Jessica Ashley facebook twitter babble voices pinterest is a single mama in the city, super-savvy editor, writer, video host and shameless shoe whore.
read more »
Mama Needs New Shoes
Subscribe to Sassafrass by RSS or Email
Follow by RSS feed


Follow by email to have Sassafrass' blog updates delivered to your inbox:

Mama Likey

This area does not yet contain any content.
Search Sassafrass

When HIV hits home. Your home: Let's stop HIV together

This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.

Last summer, the then-eight-year old boy strapped in the backseat - my son and optimist and dance partner and silly pants and ardent recycler and kid who has asked profound questions since he could string a sentence together - asked me what AIDS is. 

I had to tell him. I had to be honest. It was one of those profound parenting moments when you know you are revealing an unkind, unfair, heartbreaking truth of the world to someone who still sees nearly everything as wondrous, and the responsibility is great and necessary.

A friend of mine was in town for most of the summer, sitting at the hospital bedside of a loved one who was dying of AIDS. He was too young. He was beautiful. He was a father, a nephew, a cousin, a son, a talent, and it was all coming to a close, painfully and too suddenly. My friend reached out and I went to her, because this is what you do. The next day, my son and I brought bags of snacks and wine and water to the family, because that is another thing you do. That's when E asked me why, what was going on - and I told him, because that is also what you do.

Our conversation was about how AIDS is transmitted and how to do everything you can to prevent it. That led to talking more about sex (we'd already covered the basics of bodies and procreation and puberty several times) and consent and, of course, condoms. There was much concern (by us both) and many questions (by him). Could condoms be recycled? How do you know how to use them? Why do people have sex if it can be dangerous? 

They were all good questions with complicated answers. I did my best to keep it simple, to speak calmly and compassionately and concisely. I told him that if two people are too embarrassed or uninformed or unwilling to talk about and USE condoms, they are not ready to have sex. I told him that sex feels good, and it feels best when both people are taking care of themselves and each other. 

I also told him I'd seen too many people - all men in the '80's and early '90's - die of AIDS, most of them at our church and some of them, teachers at my school. It broke my heart then and it does now. It is time for us each to do what we can to bring this whole terrible thing to an end. That begins with information, with knowing. 

I didn't expect that conversation to be the next sex-talk in line with my boy. But there it was, and I am so glad we had it then, and that it continues to be an open topic at home. When my friend's loved one passed away, I cried and cried through the funeral. When I got home, my son met me at the door and I held him so tight. An unfathomable amount had been lost that summer - and that was just one young man in one family.

When the CDC asked me to meet two mothers living with HIV on a recent conference call, I couldn't help but replay those moments, that conversation and my prayers on repeat to the universe to spare my son the wrenching pain and consequences that can come out of simple choices or complex situations. 

Michelle and Masonia - two inspiring mothers who are living with HIV, fiercely fighting to protect their children and advocate for families exposed to HIV and AIDS - told us their own stories, shared the fearful moments of diagnosis, opened up about discrimination and, through tears, explained how their kid had been impacted. They also hold an incredible hope in their palms. Information, resources and connecting are all critical to stopping HIV and overcoming the segregation, despair and spread of the disease. 

The statistics are startling - and maybe they should be. This is our call to prevent more people, and particularly mothers and children, from exposure, from discrimination, from not having access to treatment or information. It's our time to take action.

As you will hear in this moment out of Michelle's story, HIV and women is not just about sex. And goes well beyond condoms. It includes tough and important conversations about domestic violence, race, gender, maternal health and so much more that it has been just too, too easy to turn away from. We have to start somewhere, with ourselves and in our discussions with our kids. But we also need to know that this is a big, big picture with lots of people inside. 

That might begin with a conversation with your own children. It may mean asking your OB/GYN or local clinic for a test, no matter how low- or no-risk you think you may be. It could start with reading these facts. It could mean sharing Michelle and Masonia's stories, or choosing to be in activist in your own ways, in your own city. Whatever you do, please do

Thanks to Michelle and Masonia and the many others who are bravely sharing stories through the CDC's Let's Stop HIV Together campaign. And thank you for reading, caring, doing. 



One fabulous nursery GIVEAWAY + one amazing cause for new moms

I was leading a workshop for the women of my church years ago. It was on finding your spiritual center, and I had the skills and the rituals and all the tools I needed to help guide a room full of women of all ages to a calm, quiet space in the midst of very busy lives, just one row of windows from a very busy intersection in the center of Chicago. But the truth is, I was there because I needed to access that spiritual center as much as they did. I was in the midst of a divorce that seemed endless and was exhausting. I felt unsure. Alone. Clinging to my child and all the support lines I could reach, I puled myself one arm's length at a time toward that place of peace. The rope felt long and tangled and I was in knots.

And then three young women - very young - came through the door to join us. They were all participants in a program for homeless and displaced teen mothers who are seeking shelter, education, support, empowerment. They came to share their journey, to breathe slowly during yoga poses, laugh with us while we made prayer beads and open up about how New Moms, Inc., the organization that makes a place for them and women like them, had changed their course.

Their stories of surviving abuse, bullying, neglect, discrimination and a kind of fear that made my worry seem inconsequential - all while pregnant or with babies - humbled me, compelled me, immediately connected to that center I was seeking. Not all of their decisions were sound or wise, but they were there, working and learning and trying and sharing. That felt immensely brave.

And as a mother, and then a new single mother, I felt that tangled rope I'd been grasping tied to them, too.

I don't remember their names or even the all the details of what they shared. I don't know what has happened to those young mothers and their children in the years since. But they have not left me, and they made me know that I'd have to be in service to New Moms, Inc. in more ways in the future.

That time is now.

We have an opportunity to donate - TOGETHER - a brand new, beautiful nursery set to a very young mother who is very much in need at New Moms, Inc. Partnering with HGTV Home, I am asking you to comment LIKE CRAZY on this post and to SHARE IT like a mother so that we can get a baby into a crib.


Here's how this works:

HGTV Home will provide a nursery set from their brand new Hayden Collection (look at it here - so mid-century fabulous) to one organization that serves mothers. There is a whole crew of bloggers vying for this donation for some wonderful and deserving causes. But I am determined to get that collection to New Moms, Inc. Will you help me?

All you have to do is COMMENT below (in the Rafflecopter widget). Tell me about a moment another mama helped you feel less afraid or alone. Tell us all about how you get to your spiritual center. 



That's right, mamas. For your baby-on-the-way, for your best lady-friend's baby, for a grandchild, to donate to an organization that you feel as passionately about as I do New Moms, Inc.  

One of the commenters on the posts surrounding this campaign will be randomly selected to win this lovely set.

I bet you want to know more about New Moms, Inc. 

For 30 years, New Moms has been equipping struggling, impoverished adolescent parents (aged 13-24) and their children with the personal and workforce development tools they will need, to permanently change their life stories from chronic dependence on society, to economic independence and family stability. New Moms offers loving, safe and stable housing, case management, supportive community, screenings and programming for children, and training in career-readiness, parenting, literacy and life skills for the mothers. More than 3,000 mothers and many, many children have been served by this innovative and empowering organization. 


I imagine you'd also like more details on this nursery set.

The nursery set is by HGTV Home Baby Hayden Collection, sold exclusively through buybuyBABY stores nationwide. The crib converts to a toddler bed, and later, to TWO twin headboards - great for siblings and sleepovers. More product details and pricing can be found here. Beautiful, right?



Do that by commenting in the Rafflecopter widget below. And if you are so inclined, please give your good thoughts and support to New Moms, Inc. The more comments RIGHT HERE, the more likely young moms in need will get the chance to put their sweet babies in one of these crib sets and the more likely one of you is to win a nursery collection as well!


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Disclosure: HGTV Home is providing my new baby with a portion of the Hayden Collection to celebrate the birth of my new baby and as compensation for hosting this giveaway on Sassafrass. They join me in honoring the good works of New Moms, Inc. and other organizations bloggers are highlighting to support mothers. 



How we told E the news

We had ice cream. We had sorbet. We had those crumbly, doughy, way-too-sweet, frosted sugar cookies from the grocery store. We had all the makings of a celebration. Including the announcement.

When we told E that we were having a baby, his mouth dropped. I don't think I've ever seen him so caught off-guard. He's a sensitive kid, intuitive and it is sometimes a trick to remember that the words coming out of the high-pitched 9-year old voice are not from an adult. You know these kids - the ones who not only know all the details of eveything going on, but get them, most of them, at least. E is one of these kids.

And so to see him stunned was surprising itself.  Only a few months earlier, before the test said a definitive POSITIVE in all caps, before the Valentine's Day cards lined the kitchen counter, even before our New Year's Day housewarming party and Christmas had been done and undone and finally, finally packed up and put away in storage, I'd told him it was his job to put his own decorations on the tree. 

He sighed heavily and then his face lightened with a realization, or maybe a decision. There was a devlish spark in his eye and it perked up one eyebrow.

"Next year," he said with a nod, "that can be the new baby's job."

"What?" I laughed. I was sliding dishes into the dishwasher. Had I heard that right? 

"Next year, the new baby can put the ornaments on the tree and I won't have to."

"Everyone knows babies are terrible at decorating Christmas trees," I played the game back. "They can only reach the bottom branches. Anyway, what new baby?"
He'd thrown out the fishing line. I snapped up the sparkly thing. But I wasn't sure he expected me to yank back on the line.
"Ohhhh, you say sometimes you'd like to have another baby one day."

"I do." I said, dropping the bait. And I did. The Not Boyfriend and I had been trying for a while and had told very few people. We had a fertility consult coming up and I'd seen plenty of NOT PREGNANTS and sad faces on ovulation tests to know that a new baby might not happen at all. But there it was, a sly little  prediction from a kid who knew more than he should or thought he did. And it lit me up inside. It made me smile. And there had been so few smiles for months about what was happening in my body. 

His prediction was right, clearly. The beginnings of the new baby were already a bundle of cells building on each other. It's just that none of us knew for sure yet.

So when we did know for sure - and that all was well, confirmed by several rounds of genetic testing and a doctor visit and an ultrasound picture of fetus, blurred by all the kicking - we told E first. 

His jaw dropped open and his voice went even higher. He scooped several huge spoonfuls of ice cream and cookie into his mouth while I answered his, "What the -? Oh! I mean. Really? What?"

We showed him the ultrasound picture, explained what was happening with the baby's development this week, told him what we knew.

  • August 27th, just after camp, just before school starts.
  • No, no one else knew. Just the three of us. (And the doctor.)
  • Yes, yes, he could tell all of his friends. Anyone he wanted to tell. (As soon as we told Grandma and Grandpa and the rest of our family.)
  • Maybe it would be a boy! Or a girl! We'd all find out together when the baby was born. (Surprises are fun.)
  • He was trying. I could see it in his face that he was trying to make sense of something big, confusing. Change is hard, I used to tell him in the quiet dark of his room when he was pensive or tearful or worried about things that fill the ever-processing mind of a child of divorce long after they should be asleep, but also good. Change is hard and also good. 

He chirped on about all the reasons he hoped it was a boy while I told him things I hoped would make sense, be soothing.  Then, because I wanted him to be involved immediately, to feel a part of this hard and also good change, to get that this wasn't happening to him but with him, I told him he had two very important jobs.

First, I said, because we got to share the news with him, he could be in charge of telling my parents the next night.

Next, because he is the expert of his dad, it was totally his decision about telling his father.

He gave me a solid nod. We laughed over a few silly ideas, but I could see around the edges of the confounded look on his face some focus and purpose. Come up with a plan to entertain and spill a big secret? He could definitely do that.
That night, as he pulled his pajamas on and as I leaned half of my body into his loft bed from the ladder, he spoke what was on his mind about this new baby, this big news.
"Where will the baby go when I am at my dad's house?"
"What will the baby's last name be?"
And finally, "I don't really know how I feel about all of this."
"It's OK," I reassured him, smoothing the hair that insists on sweeping across his forehead. "That's how it is with siblings always. Some days, they drive you insane. And the next day, you can't live without them. It is OK not to know how you feel. Or to feel any of the things you do. All of it is OK."
Relief swept through the room. We both needed to hear those words.

E processes quickly and deeply. But that moment in between the unsuredness, the newness and the knowing is a critical one.
He woke up the next morning, brushed his teeth and got dressed and had his book in hand, all without being asked, when he called me in his room.
"Mommy," he smiled to the left as he has since he was a toddler, deep in thinking, "I decide I am excited about the baby!"
He wrapped his body around me, arms and cheek resting right on my belly, right where they should be.
He did tell my parents, devising a sneaky little toast of Diet Cokes and Shirley Temples and cupcakes over dinner the next night that made my mom and dad's jaws drop. Then, in the bubble of his own world with his father, he shared the news there, too. Next, with his friends and teachers. The more he spoke the words "I'm going to be a big brother!", the more excitement spilled out over the top.
He's still processing some of it - like why his dad's last name won't be included in the baby's last name and how he will feel on Wednesday nights when it is time to say goodbye to a baby for 24 hours and whether a girl or a boy will be better for him as a much older brother and if he should get more input on a name than he is getting. But right here, in this middle-space of letting those issues sink in and letting the other stuff burst out, this is happy and good and exciting and a little bit scary. 
More over-sugared cookies then. And sorbet. And silly pictures. And promises that however it goes, it will be just fine. Mommy promises. Mommy promises we will all be OK.