October 30, 2013

Facing Adoption Rejections
Focusing on the Family We Create ~ Part One

A conversation with Laura Dennis (Lost Daughters blogger/columnist, author of Adopted Reality, and my bff.)

Deanna: Laura, as you know one of our adoptee friends is currently experiencing a crushing rejection from her natural family. As we were attempting to console her about what had just happened, you went right to the heart of where I usually go personally when experiencing disappointment with my natural or adoptive family. You told her, "In times like this, I focus on the family I created." Your words immediately resonated with me, because this focus has been so crucial to my own health and well-being.   

Laura: It’s so hard. Anyone who has had the courage to go through with search and reunion has faced rejection, or the possibility of it. Adoption reunions involve so many emotions, so much deep and buried pain; it can be hard to navigate, even when both sides want contact. 

I feel so awful and impotent; our friend is beside herself, just so full of grief.

But I so dislike platitudes. “It will all work out for the best!” 

No, no. It might not. Maybe it will all work out, but maybe it won’t. It might really suck. It might take all your strength to get through. It might take a long time, longer than expected.

Rejection from our natural families can feel like a sucker punch to the gut. It’s like non-adoptees would say, “Don’t take it too seriously; it’s just your birth family!” Bull. It is something, it’s a big thing, and the pain is real, tangible even.

That’s why in those moments of darkest rejection, we have to refocus. Holding my own child? Remembering that it’s my job to bring that person up, to create a loving relationship and strong bond? Those are things that are within my control. (And yes, I do have adoptee control issues.)

Deanna, I know you feel very strongly about this topic. The family you created is what has brought you through some of your darkest times. Can you talk a little bit more about the peace this has provided for you? 
Deanna's Family

Deanna: My family that I have created has brought me the greatest worldly peace. I use the term worldly peace because I also have the kind of peace that is not of this world, which only comes from God. The Bible calls this the peace that passes understanding. (Philipppians 4:7) But as far as things of this world, nothing tops the family I created.

I have experienced pain in both my natural and my adoptive family in different ways and much of my human comfort has come from the family I’ve created.  

Speaking of control issues – creating my family and focusing on it was not by accident. It was all very intentional.

I’ve thought about this subject for literally thousands of hours…since I was a kid, actually. I don’t think we could find anybody on the planet who would say, “If had to choose how my life started it would be with relinquishment.” No. Nobody says that. If they are honest with themselves about their desires about a life beginning, it sure as heck wouldn’t start with relinquishment.

After experiencing this significant loss, I went to live with my adoptive family. And as you know, my adoptive family fell apart. From a young age, and particularly once I became a teenager, I was obsessed with the thought: “I will create what I’ve always wanted.” 

One of my favorite authors is Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C. In his book, In a PitWith a Lion on a Snowy Day, he writes in what is known as the “Lion ChaserManifesto” that we should “criticize by creating.” That has become one of my mantras in life. It doesn’t help me move forward to just sit around and talk about what I wish would have happened, or what could happen. I can’t change what happened to me, but I can make choices for myself.

I didn’t like some of the choices either of my families made.  I wasn’t happy that my natural mom relinquished. I wasn't happy that I experienced dysfunction in my adoptive home that made my parents’ divorce a necessity. I wasn't happy to experience what is known as "secondary rejection" with my natural mother in 1990 or go through yet another trauma in 2013. But, as an adult I had the power to say, “Now it’s my turn to make a choice. Watch me!” 

In developing my current home, I have criticized by creating. This was a passion, a decision that was extremely calculated.  I was driven to make wise choices. The first choice was marrying the right person and doing whatever it took for my marriage to not just survive but thrive. This doesn’t mean we’re perfect. It means we’ve had to work hard and get the help we’ve needed at times. The second choice was having children and working hard at being the kind of parent I would want to have myself.

I’m not the perfect wife, or mother. That’s part of it. A great parent admits his or her shortcomings and readily apologizes. Being the kind of parent I want to be entailed reading a ton of books about parenting before ever having kids, and attending parenting workshops before I ever gave birth. I’ve kept right on doing that, even currently. Even more than those  things, I’ve prayed, received wise counsel and known when to admit that I’ve blown it. It takes being willing to do WHATEVER was needed to make the family healthy.  

Creating my family, focusing on it, and watching it flourish is definitely one of my ways to say, “Booyah!” 

Laura: Wow, Deanna. I find it so interesting to learn from other adoptee experiences. It’s amazing that we came to the same conclusion — in times of family trouble, focus on the family we created, but approached it from different angles.

Maksim (Tigger the Tiger) and Laura in Belgrade, Serbia.
While I did suffer from unaddressed post-adoption issues growing up, and definitely knew that many things about closed adoption that most people consider acceptable was bullocks, I never spent the ‘thousands of hours in thought’ that you mention.

Actually, I was all over the place.

In elementary school, I wanted to be president of the U.S. and figured I wouldn’t have time for kids, let alone a husband.

I wrote in my eighth-grade journal that I would have eight children, and when I was widowed (somehow to my mind it was inevitable), I would become a Catholic nun.
In my twenties, I planned to have a completely equal co-parenting situation with my then-fiancĂ©, except for the (not-minor) fact that it’s difficult to maintain a professional modern dance career and be pregnant. For some reason OBs don’t like to hear phrases such as “pregnant lady,” “roll quickly on the floor,” and “jump vigorously” in the same sentence.

Later on, as I planned to marry my current husband, settle down and have kids, I figured that adoption was the most normal way to go. In my residual adoption fog, I failed to realize that adopting was not in fact my own parents’ first choice in family planning (duh).
Danica and Laura in Venice, Italy (dresses designed by Danica).

So I got pregnant. I wasn’t the happiest pregnant lady, but I did it. Granted, the mothering instinct doesn’t kick in immediately for all women. But for me, the moment I saw that my baby girl’s natural instinct was to feel most secure and calm in my arms, and only in my arms … that was it. The phrase, fierce as lioness comes to mind.

This is what I mean by focus on the family you create. … This heretofore compliant adoptee set boundaries and stood her ground. I was unequivocally and unapologetically protective of the family I created. In the face of family drama, I was adamantly unwilling to take on any stress, lest I risk losing my milk supply. I was terrified of being unable to provide for my child (another common adoptee issue, thinking that I’d somehow be pressured to relinquish, repeating history).

Whew. I feel really passionate about this. I’m calm, really.

But Deanna, I know that you want this post to resonate with those adoptees who have not found stable relationships, who are not parents. Can you talk a little about how all adoptees can find strength in the notion of taking solace in the family we create? 

Deanna: Absolutely. In talking about that I want to focus on three different types of adoptees who may be reading this post. I'll speak directly to that issue tomorrow...on your blog, in Part 2 of of this conversation.

Readers, please join us at Laura's blog tomorrow for Part 2!