The Struggle of Mother's Day

With this new direction I’m taking for my project over Infertility, I thought I’d talk a little bit about the struggle of Mother’s Day. While it’s not what you probably imagined being on a photography blog, it does process through some of the feelings associated with infertility and the struggles women can feel on this day, which does relate to my project quite a bit.

Not the best picture, but the place where Rose is buried.

Not the best picture, but the place where Rose is buried.

For a while I dreaded going to church or really anywhere on Mother’s Day. As terrible as it sounds, it was something I avoided, if I could, especially after my first pregnancy. Mother’s day, while needing to be celebrated because moms are great and do so much, can be a painful day for many women who long for or have lost children. While our daughter was lost when she was still growing at 14 weeks, it still hurt. For many years, this day represented to me the day of “what could have been”. It felt awkward saying I was a mom, even though I did hold her in my hand and we buried her. So, I remained silent those years that were hard and told myself that I would hopefully celebrate in the future.

I think many women struggle on this day. It is hard to go to certain places, where you watch women who have what you want be rightfully honored, while you sit there with what feels like nothing. As silly as it sounds, it feels isolating and furthers the idea that something is wrong with you.

I remember one time in particular that I’ll cherish forever in 2014. I went to church on Mother’s Day that week and I steeled myself for what was going to happen. They would ask all the mother’s to stand and would hand out roses. I sat quietly, tried to rejoice with all of these women, and tried to enjoy the rest of the service. This was at a time when I was really struggling and questioning God about this topic, so this was a big feat for me to simply be there. At the end of the service, one of my friend’s daughters walked up to me, handing me a few roses. She smiled and walked away—I stood dumbfounded. Why did she come and hand me roses? I wasn’t a mom (or at least, I didn’t consider myself one). It meant so much to me and I felt that God could see my pain and heart in this situation. I wasn’t forgotten like I felt I was. This began some of the healing that started during this time. I don’t think this girl will ever realize the impact she had on me that day.

So women who are struggling—I see you and I feel your pain. I know the day has already passed for this year, but the struggle is real, especially if you so deeply desire children or have lost one (or more). God sees you and knows your heart. I pray that you’d be encouraged and filled with contentment and hope, rather than despair and sadness.

And women who haven’t struggled in this area, reach out to a friend who is struggling. Do something special for them or simply say that you’re thinking about them. These small gestures mean the world to those who are hurting.

-Ashley

Beginnings | Infertility Series

Since before the beginning of this new year, I have had many ideas ruminating in my mind about what’s next for photography in my life. Many of my friends have also asked me this—will I continue with stories from American fathers? Will I take a different look at fatherhood? What about my posts on identity and the toll living abroad has taken on how I perceive myself and the world?

I don’t have much of an answer to these questions, mostly because I simply don’t have enough time to pursue every one of my interests, but I do have some ideas for the future that I’d like to divulge. These ideas are in no way conclusive, but some of my working thoughts on the directions I’m headed.

As I’ve reflected on the kind of work I want to do, it all revolves around three things: storytelling, hope, and transformation. For me, these three areas are non-negotiable. I don’t want to just create for the sake of creating—there needs to be an underlying purpose and deeper meaning..

One aspect of the art world that bothers me are projects on deeper topics that end unresolved. For example, I once saw this project of a woman who documented her struggle with infertility. It was depressing and devoid of all hope. As I looked through the painful, honest images she was creating, I eagerly awaited for some shred of hope or resolution, whether external or internal, of this struggle she was enduring. By the end of the images, I felt melancholy and miserable. There was no hope for this woman. All that was left of her was tears, nakedness, isolation, and hopelessness.

I do not invalidate this woman’s feelings or photographic expression. As someone who has also struggled with infertility for the last 12 years, I can attest to the awfulness of it. It’s miserable and does feel isolating and even hopeless at times. Perhaps at the time of the work, she did honestly feel hopeless and that was clearly conveyed in her story. My issue is that as the viewer of such work, we were left there with her in the muck of it all with no way out. I walked away from that body of work feeling distressed and like there was no hope for any of us who struggle with such issues. This rubs me wrong. Perhaps this is my personality—some people say I’m optimistic to a fault at times—but still.

As I think on the direction I’d like to take in photography, one area is actually infertility. Although most people who know me know it’s been a struggle of my husband and I, we don’t really talk about it publicly until recently with the miracle of my current pregnancy. What has made me consider exploring it photographically (and publicly) is the above story of the hopeless woman, struggling with infertility. I believe that there is a different ending to that story than the one she presented. Even before finding out I was pregnant in March, I finally was at a place of contentment and hope and feel compelled to share my story with others.

This is not an easy topic for me. It will require honesty and vulnerability to share my heart on the matter. But this is the thing that compels me to do it—if I really want to create work on this topic that focuses on storytelling, hope, and transformation, I have to be exposed on an appropriate level. Real stories of transformation and hope are only conveyed whenever conflict or a struggle exists and is shared.

So. I have several ideas of how I will work on this project and I hope to document them here. I hope to bring in other women who struggle with infertility and share their stories as well. I have no idea how far it will go, but I’m excited at the prospects. I do feel a transition from just sharing photos from my travels. This has been good and helpful for me in my photographic process, but I don’t think I want to stay there. We’ll see where I go. Regardless of what happens, I hope to enjoy the process. :) Hopefully you’ll enjoy it with me!

-Ashley

My Infertility Journey

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As you’ve likely discovered from other social media channels, I am miraculously pregnant! I have decided that it would be beneficial for me to process some of my journey and also share it with you, as I think it gives more context as to why this is so special. So without further adieu…


Joshua and I have been married for 12 years and have wanted kids for practically the entire length of our marriage. Even before marrying we had chosen names for a boy, buying a Build-A-Bear and giving the bear that name. Children have always been a major desire of ours, to the point where we joked about having 13 kids and it’s now dwindled to somewhere between 4-10. We might be a bit insane; I guess the verdict is still out. :)

In 2011, we found out we were pregnant. I actually blogged about it on this website and you can read it by clicking here. We were so excited—our dream of having kids were finally coming true and we were starting in our 20’s, four years into marriage. It was perfect. Our dreams were shattered when at 14 weeks, I began to miscarry. I remember holding the baby in the palm of my hand, marveling at how much even at that little size it was a precious baby. God gave us the name Rose and she was buried in a memorial garden; one that we still visit to this day. It was an extremely painful event to go through and it followed us for several years.

In 2014, I had a breakdown. We were in the process of adoption and began to work through home study questions and I just lost it. I was so bitter at God, at my friends who just easily got pregnant with barely trying, with all the Facebook announcements of new babies on the way, and I felt alone and hopeless. Would this dream ever happen? Besides this, we were living abroad in a culture where value is placed on the woman because of her children. Due to us not having any, it was often a topic of conversation. I didn’t know how to deal with comments like, “What’s wrong with you?”, “You must be weak since you can’t carry a child” or even, “You will be blessed once you have children.” I was absolutely fed up with all the condemnation, all the disappointment, and the feelings that something was wrong with me. I was so broken, discontent, and I lacked joy that I should have had for my friends. During this time, I reached out to a group of women who I asked to pray for me. I didn’t know what to do anymore and I knew that it wasn’t something I could change within me. So my friends prayed. And to this day, I honestly don’t know what happened. Perhaps it was simply processing these emotions with others and getting them out, recognizing where I was at and moving on. Or perhaps God just took the pain away. Either way, I distinctly remember feeling utterly content and finally decided that it was okay that I didn’t have kids yet. That my value wasn’t determined by my kids, or lack thereof, but by the value God placed on me. I didn’t realize this change until some friends visited us with their three kids in tow. Halfway through the trip, I realized I once hadn’t asked myself, “Why me?” and I enjoyed my time with their kids. There was a mental, emotional, and spiritual shift that happened, which allowed me to be content with my lot in life. It didn’t remove the desire for kids, but I felt at peace about it all.

Over the next five years, Joshua and I did a multitude of things, including traveling, working abroad, and master’s degrees. During this time, we both didn’t forget our desire for kids, but we had full plates. Due to the season we were in, we waited patiently until some things slowed down before we jumped into anything next. Finally, this year in 2019, we decided that it would be the year. We couldn’t wait anymore. We’re not in our 20’s any longer. We’re not so young and spry anymore and can wait another 10 years. So, with all the testing we’ve done in three different countries, our option was IVF, so we decided that’s what we were going to do in August of this year. We honestly weren’t sure how we’d pay for it or the exact timeline of things, but we knew that this was our next step. And we both truly were at peace with that and knew it would be hard, but worth it if it all went well.

In late February of this year, I began to suspect something was off with my body. I just didn’t feel right, I had lost my appetite, began to feel nauseous at times, was more exhausted than usual, and other unmentionables were happening. Part of me wanted to suspect I was pregnant, but I had been down this road countless times, filled with disappointment and sadness when it wasn’t the outcome I was hoping for. So I blew it off, expecting life to continue as normal.

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Finally, life wasn’t continuing as normal and we bit the bullet and bought a pregnancy test. With great nervousness, I took the test and found the very thing I thought I’d never see…two lines. This was probably the ugliest cry I’ve ever had and thankfully Joshua was the only one who witnessed it. I was pregnant. How was this possible? I just couldn’t even compute what was happening. The next morning, I took another test and it was stronger even than the night before. We were so baffled that the day after finding out, we literally stared at each other the entire day, dumbfounded and not sure what to do. Apparently, our plans of IVF weren’t needed and God miraculously gave us a baby.

And this is now where I am at. Every day is a mixture of shock and joy as I consider what is going on inside of me. I don’t take this lightly; I feel that it is truly a special gift from God. I do struggle with the idea of miscarrying or losing this child somehow, but I am learning that this is the process of becoming a mom. Parents, I am learning from my friends who have kids, are constantly worried about their kids. It starts in the womb and never ends. So, starting now I am trying to release this baby to God, giving Him my concerns, and trusting that He has it all under control. Honestly, just with what I’ve experienced in my life, how could worrying help this baby anyway? I have so little control over much of this process, including when the baby is outside the womb. So, this is good practice for me to trust God with this child’s life and not try to control. I’m sure I’ll grow much in this area over the years.

I have another post that will be shared shortly about a project I’ve been considering long before I found out I was pregnant. Infertility is still very much a part of my life and story and I feel a drive to do a photography project over it. More details will come soon.

Thanks for following with me in this journey, even if you are first hearing this story. If you are struggling with infertility, please don’t give up. I have been there and I did give up hope. Thankfully, God didn’t give up hope on me. I don’t know what your story will be, but know your value doesn’t come from your children or lack thereof. Seek your identity in God and what He has to say about you, not what man says.

More to come soon in the following weeks. I have a crazy journey ahead!

-Ashley

Look Up!

If you follow my personal Instagram account you’ll notice that I tend to take a lot of pictures of ceilings and the sky. I don’t know why my eyes are drawn to it, but I notice the patterns, shapes, and colors. Like this one below:

 
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This was taken in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Behind me is the tallest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa), but I turned around and saw this building instead. :) This shows you my priorities! Anyways, I love the curves, the trees, the expansive sky, and all the lines. This is definitely what my eyes go towards!

I think one thing to glean from this though is to follow what you like to do and not what everyone else likes to do. Some people might have thought it strange that I was photographing the small building behind the Burj Khalifa, but it’s what my eyes were drawn to. I think it’s important to find your vision and calling and stick to it, even when it seems unconventional. Speaking of which, I have a blog post that I’m working on about this topic. Vision in whatever you create is so important, especially in light of how short our lives are. More to come on that soon!

-Ashley

Clarke & Elaina | Engagement Portrait

I had the pleasure recently to do an engagement shoot while traveling in Europe. It wasn’t planned and I haven’t shot an engagement shoot in a while, but I found the approach to this kind of portrait came back quickly. I forgot how much fun it is for me to capture couples interacting together. Honestly, it was a nice change from my masters project work on many levels! Below are some of my favorites from the shoot—enjoy!

 
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One thing I love about this top left image is the metaphor of getting married as “tying the knot” and the rope that is tied on the pole behind them.

They both have such great smiles and look so good together! They made my job easy. :)

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I love the way these came out and am so thankful it worked out for me to do their photos. Excited for you Clarke and Elaina! Thanks for including me in your beginnings as Mr. and Mrs.! :)

-Ashley

A Look Back to 2015

There are so many things I have wanted to do the last couple of years, but I kept putting it off because I just didn’t have enough time. One of those tasks was to polish the galleries on my website. There are many projects and events that I don’t have shown which could be valuable.

For example, after my exhibition at FCC University, the images were used for the university calendar—which was not only used by the school, but by several other entities around the country. It was an honor to me that they used my work! I still have a calendar for my recollection, but I never photographed it and put it online. Here is what the calendar looked like:

I enjoy looking back at the things I’ve been involved in, as it brings back memories to how doors were opened to do things I thought I’d never get to do. Personally, I was surprised when FCC commissioned me for the exhibition and subsequently used the images in their calendar. What a blessing! I am thankful for these opportunities and hope for more in the future.

What surprising opportunities are in your past that you were excited to partake in? I’d love to hear about it!

-Ashley

Looking for the Special Moments

It can be really hard to have tourist-like eyes in your own city. Finding interesting things to photograph can be a challenge, especially if you see the same things every day. A trick for me to get out of that funk is to walk around a specific place with my camera in hand; looking for interesting scenes—whether it be textures, symmetry, interesting faces, interactions that are peculiar, or something beautiful. There is always something worthy to be photographed—you just have to have the eyes to see it! Take this for example:

 
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We were walking in a market and I just happened to see this rug hung up on the wall with these colorful poufs underneath. I loved all the colors and how it looked, so I took the shot and this is what I got. It’s beautiful! I think I’d normally miss this if I didn’t slow down and look.

I think this goes beyond photography and can be applied to our lives in general. Sometimes we can get so busy that we miss the beautiful or surprising things or people throughout our day. I, myself, am trying to slow down and “smell the roses”, as the old adage goes. I don’t want to miss those special moments because I was preoccupied with a task or schedule. Life is too short friends, so don’t miss out on the important things.

On that sobering note (sorry for the reminder of our short lives!), I hope that in the normalcy of the day you look and find something or someone new in your path. Enjoy your day!

-Ashley

Ramblings on Identity

I have been thinking a lot about identity lately. If you’ve ready my blog posts, you will see that I have moved around a lot. In the last five years, I have lived in three different countries (four if you count the one I come from) and have traveled around the world. I have seen polar opposite cultures, from women fully covered to women practically naked, or from bustling urban cities to empty, wide-open country. Each place is so different.

Moving from culture to culture so fluidly can be jolting and confusing. One moment everyone is speaking a language you understand until a five-hour plane ride later, you’re in a completely different place, with not only a different language, but a different set of rules to how you live life. It’s mind-boggling.

Living in the US you don’t experience this as much. Of course, every state has it’s culture and way of life, but it doesn’t feel that different for an American, especially compared to traveling to a different country. Traveling on a three-to-four-hour flight across the States takes you to another place where English is spoken and the culture relatively the same. On the other side of the world however, a short plane ride can take you to exponentially different places. Places that contain people who see life very differently than you ever thought or imagined. It’s a wild contrast and with globalization and the ease of travel, it allows such a change in just a day.

These days the ease of traveling makes transitioning from place to place more difficult. I have realized now that I need a buffer before I head back to the States. My mind needs some kind of adjustment period where I exit the culture I’m living in and enter my home culture. This transition gets easier every time I do it, but it still is a challenge. It takes a bit to remember where I am and how I relate to people.

Why is it that culture affects identity and how we live our lives? I have found pieces of me change as I’ve lived in each place. From how I dress, to how I interact with men, to even how I spend my time has morphed in the last half decade. Culture seems to have a great impact on people more than one would think.

I am unsure where to go with all of these thoughts (and this is just scratching the surface), but I have plans to build a project around these ideas. I plan to introspectively take a look at my life and how I have changed over these last several years and how culture has had an effect on that. Some of the imagery might be self portraits, but I have some other ideas that I want to experiment with. I’d love it if you’d follow me on this journey and I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on identity, culture, and globalization as well.

In the coming days, I plan to map out my ideas and see how I can start fleshing this out photographically. If you want to share your ideas with me, please comment below or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I do plan on continuing my project over fatherhood. I still have much interest in the topic and I can’t imagine dropping it as I’ve become quite passionate about it. So keep following me on my Instagram, as that’s where I’ll mostly be posting from that project.

For now though, I leave you a photo from a recent trip to Rome. I had never been there before and I was quite enchanted by the city. It reminded me of other parts of Europe, but the more we explored, the more we realized how different and beautiful it is in its own way.

Have a great weekend!

-Ashley

 
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