Updates on Amstel's Life

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My older sister, Michelle, is going to be writing a guest blog post for Amstel Life.  On a personal level, she's closely observed what it's been like for me to go through the entire adoption process.  On a professional level, she's a licensed psychologist in the wonderful state of North Carolina, so I think her perspective will be an interesting one.  Yes, this is the sister who used to be a seasonal police officer, who owns pet rats because she truly enjoys their company, and who tackled a peeping tom outside of my aunt's window and put him in a headlock until the police and paramedics arrived.  THAT sister.  She refuses to reveal to me the topic of her post and the date it will be completed.  Heck, she probably hasn't started yet, but we do our best work under pressure, right?   

Michelle has really changed since high school.  Here she is below:

Just kidding.  Those are her fake cleatus teeth.  
Did you believe me?  Okay, here she really is.  
This picture was taken during her Katherine Heigl stage.

Michelle--we anxiously wait for your post.  

Now for some updates:
Robbie went to visit Don, De, and Deanna a few weeks ago.  He stayed with them overnight and had the wonderful opportunity to take Deanna to school the next day with De.  He got to see her classroom, talk to her teachers, and see what her daily routine is like.  Isn't that cool?  


De recently had some homework to do for Deanna's class....
Look at what she made:

Isn't De so creative and crafty?  I wish I had that kind of artistic ability.  When I was in 4th grade I tried to make a paper mache replica of my then idol, Dominique Moceanu.  Regretfully, it didn't even resemble a human being, and I think the arms fell off a short time later.  My mom said it was great though!  Hey, I tried, right?  I'm crossing my fingers that Deanna will take after De's creative side...and not mine.

And my final update of the day...
I'm five weeks into a Beth Moore Bible study and it's like nothing I've ever experienced before.  Have you heard of Beth Moore?  If you have, then I need not say anything else.  If you haven't, then you need to.  She is a popular Bible study teacher who is absolutely hilarious and incredibly insightful, and she has great hair that is constantly changing.  She is a firecracker!

Take a look at this picture I found from many years ago of Beth rocking the Carol Brady!  Whew, look at that hair!  If that doesn't motivate you to learn more about her...

The study I'm doing is called, "Breaking Free" ...
In Breaking Free, best-selling author and popular Bible teacher Beth Moore takes you on a journey to discovering true spiritual freedom - the abundant life God intends for every believer - by identifying spiritual strongholds and removing all obstacles that hinder you from enjoying the benefits of a relationship with God. 

What makes this Bible study so special for me?  Well for starters, it's my first one.  And not only that, I admit to you that I had never consistently read the Bible until now.  I had skimmed through it before (here and there) and heard the word during church on Sundays, but I actually never found myself wanting to sit down and read it consistently -- until now.  It might have been Beth Moore's Texas-twanged accent when she said, "Get in The Word, girlfriend!" that motivated me to actually get started, but it was the contents of the book that kept me going back.  I can't believe what I've been missing out on.

I found one of the very first lessons in the study to be especially pertinent to my life.  Beth Moore writes,  
"I believe God's hatred of pride expresses His love. Pride slights Him, but it destroys us.  Uzziah had been a good man. An excellent king. A wonderful provider. A courageous warrior. Even a visionary and an entrepreneur. Yet, when his life was over, all people could say was, "He had leprosy." How like our human natures-both in our tendency towards pride when we are blessed with success and in our tendency to judge someone's entire life by a brief season of failure..."  

A brief season of failure.  This lesson really stood out to me.  Why is it that we tend to remember people for their mistakes rather than for their greatest achievements?  I can sort of relate to that.  I thought that lesson was super interesting, and so many of Beth's other lessons that have just blown me away.  I constantly find myself thinking, "I never thought about it like that!" or  "He did that for me????"  I've learned so much already, and I'm absolutely loving it. The Lord has been so good to me.

For the next couple of weeks, I'm going to continue to devote most of my time to my "homework," identifying the strongholds and obstacles in my life, and breaking free from those strongholds and obstacles.  That's not to say that I'm putting Amstel Life completely on the back burner, but I think this will be an awesome opportunity for me to really grow as a person and to put some things I've dealt with in the past to rest.  And this will also be an awesome opportunity to introduce some guest bloggers who have their own perspectives about open adoption!  Ahem, Michelle.  Anyone have suggestions for guest bloggers for Amstel Life? 

I'm so excited about the next few weeks, and I hope that you'll continue to keep up with Amstel Life!  
There are going to be some awesome changes coming your way soon... :) 

Jesus said to him, "Is it because you have seen me that you have believed? How blessed are those who have never seen me and yet have believed!"
John 20:29

Five Years!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Today marks exactly five years since Robbie and I met Don and De for the very first time. 

I can't believe it's been that long already!

I couldn't say it any better than De, who has said, 
"We adopted 1 and got 50 free!"

Who would have thought that one little babe...

...could have brought all of these crazy people together!


The Open Adoption Ideal

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Well, it looks like the resounding response to the pepperoni roll poll is that most of you would have either thrown the pepperoni roll...or found something far more substantial to throw.  Either way, GOOD answers people.  I like where your heads are at.

In other news, the squirrel that I ran over last week has not appeared inside my vehicle to commit a surprise retaliation attack.  No worries--my guard is still up.  

Obviously I haven't been thinking about this too much.

 Okay, you're right--that's a prairie dog--I tried.  

I've noticed that more people than usual have been reading and commenting on my blog and linking their blogs to Amstel Life.  I am so completely overwhelmed and thankful for the positive response I've gotten to my blog; our story.  Every time I read a new comment or email, I am constantly reminded of the impact that sharing our story has had.  I think that's what makes it easy for me to be so open in sharing my experience as a birthmother.  I know that somebody out there is learning something new about open adoption, and that's awesome.  People often refer to our open adoption as the "ideal situation."  I am beyond flattered that some people think of our open adoption as ideal. I hope that people also recognize that "ideal" doesn't have to mean "rare" when it comes to open adoption!

I noticed that Laurel from Laurel Blogs wrote on her post (Some Good Stuff) that she loves to read my blog because of the awesome relationship I have with my daughter and her adoptive parents.  Thank you!  Laurel also wrote, "(And please don't leave me comments that say, "But Laurel...adoption just sometimes doesn't work out that way..." because I know this. I'm talking in an ideal world, here.)  Laurel brings up such a great point.  I often hear people who say to me that this type of situation just doesn't work out with most people.  I often find myself questioning what we did so right to end up in this kind of "ideal" situation. I know that "ideal" has a different meaning for everyone, but to me, an ideal open adoption is one where everyone respects each other, everyone openly communicates their thoughts and feelings, and most importantly, everyone puts the child's well-being at the forefront of every decision.  So how exactly do we make our open adoption work?  Here are some things that have worked for us..

1)  If you are a prospective birthmother, choose an adoptive couple/family who you could see yourself having a strong relationship with many years down the road.  Choose people with similar interests, values, and morals as your own.  You're going to have to do a ton of research, but get to know as much as humanly possible about each other before the actual adoption.  The more couples you interview, the better chance you have of finding a perfect match for you.  If you're not comfortable with an agency, ask family, friends, and co-workers if they know anyone who is looking to adopt.  Sometimes, the best match can come from someone who knows someone who knows someone.  In fact, that's how we met each other!

2)  If you are a prospective adoptive couple, once you are matched with (or chosen by) a birthmom, start to build your relationship soon, but as naturally as possible.  Don't ask questions about the baby as soon as you meet.  Concentrate on getting know each other first.  When Robbie and I first met Don and De, I was so stubborn.  I didn't even want to consider adoption.  But Don and De started by asking Robbie & I questions, not about the baby, but about us.  I could tell immediately that Don and De were interesting in getting to know us as people and not just trying to get a baby out of the deal. Yes, I know, that's not always feasible to tell if someone genuinely cares about you at first meet, but that's why you must continue to develop your relationship further before the actual adoption...and afterwards too.

3) As your relationship continues to develop, start asking more personal questions.  Eventually, you should ask each other every question you can think of under the sun.  Nothing should be off-limits to talk about.  
Some things we thought to ask each other included: 
-Are you ever going to try adopting again?
-Do you anticipate having to move away? 
-How will you discipline you children?
-What type of life insurance, college fund, etc. will you set up?  
-Should something happen to you both, who will take custody?
-Will you both be working, or will De be a stay-at-home mom?
-How often do you anticipate we will be able to visit Deanna?
-How will you tell Deanna about her adoption?
-Will we see Deanna less as she gets older?
-May we speak to your family and friends to ask them some questions about you?
-And the list goes on....

4)  Interview family and friends of the birthmom or adoptive couple you are considering.  What do these people have to say about their character, lifestyle, morals, etc?  Find out as much as you can from the acquaintances of the people you are considering.  Open adoption is a verbal agreement, not a signed contract, so do as much as possible to build a relationship based on trust and respect for each other. 

5)  Do activities together before the birth.  De and I had a joint baby shower together.  She got baby clothes and strollers, and I got college supplies, bikinis, and skinny jeans.  It gave me a lot to look forward to (namely, college and not having kankles). Sometimes, however, a baby shower can be too much.  That's okay!  You can do other things together like cook a family dinner, go shopping, or help to decorate the nursery.  If it's not too much, you may even consider going to doctors visits together.  The best part about open adoption is that you have the ability to set limits, to decide together what works and what doesn't, and to build a relationship with the people you will likely share a special bond with for the rest of your lives.

6)  Decide on a birth plan before the hospital.  Birthmom Buds is an awesome birthmom network, and the founder, Coley, has created a medical brochure titled "Defining Adoption Guidelines for Medical Professionals" and the hospital action plan that coincides with it. The medical brochure is made to educate hospital staff, doctors, nurses, etc. on adoption from a birthmother's perspective in the hopes to create better hospital experiences for birthmothers. The hospital action plan goes over most of the aspects of the hospital experience for a birthmother and allows her to write in her desires and wishes for her hospital stay. It can then be shared with the adoptive parents if they are participating in the labor and delivery in anyway so that everyone can be on the same page regarding her desires. Visit http://www.birthmombuds.com/hospital.htm for more info. 

7)  After the birth, learning the boundaries of open adoption will be difficult at first.  You can talk about what to expect until you turn blue, but everything after the birth is a whole 'nother story!  You'll learn as you go, but as long as you continue to communicate and be honest with each other, things should start to come together eventually.  I can't stress enough how important communication is in open adoption. Since our open adoption was very open, sometimes I had a hard time saying no to visiting.  After a long day of class, sometimes I felt guilty for saying no to stopping by to see De and Deanna. There were times I just needed to take a break and be alone.  I learned to take care of myself first and to visit only when I felt emotionally ready. And that made our visits so much better. 

8)  Counseling, counseling, counseling.  Counseling.  This is especially targeted towards birthmothers, because I know how much this has benefited me, but counseling at some point is probably a good idea for everyone.  Birthmoms, you have got to take time to heal.  It took me a long time (almost 2 years) before I was finally ready to open up and share my experience with open adoption.  I was mad at the world for a solid 24 months!  But counseling helped me first to heal emotionally, second to accept the decision that I made, and finally to realize the impact my story could have on others.  Did I mention that my counselor at NC State was amazing???

9)  Learn to accept that things will change...but life will go on!  Change is inevitable, and trying to prevent change just doesn't work.  People will get new jobs, make new friends, move to new places.  And even though you may not be living in the same place as your child/ adoptive family, with open adoption, you will always be a part of their lives whether near or far.  When Deanna and her family moved to SC, I was pretty upset.  I was afraid I would hardly ever see them.  While that certainly wasn't the case, their move has actually been a blessing for me.  I was able to plan in advance the times I would see Deanna, and that made a huge difference in my life.  I had a chance to breathe a little and to figure out who I was.  One thing I've learned: change can make or break you.  Which will you choose?

10) Help others...together.  With permission from the other parties involved of course, share your stories!  You never know who will be reading or listening.  If you've had a great experience with open adoption, share it.  You never know who could benefit from hearing your story.  Who knows, maybe even a blog would be a great start.  (Be sure to ask permission to use names too).  For me, giving back has been one of the best ways to heal.  I think sharing our story has brought us all closer together.  I like that.

Good thing this post wasn't long or anything.  Look, I know that our open adoption probably seems ideal to most people, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been challenging and difficult at times.  And that doesn't mean that it never happens this way in real life.  I know that not everyone has the experience with open adoption that we have had, but I just can't ignore the fact that it has worked so well for us, and we have heard so many stories from people who have amazing open adoption stories too!  (Rebekah & Rebekah, anyone?)  So how could we not share?  I'm not saying that my advice will help everyone, but I thought it would at least be worth sharing.  Hey, it worked for us, right?  Alright, good talk.

For all of those bloggers out there who have successful open adoptions, what has worked for you?  
What has not worked so well?  
Do you have anything else to add to the list?  
Comments please!