This week we’re continuing with “The Known Mama" interview series with Ashley. Putting it bluntly, she has one of the most inclusively loving hearts. Her compassion is undeniable for those in her circle—her family and her community. This fiercely committed mama resides in Little Rock, Arkansas, though as you’ll read, her motherhood journey has been influenced far beyond state lines. She and her husband, Nick, have four littles (ages 6 and below) that include biological, adoptive and foster kids. Ashley’s mothering is a steadfast example of sacrificial giving that will inspire you to love without ceasing. Please, read on.
THE KNOWN MAMA: Because it’s important to note how you’re really doing coming into this chat, how are you doing in two words?
ASHLEY: Overwhelmed. Taken care of.That’s not two words, but (haha). I’m being cared for in my community in the middle of my feeling overwhelmed.
TKM: That’s a pretty great place to be—not necessarily the feeling of being overwhelmed, but being loved on when we need it most. I wanted to share your story with readers because your motherhood story includes biological, foster and adopted kids. And as a result, there are so many dynamics you’re going through.
TKM: Could you share a little bit about your mothering story?
ASHLEY: Sure. My husband Nick and I have been together for eleven years. Adoption was always something we wanted, but we thought we’d have one or two biological kids and then adopt (haha). I’m laughing because that’s not at all how it turned out. A few years into marriage in 2013, Nick and I served oversees in South Africa. We were primarily ministering to college students but also served in orphanages. We were so burdened by the idea of it taking years for those kids to have permanent families, and that’s really motivated us to pursue the application process—we knew the process could take years. When we were in South Africa we decided to expand our family both ways—biologically and through adoption. So, early 2014 (March) after we got back to the states, we found out we were pregnant with a boy, and got accepted into the adoption program.
Titus was born in December. The adoption [of our little girl, Cait] took four years, from 2014-2018. Because it was a South African adoption, we had to commit to staying in a tiny apartment in South Africa for eight weeks before we could bring her home. Those last eight weeks were traumatizing, and I think because we were just so focused on surviving, I’m still processing it all three years later.
TKM: That homestretch, the eight weeks, must’ve been so emotionally exhausting plus you’ve got an almost four year old who requires so, so much 24/7 on top of what’s happening.
ASHLEY: Yeah, it was joyful but crazy. We’d always told Titus about his sister coming, and to this day he’s handled it amazingly. Nick and I had training before we could take her home and it was focused on “what is the adoptee losing?” These kids are ripped away from so much, Cait was in a group home and she was losing everything she knew. But I had losses, too.
TKM.: In what way? That’s a pretty deep self-reflection
ASHLEY: Titus knew about his sister, like I said, but I didn’t expect feeling the loss in my relationship with Titus—Cait required time and all of me, which obviously took away from the one on one time with Titus. Add to that navigating special needs and behaviors, and it was a whirlwind, especially while in South Africa. I remember crashing into bed each night thinking I've never been this tired. You expect certain things going into adoption, but like a lot of things in life, you just have no idea until you are actually living the experience. I had to grieve the adoption in a way because it wasn’t what I expected. Yes it was a beautiful thing we were beholding, just different. Even now I am still processing things, especially how that whole first year after adopting Cait affected (and continues to affect) me.
TKM: Well, you’re strong that’s for sure. Learning how to mother is tough enough, but loving two kids the same, unconditionally, despite their vastly different connection to you—that’s gotta be hard. And probably shows you a lot about yourself.
TKM: So when did fostering come into your story?
ASHLEY: Our compassion for the foster care community increasingly grew through me listening to the podcast “The Adoption Connection”—which I highly recommend. I’d listen to it in those beginning days with Cait. We took a career opportunity with Cru in Little Rock, Arkansas, and it turns out it's a huge foster care community. Right after moving we went to a foster care info session and instantaneously knew it was our calling. Our decision was easy and obvious, we didn’t need any validation. December 2019 we were licensed foster parents and officially open to receiving a placement. And it was only a couple days later we got a call about “L” who we still have in our home.
TKM: So today, what’s the current little lineup?
ASHLEY: Cait age 6, Titus age 6 (in a few days), and foster siblings “C” age 2 and “L” age 2…and I’m pregnant (haha).
TKM: What's the best piece of advice you've received from another mom?
ASHLEY: The general advice you and I hear about how I can’t neglect my own needs has been helpful. People remind me to ask myself whether I’m doing things that energize me and fill me up. My mentors and the adoption community emphasize how important it is continue pouring into yourself so you can pour into others, like my kids.
TKM: Mom of the year, ha! But seriously, as moms our heart expands to love all our babies, but what’s the hardest part of your mothering?
ASHLEY: Probably the amount of needs there are—all kids combined have a lot of needs and I can’t do it perfectly. I need alone time to recharge and I just don’t get that with four kids in the house.
TKM: Yeah, setting aside time for ourselves is nice in theory, but the reality is, we have to go on mothering long after we feel depleted. And I have no room to talk because I’ve got half as many littles as you, ha!
TKM: Anything else currently challenging in your mothering?
ASHLEY: My relationship with Cait can be challenging. Parenting her is hard. I feel like I've grown tremendously from those early days, but even just this year with the pandemic, I've had more time to reflect and process about the difficult parts of our relationship which go deeper than just her special needs and the trauma she has experienced in her life. Some of it is coupled with my own story and trauma. She has definitely been one of my greatest gifts God has used to refine me. Understanding the way Cait works has changed my mothering, and what I’m learning I can apply to every kid.
TKM: It’s a powerful tool when we discover more about ourselves, more about our littles and use that combined knowledge to transform our relationship with them. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
ASHLEY: Yeah, so true. Learning about ourselves and how we processed our own childhoods can be so powerful. I now know I suppressed some parts of myself growing up and I don’t want that to be my children’s experience, even if I can’t relate to being an adoptee or foster child. Generational cycles can be broken. I’m committed to seeing the needs behind their behaviors, and to encourage them to explore their emotions. To ask them how they’re doing, and let them feel all the feels. Give them opportunities to speak up and express themselves.
TKM: That’s beautiful—those kids have a special mom. Breaking generational cycles means going against our instincts if resorting to what we’re used to in order to change for the betterment of you AND your family. Kudos for that tough self-care work you’re doing.
TKM: What do you want to be "known" for as a mama?
ASHLEY: I want my kids to know me as someone who loves Jesus, and someone who loves them unconditionally. I want them to know I’m not perfect, but I’m a safe space—who they are, what they do, feel, say, it won’t be rejected or suppressed. I want to be known as a mom who cares, accepts and validates.