Adoptees and How It's Supposed to Be


I've seen this meme on Facebook and Pinterest many times. And like a lot of things, it's an instant trigger. I always think of adoption.

When it comes to my struggle post-adoption, I believe that's the crux of so much of it.

There's that darn picture in my head of, "how it's supposed to be."


"Mothers shouldn't have to be separated from children..." or...

"Every human should have their correct and true birth certificate sans lies..." or

"No parent should refuse contact with a child..." or

"Everyone should know who was present at their conception..." or

"Everyone should have the knowledge of who conceived and birthed them..."

"Parents shouldn't get divorced..." or

and lots of other things that affected my life.

The thoughts of "how it's supposed to be..." could drive us literally insane if we let them.

Every person in this world has a dream of the way things are "supposed to be."

It's unrealistic to believe it will always go the way it's supposed to. 
Nevertheless we dream.

We may dream of "standing out from the crowd" because of our art work or our sportsmanship or a plethora of other good things.

But nobody wants to "stand out" and be part of the 2% of people in the world whose mothers relinquished them.

It's vastly different than standing out because you're the valedictorian of your class, or because you've got an amazing voice.

Most of us want to stand out from the crowd for the happy things in life.
Losing your entire first family isn't one of the ways in which anyone dreams of being different

Many days my prayer has just been that God will take "the way it's supposed to be" out of my head. Because it's about to drive me crazy.

There have been a lot of times I've said, "God I don't even know what it's supposed to be like because things got so screwed up. So please, just take this mess and make something beautiful out of it."

The past never changed. 
It couldn't be "fixed".

But thankfully I had a hope and a future.
Still do.

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





Trigger Happy: Adoptees Who Are Successful Even When Living Triggered


Laura Dennis and I are able to do what many other adoptees do every day – succeed in life, despite very regular triggers that come our way. Today we’re teaming up on a two part blog post, to discuss how real and numerous triggers are, and how we succeed with that reality. Part one is below and part two can be found today at Laura's blog.

Deanna: My assistant Erika and I were having lunch the other day and this subject came up. I’ve discovered that Erika is really open minded about this subject and understanding. We were talking about adoption and my involvement in the community and I shared with her about how many triggers take place in my daily life and how I not only manage but overcome them.  It’s no exaggeration that I usually face at least one of these a day without me ever bringing up the subject. In fact, I try my best to steer clear of the subject most times, just out of self preservation. Once I alerted my family about how often these triggers come and encouraged them to take special notice and watch how many times people bring things up, they too are amazed. Until I told them to become vigilant about noticing, they had no idea what I was facing on a daily basis.

The main reason I don’t bring things up with others would be protecting myself from more pain than I have to go through in life but the second reason would be that it’s very hard to succeed in life and respond to triggers the way I want to, versus how I have to, if that makes sense. 

Laura: Yes! Sometimes it feels like they’re everywhere! Let me just back-up a moment and explain to those who may be unaware, just what we mean when we mention “triggers.”

Adoption triggers are a specific kind of emotional trigger that happens when we come across what to others may be a seemingly innocent comment. They trigger us, as adoptees (but it also happens to first family members and adoptive parents), because these observations touch a nerve, reminding us of our adopted status—all that we’ve lost, in spite of the things that society reminds us that we’ve gained.

For me, it’s deeply personal triggers like everyone expecting me to be happy on my birthday. Or, “in the news” events such as seeing a child removed from her willing-and-capable first family when an unethical (should-be-illegal) adoption is finalized.

I see what you’re saying about responding to triggers. To survive, we have to pick our battles, so-to-speak. We can’t reeducate everyone. That said, if someone is particularly nosey (borderline rude) with regards to a personal trigger, I have been known to lay down the truth. As in, Do you find something happy about the day that I literally lost my first mother for twenty-three years? I don’t. … One may guess that truth-telling did not go over so well. We’re talkin’ awkward silence, blank stares and quick exits.

But these people are few and far between. I think the most important first step towards living with, and thriving in spite of, triggers is recognizing them in real time. What are your thoughts? 

Deanna: First of all, thank you sooooo much for explaining triggers. Geeeesh, where was my head? I’m assuming everyone out there understands our adoptionese. Okay…

Being fully out of the fog there I go with the adoptionese again I pretty much recognize them in real time now. But I didn’t always. That subject is a fascinating blog post topic in itself. I’d like us to unpack that sometime. What you said just made me realize that for years people would say things and I would have an incredibly icky feeling and didn’t understand why. Often those moments led to my parents or my husband saying, “What’s wrong?” over and over again. I didn’t know what was wrong, I just felt so blue. Now I realize it was in those moments where triggering things happened for me.

As you mentioned, different groups of people face triggers. It’s not the same for everybody. But whatever our personal ones are, they are powerful. For me it usually centers on people telling me how I should feel. The worst is when it happens with those who want to characterize my adoption as a sacred event rather than a legal transaction.    

A huge trigger happened to me shortly after I started this blog. I walked into a ministers meeting. The business hadn’t started yet but I walked up to the coffee station at the hotel we were meeting and a colleague walked up and said, “Hey, I’ve been reading your adoption blog…” I said, “Oh really? Well that’s awesome. Thanks so much for reading.” And he said, “Your writing is really good but on the adoption thing I just don’t understand what the big deal is, because we’re all adopted.”

I looked at him quizzically.

And then he quickly followed up with, “In Christ…we are all adopted in Christ, so it’s all good…”

And I wanted to just scream:

Really??? I had no idea we ALL lost our entire first family in a day… 
 
I had no idea we ALL lack a truthful birth certificate!

I had no idea we ALL experienced the trauma of separation from our mothers…

I had no idea we ALL were relinquished and then papers signed, placing us with strangers…

I had no idea we ALL have a case number with health and human services…

I had no idea we ALL understand what it’s like to be part of the legal INSTITUTION that is adoption! Woowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!

This is what I wanted to scream, but I didn’t.

My effectiveness on the job, not to mention my very livelihood, depends on me not saying these things, at least not in that manner.

What I did in that moment was say, “Is this the regular or the decaf?”  and quickly move to change the subject.

 

My truth? Your Truth? Or THE truth?




I’ve noticed it’s common in the adoptee community that people will mention they are searching for their truth. They may remark, “Still searching for my truth,” or “So glad I finally found my truth.”

I understand what they mean. I’ve lived it, too. 

I write this post not to bash, simply to make an observation that every time I hear someone say “my truth" a part of me wants to scream: “It’s not just MY truth, it’s THE truth! Period!"

When people fail to give us “our” truth, they refuse to live in THE truth.

The reason they fail to give it is moot. Truth is truth. Lies are lies.

Keeping the facts of someone’s history from them isn’t just something that affects that person, but many people. It affects generations, and the world at large when people refuse to live THE truth.

So when you keep the truth from me, you’re not just lying (even if by omission) about my life but yours as well.   

Doing that makes one a sick person – living in secrecy and lies rather than transparently and in the light.

As far as it depends on me, I choose truth. All truth.

It is a travesty when people choose otherwise.

People who reject the truth in any form affect the entire world in a tragic way.

Not just me.
Not just you.
Everyone.

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