"Adoption" is a simple word that people think they understand. It's supposed to be a wonderful blessing for the baby and adoptive parents, who save the birth parents from a world of hardships they may not have been able to handle at the time. But it's much more than that.
My name is Ashley Salazar. Some of you may know me as a "teen mom" from MTV's hit documentary series, "16 and Pregnant." I started filming the show in the summer of 2009, and my special 90-minute episode aired late in 2010.
My episode documented my traumatic journey, from the moment I found out I was pregnant through the painful choice to place my daughter for adoption. I eventually ended up placing my baby with my aunt and uncle, who stepped forward in the middle of my adoption process.
Initially, making the decision was like lifting a weight off my shoulders, but when I got to the hospital to deliver, all of my feelings immediately changed. My aunt and uncle allowed me to bring the baby home, and after a long process, I decided to let them raise her permanently. Since then, things have never been the same.
I had to grow up overnight. It's like I went from being 17 to 35 years old in a matter of seconds. That makes me 40 now. Teen pregnancy is not a joke. There's no going back. You either have an abortion, place your child through adoption, or take on the role of a teen mother. No teen should ever have to deal with that. My choice was traumatic, and I felt like I wanted to die at the time, but the experience has changed me.
Everyone from my family to the adoption counselor to therapists I've seen since then told me that the grief would get better over time. They said that it'd always be hard, but I'd grieve and then learn to live with it. The truth is, five years later, I have finally learned to "live with it," but it's one of the worst things that anyone should ever have to live with. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.
My daughter's father, Justin, and I have rekindled our relationship and have been together for more than two years. People have said we're only together because we bonded over losing our daughter, but it's actually harder to see her in him every single day.
One good thing is that we have helped each other accept the fact that we will never have the chance to raise her as our own. We are finally able to admit it out loud, which is a huge step for us. I cry as I write this because it took me five years to get it through my head, and a part of me still doesn't want to accept it.
I don't see her as much as I used to. My senior year of college has me tied down. It used to hurt to even go days without seeing her, but it's almost as if I've become numb to it. I love to FaceTime with her every now and then and see her when I can because I know she hurts and misses us, but my heart aches every time. As easy as it would be to walk out, I would never dream of doing that to her, and I couldn't live without her.
It's hard to explain. When I'm with her, nothing is wrong in the world. It's perfect and beautiful. But when I leave her, nothing feels the same. One time when I left her to go back home 500 miles away, she ran outside as I was leaving, grabbed me tight, started crying and told me she didn't want me to leave because I wouldn't be coming back the next day. We just sat there and cried as we hugged each other. She was only 3 at the time.
She's 4 now, and she's starting to catch on, which scares me beyond belief. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue. I am scared to say anything wrong and get my visitation rights revoked. It almost happened before, and I didn't know what to do with myself.
Of course, I must say that I am so blessed to have the opportunity that I have. I would never have been able to see my daughter if I had chosen strangers to raise her. Honestly, I want everyone to know that I don't blame my aunt and uncle. I don't blame anybody. I've gone through phases where I've blamed my mom, Justin, Justin's mom, and everyone but myself. But now I've finally taken responsibility for it. It's just hard to admit that I actually went through with it. I prayed a lot during that time, so maybe it was meant to happen for a reason, but I'll never know.
I'm glad my aunt and uncle wanted to help. When I was younger, we used to be really close. I would play at their house with my cousin every day and wish that I lived there. They were the first to step up and make sure she stayed in our family. They even make her baby books filled with information and photos about her huge family, so she can understand where she came from. My daughter was loved before she even came into this world.
I am blessed and grateful. It's just difficult to see my daughter being raised by other people, especially since they are more established than I am and it's something that I can't do anything about.
On a brighter note, I have had a book published about my experience, continued in school, and have almost fulfilled my promise to myself and my daughter that I would graduate from college.
Things are going well. I'm happy. She's healthy, and the happiest little girl you'd ever see. That's what matters to me.