December 16, 2013

Why I Am Going to Keep My (Adoptive) Mother
Guest Blogger: Karen Caffrey

She's been interviewed here before. 
Today's guest blogger is one of my favorite adoptees. 
One of my favorite therapists.
One of my favorite people in the world.

Welcome again to Adoptee Restoration... Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD


Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD
My mom has been on my mind a great deal lately.  As some of you know, I have recently become involved again in the adoptee rights movement.  The last time I did this so intensely it was 1998.  That was when my mom still drove.  When she still walked.  When she still smiled and laughed.  When she still remembered me, and my brother, and other people she knew and loved.  It was before she became so, well, still.

I think of her when I speak with legislators about the need to re-establish the right of access, which I had when I was born and adopted in Connecticut.  Sometimes I tell them stories about my mom.  About how she supported me.  And about the things she said and did.  About how I knew she had my back.

Then I read this post of Deanna’s about adoptive parents who deliberately, deliberately I say, adopted children from foreign countries because they thought they could avoid the grim reaper their child’s need to know their origins.  And I decided I wanted to tell those people, and the rest of you, about my mother.

As far back as I can remember, I knew I was adopted.  I have no clear recollection of being told so by my parents.  It was part of the warp and weave of my life.  I am Karen Diane Oestreicher.  I am a girl.  I am adopted. 

Years later when my mother was being interviewed by a reporter for an article about my search and reunion, she casually mentioned that she would not have told me that I was adopted if left to her own desires.  She and my father told my brother and I that we were adopted because the adoption agency said it would be best for us to know.  (Thank-you, Village for Families and Children.)  I now know this was the first, but far from the last, time that my mother chose to do what was best for me even though it was difficult for her.

My mother was a big believer in being open and honest with her children.  There were no locked doors or drawers in the house.  We were free to look at what we wished.  So I had no trepidation as a teenager when I was checking out the papers stored in her strongbox.  Imagine my puzzlement when I came across official looking papers with my name, and yet also another name, that I did not recognize.  Who was this girl?

As it turns out, the girl was me.  Me, and my name, before I was adopted.  I showed the papers to my mother and she confirmed the truth.  No secrets.  No lies. 

Fast forward a few short years, and I am sixteen.  My mother is letting me drive her car, by myself, to Hartford to learn more about my origins.  It takes three more years of searching and legal proceedings, but then I am talking to my birth parents on the phone and getting ready to take a plane to Texas to meet them.  (There’s a book to be written there, I am sure.)

And here is the really important part, so pay attention now.  She put me on the plane.  She smiled, she waved, and she put me on the plane. 

Years later, my brother would confide in me how she was afraid I would never come back.  Consumed by the narcissism of my teen self and the intensity of my need, I was (largely) oblivious to her pain.  But I look back now with the wisdom acquired from an additional three decades of living, and I am in awe of my mother.  Of her courage. Of her love.  Of her grace under fire.

She put me on the plane.

I came back, of course.  I came back and I was still her daughter, as I always was.  I had acquired another mother (well, really just relocated the first one), but I was still her daughter.  In the ensuing years my mothers first exchanged letters and then met.  They visited when possible.  Each was so grateful to the other, for being the mother to me that the other could not be.

Karen Caffrey and her Moms; Photo by Raymond Gendreau, used by permission.

More years later, my mother confided in me that she was always aware that I had suffered a great loss before I came into her life.  She said that knowing that, she had tried as hard as she could to keep anything bad from happening to me ever again. (Sigh….if only…..but the intention was there.)  I was stunned that she had known, that she had understood.  That she had had some glimmer of an idea of what I had gone through as a tiny infant.

In 1998 my mother submitted testimony in support of a proposed bill in Connecticut to restore the right of access to original birth certificates, taken from us in 1975.  I am looking at a copy of her testimony as I write this.  She wrote, “Both of my children are honest, hard working and productive citizens.  I am proud of them.  I cannot understand why they should be denied what everyone else takes for granted.”

It is because of my mother that I can stand up and speak with a clear, proud voice that I and all other adoptees deserve the rights that other citizens enjoy.  It is because of my mother that I was able to embark on the long, necessary healing journey of my adopted self.  I enjoy these gifts because my mother didn’t sacrifice my needs in service of a desire to avoid her own pain.

I am proud of my mother.  I think I’ll keep her. 


For almost twenty years, Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD has been a counselor for individuals, couples and groups in her psychotherapy practice. She helps people recover from anxiety and depression, problems in their relationships, work and life stress, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), trauma, addictions, women’s issues, and achieve mental health and wellness.

For ten years prior to her career as a counselor, she was a practicing attorney. She practiced law in a Fortune 100 corporation as well as in a private law firm.  She found that her experiences as a lawyer made her uniquely able to understand and empathize with her clients who work in the legal and corporate worlds.  She has a keen appreciation of what it is like to try to address your own needs while balancing work, family and community obligations.  She also learned that even highly successful, capable people can face life challenges for which they need help. 

She specializes in working with adult adoptees, and does this work individually and in groups. She has presented extensively on issues faced by adult adoptees including loss, rejection, anger and identity.  

Lastly, she has a special love for animals and has experienced how powerful a healing force they can be in people’s lives.  When possible and appropriate, she encourages people to involve their animals (real or symbolic) in their healing process.