and I am going to delete people that don't post stuff that serves me, if you can't post happy stuff you are gone!"

Guess what?  That is negative... you are looking for attention and you are hoping that people will ask to stay your friend, that they will prove that they are loyal to you. That people will give you permission to have a clean and positive space, you are looking to the approval of others.

"Don't make an announcement that you need better in your life, JUST DO IT."  

You don't owe any one anything and you cannot worry that you might hurt someone by deleting them on social media...do not let others dictate your life!  You have a choice...every single day you have choice to keep your space clean.  Do things happen that make a crappy day?  YES.  We all have them.  Do we have to be sunshine every day?  NO.  Are we allowed to feel whatever the hell we need to feel?  YES.  

You control the space around you, you control what you let influence your mood, your desires, your inspiration and motivation.  What does that look like?  What do you want?  Find people that want those same things and immerse yourself in it!  

IT IS OK TO BE SELFISH.  It is ok to do things that are the VERY best for you and your life.  You are the one that has to live it.  

How bad do you want it?  Will you be your OWN PERMISSION SLIP!  

4.  Stop the Comparisons.  Just stop it!  It is not serving anyone, especially yourself.  Why is it that we think our own very personal and sacred healing that needs to be done should be compared with another's very personal and sacred healing process?  How does that even make sense?  

 "(said with love" who do you think you are?" -Danielle LaPorte

Why is it that we think that others care so much about what we are doing, AND why do we think we need to be anything but who we are!?  I have women message me, brave amazing women and share their jealousy of me.  They think that I am so much further along, that I am some SUPER woman that has my shit together, that I am never effected and just keep this amazing attitude all the time....

PEOPLE PLEASE!!!  

I am a mess.  I am triggered daily, I have many things in my life that are HARD and many demons that I fight.  I make mistakes and take 10 steps back with a tiny bunny hop forward, I am a ashamed in many aspects of my life, I am imperfect and I REALLY need a shower!  

BUT the biggest thing that makes me different from you is that I am NOT you.  YOU ARE YOU and you need to live your life, find what works for you, make it work...AND live YOUR divinely inspired life that is just waiting for YOU, you are the only one that can live it.  You have been given talents that I have not...find them, rediscover your inner goddess and go kick ass!  

This truly is not rocket science. ANY ONE can do it.  We all do it differently, we all go at a different pace...but we can all do it.  STOP comparing, stop looking outside yourself and trying to make and mold your life to look like someone else...including your healing process...the brave face that you put on will only get you so far!  You have to find your own process and you have to look inside yourself at who you are to make it happen! 

How bad do you want it?  Will you stop comparing yourself to others? 

5.  Own It!  Quit giving a shit about what other people think about you.  YOU are the only one that can live your life that can tell your story...everything else has already been done!  Be who you are, imperfections and all.  Does that mean that you get to puff out your chest and act like a fool, bragging about your mistakes, or poor choices or slip-ups?  NO.  It means that you accept your full responsibility in the things that have happened.  You hold yourself accountable where and when you need to.  You understand the things that trigger you, you recognize your "inner critic", and you are working every day and grinding it out, and you get back up even if you fail...again!  

 We cannot truly work through this process if we are not willing to OWN our full, true and authentic story!  If we are leaving parts out to spare some back lash or embarrassment or shame we are not serving our self in this process.  It is NOT easy to throw ourselves under the bus.  It is not easy to admit the darkest secrets about ourselves.  It is not easy to bring those to the surface, face them and find healing and understanding in those things that we hate.  However I have found that the things that I hate about myself the most, my greatest weaknesses have in turn become my greatest tools in this process.

Ashley Mitchell, Big Tough Girl™ 

 

7. Coping with grief and loss

How long is Grief supposed to last?
It's the equivalent of asking, "How high is up?" 
-Dr. Alan Wolfelt

People ask me all the time what I do for myself to work through my grieving process.  The service that I give to others is one of the most fulfilling things that I do in my life but it can be VERY draining emotionally and to re-live some of these pains over and over can be very difficult.  I get extremely tired and overwhelmed and burned out and need to have time for myself, for my own healing.  

Let me start off by saying that I KNOW that the pain you are feeling is real.  I know that the loss seems a fate worse than death.  I am standing with you.  You are not alone and I am hurting with you.  There is hope for the future but right now it is about the present  and that is where we need to start!

"There is not harder, there is just HARD." 

Please remember that your hard is relevant.  Your "hard" and what that means to you is important.  Don't shirk away from sharing your hard, reaching out, owning it because you think that people may not understand or think it is not important.  My hard is not harder than your hard, it is just magnified because it is happening to me.  Having great compassion for others is a skill that I try to perfect every day of my life.  

"Something in one’s life may seem small and insignificant to you, but to them, it may be bringing the walls down."

Most people have hard things in their life, daily struggles, lifelong battles that they are fighting, rough seasons and stages of change and adjustments.  

We all have hard in our life.

One of the greatest things that you can do for yourself is to face your grief.  March out and go toe-to-toe with it.

Why is it that so many remain stuck?  Why is it that so many never fully recover from such a tragic loss?  Refusing to face your grief and hiding from it may work for a little while but I promise you (and I know from personal experience and know with every fiber of my being) that it will surface, that there will come a time in your life that you will have to face your demons and it just gets harder with time.  It takes a great deal of courage, of moxie to face your grief and it hurts and it is hard but it truly will be the best gift you give yourself. 

If I am being honest I would have to say that for the better half of 10 years darkness was my constant companion.  I knew darkness intimately.  It knew how to draw me back in, to keep me without sight, without warmth, without any glimpse of my future.  I remained in this dark place.  A prisoner locked with my own demons and fears and guilt and regret and pain.  Even in the worst of places it brought a familiar comfort that I learned to live in.  

I am learning more and more that those moments were great teachers to me.  Life lessons that shaped my present path.  An appreciation for the light, a deep rooted desire to live in light was formed.  

Living in darkness can cripple you from feeling worthy of the light, yet teaches you to know an opposite so unmistakably that you will never want to live without it again.

I was in so much pain.

My pain was telling me something.  My pain has been telling me that I have been betrayed, hurt, judged, made out to be a bitch, misunderstood, talked about, disrespected, shunned, pushed out, forgotten, taken advantage of, and so much more.  Some by people that claimed to love and care about me, some by those that have never taken two seconds to get to know me.  My pain was telling me that something was wrong, my pain was telling me that something wasn't working properly.  And like the physical pain that is ignored the emotional pain becomes chronic, it becomes crippling, it becomes consuming.  Maybe a little masochistic.  

It is time to BLEED IT OUT.

I can't ignore the pain any longer.  

As I slowly unwrap the wounds, as I finally take the time to acknowledge the pain, clean out the wounds, show them some tender loving care, play doctor to myself I am feeling relief.  I am allowing myself to recognize what has been happening, the power that I have given others, the pain that was caused that I refused to attend to.  

If I were to cut off my finger I would not ignore it and hope and pray that it would fix itself, that it would just go away.  

Why would I do that to the emotional cuts?  I am bleeding out and I am not even paying attention.  

No more.  No more ignoring the pain.  No more pretending that it doesn't matter, no more pretending that I AM FINE when I am not.  

My pain is telling me something.  My pain is telling me that something is not working properly.  It is telling me that relationships have to change, that I have to let go of a few things, that I have to forgive myself and forgive others.  

The pain is lifting, the medication is kicking in, and the wound is breathing and is thankful for the acknowledgement.  It has been shouting at me for months. 

I am doing right by myself, physically and emotionally.  It is time to clean the wounds.

I am learning to manage the pain before it can manage me.  I am learning to say "you should see the other guy".  I am learning to listen to the pain, to locate the damage and to attend to it immediately.  I am letting go, the wounds are breathing, and they feel better, they feel like they are healing...from the inside-out.

You need to allow yourself to feel everything that you are feeling.  Don’t run from it, don’t hide from it.  It really is okay and it is a part of this story.  There is NO such thing as a painless adoption. 

I truly believe that the greatest miracle of adoption is that we do survive! 

Don’t ever allow yourself to ignore what has happened, the loss that you are experiencing and the mourning that must take place.  It is VITAL for your forward movement.  Listen to your body, to your soul and your pain.  It is telling you something.  Pay attention.  Don’t ignore the wound, it will cripple you BUT remember ALL wounds take time to heal and there is always a scar. 

Be patient with yourself, love yourself through the process, take your time and don’t forget to breathe.

Ashley Mitchell, Big Tough Girl™