Motherhood has no definition but your own. Mama Ashley describes her definition with her motherhood story that started at the age of 18 years old to today. She has climbed mountains alone, found strength from within, and has come out a mother. She shares her story in her own words;
It’s the greatest, most-awful, wonderfully terrifying, fear soaked, hilarious ride on the planet.
And yet, there are so many of us; mothers. Despite the saga, mothers continue to be made. Born of good salt and fire each one of us is as alike to our sisters as we are different. I’m honored to be a part of the life-giving tribe and to be able to tell my story.
My wild ride started when I was just 18 years old. I had just graduated high school when I found out I was pregnant. Shocked is not even in the realm of how surprised I was. I was a ‘good girl’, very very committed to my church and its youth group, active in several clubs in school, an athlete.
Becoming a mom was something I always wanted…eventually. I had dreams of a big house with 8 sons filling every room with noise and curiosity. This was not that. This was terror and confusion and lots of crying. Mostly out of fear. There’s nothing quite like teenage pregnancy to teach a girl who her real friends are. I lost a lot of people I thought were close to me when word got out. I was kicked out of my church’s youth group, told that if I had just ‘taken care of it’ this wouldn’t be an issue. I lost friends and my religion seemingly overnight.
Telling my parents was as awful as I imagined it would be. More tears, disappointment, and then brochures on adoption, abortion and even ‘camps’ I could go to for unwed pregnant teenagers. Then silence, my family didn’t talk to me for weeks. I credit the frequent hospitalizations I experienced to ease them into my life again, nothing quite like mortality to bring everyone together.
During this time I was constantly encouraged by people to terminate. I couldn’t understand why, I had no experience, no clue and only hope to cling to but it didn’t seem to me that fear or how hard raising a child would be at my age justification for ending my pregnancy. I’m thankful every day for my decision.
My pregnancy continued to be a rough as it started. I have Hyperemesis Gravidarum, affectionately called HG. Somewhere between 0.5 to 2% of women experience it and it’s BRUTAL. I was losing an average of 8 pounds every three days, major dehydration, eventually had to be put on a feeding tube, have injections every 6 hours, hooked to monitors and have a nurse come to my home every day. This went on the entire time. I had no idea what kind of birth I wanted, my OB at the time talked down to me and made me feel ashamed so I couldn’t talk to him. I didn’t go to parenting classes, mostly because everyone everywhere was judgmental and rude.
When it came time to have my surprise baby, I was terrified. I think the level of fear I experienced heightened my pain, I remember the nurse looking over me saying ‘I don’t think she can do this’. It was super helpful. I liked her a lot. 12 hours of labor later I was only dilated to a 3, the doctor had already ruptured my water (ouch) and I was on Pitocin. The medication caused my baby to experience stress and his heartrate dropped significantly twice. In preparation for the worst I was given an epidural. When it dropped to 66 beats the third time and didn’t climb back up, it was time for emergency surgery. This was not explained to me.
Instead what happened were alarms going off, my doctor and nurses rushed in, the doctor, as he was leaning over me, screamed “we have to save the baby” and violently turned on onto my side, pushed an oxygen mask over my mouth and wheeled me in to the operating room. I was alone. The anesthesiologist was nice, I remember him.
During the commotion my best friend managed to find my boyfriend. He had stepped out to get our bags when everything exploded. He was thrown into the operating room, dressed in full surgical attire and about as white as the wall he was pressed against. When they started the surgery I was quickly made aware that the epidural was placed incorrectly. I. Could. Feel. Everything. I was screaming through the entire procedure. Then I heard the most beautiful sound I have ever heard, my son’s first cry, he was born.
I met him briefly before he was whisked away to NICU and I drifted in and out of consciousness in recovery. I endured several more traumatic experiences including hemorrhaging and requiring an emergency D&C to remove the pieces of uterine wall not removed during surgery, and watching my new baby have seizures for 6 months and go through so many painful and scary tests, which all turned out to be due to the trauma he experienced in birth-thankfully no lasting damage, but I want to get to the good stuff now.
My son. Colin.
He’s 12 now. He is everything that is good on this Earth, he is magnificent. And I’m not just saying that because I’m his mom. If you met him, you’d agree. He has the most pure heart, a fiery wit, he is kind and gentle and fair. We spent a lot of time together because for most of his life I was a single parent. I would try to balance school and two jobs and raising my sweet boy and it was hard. There were times when I was so broke that he’d have dinner and I’d make some excuse as to why I wasn’t eating. The truth was, there just wasn’t enough. But he always had. He was always sheltered, clothed, fed, happy and loved. I’d spend an entire paycheck on Christmas or birthdays so he wouldn’t go without. It wasn’t needed; Colin is so loved and spoiled by his grandparents and family that he wants for nothing. But I’m a sucker for that boy.
Flash forward to 2013. I don’t know if I was a saint or hero in my past life, it’s the only logic I have for being this lucky. First, my great love as a mother with my incredible son Colin, and now this. I meet my future husband Brandon. I thought Colin was the only truly incredible being of selfless light on the planet. I was wrong, there are two.
I was instantly in love with Brandon and from our first date on we were inseparable. So much so that on my 30th birthday, after only 11 sweet months of dating, he proposed. When you celebrate a birthday and a proposal sometimes fate smiles on you and you get more than you bargained for. A surprise pregnancy leads to the wedding date changing from August to March and a quick trip to the courthouse to make it legal! I wouldn’t change a thing. Remember that HG I was telling you about, the extreme nausea, vomiting, dehydrating-yup, had that this time around too. Ah, the joys of pregnancy. This entire experience was different. I wanted support and a team of people that omitted love. I wanted a peaceful birth and to bring my baby into calm.
We had to interview quite a few doctors to find the right one, but man did we hit the jackpot. Our doctor, Lisa Solinas, is a gem and a rockstar and a badass rolled into one. She was everything I dreamed a doctor would be and made my pregnancy easier by being so incredibly human. I really wanted to VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) but due to my major scar tissue from the first surgery the risk of tearing and bleeding out was too great.
So, we planned for a c-section. Despite not having a VBAC I still wanted to experience birthing classes. I found a great center, full of natural earthy-crunchy goodness and we attended with gusto! I quickly learned that C-sections are shamed in some communities. Yes, all hail the vaginal birth, but as long as the baby and mother are healthy there is cause for celebrating! The frequent and intense c-section shaming made us leave the class and close the book on them all together.
I didn’t have a choice in my section the first time and didn’t really the second time either, that was hard enough. I was not going to let someone else’s misplaced judgement ruin my beautiful birth experience. C-Section is birth.
October 29th couldn’t get here soon enough but when it finally arrived I was scared. Knowing you’re going to have major surgery and knowing your baby is coming and you can’t really help is terrifying. At least for me. My amazing doctor gave me much comfort. Usually for a repeat section the doctor will use the same incision point from a past cesarean to minimize the scarring on mom but I didn’t want that. I was going to have given birth to two boys, I wanted two scars. They had different stories and I wanted to honor that. My doctor smiled and obliged. Two hours later I met my babe. A perfect second son. No trauma, so scary business, fully medicated and numb. It was glorious.
Although Trent’s birth was peaceful I experienced crippling post-partum depression and anxiety. We had a very difficult time nursing although we finally got there and were able to enjoy the blissful time for 10 short months until he self-weened.
The stress of not being able to nurse definitely added to my PPD and eventually the anxiety got so bad I had total agoraphobia. I was so scared all of the time. I felt paralyzed and paranoid and would cry for hours. I spent a lot of time contemplating suicide. I had so much love for my children but I also had so much fear and so much sadness. I felt as if I could feel every neglected child’s sorrow, every abused child’s pain. I felt everything everyone was experiencing and I was drowning in it all. I didn’t want to live like that, I couldn’t (and still don’t) understand why we humans treat each other the way we do. The atrocities we commit, the suffering we cause. It consumed me and I felt so frail. I felt as if I was made of very thin glass. And my shell was full of fractures, and these cracks would branch out and I was full of web like breaks all over. I feared I was not strong enough to stay whole and would eventually collapse.
Thankfully I had an ally. My doctor, Dr. Kate Peters understood. She spent so much time with me. She provided support, resources and compassion. She understood PPD and its seriousness but never once made me feel crazy, even though I felt crazy. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I didn’t have her during that fragile time.
Raising two boys is only painful when you grow your second heart. One for each. It seems like I have had one son in one lifetime and my second son in another because the experience was completely opposite for each. Going through everything that I went through with Colin’s journey into existence made me stronger and more grateful and I call upon those gifts often.
Motherhood is the most humbling journey one can embark upon. I spend so much time worrying if I’m doing it right, if I made the right call, if I’m too soft or too hard. I love my boys so much I can’t breathe and there is no higher honor then being their momma.
What word would you describe how you felt when you found out you were pregnant at 18 years old and define?
I didn’t want to be a statistic, I wanted to beat the odds. I had no intention of being persuaded by others to decide my fate or the fate of my child’s. I have never had a problem with cutting my loses, sometimes it hurt but I’d rather remove dead weight than carry it around with me. So I wanted to defy the opinions of the people that thought I couldn’t do it, defy the belief that it was wrong, defy the stereotypes of unwed teenage mothers.
If you could give yourself advice when you were 18 years old what would you say?
I would say, give yourself forgiveness. I have a lot of guilt about choices I made when I was young. I would say tell myself that all the battles to get ahead would eventually be worth it and that the future is bright!
Someone out there is probably going through a hard pregnancy and is feeling down, what positive advice would you give them?
Today is not tomorrow, That nine months is not forever, That this too will end. Pregnancy is HARD, it’s all hard, but it’s so so worth it in the end. Sometimes the fight is bigger than ourselves but it’s never bigger than our heart. I would say try to refocus, think of all the women that have come before you, think of the sisters that gestate and deliver in fields, jungles, savannahs and call to them. Channel their ferocious strength and remember you’ve got the same moxy. We, women, are built to do this, to give life. We are badass creatures of unbreakable design. And if that doesn’t work, put on some Beyonce and waddle to ‘Girls’ cause baby-you got this.
Postpartum Depression is SO hard, how did you get through it?
I’m not through it yet. Almost a year after T’s birth and I’m still fragile and feeling the full effects. I use a multitude of tools because, like any crisis of self, each day’s emotions can be different than the days’ past so I need a variety of tools. It’s important to identify your triggers. Sometimes there is no explanation for a breakdown but sometimes there’s a pattern, often you get both. Avoid the things that chip and your exterior and harm you, sometimes you have to unplug, or unfriend or avoid but prevention is a serious key to health. I do earthing, good nutrition is huge so I try to be mindful of my physical health when I’m emotionally strong to help when I’m breaking. I have a GREAT workbook, the Post-Partum Workbook for Anxiety and Depression, I got it on Amazon. I have my doctor, Kate Peters, and I try to remind myself that being paralyzed with fear of the uncertain robs me of the joys of the present. I don’t want to live in the darkness I’m in, I fight tooth and nail to get out but it’s so damn hard. I try to get outside and walk, if I’m not too panicky this works well. The fresh air and sunshine do wonders to a bleak soul. But, somedays I have no strength and I am so fragile that I stay locked up inside with my heart racing and just try to survive until my husband comes home. It’s not an easy journey and I don’t have enough answers but if you know someone experiencing it, please help them not to experience it alone, loneliness can be a killer.
My kids. I truly believe that we as parents, have to work every day to earn our kids love. I believe this because kids give love unconditionally, biology is funny that way. No matter how terrible we behave, these tiny beautiful creatures love us. We need to earn that. They love us when we’re cranky and exhausted, when we’re on our phones distracted, when we’re short tempered, they love us. It’s a huge honor and responsibility. One that I want to be worthy of everyday. I have to remind myself constantly to be deserving because it isn’t always easy but they deserve more than my best so I have to try.
Now that you have told the Mother Effin Truth, who do you want to nominate to tell their story as a mother? And why?
I would like to nominate a mother that truly inspires me, Sarah Dodson. I considered Sarah to be my sister-in-law, she is married to my cousin whom I love as a brother. Sarah has an incredible way of connecting with her babies. She is a geologist and shares her wonder and curiosity of this great planet with her children. She connects and engages so fluidly with them, she inspires me to celebrate their wonder and push their minds!