Pregnant at 16, Indianapolis native Ashley Wilkens found a loving family to adopt her baby, despite her own family’s reservations. ONE LIFE TO LIVE’s Starr is now seeking to do the same thing. On August 20, 18-year-old Wilkens will make her acting debut, playing an assistant at Starr’s obstetrician’s office. Working closely with The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Wilkens wants other teens to know that adoption is a worthwhile option and has shared her moving story with People, THE MONTEL WILLIAMS SHOW and now, soapoperadigest.com. Providing additional commentary is the National Campaign’s Amy Kramer, assistant director, Entertainment Media and Audience Strategy.
Soap Opera Digest: What was your first acting experience like?
Ashley Wilkens: It was really exciting and fun! It came really easily to me, actually. People told me to just relax and memorize my lines.
Digest: Have you seen OLTL before?
Wilkens: I actually met Bruce Michael Hall [ex-Joey] when I was 11. I’ll watch it occasionally if there’s absolutely nothing else on — no, I’m kidding! I do watch it sometimes, but I haven’t kept up with the whole storyline of Starr’s pregnancy. I have read some of Kristen [Alderson, Starr]’s blogs, and I did a conference call with her once when I shared my story with the writers.
Digest: What parallels or differences do you see between your experience and Starr’s?
Wilkens: The differences are the father is there for her, and my child’s father was not in the picture whatsoever. And I didn’t do an adoption with anybody that I knew.
Digest: On the show, Starr’s boyfriend recently signed papers giving up his legal rights to the child. Did you have to go through the same situation?
Wilkens: I did. I went through my adoption attorney, who had to meet with him to sign the papers…. It was a huge up-and-down thing. He had to do that so that five years from now, he couldn’t come back and say, ‘I had no idea about the adoption. I want my child back.’ Basically, that’s what the papers are stating, you know, ‘I am the known father of so-and- so’s baby and I hereby give up my rights,’ and that’s it.
Digest: When you were exploring adoption, did you have a lot of different people offering you advice, like Starr does?
Wilkens: I had a lot of people telling me what to do. It was a really difficult situation living with my mother and stepfather just because we absolutely did not get along. It was a good month before my mom even helped me out with prenatal vitamins or a doctor’s appointment. It was just so difficult. Long story short, I ended up moving out and moved in with a friend who was really supportive of me. He wasn’t the father and we ended up really liking each other a lot, and it ended up to be more than friends. Things were just so crazy at home and I couldn’t think straight about what I wanted to be, where I wanted to be five years from now. So I was really able to think clearly, not only for my life, but for this child’s life that I was responsible for.
Digest: Why did you settle on adoption?
Wilkens: I thought about all of the options and at that time in my life, adoption fit. You have so many couples who can’t have children and they’ve got everything that they could possible imagine except a child because one of them is infertile, and it’s not their fault. It’s not that I gave my baby away; I didn’t give him up for adoption. I made an adoption plan for him because it’s a blessing. I provided them with something that they couldn’t have for themselves and that I couldn’t handle at that point in my life.
Digest: What would you say are some of the misconceptions about a decision like yours?
Wilkens: A lot of people see it as, ‘Oh, you gave your baby away. How could you do that? It’s such a terrible thing.’ And that’s just because they don’t know. I think that more often than not [the mothers have] family who promise up and down that they’ll take care of the baby, that they’ll help out with it, and like Montel explained, sometimes the parents of the children having the baby want it more than they do. I think it’s two percent of teenage girls who make the decision a year to go through with adoption. That’s just such a low number with all of the young girls getting pregnant and either going into the abortion clinic or having the baby and the baby ending up in the system because they just can’t afford it or it’s too much for them.
Digest: Two percent? That’s staggering.
Amy Kramer: Yeah. It’s hard to know the numbers because adoption is done on a state-by-state basis, but yesterday I had a meeting with the National Council for Adoption and we actually talked about this very thing and it’s fewer than two percent of teen mothers make the decision —
Wilkens: — and go through with it. My adoption attorney and I are really close. I don’t get to see the baby when I want. I do get updates about every six months. I get pictures and letters. There’s no contact; I don’t know where they live. No adoption, I don’t think, is that open unless it’s with a family friend or family member.
Kramer: Right, it’s not like Juno.
Wilkens: No, not at all!
Kramer: You can’t just drive over to the adoptive parents’ house in the middle of the night and hang out with them.
Wilkens: Not at all. But I know in my heart I did what’s best. I have no regrets about the decision that I’ve made. I would not go back and change one thing other than getting my epidural sooner [laughs].
For more information, visit www.thenationalcampaign.org.