Ashely Whitley is the youngest of two children and the product of two parents who are ministers. She is a single mother with one daughter, Lilyawna, who is 8 years old going on 25. Ashely prides herself on being solution-focused and never meeting any obstacle that will take her out. She is originally from Baton Rouge, La but has been a resident in Houston for 9 years. As a single mother in a city with very few family members, she has been blessed to achieve two post graduate degrees in Psychology and Marriage and Family Therapy. She is currently working on my Master of Divinity degree as she accepted her call into the ministry 2 years ago.
Though she has few family members here, she has developed a family in the people she has met here and her church family. Among those she considers family, she and one of her closest friends decided to “take advantage of the power of NOW” and founded a nonprofit, Abundant Life Teaching, Inc., at the beginning of the year. “We hit the ground running participating in events and outreach that emphasize our mission of helping others live their life more abundantly.”
Professionally, she works for a mental health agency where she is a Community Outreach Specialist and educates the community, school districts, police officers, universities, and businesses on mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Helping others is near and dear to her heart and is a legacy she wants to leave for her daughter. Ashley wants her daughter to have the same passion to give back and help others and just be kind. She is a veteran and what her experience in the military and from the pastor of her church have taught her is that “we are better together!”
What was the dynamic surrounding your pregnancy?
My pregnancy was definitely unexpected. I was new to Houston only one month and realized I had a carry on that I was unaware of. I didn’t find out I was pregnant until I was about four months along and my biggest stressor was dealing with my own feelings and telling my parents. My feelings were riddled with the stigma of being a preacher’s daughter and pregnant. However, when you have protective factors of a supportive family it helps you handle the ridiculed and stigma that may surround you. After facing things head on, the remainder of my pregnancy was pretty uneventful until the day of delivery when I had to have an emergency C-section. As a person who had never been a patient in a hospital prior to delivery it was scary, but my parents were by my side the entire way. The result was my beautiful baby girl Lilyawna Rose.
How would you describe your post-pregnancy/motherhood experience?
My post-pregnancy and motherhood experience have truly been trial and error and a learning experience. Prior to having my daughter, I had never changed a diaper or even babysat a child and now this little bundle of joy was mine permanently. What I learned was to take advantage of the knowledge that surrounds me and tailor it to what works for me and my lifestyle. Everyone’s advice or suggestions are not going to be the best fit. However, we shouldn’t get offended but validate the person trying to help, then and do what is best for you! I’m still learning and growing as my daughter is reaching all of these milestones in her life and together we are going to make a life that is amazing!
Did you ever experience post-partum symptoms or battle with your mental health in any way? If so, how did you cope with it?
My mental health journey has been something that I continue to unfold. As a veteran with PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety and a mother it has proved to be very interesting. Though I was dealing with all these things my daughter became the biggest protective factor in my life. I realized the importance in getting help and understanding the strength in my vulnerability and openness. Each day I grow stronger with a sprinkle of days where things are a little more difficult. Considerably, my wellness and recovery are something I value and because of this I continue to be an advocate for mental wellness and demystifying stigma.
Describe your routine and activities that you do to maintain your mental health on a daily basis.
Routine and structure have proven to be one of the most important things, besides my faith, that I can have in my mental wellness activities. I intentionally plan breaks for meditation, exercise, and or positive affirmations. On any day I am juggling my activities and my daughter’s activities and what I have found is the importance of balance and being able to say no. I recognize my limits and really try to stay in tune with my body and mind. I understand the power of prayer, but I always recognize the power of therapy and I try as much as possible to surround myself with positive proactive people daily.
What advice would you give mothers/soon-to-be/potential mothers, based on your personal experience?
Advice I would give to mothers/soon-to-be/potential mothers, trust your instincts and engage yourself in wise counsel. Develop a circle of support with mothers and women you admire and that are in places you desire to be. You will never get everything perfect but realize that’s OK. Never compare your journey to others because you may only be seeing the highlights and may never be privy to the behind the scenes action of their life. Invest in yourself and self-care because your child only gets one parent and you don’t become 2nd when your child is born.