“August 19, 2003 was the day my whole world changed. Every detail of this day is, for better or worse, ingrained in my memory; It was the day I became a mom. My name is Ashley. I was born in 1983 and became the second child to my parents, Dan and Colleen. My dad was in the Airforce and was stationed in North Dakota at the time. My mom suffered several miscarriages in the four years between my brother and me, and on a March morning after a scheduled cesarean, my dad got to tell her, ‘You got your girl.’
We didn’t stay in North Dakota long after, and in fact, shortly after my first birthday, my parents divorced. This would be marriage and divorce number one for them. As part of the divorce agreement, my brother who was then five went to live with our dad, and I stayed with our mom. The following years would have my mom and me moving to Florida, where she eventually fell in love and remarried. While I was too young to really remember much of this time in our lives, the parts I do remember aren’t great; He was not a great man and didn’t treat my mom well at all.
My mom and him divorced and we moved into my grandparent’s condo, where we stayed until I started kindergarten. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My mom worked hard, which meant I got to spend weekends taking trips to their second house in Deland, Florida, and weekend trips to the Florida Keys. Some of my best childhood memories are riding in the back of my grandpa’s car, listening to Debby Gibson on my Walkman, and stopping at rest areas for picnics.
Our first apartment was a two-bedroom two-bathroom on the second floor. I would go on to meet one of my lifelong best friends in this neighborhood. As far as I was concerned, I had a normal upbringing. All the neighborhood kids played manhunt after school until our parents called us home. My mom would often go outside to play in the rain with me and teach me how to make mud pies. By this time in my life, my brother and father were living in Georgia, and for a couple of weeks every year, I would go spend time with them, and then my brother would come to spend a couple of weeks with my mom and me.
It wasn’t an ideal arrangement. My dad remarried and had another son, and before I started middle school, I had a new stepbrother and a half-brother. I remember going to visit and feeling like ‘this is what a family is supposed to look like.’ They had a nice house, nice cars, a boat, and what I associated with a normal family with a mom and a dad in the same house. Around this time, my mom fell in love and married husband number three.
Middle school started and we moved into a townhome. Having lived in a condo and an apartment, this townhouse was huge. It was a two-story home with two master bedrooms. All of my friends couldn’t believe I had a walk-in closet, bathroom, and balcony in my room. I had sleepovers with friends, did gymnastics and cheerleading. My mom worked two to three jobs sometimes just to cover the expenses. It was around this time, while all of my friends were going boy crazy, when I realized I wasn’t only attracted to boys like all the other girls.
This wasn’t a big deal, seeing as my aunt was an out-lesbian and my mom had several out-gay friends as well. It was Miami in the mid-90s after all. I wouldn’t date a woman until my twenties, but we’ll get there. If you’re keeping track so far, my mom had been married three times and divorced twice, and my father was on his second marriage. This is important because I genuinely feel it shaped how I viewed marriage and relationships in general.
Shortly after I started middle school, and an altercation at my dad’s, my brother came to live with us. At the time I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I not only went from essentially an only child to a little sister, but I had to share my room. My big dream room was now half his. All of this is funny to me now, and I would go back and do it all over again in a heartbeat. We fought, oh boy did we fight. It wasn’t an easy adjustment, but just a few years later, he was graduating high school and we were packing up the moving truck again, only without husband number three.
Our next move meant I once again had my own room. A few things bring a teenage girl joy, and personal space is definitely one of them. Up until this time in my life, I would say I was your average student and preteen. I was in advanced classes and liked to do well in school. I did the normal experimenting and fell for boy after boy. High school changed all of it. I always felt more mature than my peers and actively sought out attention from anyone older. For this and several other reasons, I often found myself in situations which would make my mother shiver if she ever found out.
I went to my first club before I was 15 on South Beach. I had a group of friends and we only needed one mom from the group to be cool with dropping us off and we would all have a sleepover at her house. Was it a smart choice? Absolutely not. Did I have some of the best experiences of my life? You bet I did. My first real boyfriend graduated high school the year before I started freshman year. I lied and told my mom he was still in high school, which only lasted a few months before she found out. This would be my first experience dating someone controlling. Over the next couple of years, we dated and we broke up more times than I can count. He would break up with me and then be waiting in the bushes outside my house for me when I came home. This must be love, right?
High school was hard. I didn’t feel like I fit in, not even with the group of friends I had known since elementary school. I now know it wasn’t them. It was always me. I was in such a rush to grow up. By my sophomore year, I was skipping classes regularly. My mom would find out and ground me, but then she was off to work and with her went all of her restrictions. After some negotiating on my part, I somehow convinced my mom to let me drop out of traditional high school. I thought if I could just graduate high school early and start working, I would be happy.
I did get my diploma early from an alternate high school and even had a cap and gown graduation while all my friends were at junior prom. I started working as a receptionist in downtown Miami at 17, and as I got off the metro rail every day and walked with the rest of the crowd dressed in their best business attire, I thought, ‘This is it.’ It was not. What should have been a time of celebrating my high school graduation, was instead yet another move. My mom got a job offer a couple of hours away and told me I could leave my job and move with her, or I could get my own place on my own. This is how I learned even though I had been masquerading as a grown-up, I was in fact still just a child.
We settled into our new apartment and I started serving tables at the restaurant my mom was managing. This seemingly normal event is the exact moment that altered the course of my life. I enjoyed this stage of my life. My mom and I got along great without fighting about school and the rest of the teenage angst. I worked and met friends in our new town. One of those new friends worked in the kitchen. He was in his late twenties, very attractive, and on work release; just my type. I will say initially, because of the age difference and the obvious living situation, there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity to hang out outside of work. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know no one is more flattering than the back-of-the-house staff.
For my nineteenth birthday, my friend and I decided to save up our money and go spend a month in California. We spent two weeks with my aunt in San Francisco, hanging out in the park and exploring all the thrift shops in Haight Ashbury. The next two weeks were spent with my other aunt in LA driving down the coast in her yellow jeep, and even a day trip down to San Diego, where we took the train into Mexico. I didn’t know it then, but this was my version of a gap year and was the last normal thing I did as a teenager. We got back home and I was ignited with the travel bug. The only thing burning brighter was my feelings for the guy who worked in the kitchen who was officially free and living on his own.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pursue him at first. By summer, we were officially dating and I had moved in. Infatuation doesn’t even cover it; I was madly in love with this man. I was so in love I overlooked all the red flags. By Thanksgiving I was hooked, and in the early morning of December 2002, a little stick told me I was pregnant. Getting pregnant at 19 brings all kinds of comments and suggestions from people you would never think of. Although I wasn’t in high school anymore, and could legally vote, I was again and again told I wouldn’t be able to provide a child with the life they deserved.
Telling my dad came at a time when he was going through divorce number two and working on marriage number three, and although concerned, he was ultimately happy for me. My mom was more than accepting, and after the man I loved with all my heart told me if I planned on following through with the pregnancy I would be doing so alone, she took me back in and for the next nine months helped me plan for the arrival of my son. While I was pregnant, I tried over and over to make it work with his father, even as he dated other girls. After one particular fight, I went into pre-term labor due to stress and decided it was enough.
I spent the last few weeks of my pregnancy on bed rest with my mom by my side, just like we did all those years while I was growing up. I was induced and gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby boy early in the morning of August 19, 2003, and named him Ryan James Foulds; James after my grandfather on my mom’s side. The very second I laid my eyes on him I knew there was nothing I wouldn’t do for him. The nurses all fused around everything I did, and even though I told them I had taken all the classes and read all the books, I still felt inadequate. I knew if I was going to prove them all wrong, I had to make some changes. I didn’t want my son to grow up with a struggling single mom. I wanted him to have a nice house, a nice car, two parents, and if we were lucky, maybe even a boat.
The first few weeks after I had Ryan were hard. I’ll be the first to admit I was overtired, and just as those nurses said, I was underprepared. As a single mom with an infant to take care of, I had to go back to work when Ryan was six weeks old. Dropping him off the first time felt like leaving a part of my heart. The end of the year found us settled into our new routine, and I even signed up to start taking classes at the local community college. I was on my way to fulfilling all the promises I made to my son those first hours after meeting. My newfound self-confidence also drew the attention of my ex, Ryan’s dad. I’ll be honest, it didn’t take much persuading on his part to get back together, and by the new year, we were all three under the same roof.
I finished the semester of school, and on the advice from Ryan’s father, we decided my time was better spent working and being home to take care of the baby. I say we because all the extra hours away from him did feel like torture, and this is the life I always wanted, isn’t it? Life was bliss and on Valentine’s Day, I came home from work to an engagement ring. I was someone’s fiancé and my son had both of his parents together. I didn’t think things could get any better until spring when I found out I was pregnant again. This time around, friends and family were more accepting. They had seen how well we were doing, and with us engaged to be married, it all fit into the narrative better.
I should have known things were off when every time I brought up planning a wedding or even going down to the courthouse I would get shut down. A lot of the old behaviors started up again, and I did my best to hide just how bad it was from everyone. Things started to go downhill quickly when a girl he had dated while I was pregnant with Ryan showed up at our house with a baby of her own. I used my own money to pay for a paternity test, and after it came back positive, encouraged him to take responsibility. By the end of my second pregnancy, it escalated to both verbal and physical abuse. I told myself he was just stressed and it would get better after I gave birth, just like it did the first time. It did not.
Chase Daniel Foulds was born February 22, 2005, just 18 months after his brother. They say your heart expands to love all your children, and I didn’t think it was possible. Three weeks later, with both boys in their car seats in the back seat of their dad’s car, he punched me in the face. Looking back, leaving after our last fight was the easy part. I knew I couldn’t let my boys be raised in a home like this. As much as I wanted a picture-perfect family, I knew this wasn’t it. Just like before, my mom opened her door to me, but this time with my two sons in tow. I started back to work and tried to adjust to our new normal yet again. The first year of Chase’s life was like Groundhog Day. So much of it is a blur of waking up and just trying to survive to the next day. After Chase’s first birthday I finally started to see the light and feel like myself again.
One night I decided my mom and I needed a girl’s night out. We met up with a friend and went downtown to have dinner and listen to some live music. This would be the next major decision, which would forever change my life path. Cori Anne Graham was sitting at a table next to us. I immediately saw her and was drawn to her. I couldn’t stop looking at her. She had long blond surfer hair and was dressed in a laid back effortless style. I remember thinking she looked like the actress from Blue Crush, and I was without a doubt smitten. Little did I know the feeling was mutual. After striking up a conversation with her and her friend, I asked her for her number for a friend of mine. A few songs later, I found myself following her to the bathroom and asking her if I could use the number for myself. She agreed.
She reignited the life in me. I wanted to know her. I wanted her to know me. There was just one thing: I had two babies at home. Who would want me when all it was left at the end of most days was an exhausted mess? Cori, that’s who. She didn’t hesitate or even flinch when I told her. She couldn’t have been more different from anyone I ever dated, personality-wise, and was in fact the first girl I ever dated. We tried to take it slow, as slow as lesbians can in any relationship. Everything came so easy to us. There was no cat and mouse chase. We both knew we were starting to have strong feelings for each other. The first year, we did put the brakes on when things started moving a little too fast for me. I knew from experience anything beginning in chaos ends in chaos.
Everyone knows being in an unhealthy relationship is hard but I think being in your first healthy relationship is hard too. I don’t think anyone has ever loved me the way she does, even when I feel less than loveable. A year after we met, we decided to take the next step and move in together. New relationships are exciting and scary. Giving so much of yourself to one person, and constantly waiting for something to go wrong is exhausting. There was a lot of learning those first couple of years. Learning it wasn’t over after every disagreement, learning there was someone out there who could love my boys just as much as I do, and learning old wounds don’t go away just because your situation improved.
Three years into dating we had many talks about adding another baby to our brood. I like to call this phase the urge to merge. We knew if we were going to try, we wanted them to be close in age and it would take time and planning. I assumed Cori would want to carry, seeing as I already had done it twice, but she decided it wasn’t for her. We decided to go with a known donor after looking through donor profiles. It was important for us, for our future child, to be able to make a connection should they choose when the time came. Much to our surprise, we found out I was pregnant after the first try. I woke up craving pizza with onions and just knew it. I took a test and immediately drove this positive test to where she was working. We couldn’t believe it as we laughed and cried holding each other in the parking lot.
After my first two pregnancies and everything I dealt with, I finally got to experience all the joys people talk about. Belly kisses, foot rubs, late-night snack runs and being told I was the most beautiful person on the planet. December 2, 2008, Bailey Anne Foulds was born, and just like that my heart grew again. Every detail down to the drive home from the hospital was different from my first two. Watching the boys meet their new sister was the sweetest moment ever. Although they were disappointed we didn’t name her Spike, they quickly fell in love with her just like everyone else. Same-sex marriage wasn’t legal yet, but it didn’t stop friends and family from asking us when we were going to take the next step, for most people, the first step.
Our answer was always the same, both of us had parents with multiple marriages. Three for my mom and Dad and two for her mom. If anything, I felt we were safer if we didn’t, since historically it didn’t work out for our families. The next six years we went through a lot of ups and downs, but the one thing which remained consistent was how much we loved each other. Thanksgiving of 2014, while at our friend’s house for dinner with our three children, Cori asked me to be her wife. We weren’t aware all the laws were about to change. All we knew was, after nine years, our relationship was already more successful than most, and we wanted to celebrate our love with everyone we loved most. We were legally married in the courthouse at 12:01 a.m. on January 6, 2015, while we planned our ceremony and reception for the following March.
What’s better than getting to marry the love of your life? Getting to marry them twice in three months. The same year, Cori got her dream job when she was hired as a Fire Fighter. I think our friends would say we live a very ‘normal’ life. Between work and school car lines, my life has turned out exactly how I always dreamed it would. Ryan just graduated high school and joined the Marines. Chase is a junior in high school and is an impressive swimmer. Bailey is in 7th grade and manages to get straight A’s, while going to swim practice six days a week and running track before school. If you would have told me life could be this good, I would have never believed you. I never got to experience the life we are able to provide for our kids, and the best part is I get to do it with my best friend. I often wish I could go back and give 19-year-old me a big hug and let her know it’s going to be OK, and who knows, maybe one day we’ll even get a boat.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashley Foulds from South Florida. You can follow her journey on Instagram and TikTok. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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