Chicago, Here I Come!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving break was so incredibly relaxing.  Besides visiting family and friends and doing a little shopping, I did close to nothing and I absolutely loved it.  Sometimes I forget how to stop working, writing, perfecting.  It's nice to be able to put away the old laptop and cell phone and just relax  :)

On Thanksgiving day, we went to my uncle Marty and aunt Sue's house.  There were a ton of people there!  I'd say at one point there were at least 25 people in one house.  We stuffed ourselves silly, held a huge family talent show on the piano, and played charades and trivial pursuit. Then we watched Brian Regan stand-up comedy.  What a way to end the night!  "Ohhhh, show horses!"

Tomorrow morning I'm heading to Chicago for a radiology trade show for work.  Then I'll be going back home to Raleigh on Thursday.  I'm looking forward to working hard during the day, having some fun at night with my colleagues, and visiting one of my very best friends, Billy.  Billy and I swam together since middle school, and we have remained good friends. He's working in Chicago, and we're planning on meeting up at some point while I'm there.  I'm looking forward to catching up with him and reminiscing about old (good) times during swim team and such.  Like the time we were life guarding a rec swim together and we couldn't get the attention of an older gentleman who was still swimming laps when it was time to shut the pool down.  Always resourceful, Billy conjured up a large poking device from pool noodles and after several unsuccessful attempts, we finally prodded old man swimmer hard enough to get his attention so we could go home.  I think that story pretty much sums up our relationship. 

Chicago, here I come!

Back to the 'Burgh

Monday, November 23, 2009

I'm flying back home tonight for Thanksgiving break.  Back to good old Moon Township, Pennsylvania.  I'm super excited to see all my crazy/wonderful/amazing family and friends.  But at the same time, I still get apprehensive about going home.  The truth is, when I go back to Pittsburgh, it brings back so many memories from my senior year of high school.  And I don't like those memories.  I don't like them at all.

I left Pittsburgh when I was 7 months pregnant, moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, had the little babe, and I never looked back.  Okay, I'd like to think that I never looked back, but I actually did. The first time I went back to Pittsburgh after Deanna was born, I was really nervous.  I went back in September of 2006 to give my crown to the next Homecoming Queen.  I knew that people were going to bombard me with questions about what had happened.  Remember, I left with a baby in my belly and I didn't return with one.  I can see how that might pique people's curiosity.  I remember walking around at the homecoming football game, knowing there were a lot of eyes burning through me. So I put on a smile and kept it all together.  But inside, I knew that things weren't really all together.  Things weren't really okay.  I was depressed and very sad about my loss. I had lost a lot of weigh and I was still struggling with transitioning into being a college student after going through the entire pregnancy and adoption.  But my pride got the best of me, and I made sure nobody ever knew that I was struggling.   I'm doing great, everything is fine, and I'm very happy in Raleigh.  I love college, my daughter is great, and I couldn't be happier.  Thanks for asking. 

People can be so cruel.  There were people in my high school who, I believe, took pleasure in my unfortunate circumstance.  They pointed, they stared, they gossiped.  They were happy to see me quit swimming, to fail.  There were people who made unpleasant remarks, people who asked very inappropriate questions, and even several teachers who told me what I should or shouldn't do regarding adoption or parenting.  A figure of authority at school even suggested that I have an abortion. It was horrific.  I couldn't take it any longer.  I left school when I was four months pregnant to be home-bound tutored.  During this time, three of my teachers came to my house once a week.  I only had three classes left to graduate.  It was nice to be out of the spotlight and to be able to concentrate solely on graduating and my decision, but it was also very depressing because I was home alone for most of the day.  My parents were at work, my sisters were at school, and I was home alone with a growing belly. And the women on The View?  They became some of my closest friends. How I loved watching Elisabeth Hassellbeck and her growing belly.  I envied her excitement and how she had done things "the right way."  Aside from going to a bi-weekly appointment at our local crisis pregnancy center and visits from Robbie and my close friends, I experienced very little social interaction during that time. Memories.

As I've gotten older, I've become more confident and comfortable with the decision that I made.  For me, our open adoption just gets better every day.  So this week, I'm going to try really hard to push aside the bad memories and to just think about all of the good.  Because there really are so many great memories that I have of my hometown. (And there's nothing better than the Pittsburgh Steelers!)  My family and friends are a huge part of why I am where I am today, and I'm going to really enjoy the time that I have to spend with them this week.

When I go back home this time, I will still tell people the same thing I said four years ago--I'm doing great, everything is fine, and I'm very happy in Raleigh.  I loved college, my daughter is doing great, and I couldn't be happier--but this time, I will actually be speaking the truth. Now that's something to be thankful for.  Steel City, here I come!

Last year, My sister Michelle and I spent Thanksgiving in South Carolina with our aunt and cousins.
Here are some pictures we took to mark the occasion...

Hank & Bear, Trip to the Dentist

Friday, November 20, 2009

Well, it looks like Bear and Hank are getting along very well after all...
See how well our family members and pets are able to integrate? :)

Breaking News! Deanna had her first big trip to the dentist...

"No cavities here!" -De Dollar.

Sunday Afternoons, Adopting Pets, and Pink Phones

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This past Sunday, Don, De, and Deanna stopped by my new house for the first time!  Don called me on Sunday afternoon because they were in town for the NC State football game and for Deanna's cousin David's baptism.  On their way back to South Carolina, they first stopped by Robbie's house because they agreed to adopt his dog, Bear.  Robbie has been keeping Bear at his house in Raleigh until his family gets settled in their new home in Dallas, but he can't take care of her anymore because he is constantly working, traveling, coaching, etc.  So Don and De agreed to "adopt" Bear until the Leonards are all moved into their new Lone Star State home.  Kind of ironic, isn't it? 

After picking up Bear, Don called me to see if they could stop by to see my new house.  He told me that Deanna had been asking to see "Amy Hutton."  That made me feel really good.  So, a few minutes later, the Dollars arrived at my house.  Deanna ran up to me and gave me a big hug.  She told me about how excited she was that they were taking Bear and how she thinks Bear will really like their dog, Hank.  I laughed.  Hank is a 150 lb Great Dane who's very mellow and likes to spend his days lounging on a big blanket in their garage.  Bear is a young, female Black Lab with loads and loads of uncontrollable energy.  I'm very interested to see how the dogs will adjust to living together.

So I gave Deanna the grand tour of my house, and I brought her upstairs to see my room.  My room is actually a bonus room that was refinished.  It takes up the entire upstairs, so it's pretty big.  Deanna exclaimed, "I want to have this room someday!"  I told her, "If you study hard and go to NC State someday, maybe your dad and mom will let you live in this room when you're in college!"  I could see the wheels turning in her head, as she excitedly thought about the possibility.  She quickly turned her attention to a picture on the nightstand next to my bed. "That's me!" she said excitedly.  I walked across the room and picked up my huge photo album.  Together, Deanna and I sat on the floor and we looked at pictures from the day she was born.  That was the first time I truly knew that she understood our families' evolving relationship.  She loved seeing pictures of Don, De, Robbie and I together at the hospital.  Deanna has an amazing memory, and she remembered every person I pointed to in the pictures, including people she hasn't seen in years.   

Then her attention turned to a small box under my desk.  Precocious little thing pulled it out and began sifting through it.  It was full of random junk that I still hadn't unpacked yet. Her eyes got wide as she reached in and pulled out my old pink cell phone.  I haven't used it in years, but I always saved it just in case.  She asked if she could have it.  I asked her why she needed it, and she told me matter-of-factly, "because I want to play mom and dad."  Sold!  After Don and De said yes, she was absolutely thrilled.  Of course it doesn't work, but she loves that thing.  De sent me an email today that said,

"You should have kept the mobile phone until Christmas - that has been the best gift!  Deanna has called you 1,000 times, along with everyone else we know. She even puts it beside her bed like she expects a call!"

While our afternoon encounter only lasted a short while, it's one of those fun little memories that I'm going to remember for a long time.  Open adoption doesn't have to be a forced, awkward relationship.  It has the potential to be something so much more!  Whether it's a long weekend at the beach or just a quick visit on a Sunday afternoon, open adoption is fulfilling and constantly-evolving.  I think every time I spend time with the Dollars I feel even more blessed to have them in my life. Open adoption is the process of learning to become a part of something that is so much greater than yourself.  

My relationship with Deanna and her parents probably doesn't seem very normal to most people--but when you're a birthmom, this is what normal is.  It's just another story of a day in the life of an incredibly blessed birthmom.  And yes, it's still 100% worth it--even if it means sacrificing my beloved pink cell phone... 

Mono, Selflessness, and Cooler Scooters

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I finally figured out what the mystery illness was that was making me so incredibly sleepy all of the time--the Epstein Barr Virus--aka MONO.  I was completely caught off-guard by the diagnosis because I didn't have any typical "mono-like" symptoms except extreme tiredness.  No cold, no sore throat, no swollen lymphs.  (Yes, I just abbreviated lymph nodes).  Nevertheless, it was mono. Don't worry, it's not contagious anymore, but I'm still sleeping like a hibernating grizzly every day after work.  Good thing I was working out and playing contact sports (co-ed soccer and flag football) without knowing that my spleen could have exploded at any moment.  So there's that.  I'm on the tail-end of my recovery, so I'm and praying for some much-needed energy very soon. 

Alright.  So there's been a ton of stuff going on in my pro-life, pro-open adoption world lately.  On Friday afternoon, I met with a 40-year-old woman who is the mother of the cutest little blue-eyed 5-month-old-baby boy.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, she can no longer care for him.  Without exposing her personal situation, let's just say that finances are the least of her worries right now, and it's not good.  I was asked to speak with her about my experience with open adoption, as she has decided that she wants to go the adoption route.  When I first sat down with her, I was surprised that she brought her baby with her to our meeting.  He was cute as can be, and he sat happily in his stroller during our entire meeting.  His bright blue eyes kept shifting back and forth between his mother and me as we talked, and even though he was cooing and smiling, he looked like he understood exactly what we were talking about.  I half expected him to start stating his requests, "I'd like a nice family with a big brother, a two-story brick house, and one German Shepherd, please." 

I listened as the woman spoke about her difficult situation, and we discussed all of her options.  I have to admit, I was trying hard to hold it all together.  I wanted to adopt her baby!  I asked her if there was anything that Triangle Right to Life or any local church group could do to help her until she got back on her feet.  She looked me directly in the eye and she spoke with confidence. She told me that she was not concerned as much about her financial situation but more-so being able to provide the emotional support that her son needed.  It was clear to me that she had made up her mind about adoption.

When I speak to women considering open adoption, I don't try to persuade them one way or another.  I would never want a woman to go the adoption route if it's not what she feels is absolutely right for her and her baby, and I do not think that adoption is for everyone.  But I do think it's crucial to be honest.  I told her that open adoption is hard, that it's not easy, and that she will most likely be very depressed and sad if she goes through with it.  But at the same time, I also told her that I don't regret my decision and that I still love Deanna more than life itself. And my daughter will always know that.  That's comforting to me. I stressed the importance of choosing a family who she not only gets along with now, but who she could see herself having a strong relationship with 20 years down the road.  I think the relationship between adoptive parents and birthparents is one of the most important factors in the success of the open adoption and the well-being of the adoptee.  I told her about my experience and how we worked out the arrangements for our open adoption. I showed her pictures and I gave her advice on realistic expectations and coping with her decision. We even talked about starting a local birthmother support group afterwards.

Life is funny.  I felt like I had been called to speak to this woman for a reason.  I felt like I had a true connection with her, knowing that we had been in somewhat similar situations.  And I felt like I had helped her tremendously by simply lending a listening ear.  Who knows, maybe that's all she needed.  I think every time I encounter these types of situations I realize even more just how important it is for me to keep spreading the word about open adoption, to keep sharing my story, and to keep on keeping on.

Please keep this woman and her babe in your thoughts prayers and pray that she makes the right decision for her child.  I think the moment a woman is able to realize that her child's well-being is more important than her own, she moves closer to Christ. Adoption is a selfless act of love and a commitment to giving your child more, and I admire this woman for choosing to give her son more than she could provide. 

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29:11 

In other news, I witnessed Deanna's first bee sting (yes, it was absolutely horrific), I had a great time eating fruit kabobs with Don, De, Deanna & friends at their tailgate, and I took my first ride on a motorized cooler scooter with my roommate, Emily, at the NC State football game Saturday. Great times.

Ask Amstel

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I received this email today: 
"Thank you for sharing your story.  It touches me to see two families become one.  I am writing to you for hopes of being able to see a situation from the birth mom's point of view.  My husband and I are adopting a baby boy next year.  My childhood best friend's sister became pregnant and is unable to care for the child.  When we initially all sat down we agreed that she would have a few hours with the baby to say good bye.  (We are having an open adoption with her visiting monthly).  Now we have run into a road-block.  She and her mother think that she should have the entire hospital time for her to say goodbye, allowing my husband and I to visit for two hours a day.  My husband and I don't believe that this is enough time.  I came up with what I thought was a middle ground where we could come in every few hours or so for feedings.  But the birthmother does not agree with this.  I understand that she needs time to say goodbye, but my husband and I also need time to say hello and to bond with our son.  Now I know you can't tell me what to do or what the right thing is but I was hoping to hear how your hospital stay time was handled and how you felt it went for you and the adopting parents.  I need some insight on this.  I would think the more time the birth mom spends with our son it may be more difficult for her to let go.  Please HELP!!"

Thank you so much for contacting me.  First of all, congratulations on the adoption!  You all must be so excited.  It's encouraging to know that you are reading about my experience with open adoption. Unfortunately, while open adoption has the potential be incredibly positive for everyone involved, that doesn't mean that there won't be road-blocks along the way.  This is a really tough situation you have described, and I completely understand where both parties are coming from.  The hospital experience will be one of the most difficult and delicate times that you, your husband, and your birthmom will experience throughout the entire open adoption journey.  It's completely normal for the adoptive parents and birthmom to have different ideas of what the hospital experience should be like.  

I had a close relationship from the start with our adoptive parents, Don and De, and while I was originally very protective of "my baby," I began to slowly open up to them after getting to know them better.  After becoming very close with them, I wanted Don and De to be a part of the hospital experience because I wanted to be able to share that with them. But not all birthmothers are alike, of course.  Your birthmom may still be protecting what she believes is hers--her son--and rightfully so.  She may not be willing to open up to you completely because she is still struggling with her decision.  And that's normal!  Remember that any adoption is only a verbal agreement until the papers are signed, and that the birthmother or adoptive parents may change their minds at any time until then.  That being said, I clearly remember a standout remark from Don and De before Deanna was born.  They told me that no matter what decision I made, to keep the baby or to place her with them, they would be so happy for me and they would accept my decision.  That spoke volumes.  Really?  They won't be mad at me if I keep her?  That said alot about their character, and it showed me that they didn't just care about "getting a baby" but they cared about Amy Hutton as a person. I immediately knew that these were the people who I wanted to raise my daughter. 

Have you expressed interest in your birthmother's well-being?  Does she know that you care about her too?  The bottom line is that she may decide after the baby is born that she wants to keep him, but that most likely won't be affected by the amount of alone time she has with him.  In fact, there are some states that allow birthmoms to spend days, even weeks alone with their baby before adoption is finalized.  If anything, she may even realize how difficult it is to take care of him by herself.  I think (and hope) that your birthmom will be very appreciative if you and your husband allow her to have the space and time she is requesting to have alone with her baby in the hospital.  After all, if you don't honor her request, can you really expect her to compromise on other issues you may have?  Will she be able to trust you with her child?  These are all tough questions she may have if you don't show her that you can respect her wishes. 

I think that bonding with the baby is very important for you and your husband, but I also think that honoring your birthmother's wishes is more important.  Remember, you are laying the ground work for a long journey ahead.  It will take compromise, but this will be the first step in figuring out how things will work.  I encourage you to ask birthmom more questions about the hospital.  Is she afraid of anything?  Will you be in allowed in the hospital room during the birth?  Who will cut the cord?  Will you be able to hold him first or will birthmom?  Could you possibly take a hospital tour with birthmom beforehand to ease fears and to become accustomed to the environment?  There are so many other issues that you may be able to compromise on in exchange for giving her time and space.

It's tough to pinpoint an exact solution because each open adoption scenario is different.  I know it will be difficult to have to wait a few days to really bond with your son, but keep in mind the other side of the equation:  Birthmom is probably thinking that while she only has a few days alone with her son, you and your husband have the rest of your lives with him.  No matter how you look at it, the hospital experience will be a time of intense emotions, uncomfortable situations, and endless compromise.  I think it's excellent that you and your husband are preparing for this time and really thinking about how to compromise fairly.

A final suggestion I have is to try and bond with birthmom as much as possible during these next few months.  Have a family dinner together, get to know each others relatives, friends, and people they know.  What do these people have to say about each others character?  Encourage everyone to ask questions about anything and everything under the sun.  No questions should be off limits because the key is getting everything out on the table in order to eliminate fears and to build a solid foundation for your relationship to grow.  And who knows, perhaps she will open up and ask you and your husband to visit more often in the hospital once baby has arrived.  Of course, this is an ideal scenario, but only time will tell.  

I know that this probably isn't what you and your husband wanted to hear, but remember that I'm coming from a birthmother's perspective and I am partial to this side of the equation.  Please don't hesitate to ask me about any other questions or concerns you may have.  I'm happy to help in any way that I can!  Best of luck to everyone involved in your open adoption.  Remember, if you keep your child's well-being at the center of every decision you make, you will have so many positives to look forward to. 

National Right to Life Urgent Request

URGENT Press Release from National Right to Life:

WASHINGTON (UPDATED Nov. 4, 2009) --
Pro-abortion Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Ca.) is planning to try to ram the massive health care bill (H.R. 3962, previously H.R. 3200) through the U.S. House of Representatives this week. The most critical roll call will occur on a procedural vote -- called "the Rule" -- that is expected to occur late on Friday, November 6, or Saturday, November 7.

National Right to Life is urging every pro-life citizen to immediately TELEPHONE the Washington, D.C. office AND the in-district office of his or her representative in the U.S. House of Representatives with a clear and firm message: "I am a constituent, and I urge you to vote NO on the Rule on the health bill, H.R. 3962, because it does not allow the House to vote on the pro-life Stupak Amendment [pronounced STEW-pak]. The so-called pro-life language that Speaker Pelosi has put into the bill is completely phony. We are not fooled. A vote for this Rule is a vote to set up a new nationwide federal health insurance program, called the "public option," that will be authorized to pay for abortion on demand with federal funds. The only pro-life vote is NO on the Rule on H.R. 3962."

Even if you have already called and written your federal representatives about the health care bills, it is critical that you call again now. Pelosi's party currently controls the House by a margin of 256-177 -- but if as few as 40 Democrats are persuaded to vote with Congressman Stupak in opposition to the "closed rule," it would be impossible for Pelosi to ram the abortion-funding H.R. 3962 through the House. Time is short.

To read NRLC's November 2 letter to U.S. House members, explaining in detail the pro-abortion problems with the bill, click here.


In order to register your opposition to Speaker Pelosi's strong-arm tactic, the "closed rule," that would allow passage of the pro-abortion H.R. 3962, please click the red phone above and then enter your zip code into the "Call Now" box. You will be shown the phone number of the person who represents you in the U.S. House of Representatives, along with specific suggested "talking points" for what you should say to the staff person who answers your call. NOTE: The best times to call the Washington, D.C., office of your representative is generally between 9 AM and 6 PM Eastern Time.

Encourage like-minded friends and family members to also make such calls.
After you enter your zip code, review the short talking points, then make your call. After the call, you will also be given the option of sending a short "feedback" report to National Right to Life by e-mail, telling us what response you received from the congressional staff person. These feedback reports are invaluable to the National Right to Life legislative team as they work day and night against enactment of this pro-abortion legislation. However, don't worry if you don't get an answer to your question - the most important thing is that your representative's staff registers that you want the representative to vote NO on the pro-abortion "Rule" on H.R. 3962, and that you INSIST on adoption of the real pro-life amendment, the Stupak Amendment.

NOTE: If you wish to also fax a letter to your representative in opposition to the "rule" that would allow passage of the pro-abortion H.R. 3962, click here to reach the page that, once you enter your zip code, will lead you to detailed information about your representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, including (in most cases) his or her fax number. Faxed letters are an excellent way to register your opinion. (But do NOT rely on U.S. mail to communicate with your federal representatives, because time is too short.) This link will also give you phone numbers for your representative's in-district offices. For maximum effect, phone your message to the nearest local office, during local business hours, as well as to the Washington, D.C., office of your representative, between the hours of 9 AM and 6 PM Eastern Time. The same page will offer you information on how your representative has voted on the key pro-life issues that have come up in the past.

For further information:
Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director
National Right to Life Committee (NRLC)
Washington, D.C.

To contact us by mail:
National Right to Life, Inc.
512 10th St., NW
Washington, DC 20004-1401

Disney World

Monday, November 2, 2009

Guess who experienced Disney World for the first time last week?
Deanna Marie Dollar! 

Also present:
Deanna's mom and dad--De & Don
Deanna's birthfather--Robbie
Robbie's mom--Mary Beth 
Robbie's sister--Jacqueline
Deanna's birth 2nd-cousin--Caroline
Mary Beth's sister--Aunt Barbara  (Caroline's mom)
Mary Beth's brother-in-law--Uncle Todd (Caroline's dad)
And a whole gaggle of other friends and family.

No, Amstel didn't make the trip this time, it's always nice to see how our families continue to stay connected in each others lives--not because we have to--but because we want to!  

And yes, that's Mary Beth wearing the awesome pirate hat.  Arrrrrrr...