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Invisible Strength & Unparalleled Forgiveness

Adoption. Emotions. Reunification.

A personal essay by Ashley L. Witherspoon

I was in the depths of my graduate program at the time I received the call. The adoption criteria had changed and I would be given the opportunity to pursue reconciliation with my birth mother, only if her feelings were mutual. The case manager continued to provide the procedural process to move forward and I remember scrambling in the grocery store parking lot, attempting to find anything I could to write down the information. My mind was racing and so many buried questions began to bubble to the surface. What if she didn’t accept the invitation; what if I had siblings; what would my Mom and Dad think?

I had grown up the only child in a two parent household. My family wrapped their arms around me with love at 6 weeks old and provided a nurturing environment where I was able to thrive in all ways possible. My earliest memories consisted of spending time with my maternal and paternal grandparents weeks at a time during the summer months, exploring all elements the rural south had to offer. My cousins and I would run through the fields barefoot, pick muscadine grapes off the vine, and eat sugar cane. We would inspect abandoned barns and deserted houses in the back yard, often times pretending we were on some exclusive expedition. I would curl up next to my maternal grandmother at night for hours asking irrelevant questions and listen to her recall stories from the Bible.

Little did I know or understand until I became an adult, providing care and a safe place for others was nothing new, as my family had been taking care of others for generations. Throughout the years, I would often accompany members of my family to take someone food, clean the home of that person, check on this person. Family would come and stay with us, money was mailed, clothes were donated. So how was I any different? I wasn’t. My mother recalls the time they received a call from the adoption agency, stating they had a baby girl waiting for them. She purchased the material to make bows, with every intention of braiding my hair and dressing me in matching outfits. Upon arrival, there I was, a little feisty baby with a head full of barely visible strands. My father, being a straight to the point guy said “We’ll take her!”. My parents informed me that I was adopted during my elementary school years. It wasn’t until I became a little older that I began to ask additional questions and curiosity began to enter into my spirit. The presentation in which my parents discussed our journey was wrapped in love, never abandonment. The emphasis was always the message of acceptance, empathy, and the essence of bravery on behalf of my birth mother, although they had never met.

The phone clicked and I felt as though my short 24 years of life had flashed before my eyes. I immediately called my parents to ask for their blessing. They instantly inquired about the next steps as they were just as curious as I was and had similar questions. After making the decision to move forward, the waiting game was agonizing, as the new age of communication feeds us all with instant feedback. We started out at a snails pace, writing letters and receiving details piece by piece. I was the second oldest out of four and approximately 9 years older than she was at my conception. I found myself lost in her story, trying to figure out how she displayed so much strength at an age most preteens were keeping up with the latest gossip. I learned that this journey had been an excruciating secret to keep, as only a hand full of my birth family had known about her pregnancy and her adult children were clueless. I fixated on the natural consequences of what could have been if she decided not to pursue the adoption process. As my thoughts continued to go down this rabbit hole of scenarios, everything finally clicked.

In the shower, prior to my scheduled time to meet with her face to face, I remember saying out loud “I am where I should be. Everything has happened in divine order”. I began to feel a sense of peace and even more understanding on behalf of all of those involved, creating a community that carried me above their shoulders and shielded me from the skewed statistics that predicted that I would fall below expectations due to my circumstances. Now that my life has come full circle and I have been given the opportunity to experience the joys of motherhood and watch my children create similar memories with their extended family, I now understand families are a unique paradigm of experiences in which none are the same. I am grateful and truly Hand Made.

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