Adoptee Memoirs—It’s a Genre, Not a Menace
Part 2


Today, I'm teaming up with my bestie, Laura Dennis, to talk about why we need MORE adoptee memoirs.  And before you read below, know that this post is Part 2 of this tag-team effort. So, if you haven't read the post at Laura's blog first, pleeeaaaassse click over there to read part one.  Then come back here for the conclusion. Thanks so much for joining our conversation today.

Laura Dennis
Laura—I think you’ve touched on an important point here. Maybe the people who complain about too many adoptee memoirs are something in addition to—or perhaps distinct from, jealousy.

Could it be a fear of truth, of truth-telling?

Could it be a jealousy that their own story holds too many secrets, too much pain, to ever be told publicly with complete openness?

So many times I find that people’s misguided (or just plain nasty) comments stem from something happening in their own lives. That is to say, it really has nothing to do with the person to whom they direct their comment. Instead of being happy for someone who has summoned the courage to stand in their truth, they feel left out—because they feel they could never share their own story; it’s simply off-limits, or there’s too much at stake.

That trade-off that you mentioned, Deanna, is HUGE. It was something I really had to come to terms with in telling my story, as well. I had to make sure that I told my story, my secrets—not someone else’s. I had to look deep down to ensure I wasn’t writing from a place of bitterness. It’s easy to fill a memoir of bad-mouthing; it’s much harder to present the multiple sides of a situation.

I know how hard you’ve struggled with this, Deanna … How much of your story is yours to share? Who are you going to hurt? How can that be possibly avoided? Where does truth-telling fall on the spectrum of owning your story versus gossiping or taking it too far? How did you come to terms with this?

And, is this why some balk at adoptee memoirs? The notion of airing dirty laundry?

Deanna—There is no such thing as too many memoirs, adoptee or otherwise. I believe some people balk at adoptee memoirs or others, for a plethora of reasons. But, the bottom line is—it rests upon the balkers to do the changing, not the writers. 

I encourage anyone who feels led to write a memoir to do so. 

Does it take tremendous courage? Oh yes. 

As you know, although I had contributed to or written other books, I didn't set out to write a book connected to adoption. In fact, I feared it. Then, when I was in the throes of a painful season, I decided to share my story on the blog, mostly for catharsis. I was too broken at the time to even think about publishing a book. But I did pour the story of my life as adoptee out in a 14-part blog series. Later on, it developed into more than I ever imagined. (Worthy to Be Found will be released by Entourage Publishers in December 2015.) 

Writing my story on the blog was frightening, then freeing. My fingers were shaking as I pressed publish on many posts. And I've found the ones that create the most angst within us are the things that the world really needs to hear.

Regarding jealousy, it’s a character flaw. It's a sin. It’s so serious it sometimes leads to death.

Look at most murder cases and you will find that they were motivated by a jealous heart. Proverbs 27:4 says, "Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood. But who can stand before jealousy?" In fact, you will see in scripture that jealousy was the motive for the first murder, in Genesis 4. The story of Rachel and Leah in Genesis 30 shows us some specific things that women deal with. These two sisters were dealing with low self-worth and lack of security, as well as intense envy. Rachel declared, "With mighty wrestlings, I have wrestled with my sister."   

I don’t think many or most are going to lash out at an adoptee memoir writer by murdering them, BUT we’d all do well to check our ‘jealousy meter’  and ask ourselves: “Am I criticizing another adoptee’s memoir because  of jealousy in my heart?  Am I speaking against others writing memoirs because I am jealous that they are gaining attention, or—as you mentioned—because  they have mounted the courage to express what I have been unable to in my life but secretly wish I could?

As for feeling left out— it’s a choice to be left out when it comes to publishing. Never have there been greater opportunities for sharing one’s story. The field is wide open for anyone who wants to share—who mounts the courage to share.  Anyone can get online and start a blog account or self-publish their story. If someone chooses not to do that, it’s their choice. They weren’t “left out” – they simply chose not to for their own personal reasons. Don’t rail at others for something you don’t yet have the inclination or bravery to do.

“Well, some are hurting, not healed yet…aren’t at that point…” 

 It’s like Hemingway once said: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

If you want to write, you’ll write.

Some do balk at it from the dirt laundry standpoint. I’ve heard that as well, and truth be told, it’s yet another sin (yes, this preacher still believes in sin) called PRIDE. Most of what people call discretion, is just bad ol’ fashioned PRIDE.  And if you’re dealing with pride, it’s not other people’s problem, it’s yours.  

As far as how I came to terms with sharing my own adoptee memoir, and receiving the dirty laundry accusation, I simply go to the root of the issue of -- is it true? That's my litmus test, plain and simple. When someone in my family confronted me about publishing my story on the blog, I responded by asking them,"Is what I shared true?" They admitted it was all true.

I am careful as far as it depends on me to publish nothing that is not factual.  I'd gladly correct it or apologize if it ever came to my attention that I said something untrue. Each time someone has pointed out their displeasure with something I've written, I've asked, "Is anything untrue that I've written?" The response was, "No, nothing is untrue, I'm just uncomfortable with it."

Well, sometimes the truth is uncomfortable.

I love the Anne Lamott quote: "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better."

Regarding publishing my adoptee story, a family member reacted with: "Well, I wouldn't write that if it were me."

My reply: "Well, that's good. Because you're not me. You're you."

I agree we do have to take care that we are not writing out of bitterness.  (There's another sin! I'm on a  roll...lol.) And we must take care that we are sharing our own story, not someone else's. Amanda pointed out to me a while back that sometimes our stories overlap with other people's, so that's hard to avoid at times. But the goal is to stick to our own story as much as possible. I try to do my best to share things essential to how I am/was affected.  Overlap can't be helped at times. 


But generally, whenever we’re criticizing something, we’d do well to examine our own hearts to ask why we’re reacting the way we are. And you are correct, it’s always about what’s up with us when we feel that way, never about the person who wrote whatever it is they wrote.

I know, I know, I’m being reallllly preachy in this post. Well, deal with it. I’m a preacher. 

Laura—Preach on, preacher!

I think that notion of dirty laundry is left over from a previous generation. Today we have celebrity tell-alls and 24/7 reality TV. Young women who find themselves pregnant continue in their high schools; they aren’t sent away to hide.

Times have changed.

I predict that the trend of adoptees writing their memoirs is just getting started… and that’s a good thing.

Are You Happy You Are Adopted?


I’ve been asked this question many times.

It’s a question that tends to irritate me because 99.% of the time the person asking has an answer in mind that they believe is the only appropriate answer to give. They aren't asking to really know my feelings.

Yes, I really found this in a bookstore. Eeek!
Seldom if ever do I feel a person asking me this really wants to know my answer, or doesn’t already have an expectation of the “correct” answer.

Especially within the Christian community, the majority of people asking the question want it to go like this:

Person questioning me: “Are you happy you are adopted?”

Me: Oh it’s wonderful to be adopted. And of course I’m happy to be adopted. I could have been an abortion, after all.

[Sigh.]

If I give this answer, most folks will be pleased as punch.
Never mind that ANY of us could have been an abortion.  

And, that my natural mother told me the very first night we reunited, “Abortion was never a consideration for me.”

My adoption had absolutely NOTHING to do with abortion. 
But I digress…

Here’s the truth many do not want to hear, and usually ends in a reaaallllly triggering discussion for me so I usually say something like, “You know, it’s complicated,” and change the subject. Unless I’m in the mood for a two or three hour exhausting discussion that ends in me going home with a really bad headache. Or praying the questioner would magically turn into a pinata. And who wants that?

Perhaps nothing is more stressful than people asking questions who really don’t seek to understand. They just want you to tell them what they desperately, for some reason, need to hear.

The truth for me is that being adopted is like being different in any sphere of life that you wish were normal but is not.  Or as a Christian, that you wish were in God’s divine design, but is not.

 For instance, I believe marriage is for life. I don’t believe divorce is “God's perfect plan.” There are biblical reasons to get divorced -- reasons that make it perfectly acceptable to get divorced due to your circumstaces, but it’s certainly not preferable. God’s divine order is that marriage is a covenant for life with your spouse, until death do you part. I don't believe divorce is a "first choice" for anyone. No one grows up saying, "My dream is to be divorced." 

I believe divorce is something that happens in life that hurts really bad. It’s not the unpardonable sin, but it hurts. It hurts everybody involved. It’s never fun. It’s not something you go, “Yippee!!! I love divorce! Bring it on.” God forgives divorce when it happens. God forgives anyone or anything when a person just asks Him to. But there’s no way out of the fact a divorce hurts everybody involved.

Well, for me adoption is the same way. When someone asks me about how I feel about adoption it's like asking me how I feel about divorce. Because in order for me to become adopted, a divorce had to happen -- losing my entire first family, at least for a while.

Asking an adopted kid or grown up adult adoptee, “Are you happy you are adopted?” is kinda like asking them, “Aren't you glad your parents got a divorce?” 

Most kids I know are not happy at all when their parents get divorced.

In fact, my adoptive parents got divorced and it was really hard.

I really love my step mother. My Dad got remarried after the divorce, and his wife is an awesome woman. A Godly woman. She is so good to my Dad, and to all of us. I appreciate her a lot. But am I happy my parents got divorced? No. I will ever be happy about that.  I had to learn to cope with it. Had to go to counseling and get help, to move forward from the divorce.

Adoption has been the same way for me. I also had to learn to cope, go to counseling and get help to move forward. It’s a process.

Does any child or adult say, “Yipppeeeee! My natural family could not keep me!! It was sooooo awesome! I was surrendered for adoption and it was the greatest thing EVER!!”

Nobody that I know, and I mean NOBODY I have ever run across in the adoptee community is thrilled that their natural mother or family was in such condition that they made the decision to relinquish.   

In this area of my life I will never be “normal,” whatever that is. I am an adoptee living in a world where most people are not adopted. I do not have so much as accurate documentation of my birth, critical medical information that may prolong or save my life, nor did I grow up with things like genetic mirroring that is important to identity and development.

But I digress again.

There is help available for those of us in this situation. We have to look hard to find it but it is there. 


 Probably the hardest thing for me when it comes to adoption is coping with people who believe that not only is being adopted nothing traumatic to move forward from, nothing to go to counseling over -- but they truly believe in their heart of hearts that it's nothing but bliss.

And that’s why when asked these questions, I most often tighten my lips like I do before I get ready to say something difficult and simply say, “It’s complicated,” and ask them, “Is that just decaf coffee on the table over there or is there some regular?” and quickly change the subject as soon as I can. 

*Photo Credits: Deanna Doss Shrodes

Selling Your Soul to Reunion


What would possess a mature, grown, confident and otherwise wildly successful person to throw all common sense and self respect out the window?


Reunion.

Yup.

Adoption reunion has the power to turn a powerhouse into a groveling wimp.
I only say that cuz’ I’ve been there. As the wimp.

But no more. No sirree Bob. The showings of the  Wimp Chronicles Starring Deanna Doss Shrodes have closed and are no longer available, even on DVD. 

I know so many adoptees who are the kind of people who slay dragons with one hand behind their back in every other sphere of life. They kick tail at work and their other endeavors. But reunion turned them into Jello. When they enter reunion, they begin to agree to things no strong, self-respecting person would otherwise agree to.  

What is it about reunion that causes one to act like they never would in another area of their life?

For starters, the most insane desire for approval…ever. 

Even if you don’t struggle with that in other situations…it so often seems to come with the territory in reunion.

Because you just want a seat at the table.  
A full seat.


So you put up with craaaaaaaaaaaaaaazy stuff that you would never put up with when it comes to anything else in your life.

Whatever you have to do to get that seat, you do it.

You compromise, going beyond any reasonable alteration to a place of losing yourself at times, just to gain what you lost at birth or shortly thereafter.

But you can never totally regain it anyway because the tremendous volume of loss of shared history can never be regained.

But you try, oh do you try.
You knock yourself out trying to create and recreate shared history.
Trying to fit in.

And no matter how hard you try, you don't absolutely fit in like a perfect puzzle piece with your natural or your adoptive family because there are such gaps with both. Typically a shared history gap with one and an understanding gap with the other.

Amidst all of this change, you encounter the "nons" as we know them, who (with or without invitation) will give such brilliant wisdom as, "See...this is why reunions are not always good...they open up a can of worms...you have opened Pandora's box...it's best to leave well enough alone...blah blah blah..."  

You have embarked on a sometimes unrecognizable version of yourself in exchange for active relationship. And then, you wake up one day and ask, “What in the world am I doing?  I am agreeing to things I would never concede to in any other situation in my life.  I am compromising in places I never would with a friend, or even my spouse. What in heaven’s name is driving me to agree to put up with these expectations or this treatment?” 

Perhaps you have agreed to be kept a secret after reunion, just to stay relationship.

Or maybe you’ve agreed to refrain from openly sharing your feelings with anyone, or writing publicly.

After realizing the ridiculousness of this demand,  you may suddenly see that you don’t have to live that way anymore.



You do not have to compromise for one more day.

You can stop talking yourself into the fact that it’s okay in this one area, just because it’s not comparable to anything else in your life.

You can refuse to be someone other than yourself, just to hold onto what is left. 

You can just say no to doing whatever it takes to keep them happy so you can still have some shred of contact left.

You can stop selling your soul to reunion.

You can be who God created you to be, and let the chips fall where they may. 

*Photos by Deanna Doss Shrodes

Birth Certificates: Lying is NOT Okay
(Just Because It's Legal Doesn't Make It Right!)


The first official documented proof of my existence that I am permitted to have in my possession is a lie.

It is replete with false information concerning my birth, and has remained so for the duration of my thus far 47-year old life.


A recent post by Lorraine Dusky at Birth Mother First MotherForum reveals how uninformed most of the population, including many adoptive parents, are about this issue.   

Lorraine says:

"So it was with dismay that I learned a few days after that that an adoptive mother of my acquaintance--a bright, appealing woman who is involved in the community--expressed ignorance on the issue of sealed birth certificates. Upon learning that what I was fighting for had something to do with  "birth certificates," she remarked to a friend that she didn't understand what the issue was. She said something along the lines of--That's odd--my [adopted] kids [two] have their birth certificates.

Both of her two adopted children are in the twenties; both were adopted in New York. The oldest lives in a distant state; the other lives at home. Unless an Act of God intervened in their cases, they do not have their original birth certificates. The adoptive mother's name is on their birth certificates, as well as her (former) husband's, as if they conceived their adopted children and she gave birth to them. How clueless is she? I was alarmed and dismayed. If this intelligent woman doesn't know squat about the reality of this aspect of her now-grown children's lives, no wonder we can't get these laws to fade away faster. If she doesn't know this, what hope is there?"


Unfortunately, the beliefs of Lorraine’s acquaintance are not rare.  When someone actually cares to discuss this subject with me, I have to go to great lengths to explain that I do have a birth certificate, however the majority of what is on it concerning my birth, is untrue. 

The information on my certificate has almost nothing to do with my actual BIRTH, but instead reflects my adoption. 

What's the problem with this?

A birth certificate is just that – a BIRTH certificate.


A birth certificate is supposed to document your BIRTH.


Proof of Birth?

Not long ago, I saw a post on Facebook by a Christian adoptive mom. She said, “I am my kids’ mom! I have the birth certificates to prove it!”

While I don't dispute the fact that she is a mother to her children, I don't believe having the children's now-amended birth certificates proves anything except for the fact that she possesses a falsified document regarding her children's birth.

A birth certificate is not a certificate of one's parentage.

It is not a mom certification.

Nor does the certificate belong to the parents.

A birth certificate belongs to the person whose birth it is intended to record.

Unless the adoptive mother carried said children in her own body and delivered them at said hospital, the birth certificates in her possession prove  absolutely nothing except the fact that our government recorded information on legal documents that claim one woman delivered children who were actually conceived, carried and delivered by another. 

Legal But Not Right 

How can a Christian believe the changing of a document to reflect false information is morally acceptable even though it is legal?  Just because something is legal doesn't make it right.


How Much Can Be Changed is Shocking!

The only things that may be true on my birth certificate are the date and time of my birth as well as the hospital. I say may be true, because I am not sure, even of those things.

Sadly, I recently learned that in some states, the date of birth, city, state and hospital can be altered as well, at the request of the adoptive parents. 

I have an adoptee friend who just discovered his birthday he has celebrated for over 40 years isn't even his actual birthday. Although this may seem like a small thing to non-adoptees, to him and to many others in the same shoes, it's quite a blow to find out that what you thought was your birthday isn't even your birthday.

People have asked me, "Why would an adoptive parent request the date of birth, state or hospital be changed on a birth certificate?" The answer is that if these things are changed on a certificate, a child would not necessarily have to be told they were adopted unless the parent chose to tell them.  It also makes it much harder for the adoptee to search when they become adults, because they don't know their correct birth date or location of birth.Without this information the search is much harder.

There are no words to even express my feelings about that. And I'm pretty good with words. But I digress...

Trust Issues and Learning Curves

It is any wonder why many adoptees have trouble feeling as though they really “exist” or struggle with trust?

When none of the information on the piece of paper the government uses to prove you exist is true, it’s kinda a learning curve, to say the least.

I received help navigating the curve, and was able to come to terms with the fact that although almost nothing on my birth certificate is correct, I do indeed exist.

Not only do I exist, but I’m amazing.
God has a purpose for me.
I am living that purpose.

And I have learned to trust, despite challenges.

But It Still Doesn't Make Sense

Why can’t I have my accurate birth certificate -- the original, that bears the truth of my existence?

This certificate exists. 
It is not lost.

My original birth certificate is held under seal, at the Virginia Department of Health and Vital Records.

Recently at Adoptee Restoration Facebook, Gaye Tannenbaum made this comment:


What most people don't understand when they ask "Why can't you be okay with not knowing?" is that the key document is not lost, we are SPECIFICALLY PROHIBITED from seeing it. Some comparisons:

You get a medical test and your doctor refuses to tell you the results. You don't need to know, right? Your doctor will take care of everything.

Your employer tells you that someone (customer? employee?) filed a complaint against you - but they can't tell you who it was or even what the complaint was about. Just trust them that it will be dealt with accordingly.

You've been arrested but are not told the charges. Your lawyer knows and reassures you that "everything will be okay".

Angry yet?

"Is it such a big deal?" non-adoptees often think or say.

That's easy to say about something that doesn't personally affect you. 

But if you walked a day in our flip flops, you may feel differently. 

Several people have said to me, "Who cares about a dumb birth certificate? You're alive!"

*facepalm*

If it's so inconsequential, then what's the problem with having it? 

The bottom line is -- it's just not right, even if the government says it's legal.
 

*Photo by Deanna Doss Shrodes

Trusting & Fully Loving Your Spouse or Significant Other
(10 Important Choices Adoptees Can Make)


During our one-year engagement, Larry and I had a long-distance relationship. I worked as a counselor at New Morning Ministries (NMM)  in Newark, New Jersey.   NMM was a home for trouble teen girls – mostly runaways. I loved serving there, although the separation from my fiance felt almost unbearable at times. 

Us...way back when.
Larry would visit once every few months, and as soon as he arrived, I would start crying. Puzzled, he would ask why and I would respond that it was because he was leaving in a few days. He would always say, “I just got here! Enjoy me while I’m here.” For reasons I would not understand until many years later, I always focused on the impending goodbye, and not the joy of the present.

 Like many adoptees, I feared goodbyes - and more than anything, loss in general.
 
    "Adoptees suffer from a fear of loss. They see loss all over the place. Even those adopted in infancy feel the loss…if it happened once, it can happen again."  

~ Dr. Marshall Schechter, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine and nationally recognized expert on adoption

In the beginning years of our marriage, I feared that Larry would leave me.  It was very difficult for me to trust him even though he never did anything to break my trust. Even if we had a small  fight, I feared he would leave. I didn’t respond by clinging tighter or becoming needy. Instead, I just never let him know I needed him. I became as self-sufficient as possible, always preparing for what I believed was his inevitable exit. I braced myself for life without him, convinced it was coming.

I told Larry I loved him, often. But it wasn’t until at least a decade or more of our marriage that I ever said the words, “I need you.” Those words scared me out of my mind, to let Larry or anyone think I needed them. Because in my mind, the more you need someone – the greater potential of their leaving. So in my mind, even subconsciously, that’s what I was preparing for all along life’s path.

I loved with reserve. Not needing people in the first place seemed so much easier than needing them and losing them.    

I never told Larry I was afraid, but he figured it out. And one day sat me down, looked into my eyes and said, “Deanna, I’m not leaving. Get it through your head, I am not leaving. I’m never leaving. Ever.”

I finally believed it. 
I relaxed a bit.

But a part of me knew although he could promise me that in an, "I'm not-leaving-this-marriage" sense, he couldn’t promise me that he wouldn’t leave this world. And so, I still worried.   

The better our marriage got, the more I feared losing him.

With all the choices we make in this life there are still a few we can’t make. We can't control when we come into this world and we can't totally control when we leave. We can increase or decrease our odds by taking care of our health and such, but sometimes things still happen.

I remember a particular birthday Larry planned for me that was almost other-worldly. The plan, or so I thought was to go to  Carrabbas. On our way, Larry said he had to swing by the church to pick something up. When we arrived at the church, a limo was there. When the chauffer opened the door, imagine my surprise that six of our friends were waiting inside!  From there we went together to Donatello's, a four star Italian restaurant. Just when I thought the chauffer was going to take us back to the church parking lot, he headed in another direction and pulled up at the Grand Hyatt, and thereafter pulled out my suitcase. I wondered how it got packed and my friends just giggled and said that Larry had taken care of everything and my amazing weekend had just begun! They said goodbye as we headed off for a romantic escape.

The next morning I woke up wrapped up in the sheets and staring at the ceiling thinking, “When am I going to lose all of this?”

I know…it doesn’t seem logical.

When experiencing perfectly wonderful moments, nothing used to scare me more than realizing it could all come to a screeching halt and there was nothing I could do about it but survive. 

Larry and I could have the most amazing times ever, and afterward it was like a black cloud descended on me. Things would go from elation to despair. It took me a long time to figure out why. Even after he promised me he would never leave. I was afraid of an “act of God”, the devil, a freak accident or whatever outside of my control-- might take Larry or the kids from me.


I finally realized why I had these fears and came to terms with them.   

I know this will not be much help to readers who aren’t people of faith. That’s one reason why, quite frankly, I don’t know what people do who don’t have faith in God.  I do believe with Him, anything is possible including overcoming the fear of loss.

Here’s what I’ve settled on…

Sooner or later we will lose everyone who means anything to us, from this world.  

Either we will leave, or they will.

Nobody gets to stay on this earth, indefinitely. This is a fact of life.

All of us say goodbye to this world and enter another one.

As wonderful as it can be, this world is not our final home.

Realizing this helps me make 10 important choices in regarding to loving and trusting my husband and others. These choices make it possible for me to enjoy life.


10 Choices

1) I choose to love without reserve.

2) I choose to let people in. Walls built to try to keep pain out just keep love from getting in. 

3) I choose to accept that I need others and they need me.

4) I choose to trust those who have proven themselves and give me no reason not to trust.

5) I choose to revel in memory-making moment and not fear the “what-if’s”…

6) I choose to appreciate every moment with my husband, children and loved ones.

7) I choose to live in the the joy of the present and not agonize over possible future losses, thereby stripping me of the joy of now.   

8) I choose to stand in faith and not fear.

9) I choose to believe that whatever loss I may face in the future, I do not face alone. The same God who was with me in my early losses will be with me through whatever I may face in the future.

10) I choose to cling fiercely to the One who has been with me since the beginning and has never left me, and never will.

You have the ability to make the same choices.