Brandon Addison, 27, and Ashley Hautzenrader, 24, seem to lead a very typical life.
The young couple got together several years ago while working together at Toys R Us, and in 2014, they welcomed their first child, Ahnna, into the world.
But that’s where the normalcy stops.
“I didn’t even know she was pregnant with Ahnna,” Brandon explains. “I got a call from a friend asking if Ashley’s baby was mine. We were broken up at the time - but I didn’t even know she was pregnant, let alone gave birth to our child.”
A paternity test proved that Brandon was the father, but he was definitely in a state of shock – especially since Ahnna was born with a severe heart defect that required a transplant at 3 months old.
“I was scared at first,” Brandon recalls. “I was trying to process it all. I finally told my parents about everything, and we went up to see her, to meet my daughter. She was a few weeks old – and that’s when we bonded.”
For the next couple years, Brandon and Ashley had a rocky, but amicable, relationship. Ahnna has always required ‘round-the-clock care, from g-tube feedings to different therapy appointments, and it was difficult for the new parents to focus on anything else.
During spring 2016, however, Brandon couldn’t help but notice that something was different.
“I was getting a little suspicious,” he says. “Ashley always drank energy drinks, but she wasn’t drinking them anymore. And she wouldn’t let me touch her stomach when I hugged her.”
Although he ultimately brushed it off, Brandon had moments where he questioned if Ashley was, in fact, pregnant again.
His instincts were right.
On May 8, 2016, Ashley gave birth to a baby boy named Matthew.
But nobody knew about it.
Brandon was getting ready for work when he got a phone call from the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS).
“They called me and told me that I had a son,” he says. “and that they were now involved. That’s when they told me what Ashley had done – and my heart almost stopped.”
At the time, Ashley was at the University of Iowa Hospital taking care of Ahnna, who was admitted after developing a severe cold.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Ashley was pregnant – and going into labor.
She gave birth to Matthew in a hospital bathroom, where she tried to flush him down a toilet before wrapping him in a pillowcase and leaving him in a trash can. Thankfully, a nurse heard his cries and was able to rescue the newborn before it was too late.
“I was so confused,” Brandon recalls. “I rushed up to the hospital to see my son, and he was really, really cold, but healthy."
Ashley was immediately arrested and wound up pleading guilty to child endangerment, and neglect or abandonment of a dependent person.
In exchange, prosecutors dropped an attempted murder charge.
Earlier this month, Ashley was sentenced and avoided any jail time. Instead, she was placed on probation after a three-hour hearing, which included statements from both Ashley and a psychiatrist from Northwestern University.
According to the Iowa City Press Citizen, Dr. Cara Angelotta told the court that she believed Ashley was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder due to the many months of hospitalization she had seen her first child go through, as well as a condition known as pregnancy denial.
The light sentence has Brandon enraged.
“And that’s why I’m speaking out,” he explains. “I don’t want people doing this – thinking they can get rid of their kid and get probation. Ashley had many opportunities to do something the right way.”
Brandon points out the abundance of safe havens, or designated spots, where parents can leave unwanted newborns. These locations include public buildings such as hospitals, police and fire stations, churches and health care clinics. (Locations vary depending on the state.)
“Her punishment is sending out a horrible message to parents out there,” Brandon continues. “Thankfully, as of now, I have both of my children. And Ahnna and Matthew work well as a team together. I couldn’t be happier with them.”
Brandon questions why Ashley would do something so unthinkable - but he hasn't gotten any answers.
“I asked her, and she didn’t really answer me,” he recalls. “I honestly don’t think I’ll ever know the truth. But I’m thankful … Ahnna’s sickness saved Matthew in a way. If Ashley wasn’t at the hospital with her, if she had him at home … who knows what would have happened?”
To learn more about the family’s story, visit their GoFundMe page here.