A Christian Couple Gave Me a Room. Then They Asked Me to Give Them My Baby.

Shannon Ashley

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=2BgsCM_0XiSc93q00Author's daughter, January 2015

A few months after my daughter was born, it became obvious that I had to get away from her father. Although he’d left me early in the pregnancy, I was still under his thrall. I had so many fears about my ability to be a single mom and I held very little agency on my own.

Most of my time was spent cooped up in our old apartment as he built a life with a new girlfriend in Georgia. He was my closest connection to the outside world, but he was also very selfish and cruel.

The lease on the apartment was soon to expire. Before I gave birth, my ex sublet our apartment out to his very first mistress, an older woman he’d met more than 10 years before. She and her boyfriend were not especially kind. They behaved as if me and my daughter were a terrible inconvenience although I spent most of our time in the master bedroom. While they were away at work, I moved out into the common areas — the living room or the kitchen. The arrangement was terribly depressing. They felt entitled to use all of my belongings but complained that my daughter cried too much.

She had colic.

Meanwhile, her father didn’t understand why it bothered me so much to be stuck at home with our infant. Why I was so miserable when I couldn’t get out of the house. On a few occasions, I did walk to Target, but it was very difficult with a baby strapped to my chest. I had no money, no job, no stroller, and the apartment was nearly a mile out from the main road.

It didn’t help that it was summertime in Tennessee. Walking that way, with a crying, colicky infant must have been a sight, because a stranger stopped and asked if we needed a ride back home. I was so tired, hot, and miserable that I said yes without considering the consequences of taking a ride from a stranger.

Fortunately, he was polite and gave the ride without any hassle. When I got home, however, I knew I would never walk to Target again.

It’s difficult to explain what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship with someone who no longer loves you. My ex and I were not “together.” That didn’t stop him from pressuring or manipulating me. It didn’t stop me from feeling like I had nothing else in the world but him.

Some old friends up in Minnesota and Wisconsin were very concerned about me, however. When I wrote about my life in pitiful Facebook updates, they recognized the abuse and offered to fly me back to the Twin Cities.

During the entire pregnancy, I fought against going back “home” to Minnesota because I was so afraid I’d somehow be stuck with my mentally unstable mother. In those days, I didn’t grasp the weight of her mental illness, but I knew I didn’t want my daughter raised the way my mom raised me.

One of the biggest reasons I agreed to fly back to the Twin Cities was that my friends and acquaintances up there promised to help find a better living arrangement for me and my daughter.

At first, I stayed alone in Minneapolis in the home of somebody’s friend who was out of town but used to having couch surfers. When she returned earlier than expected, they found a church friend in Wisconsin who was willing to take me in.

The hostess was terribly kind and a wonderful person, but suffered from extreme anxieties that made my life there terribly stressful. She also lived in a part of Hudson that wasn’t well-suited for folks without a car, so, I set my sights on finding a new arrangement as soon as possible.

I began sending emails out to various churches and pro-life groups around the Twin Cities. I must have sent out about 200 different emails explaining my situation and asking if they might be able to find anyone willing to house me and my daughter as I got back on my feet.

The reason I wrote to churches and pro-life groups was obvious — or so I thought. These are the people who are so vocal about women “choosing life.” And that’s what I’d done, right?

I’d weighed out all of my options during my crisis pregnancy, and I chose unplanned parenthood. Surely, those folks would want to help.

As it turns out, I received lots of offers for rides to church. But no one thought they could help us find a room. Can’t you stay with your mother, they’d ask? Other family? Friends?

It was hard for people to understand that living with my mother wasn’t even feasible because she had a one-bedroom subsidized apartment in a senior building. I wasn’t allowed to stay there for more than two weeks at a time. And then, when I explained how I was looking for a living situation that was either in a very walkable neighborhood or on a bus line, I got the distinct impression that people thought I was asking for too much.

Of course, I knew that I was asking for a lot. But it wasn’t “too much.” I grew up in the evangelical and pro-life movements. I was asking for a room, yes. But I would provide my own food through my monthly SNAP allowance. My ex was just beginning to pay child support that would cover my other basic expenses like diapers and personal hygiene. If I could just find a place to stay, I knew I could start writing and get back on my feet.

I flew up to the Twin Cities in early July 2014. I didn’t find a place to live until early October. It finally happened when I connected with a Christian couple who said they ran a sort of “mentorship program” for women in crisis pregnancies.

The couple asked me to meet them at Target, where they bought me a coffee and chatted a bit about my situation. To be honest, I was excited when they told me about their ministry because I was so lonely. I thought they were going to partner me up with a mentor too, and it was (at that point) a big dream of mine to find a “surrogate family.” I didn’t want to raise my baby without that.

In reality, though, that’s not what happened. At the end of our chat, they said they’d look around for a place for me. The wife kindly took me shopping for some baby supplies since we were already at the store.

But they never did set me up with a mentor. At some point, however, one of the churches I’d emailed connected with them and recommended a different Christian couple who might be able to help.

The couple that ran the mentorship ministry took me out for lunch and then drove me to a home in Bloomington. The couple that lived there was young, and they’d only just bought their house in July. They already had a young school teacher living upstairs and told me it was their dream to open their home to those in need. The whole reason they bought that house, they said, was because God wanted them to buy it and start this ministry.

They offered me and my infant a room. And while I knew that living with strangers is never ideal, I was hopeful for my future for the first time in many months. It’s not as if I wanted to be “ministered to.” I also didn’t like the idea of being pitied or “witnessed to,” but I didn’t want to feel so alone anymore.

I longed for companionship. For friendship. I knew my loneliness was killing me, and for a while, I thought this was my opportunity to finally make new lifelong friends.

But I was wrong. I was so wrong

It doesn’t matter how normal or kind someone seems to be when you first meet them. I’ve learned this the hard way. The couple who offered us the room seemed about as normal and kind as you might expect very earnest and young married Christians to be. They had stellar reputations within their church and across various ministries in the Twin Cities. I had no reason to question this.

Once I moved in, however, I realized that things weren’t what they seemed. They were noticeably proud of themselves for taking me and my daughter in. But they were not overly hospitable. They heavily discouraged me from leaving any sort of baby gear around the house. I had to plead my case to temporarily place a pack-n-play, high chair, or activity saucer in the large, and mostly empty dining room.

They behaved as if I wanted to disrespect them, and I found myself walking on eggshells. I couldn’t forget I was only there as a favor. I wasn’t a friend or family member. I wasn’t a guest. I was just a favor that made them feel good.

How did I know this? It was pretty easy to put the pieces together. They’d throw get-togethers with their Bible study group or whatever and ask me beforehand not to interrupt and to please stay in my room. Then, they’d text me during the gathering, telling me to make an appearance. I’d go out there with my baby, nervous around strangers, and trying to look appropriately grateful. The strangers would all ooh and ah over my daughter, and then tell me how lucky I was. How amazing the people I lived with were to be so unselfish.

Nobody seemed to realize how it felt to be continually told I was a burden, but lucky, or to be pranced out whenever it suited my hosts.

I officially lost all faith in God or Jesus during this time. That’s no surprise. I was so, so lonely that I cried every night before falling asleep. And I was devastated when it turned out that the Christians I lived with had little interest in actually befriending me.

The more I tried to explain what I needed, the more they held me at a distance like the sort of charity they could barely stand to touch.

Practically every interaction I had with them inside of their home was some sort of intervention or lecture. Initially, I’d get my hopes up when they invited me to eat with them or to meet with them. I’d think “this was it,” and we’d finally spend more time together.

But it never happened. Instead, they typically wanted me to do something different. Read my Bible. Go to church.

Once, the husband told me he’d talked with my ex, who was concerned that if he married his girlfriend at the time, he’d be forced to pay “too much” child support. I found it incredibly inappropriate that he’d been talking with my daughter’s dad, but it was even worse that he was trying to make me feel bad for him.

I’ve never understood this mentality among Christians who try to guilt me into feeling pity for my ex after how terribly he treated me and our child. They seem to think I should be the one to take on all the responsibility (physically, emotional, financial, etc) of parenting while her father contributes nothing but what he feels like giving. It’s an absurd mentality, but it’s something I’ve run into often over the years.

As much as these folks meant well, and as generous as they were to have given me and my baby a temporary roof over our heads, too much of what they said and did was not kind at all. On more than one occasion, they chastised me for not asking them for more help. Supposedly, they wanted me to ask them to babysit.

Yet every time I asked them to watch my daughter — even just for 20 minutes so I could shower upstairs — they complained about how busy they were. Once again, they made it clear that this was a big favor. And a huge burden.

A couple of months after we moved into their suburban home, it was time to start my daughter on solid foods. I bought a $39 convertible high chair set that could later split off into a chair and table. It was an awkward conversation, trying to help my hosts understand why I needed to keep the high chair in the kitchen or dining room area.

They had an ant problem in the dining room and felt certain that it must be my fault. No matter how much I washed and cleaned the high chair, they were convinced I was doing something wrong. I wasn’t angry with them, but it was frustrating.

On the one hand, I understood that they were still young (in their late twenties), and they had no children of their own. I might have been that naive and inflexible too just a few years earlier.

“Do you think it’s wrong for babies to cry?” the wife asked me one day.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“I just noticed that you always pick her up when she cries, so, I wondered if you think you shouldn’t let a baby cry.”

I thought about that for a moment.

“No, I don’t think it’s wrong for babies to cry,” I answered. “But at the same time, I don’t think it’s beneficial to let her cry just because I can.”

Then, I explained more of my parenting philosophy. That I was doing my best to build a secure bond with my daughter since I couldn’t guarantee what sort of bond she’d have with her dad. It didn’t make sense to let my daughter cry if I could figure out why she was crying and deal with it. Usually, she did better from simply being held, and I was never worried about holding her “too much.”

It was a very uncomfortable conversation. I wasn’t sure why I got the impression that I was being scrutinized for “holding my baby too often.”

Shortly after that, the husband also took me aside to have the first of many conversations about how I should raise my kid. I’m not positive about which of his talks came first. They were all so ridiculous that I couldn’t believe we were having the conversations at all.

Often, he urged me to put my daughter into a foster care-adjacent program that his mother ran. They thought I should give my baby to somebody else for safekeeping for at least a few weeks to focus on getting a job at a daycare.

I was adamant every time that it wasn’t a viable solution for me. I don’t have any interest in being away from my kid, I explained. I had no interest in leaving her with strangers. And I certainly had no desire to work at a daycare.

At that point, my daughter was eight or nine months old. I understood this was going to be a difficult life. I knew my situation was far from ideal. But I also saw it wasn’t impossible, and I believed that I would get back on my feet. Eventually.

In November 2014, I signed on with a social media marketing agency to write from home. I knew I’d get myself together. My hosts didn’t, I suppose. By all of the little lectures they gave me during my time in their home, they didn’t think too highly of me at all.

One day, as I sat at the kitchen table, spoon-feeding mashed peas to my daughter, the husband sat down next to me for one of those talks.

“Shannon, I hope you know how much we love Sophie. As much as our own daughter,” he began.

I tried to hide my revulsion at his words. If they loved my daughter so much, they had a funny way of showing it. They had a funny way of treating me.

Holding my tongue, I waited to see where he was going with his speech. The next part still feels jumbled in my head. Years later, his message haunts me.

“We hope that you would consider us to take care of her. Instead of giving her to strangers for adoption, we would be great parents. We love children and we love her.”

I felt sick at the implication.

“But I’m raising her,” I said. “I’m not putting her up for adoption.”

His response felt so cold. “If or when you change your mind. Would you consider giving her to us? She’d have two parents who love her. She’d have everything she needs.”

The attitude seemed so certain. So expectant. He was so certain that I was a failure of a mother. So certain that they would do a better job than me.

I’ve never understood how easily people have thrown around the notion of adoption as the premier solution to my troubles. During my pregnancy, her father told me to consider adoption. After she was born, he continued to make the suggestion every time I told him he wasn’t pulling his weight or that I didn’t think I could do this on my own.

“Then put her up for adoption,” he’d say. “Just put her into a good home.”

Strangers and acquaintances held a similar view. The crisis pregnancy centers and other pro-life groups. None of them seemed able to comprehend how a 32-year-old woman could have gotten herself into my situation. Pregnant, unemployed, homeless, and alone. People called me stupid and irresponsible.

What upset me the most was the way they assumed I couldn’t get back on my feet. I hated every person who looked at me with pity or disdain and also suggested adoption was the right choice for me simply because I had no money or resources at the time.

“Give her to someone who can give her a better life,” they’d say. A whole lot of people assumed I wouldn’t be the one who could do better.

Adoption was never the right choice for me. I never had it in me to carry a pregnancy to term and deliver a baby only to hand her off to other parents. There are many different types of love and strength in this world, but I lack the strength to give a child up for adoption. And I’ve never once felt guilty about that.

Among the many things I’ve grown to dislike about the pro-life movement is this assumption that adoption is always an easier or “better” choice than parenting or abortion. As if it’s psychologically sound.

It’s not.

Even when I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a mother, I knew it would bother me too much to wonder about my child’s adoptive family. Even if I was still involved. I couldn’t bear the thought of this child living in the world away from me.

Every time some supposedly pro-life person treats me or my daughter with even a hint of disdain because I had her “out of wedlock,” or because I dare concern myself with her emotional needs — it reminds me. I find it hard, if not impossible, to imagine that any random person could randomly understand and care about my daughter as much as me.

I never intended to be a mother, but once the opportunity presented itself with the unplanned pregnancy, I couldn’t give my child to anyone else. If I did that, I saw a lifetime of depression and regret.

For all of these reasons, and so many others, I told everybody no. No, I wouldn’t put my daughter up for adoption. Not even on the hardest day. No, I wasn’t about to give her away to the couple who gave us a temporary room. And to be fair, they certainly never earned the right to my child, nor proved their love.

In the end, my relationship with the couple went south. Maybe they were bitter, maybe I was bitter. While we were still living in their home, the couple that had been so certain about running an in-home ministry was no longer so gung-ho about it. I could see it coming in their not-so-subtle complaints about the bills and inconveniences of homeownership.

God spoke to them, they announced in the spring. He wanted them to sell the house. Was it strange for God to lead them in this new direction? After all, they hadn’t even owned the house for eight months. We don’t question God’s ways, they said.

“What an inspiration!” Their friends declared. “They are so Godly. What faith!”

With this news, of course, came the necessity for everyone to move. I would have to find a new arrangement for me and my daughter. The same thing went for the schoolteacher upstairs.

Before I knew it, though, my hosts began sending out terse text messages reminding us to get out of the house so they could show it to potential buyers. I once made the mistake of falling ill with the stomach flu and they accused me of trying to ruin potential sales.

“Why haven’t you found a place yet,” the husband asked me every day. He’d given me a deadline which was still several weeks away, but he was concerned that I might not leave. I assured him that I was looking for suitable arrangements and would go back to a shelter if I had to, just so I was gone by the move out date they gave me.

That wasn’t good enough.

“I don’t want to call the sheriff on you if you don’t leave,” he said. “But I will if I have to.”

Again, I assured him that I would leave, but told him his comment was incredibly insulting. After living with them for months and doing everything I could to not upset them, it was awful to hear that they didn’t trust me at all.

I grew bitter and angry about the whole thing, and I talked about it on Facebook. How I was so sick of Christian hypocrisy. How they sure didn’t act as if they really “loved” my daughter. A mutual friend saw some of my updates and asked me to stop.

“How can you say such terrible things about such wonderful people?”

I asked her, “How can such wonderful people do such terrible things?”

I wish she had a good answer. And I wish I could tell you that this sort of attitude is rare. But it’s not.

Plenty of people feel shockingly entitled to control you as soon as they do anything for you. So, it helps to suss out why they “help people” in the first place. It’s impossible to trust those who mostly help others to look good or pious. Anyone who wants to parade you out in front of their friends and show off their benevolence isn’t really too benevolent.

That doesn’t mean they can’t help anyone. But it does mean that you need to be careful and not let people like that sway you from your path. Everybody needs help sometimes. There’s no shame in that.

When you need help, however, you are in a vulnerable place. Some folks will try to take advantage of that. Some might try to push you into their lifestyle or mindset. There are people out there with ridiculous agendas.

It’s up to you to be firm about who you are, or at least, who you want to be. The couple that gave me a room seemed to expect me to hand over my daughter. Whether it was intentional or not, their expectancy and calloused attitude nearly snuffed out my dreams.

Today, I’m so glad it didn’t happen. I’m glad I didn’t let them put their junk theology on me and convince me to give my baby away.

My 6-year-old daughter appreciates it too.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0NQsqD_0XiSc93q00Author's daughter, September 2020

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Single mama, full-time writer, ex-vangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. I cover real-life issues, like family, parenting, relationships, and spiritual abuse.

Cleveland, TN

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