“July 28, 2021 – Ashley
‘Tu me manques’ – You are missing from me. Now, you are not.
I am sitting in a Kava Bar in Portland, Oregon as I write this. This is one of my happy places. Social, familiar, nurturing. I needed a gentle cocoon to land in after dropping my first-born daughter and two of my grandchildren off at the Portland Airport. My tears will not be judged here, should they choose to come – and, here they are.
1986. The year I became pregnant with my first child. I was 17 years old, my boyfriend, Brett, was 16. I was living alone in an apartment 11 blocks from my high school and was completely emotionally unregulated. My father had rented an apartment for me the the last week in May, 1986 due to his wife giving him an ultimatum: ‘Me or her.’ He chose her citing, ‘One day you will grow up and have a family. If I leave her to help you, I will grow old alone.’ The next week I would turn 18 and move in to a seedy studio apartment. My neighbors were prostitutes and drug dealers. There was no door knob and the lock didn’t work, so I shoved butter knives into the door jam to lock my door at night.
Life was chaotic, lonely, confusing, and sad. Cocaine, partying, and sadness became my emotional staples.
I was in denial and tried to ignore the fact that I hadn’t had a period in months. Never mind that I was starting to show and I could feel the baby move inside me. One day I mustered up enough courage to go to Planned Parenthood to be checked for an STD. They told me I had chlamydia and sent me for a full pelvic exam. I didn’t have chlamydia after all. Instead, I had a baby growing inside me.
The next step was an ultrasound to see how far along I was. The image of my baby and her heartbeat deepened me in a way that is indescribable. The love I felt for her was already beyond my 17 years of lived experience. I remember telling the nurse that I wanted to keep the baby but I was considering an abortion. She said, ‘I am not supposed to tell you this, but I am a member of a church and I believe there is a family out there who is praying for a baby. Perhaps you would consider adoption, instead. Besides, you’re already five months along and the process of termination is not healthy for either of you. You would labor and experience everything that goes along with having a baby. Only, the baby would be dead.’
After seeing her heartbeat and hearing those words, there was no way I could end her life.
I went to my boyfriend, Brett, and told him I was pregnant. The words he said were a blur but I do remember him saying, ‘I can’t do this. Please don’t tell my mom.’ That was the end of our relationship. I felt alone and abandoned.
My mother’s severe mental health issues and my father’s addictions played a huge role in how I coped with adverse experiences. I didn’t know the words or the dynamic as a 17 year old girl, but, I believed I was responsible for how they behaved toward me. I felt rejected, worthless, and unwanted. This dynamic made it nearly impossible to ask them for support during this vulnerable time.
One day, while working at the same place my father worked, a co-worker approached me and said, ‘Wow! How far along are you?’ I was mortified and said I was just ‘fat.’ I had not yet told my father. That night, while he was giving me a ride home to my empty apartment, I told him I was pregnant. His reply, ‘Is it a boy? If it is, I will take care of it.’ The gender was not confirmed, but I knew she was a girl. My heart sunk. I felt even more alone.
The next couple of months were filled with blurry chaos. I was too embarrassed to show up to school with a growing belly. People were starting to talk, and I felt humiliated and ashamed. So, I stopped going and failed my last semester of high school with 1.5 credits remaining to graduate.
The year long lease on my apartment was up on May 31, and my father said he was done paying my rent. I hated calling my mother for help. The last interaction I had had with her was at age 14 and her telling my father to ‘either come get her or I am going to kill her then kill myself.’ Everything inside me was screaming and terrified to ask a woman who abused me, emotionally and physically, for help. Who else, though? In a few weeks, I would be homeless again. In two months, I would be giving birth. So, I called her, disclosed my situation, and moved in with her.
I asked her to help me make my decision. She said she could not and it was mine to make, though she pointed out all the reasons I would not be able to care for a child.
Informing my decision was a perfect storm of the effects of inconsistent parenting, lack of knowledge of social supports, untreated trauma, sexual abuse, and substance abuse. All of which contributed to my low self esteem and believing I was not worthy or capable of parenting a child.
My mother was dating a pastor from the Seventh Day Adventist church at the time. She made an appointment with a lawyer to draw up paperwork and refer me to the adoption agency. All of this was happening without my full buy-in. My emotions were all over the place. I thought we were just going to talk about my options. Instead, an adoption process was under way. I surrendered to the process and believed it would be best for my baby and for me. After all, I believed she would be better off with parents who were capable.
I was able to carefully choose the couple who would eventually become her adoptive parents. I scoured through dozens of profiles until I found the perfect pair.
The day came that I would give birth. I had told the hospital staff that I did not want to hold her until I had signed the adoption papers. I KNEW I would want to keep her if I had, even though I was told I could change my mind within six months of signing the papers. How could I possibly do that to a couple who were aching to be parents? Give them a baby and take her away? I didn’t want them to feel like I did in that moment.
I named her Jessica Ambrose, sweet nectar of the Gods. I also made sure the ‘e’ in her name had an accent over it like my name does so, in case she were to look for me, she would have a clue that it was me whom she belonged to.
The hospital allowed me to stay for three days. Those three days I held my little sweet baby girl non-stop. First kisses, first cuddles, first bath, first diaper change, first bottle, first outfit.
On the third day, the woman from the agency came and said it was time. Time for her to go. I couldn’t let go of her, I cried and gripped her. She came and took her from my arms and walked out the door with my baby. I slumped against the wall, bawling my eyes out. I felt all the life being sucked out of me.
Going home with empty arms and breasts full of life-giving milk is a torture I would wish on no one.
I pivoted between anger and depression. My mother blamed me for giving my baby up for adoption and called me a ‘wh*re’ for getting pregnant. I returned to what I knew would help me cope: drugs and partying. This time, the using was heavier than ever. My pain was, too.
The self-destruction eventually lead to a marriage with a man who was much like my own parents, abusive, addicted, and negligent. During that relationship I would have six more children. Addiction, homelessness, abuses, and incarceration followed.
What also eventually followed was recovery and healing.
In 2007, I was living in South Florida. Every year, during the moth of July, especially around my daughter’s birthday, I would get really depressed. Stay in bed for a couple of weeks, sleeping the lows off. That year, while staring at the full moon in the middle of the night, I was thinking about my first born. A strong feeling came over me and told me to look on the internet for a free adoption registry. I clicked on the first selection and entered my information into the registry’s search engine. The results came back with one entry. As I read the entry, my heart started to pound. It was her. My daughter, describing me! She had written it when she was around 17 years old. I woke my sleeping partner and said, ‘I think I just found my daughter!’ My partner reminded me that she’s a teenager so she must have MySpace. I searched MySpace for her using the name that was on the registry. There she was…I knew it the second I saw her beautiful face.
There was also a phone number listed on the site. I grappled with the decision to call her. My parter, once again, reasoned, ‘If you were looking for your mother, would you care what time of day she called?’ It was 2:00 am, after all. I called and left a message. I later would learn that my daughter was standing in the kitchen with her adoptive mother when I called. Both were in shock.
I messaged her on MySpace. To my delight, we began corresponding and continued to develop our relationship.
In the days following, I contacted her bio-dad, Brett, and told him I had found our daughter. He said he was in shock and had a lot of emotions coming up, too. A few weeks later I received a letter of amends from him. That amends helped me when I didn’t even know I needed it.
The relationship with my daughter has deepened over time, though I still felt like I was not worthy to call myself her ‘mother.’ When her first baby was born, my entire universe rippled out. When her second baby died in the womb in 2012, one of my daughters, whom had also lost her unborn baby just five months prior, traveled with me to Pennsylvania from Oregon to be with Ashley. This tragic loss was also an opportunity to reunite with my daughter since she left my arms in 1987 and to meet my oldest grand daughter for the first time.
Seeing her for the first time was one of the best days of my life. I felt fulfilled holding her. A huge hole in my heart was finally fulfilled. Meeting her adoptive mother during our stay was powerful. I remember being completely overcome with emotion, bursting into tears, looking her mother in the eyes, and telling her how grateful I was for her and her husband raising my daughter.
Years have gone by and our relationship has been light and cordial as we have communicated via social media and text messages. Though she was ever present with me in spirit, I still felt like I needed to physically be with her. My arms longed to hold her and my grand babies. This ancient ache never really went away.
For her 34th birthday this year, July 24, 2021, her sisters and I purchased airfare for her and her two children to come and visit her birthplace in Oregon for a week.
The weeks leading up to her arrival were filled with so much joy and anxiety. ‘Will she like me? Am I good enough for her? What if she doesn’t like the way I am. What if I cuss too much for her?’
It was like a time capsule from 1987 was being opened for the first time. All of the memories, emotions, and even physical sensations – psychosomatic sensations – came up.
The same daughter who traveled with me to see Ashley in 2012 went with me to pick her and my grandbabies up at the airport. What a sweet moment. To hold her again.
In the days that followed, Ashley met, for the first time, her biological father, most of her brothers and sisters, their spouses, and many of her nieces and nephews. We spent our time communing in nature near water and on a mountain top and at the sea. My family was together. My mama heart was, and is, so full.
Ashley, her children, and I took a drive to see Mt. Hood. During the drive, I had an epiphany. I was holding her hand and the feeling of our hands melding together in perfect alchemy activated a memory. I shared with her the promise I made to her when she was three days old. That very same day, July 27, 34 years ago, I looked into her pretty little baby eyes and said, ‘I promise letting go of you will not be in vain. I will accomplish all of my dreams and goals. I will finish high school, graduate from college, and be happy. I will make you proud of me. I will be the best version of me when the day comes that I get to see you again.’
The years in her absence, I not only graduated high school and college, I am also eight years sober and emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy. I have been self-employed since 2009 and own a thriving holistic healing business, am an artisan, licensed massage therapist, certified drug and alcohol counselor, kundalini yoga teacher, infant massage instructor, chaplain, minister, grandmother of 15, and mother of seven adults who make my heart soar every day.
To seal the deal, I received a text from Ashley the other day. It said, ‘Just wanted to say I LOVE YOU!!! And I’m SO incredibly proud of you and who you are.’ The epiphany: I believe she came home when I was able to fulfill my promise to her. Yeah, that.
Even though she returned to Pennsylvania a few days ago, she is no longer missing from me. Home is where the heart is, and my baby is home.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Desirée Rudder from Salem, Oregon. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more touching stories about adoption here:
‘The nurse came in and said, ‘Her new parents are ready for her.’ Only 15, I kissed her soft baby cheek, and placed her into the arms of her mama.’: Teen mom embarks on ‘beautiful’ open adoption journey, ‘I couldn’t have picked better parents’
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