The best part the Bekindr Global Initiative is all the wonderful people we meet! –Eva Ritvo, MD
My Story: Mishell Ann Soto
The day I was born was a battle for my life. My mother struggled with drug abuse and consumed drugs while I was still in her womb. As a result of her addiction, I was two months premature. I was a cocaine-exposed infant and struggled with cocaine addiction. Since my mother was fighting addiction, Child Protection Services placed me in a foster home. It was a large family with seven children in their household. Somehow, they found it in their hearts to add another child…me! My foster parents soon adopted me.
As the years passed, the question of ‘Does Mishell understand that she is adopted?’ surfaced. Yet, even though the thought never entered my mind, it always lingered in the mind of my parents, siblings, and close relatives. My parents decided to wait till I was 18 to tell me, hoping that I would be mature enough to handle the earth-shattering news. Fortunately, that plan wasn’t meant to be.
At the innocent age of 15, I became very sick. My doctor sent a letter to my house. As I opened the letter, I was shocked at the life-changing contents of that letter. I was speechless, truly at a loss for words. Through my tears, I read, “Since Mishell was adopted, we are unable to determine if there illness is something genetic because we do not have access to her biological family’s health history.”
Confused, still crying, and unable to breathe, I remember handing the tear-stained letter to my father. I demanded, in fact, begged to know what the letter meant, but the only answer I received from my Father was, “This doesn’t change anything!” But it did. My life was shattered…it changed everything! That same week, I had lots of questions that needed to be answered, pronto! Yet, the only thing my mother could provide was my birth certificate. It stated my biological parent’s names. Soledad Valentine, Puerto Rican and William Sadberry, African American.
With optimism in my heart feeling there was a ray of light, I decided the first place to search for these people was on social media. I searched for Soledad Valentine…there were five women with that name! But for William Sadberry I could not find anyone. I immediately made the decision to write a message to each person named Soledad Valentine. With great anticipation, I wrote, “If you had a child who was placed for adoption on Sept 12, 1994, she is looking for her biological parents. If not, I am sorry that I took your time, but if so, here is my home number.”
A couple of days later I remember coming home from school to the sound of my Dad’s voice saying he received a call from my biological mother and my heart sank. I was excited and nervous at the same time. Honestly, I thought I’d get into trouble for contacting strangers behind my parents back! But in the end, I believe they understood how much I needed to contact my biological parents. I needed it because deep down, I always knew I was different from my family, but ignored it. Now, I could truly find out who I resembled the most…and ask a hundred other press questions!
So, we set up a day where we could all visit my Mom. The day my family and I went to visit my biological mother is a day I will never forget. It was a crazy day filled with laughter, crying, taking photos and eating great food. That day, I was able to meet my Mom’s husband, Noel, and my little brother, Mathew. It was extremely emotional and at the same time there was enormous tension in the room. My biological mother pulled me aside to talk to me in her room. I asked about my biological father, William. She told me that he was her best friend. My biological father wanted nothing to do with me. So much so, he didn’t even want his name on my birth certificate. That news deeply impacted me because I had never in my life felt unwanted until she told me that. All she knew about him was that he was Irish and his name was Richard. After that, she showed me pictures of the rest of my brothers. I had six additional brothers that I never knew existed and were all placed for adoption for the same reason as I was. She also told me that losing me was extremely hard, since I was the only girl. She confessed that she regretted taking cocaine while she was pregnant with me.
For a couple of months, I put on a pretty good poker face but inside I was heartbroken. I was sad that I lost so much time without my biological brothers and, importantly, I was upset that Mother’s priority when she was pregnant was to get high instead of the infant growing in her womb, me. Then as summer approached, things were far from getting better,. My foster mother who raised me, was diagnosed with cancer. It spread and she soon started not to respond to treatment. She was placed in hospice and by the end of the summer, she was gone.
Over the course of just a few months, it felt like tragedy surrounded me and I couldn’t escape its grasp. The only time I would mourn was when I was alone at night because during the day, I tried to be strong for my Dad. I helped out as much as I could around the house trying to act like things were normal when clearly, they were not. I believed we were all scared to show our real emotions to each other so we all cried alone in our rooms.
That said, my father tried to find any type of comfort he could and he did find solace online. Just after speaking to a woman for only 9 months, he married her. The next summer, he moved my sister and me to Florida. That was when I felt most alone but I found comfort in small things, and photography was one of them. As time passed my father realized this wasn’t the marriage for him, so he decided to end it and we all moved back to Pennsylvania.
After that move, I tried my best to live a simple life yet my illness still presented me with many problems. After many emergency room visits, I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, and was able to receive treatment. After high school, I found I had a passion for photography. It was something that was extremely meaningful to me, it connected me with both my mothers, since they both loved to take pictures. Photography was something that has always been a refuge when I found myself in a rough spot.
I remember when I first moved to Florida, one of the ways I was able to make friends was through photography. Then in August 2015, I decided to attend the University of Valley Forge to study Photography. At the University, I learned how to become independent and learned more about photography techniques, videography, design, and the recording arts. I was able to get a scholarship for the Media Production Team and traveled all around the United States to do live production.
My life was looking up but I was still struggling with my health. There were times when I would get flare ups out of nowhere, but choose to ignore them until it was too far along. My intestines where so damaged that I need surgery to remove a large portion of it just to keep down food. Surgery was planned and I was extremely scared. After the surgery, I recovered for a week in the hospital and then I was excited to finally be home.
Yet, again tragedy stroke! My little biological brother, Mathew called from New York with horrible news. He was heartbroken to tell me that our biological Mother died from an asthma attack. Her last wish was that we could all be there for her passing. So for the first time in twenty-two years, I was in a room with all my biological brothers, planning out our Mother’s funeral.
Looking back, after all the ups and downs on the roller coaster life, I can truly say I am a stronger person. I was able to overcome things that not many people have experienced and I did it by the grace of God. Before my adoptive mother died, she decided to accept Jesus as her Lord and savior, and she told me she had this overwhelming peace. Then when she passed, I couldn’t understand how could someone be at peace if they still knew they were going to die? At that moment, I was willing to do anything for peace and comfort, so I also accepted Jesus into my life. From then even to this day, I knew God protected and loved me, which has helped me when I have felt most vulnerable. I thank Him so much for my life, even during the hard times because now I can inspire others who may have gone through the same hardships, which is God’s purpose for me.
Furthermore, God also brought me to the University to study photography so I can bring visual awareness to people about what happening in different parts of the world. The school introduced me to mission trips. During Christmas I went to Honduras to work in an orphanage telling my story to girls who went through similar things that I did. I was able to take photos of them back to the United States so they could receive help and the funding they need to continue have a good life in a place where there is so much hardship.
Now that I look back at my life and can reflect on everything I went through, I wouldn’t change it for the world because now I know I can be of help to many people. Even though I’ve suffered a lot, I always try my best to inspire, love, and help others end their suffering.
Through tragedy over tragedy, I can honestly say I have never done drugs to numb the pain, drank alcohol to try to forget, or even try to get high in any way. I found that what gives me the most peace was finding the beauty in everything and capturing it through photography. When I went to my biologicals mother’s house, the first thing we did was take pictures. When my adopted mother died, my favorite thing I had of hers was a picture of her beautiful smile. When I moved to Florida, the first thing I did was take photos of new family members, and as I started college, I decided to further my photographic journey by studying what I love.
To me, preserving those moments are key to show and represent the person that I have become today…as well as the stories that each photo represents. My beautiful mother’s smile as she fought through cancer; the picture of the bitter sweet smiles on my brothers’ faces after years of being apart, finally reunited. Now I have opportunity to take photos of other people’s lives and it’s great!
The photos we take represents more than what meets the eye, at Ann.Rose I believe an image is not simply an image, but more of a reflection; a reflection of who are in a perfectly composed into something tangible. To take a perfect photo there are a lot of details that I take into account. Those subtle hints of fabric, light, makeup, hair, and locations are all details that are what make a photo so powerful, inspiring, and historical. The purpose of Ann.Rose is being able to capture what makes you, in the art of photography.
I believe we all have a story, and that story is what makes us the beautiful person we are today. At Ann.Rose, we are known for shooting portraits, and events, yet our real passion has always been Glamour Photography. Glamour Photography is extremely fun because there are so many things that are involved into taking these photos. We have a team of hair and makeup stylists, as well as a dress designer to make sure you are all glamoured up! Yet, there is more to Glamour Photography than just glitter, makeup, hair, and dresses. There is a story behind everyone’s beauty, and that is what we look for! Glamour Photography is a photo about you and the hardships in your life that made you the glamorous person you are today. At Ann.Rose we don’t believe in publishing content that is extremely photoshopped, or manipulating someone’s body like you would see in a fashion magazine. We believe in illustrating the true you!
Why Ann.Rose and not Mishell Soto photography?
My name is Mishell Soto, but know me as Ann.Rose. The name Ann.Rose came from two extremely important women who changed my life forever. These women where my Mothers. My biological mother struggled with alcohol and drug abuse and had to give me away after consuming so much cocaine, she induced herself into early labor. That being said, I was then fostered by the family who adopted me.
I grew up with a passion for many things as a child and one of them being photography. I remember when I got my first camera. I was just 15 and took pictures of everything. I had both Mothers to thank for that, since they have always motivated me to take pictures.
In 2012, I lost my adoptive mother from cancer, and in 2017, I lost my biological mother from an asthma attack, so I decided to reflect my business name with the two women who made me the woman I am today. On my birth certificate, my biological mother wanted my middle name to be Rose, while my adoptive mother wanted it to be Ann, so I then adopted both names…and Ann.Rose was born.