Safe People

Expressing the many mixed emotions brought on by the adopted life is not always easy. You have to know who is safe when it comes to sharing.
I find there are two types of sharing.

The first is sharing to unload emotions.
The second is sharing to educate.

Both are necessary but  have potential to trigger anxiety or depression (or other things that are not-so-fun) if not managed well.

When I share with somebody an aspect of life adopted, I have to be so careful that I’m sharing with the right person at the right time. Otherwise, it may take quite a bit of resolve or the healing touch of God to rebound from just one single conversation.

Can one conversation put a person back in recovery?

Yes, I believe it can. Okay, truth be told: been there, bought the t-shirt AND the mug.

Even among adoptees, people hold vastly different viewpoints which make sharing tricky.  Perhaps nothing can throw you into an emotional tailspin than having someone who does walk in your shoes telling you you’ve got it all wrong.

A conversation boundary of sorts has entered my world. It’s there to maintain emotional health, not to mention a certain level of concentration needed for my job. I can’t take the chance of a conversation leaving me emotionally limping. And one intense conversation filled with utter disregard for all I know to be personally true regarding my own experience can send me to a place I really don’t want to be in.

I believe as with anything, in the adopted life you get to know who the safe people are, and when and where you can talk without reserve. 

Those sacred spaces are few and far between. 
But they are there.  

The Adoptoland Echo Chamber - Part 2
A Conversation with Laura Dennis

Today I'm collaborating once again with Laura Dennis, and we're discussing what it takes to get out of the adoptoland echo chamber. (Did you know that exists? Yup.) If you've arrived here first, hop over to Laura's to read part one and then come back. 

Deanna: I so agree with you, Laura. I still get mad too, but I believe unless we deal with or at least manage our madness we’ll never get out of the echo chamber.  Inside the echo chamber we go around in circles because of a plethora of things…as you mentioned, we can’t agree on language (birthmother vs. firstmother), we think “our group” is most important (domestic adoptees vs. international adoptees) or we veer off into a plethora of other social justice issues –muddying the waters rending the adoption reform message unclear. I’ve landed on some adoptee sites I used to frequent and wondered if I landed at the wrong site! They have picked up so many causes it’s unclear what they are even fighting for anymore.  I for one believe we need an undeniable clear and focused message to get out of the echo chamber.

In addition to a clear message that remains entirely adoption reform/rights related, we’ve got to be able to have conversations with others who don’t believe or think like we do – without flinching or reacting. We’ve got to respond thoughtfully, not react immaturely.  If we can’t manage to do this, we will stay in the chamber. It’s that simple. 

Laura: Ability to respond thoughtfully goes to the issue of responsibility. Until the wider population no longer sees us as stubbornly unwilling to accept responsibility, the echo chamber endures. The shifting of blame goes round-and-round, as you said.

What do I mean by “responsibility”?
Do I mean victim-blaming? No.
Absolutely not.
We do not blame the victim for what happened to him or her.
However, this does not mean that this person is off-the-hook.

Those who have experienced trauma—including first moms who were mistreated and forced to relinquish, including adoptees who feel grief and loss at losing their first families, including adoptive parents who are devastated by infertility and loss—are STILL responsible for their actions going forward.
We are all responsible for finding healing for our own pain.

It is NOT OKAY for those who remain unhealed to take out their hurt on others.

This is why the echo chamber endures; if we are unhealed, we feel justified in our ranting, and it is simply exasperating.

Deanna: Couldn’t agree with you more, Laura. We are responsible to heal. Nobody else can do that for us.  I also believe we have to be prepared to thoughtfully dialogue with people who don’t believe the way we do. How else are we going to break out of the chamber?  

There’s a place for ranting.  I do mine while laying on my hammock on my patio, talking to you. I don’t do it when I’m trying to get a message across to people who oppose all that we stand for on this issue. 

It’s interesting that as you and I are collaborating on this post, a letter hit my inbox from a blogger in the adoption community, asking to interview me on her blog. This is someone who is not well respected in our circle of adoptee friends. In fact many people revile this person and consider her an enemy to everything we stand for. But my thought is this…if we don’t say yes to conversations with those who believe differently than us, how will we ever see change come?  My next thought is this – it’s not selling out to appear on someone’s site that you don’t agree with, as long as you maintain your integrity in all you say.

As much as we don’t want to “go there” we have to dialogue with what many in our community refer to as “adoptoraptors.”

Laura: I agree. Recently I was so pleased to have several large adoption information sites request an advance review copy of Adoption Therapy, Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues (which I edited and to which you contributed the Afterword). … If I were to remain in the echo chamber, I would say “no,” to them, as these sites seek to help people adopt. [As in, how dare I engage with those who think adoption is okay?]

While I believe we should do everything we can from a policy and personal standpoint to encourage family preservation, if such organizations are willing to read an anthology whose basic premises are: 

1. An adoptee’s first losses—including mother loss, heritage loss, ethnicity loss, language loss, and more—absolutely must not be discounted.

2. Whatever training or approach is used, the client’s individual experiences must be validated through empathetic care. 

… Why wouldn’t I engage with them? The book is meant to get help, not only for our generation, but for the next generation of adoptive parents, first families and adoptees. This is vital information that needs to be absorbed—and sometimes what needs to be heard is difficult to listen to. If people are willing to engage, to learn from those who have walked this path … it’s my responsibility to educate. 

Deanna: Yes!! I fully believe if they are willing to engage – we need to.  Even if they don’t respond favorably right away, at the least it’s given them something to think about.  It takes a serious amount of time for most people to come out of the fog so anything you can do to get them one step in the right direction is progress.    

For Baby Scoop Era Adoptees: Everything is Still NOT Okay!
Tag-Team Post With Laura Dennis, Part I

Why do I team up with Laura Dennis so much in writing blog posts? Because she's just that amazing. Read part one of our post here on my blog and then finish reading over at Laura's.  Here we go...

Laura: I like to consider myself “in the know,” perhaps even trendy … as much as is possible living in Serbia, where Southern European popular culture and style are vastly different compared with Western Europe and the United States.

When it comes to AdoptoLand, however, I’m able to stay up-to-date via the Internet. But I’ve realized that my identity as a U.S. domestic adoptee from the latter part of the Baby Scoop Era (BSE) is … how do I put this? … no longer trendy. I’m passé, as in: decidedly NOT hip.

People, both inside and out of the adoption community think that because the BSE Era is over that we are no longer relevant.

Deanna: You are exactly right. And, so many people believe what we BSE adoptees desperately NEED is obsolete because of the trend of open adoption. This was perfectly described in Karen Caffrey’s post, Who’s Waiting for Adoptees to Die?  Her post shares about the statement from the National Council for Adoption that says:

“Given that a great and increasing majority of domestic adoptions today are open to some degree, and that best practice now requires birthparents to share, at minimum, medical and social background information with the adoptive family and adopted individual, the debate over birth records and information sharing has and will continue to subside.” 

Of this Caffrey says: “In other words, adoptees like me will eventually age and die out.  Our pesky little demands for access to our true, original birth certificates, to our birth heritage, to equal treatment under the law, will subside because we will die out!!  (And pity the poor 5% who will continue on, shackled by the bonds of secrecy.  Presumably they will lack sufficient political clout to disturb any of these “agreements” to which they were supposedly party.)” 

I am grieved that so many believe it is okay to leave us BSE adoptees behind when it comes to equal rights. Everything is NOT okay! And as long as birth certificates are still be amended and sealed, things are really not okay for those coming behind us either. Even in open adoption. Because there are no guarantees.

We need full disclosure of our personal history. It’s our birthright. It’s that simple. The fact that there is a trend towards open adoption has nothing to do with the fact that I still have a birth certificate filled with lies and am completely in the dark about 50% of my personal history. These facts belong to me. If it’s not important, why does the doctor ask for it every time I have an appointment? And if it’s not important, why is the government holding onto it so tightly? 

Laura: I agree. It’s worth repeating, because I see adoptive parents who consider open adoption the new panacea, letting them off the hook.

In open adoptions, an adoptee’s records can still be sealed.
In open adoptions, there are NO guarantees of openness or contact.
In open adoptions, there is no recourse for any party should an adoption close—especially not for the adoptee and his or her wishes.

Instead of “adoptees,” try thinking of it this way... 

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.

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 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.