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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

That's A Wrap!

I've been delaying this post because I was trying to let it sink in. 

I'm officially finished with my MA in Photography from Falmouth University!

I can't believe it. The last two years I have been so focused on finishing this MA that the time flew by. It has been my constant companion these two years, which has made the last few days feel awkward and empty. My schedule is now in need of an overhaul--one that doesn't include school. It's amazing and frightening at the same time!

Before I share what's next for me in the photography world, I want to celebrate the accomplishment and thank God and all of my family/friends for their support. I couldn't have done this without the countless dads who said yes to participating in my project, to my husband who made so many sacrifices (especially towards the end when I was in "do not disturb" mode), to all my amazing professors who encouraged and critiqued my work, and to all of my friends who have encouraged me to do this program. THANK YOU to all of you. What's amazing, is that I haven't just accomplished this MA, but have published a book! I am still in awe about that one and never thought I was capable of such a thing. I remember when I began this MA I had NO IDEA how I'd ever get to this point--but I did it. Whew. This is by far the hardest, yet most rewarding program I have ever done. Looking back, I can truly see how much I've changed--I am not the same as I was when I started. I feel more refined and certain about who I am as a photographer and how I operate within my practice. So all this to say, I'm so grateful for the opportunity I had and can't wait to see how it helps me in the coming future. I'm sad to see it go, but I'm thankful I made it through (although I won't know if I officially made it through until mid-September when I get my grades...but I'm pretty positive I passed; we'll see).

Moving on to the future, what's next? Several people have asked me that over the last few days and while I was trying not to rush to the next thing, I have thought a lot about it (of course!). Here are some of my ideas:

  • I am uncertain of the name of this project, but I really want to dive into my identity as a nomad. For the last five years I have lived abroad and it's really changed me. How I see people, culture, and situations are different than before--especially my home culture. So I really would love to do a project that communicates that change within me and I'd love to explore what has changed and how it has changed. It's a lot of self reflection and introspective thinking, but ideally I want to create images that reflect on my reflections about my life and thoughts, looking at expatriates and what happens to them when the live in other cultures. It's very different than my project over fatherhood, but I think it would be interesting to see what comes of it. I have some ideas technically how I'd accomplish this project, but I'll divulge those later. :)
 
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  • My project Foreign Lands: American Fathers Living Abroad is still active and going. I would like to keep up my Instagram account, so I will continue to post there. I also would love to continue in the theme of fatherhood--I've become very passionate about the topic and don't want to stop looking at dads. I've thought of doing other projects that look at other nationalities living abroad (like South African's or British dads maybe?), creating a series of books along the same topic. These are just some ideas, nothing is set yet. Follow me on my Instagram account here!
  • I'd love to teach or train photography in my city, so this is also on the agenda. I don't know at what capacity this will be, but I love teaching (especially cross-culturally). In the beginning, this is what motivated me to get my masters in the first place, so I'd love to end up doing this in the near future. We'll see! 

So lots of ideas! I'm trying to listen to the advice of some friends by celebrating this accomplishment and not rushing into the next thing, but this is hard for me. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't like to be idle. There is always something that can be accomplished. :) But rest is an "activity" too (apparently). :) 

Well friends, you will now hear more from me on this blog now that my essay-writing-days are over (can I get an amen!?)! Thanks for coming back after my long hiatus! Chat soon.

Ashley

Whirlwind

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Life can be a whirlwind. So much can happen in such little time that it can make events feel like months apart yet they were only a week ago. This is my life lately. I can't keep up with what day it is, what time it is, or when things happened (or didn't happen in some cases). Is anyone else startled that it's already March 21st?! That is crazy! My parents always told me when I was younger that when you got older time went by faster--I hate to say it, but they're right. Life definitely feels more precious to me these days. Seeing that almost a quarter of the year has flown by makes me want to live every moment to the fullest. 

My grad program is going well, albeit I have found this module the most difficult of the program. We are finally at the stage of putting our ideas into practice, working to complete our final research project. I'm still doing a project over fatherhood, although I had to niche down to a specific aspect of fatherhood, rather than look at it comprehensively. I'll explain on this more later in another post.

The goal is still to complete a photo book which is very exciting. I'm also hoping to host an exhibition or two, we'll see. There are many milestones ahead of me, so I'm looking forward to seeing how all this pans out. 

I hope you follow along in my journey over this next year! I'm interested to see what happens. :)

-Ashley

Christmas in America

I always find it interesting coming back to America around Christmas time. Living in other places where Christmas isn't as widely celebrated makes this season a joy to come back to (although it's also a surprise in a lot of ways because we're not used to it anymore). I love taking part in traditions and festivities--putting up Christmas trees, making cookies, going to parties, etc. It's one of my favorite times of the year, celebrating the birth of Jesus with family and friends. 

Speaking of traditions, when I married my husband I was introduced to caramel chocolate covered pretzels by Joshua's grandmother. They are delicious (read: addictive!) and she makes them every year for her grandsons.

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Gram's Caramel, Chocolate Covered Pretzels | 2015

Gram's Caramel, Chocolate Covered Pretzels | 2015

We've had some great laughs while making these, so it's always enjoyable doing this with her (and they're fun eating afterwards ;). So far, we've already helped my family and Joshua's grandmother put up Christmas trees in their houses and everything looks so festive. This surprise return back to the States has been fun and we are trying to enjoy it while we're here.

What's your favorite holiday and what are your favorite traditions? Would love to hear how you celebrate!

-Ashley

Back in the Heartland

Two months ago I wouldn't have suspected I'd be in the States right now. I also wouldn't have foreseen our move to the Middle East either. Change can happen so rapidly--it's mind boggling! One minute life is a certain way and within seconds it can be completely opposite. I'm glad that God is in control and I'm not--I'd screw things up, that's for sure!

If you've seen my recent Instagram post, you will also have seen my mind exploding at all the goodies in America. The grocery store really makes my head spin. There are large grocery stores where I have lived the last four years, but for some reason large stores like Wal-Mart, Target, etc. in America really amaze me. I can never get over the variety, quality, and quantity of items you can purchase!

So needless to say, life has been very different the last week and a half. Everyone looks like me, talks like me, and life is familiar. It's a strange feeling (that I like, but it's still strange). I thought coming back this time I knew what to expect. This is our third trip back to America in the last 4.5 years, but I guess I was out long enough this time to forget nuances that make this place special.

For example, the other day after the funeral of Joshua's grandfather, we decided to get out of the house and just drive. As we drove we happened to see a sign about disc golf and decided to stop and see what the course looked like. As we went into the store, we ended up chatting with the owners of the place for a good 30 minutes, grabbed a cup of coffee from their in-house coffee shop, and chatted with the owner's son (who was the barista) for another 30 minutes.

We left filled up (as an extroverts tank is filled by people interaction :) and we were so surprised by the friendliness of these random strangers we had met. How are people so friendly? It was such an enjoyable experience; one that has been rarely experienced the last year and a half.

So we're definitely enjoying our time in the U.S. even though it's been a hard trip back. Besides celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow (yay for turkey) and seeing family/friends, I'm really hoping to connect with photography societies here. It's something I've never done before, so it'll be interesting to see what is going on in the Houston and Dallas areas. 

A lot is happening and I'm sure I'll have more to share soon about my project, life, and our travels! Have a Happy Thanksgiving, my U.S. friends!

-Ashley

Wadi What? | #ThrowbackThursday #tbt

Have you ever heard of a wadi? It was new for me earlier this year when I first visited the Middle East. A wadi is like a large dry riverbed or a place that does hold water in rainy seasons. Whenever they are dry, they are great places to hike and explore and look like this:

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Some friends of ours invited us to go on a wadi hike and it was a blast. The water is so naturally blue and beautiful. This is where we ended up before I had to put my camera away:

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I unfortunately don't have any pictures after this, but you basically swim and walk through this channel of water until it leads you to this small, narrow opening into a cave. Inside the cave are ropes to climb up and jump down. I was completely content watching others climb up and jump down--it had to of been at least 15 feet high! At times I honestly felt like I was at Disney World--but it was all real. lol  Imagine that! :)

By the end of the day we were beat, but it was a blast to go and visit a place that was only two hours from our home.

This has been so different from our experiences in South Asia, where the only fun things to do was eat, shop, or look at historical sites (which you can only do so much of!). Here we can actually get away and have some adventure in clean air. At one point, Joshua told me to look up and I was amazed at how blue the sky was. How can the sky be so blue?! It was amazing. 

So needless to say, I feel so spoiled right now. While there are so many things I miss about South Asia, I am enjoying the beauty of this new place. It's definitely more healthy for our bodies and our lungs as we've been way more active since moving and my asthma has declined greatly. 

I'm sure I'm in a honeymoon phase and in six months I will be complaining to you, but for now I'm content and okay with the phase I'm in. Hopefully since we've experienced culture shock before it won't be a complete surprise this time! :)

Have a good one (and go explore something! It's fun!)!

-Ashley

Life Can Be Hard

Life can be really hard sometimes, throwing curve balls at you when you least expect it and it really knocks you down. I can honestly say that I feel quite knocked down--I just didn't see this one coming. 

Thanksgiving 2015 - Joshua's grandparents

Thanksgiving 2015 - Joshua's grandparents

We lost a very special person last night, Joshua's grandfather, whom we call "Papa". I met him a long time ago, when I was 13 I think, and he's been an important person in my life ever since. For Joshua, he was like his dad. With both of his parents passing away, his grandparents took him in and made sure he was taken care of through college. Even before that, they were the rock in his life from his childhood, one of the most stable relationships he had. For myself, I've actually considered Joshua's grandparents to be my grandparents as well. Since I didn't have a second set growing up, they naturally just filled in that spot, caring for me, loving me, and accepting me right away. I have always been able to count of them.

Christmas 2015

Christmas 2015

As I reflect on him and all the moments I shared with him, my heart is really full (and also very sad). He was such a good man. He deeply cared for people and loved to joke around. Playing Phase 10 with him was always interesting, especially as he would say, "I'm just speculating" as he'd pull a card from the discard pile. He absolutely loved flea markets and garage sales, and when we were with him he'd show us every treasure he found for a quarter, beaming from ear to ear that he found such a great deal. The stories he shared from his past were also so interesting and I wish I would have asked more about it now.

Going to bed last night, I realized that he was only 51 years older than me--and that was startling. Our lives are so short, folks. We don't live very long in the grand scheme of things. I thought how important it is to live our lives to the fullest and do what God calls us to do. In the Bible it speaks so much about how fleeting our lives are--just a breath of air and we're done. When things like this happen it's sobering. Death doesn't discriminate or care--it is guaranteed that everyone who is living will experience it no matter how much we avoid the subject. This makes me consider and look deeply at my life. Am I headed in the right direction? Is there more I should be doing with my life? Do the things I care about now really matter? 

Thankfully, as a follower of Jesus I believe that Papa is with Jesus right now and I'm incredibly grateful for that. I have a peace that is so firm that it couldn't be removed even amidst grief. 

Since all of this has happened, we decided that we are coming back to the States for a short time. Obviously, this wasn't planned, but we feel it's necessary for us to return to be with our family. If you're in the Houston or Dallas area, let us know. We'd love to see you and connect. if possible

And lastly, please pray for Joshua's grandmother, his family, and us. This is going to be a hard couple of months.

-Ashley