November 20, 2015

Help When Reunion Blows Up
A Conversation with Laura Dennis

Today I'm doing one of my favorite things to do! I'm having a conversation with my dear friend, Laura Dennis. Specifically we are talking about being restored personally after reunion blows up in your face. I wrote about this in my recent book release, Restored. The first part of this conversation is at Laura's blog, so if you've come here first, hop over there and read and then circle back here for the ending. Here we go...

Deanna – Thank you! That means so much to me. I have a lot of compassion for all people who have been through this type of pain. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone! I guess we all tend to think our pain is the worst because it’s what we know, what we have experienced. As you know it’s important that we never dismiss nor mock a pain we haven’t endured. I try to be sensitive to all types of wounds that may be people’s reality. And, admittedly I am more attuned to this one because I’ve experienced it. My heart is to tell people, there is help, there is hope. I see so many of our friends and acquaintances who make comments on social media saying things like, “This will never get any better,” and “there is no hope, no moving forward for me…” and I want so badly for them to experience what I have. This was the catalyst for Restored. 

Laura Dennis
Laura—I would also add that you are a highly empathetic person, so that helps with your sensitivity and attunement. You really did come from such a broken place—but you walked (sometimes crawled!) that path to healing, and you stand so much stronger today.

I know that Restored is going to help so many people. It’s actually the best bit of advice I could give someone who thinks there is no hope: 

Muster just enough hope to start reading this book. 

What other advice would you give to someone in the depths of their despair? 

Deanna—Know that no matter what it looks like today, it really can be different tomorrow. It won’t automatically be that way. Victory doesn’t just fall on you. So much of restoration is putting yourself in position for it. As you take steps toward healing you can and will move forward. There are many tangible and practical steps I give in the book in the Restoration Toolkit chapter. But if I were to just give a few words of advice–I would say three things.

First, if you don’t have enough faith to believe for restoration right now–hold on to someone else’s. Hold on to a friend, a family member, or mine right now. Know that although this may be your darkest hour, there is help and hope for a different tomorrow. Refuse to give up!

Second, get some help from human beings who know what they are doing when it comes to this. Realize you don’t know it all. Admit that you need help. Eight months of therapy were invaluable for me in the healing process. I wouldn’t be writing this right now and furthermore, I don’t know where I’d be had I not gotten that help.

Third, know that God is there and cares for you. Reach out to Him. Maybe you don’t believe in God right now. I challenge you to simply ask Him to make Himself real to you… to show you that He is truly there and cares for you. There is no judgment in this challenge, only love. God loves you and He has a plan for your life and your restoration.  He will walk with you through this pain and help you get to the other side.

Laura—Such great advice, I truly hope it speaks to those who need to hear it. I also want to remind both of our readers how much authors value (and need!) their honest reviews—they definitely help future potential readers make a buying decision, so please leave your review of Restored once you finish reading it. 

Deanna - Yes! Reviews are golden and I so appreciate every single one of them. If you have read the book, it would mean so much to me if you would give a review on Amazon. Thank you all for reading and joining us for this conversation today.

November 10, 2015

Double Whammy Adoptees

Knowing that your mother gave you up for adoption is enough to grapple with on it’s own. When you face the situation of being adopted into a dysfunctional home on top of moving forward from relinquishment and adoption, there is a another level of difficulty. I call this difficulty the “double whammy.”

As if you didn’t already have enough to overcome with losing your entire first family in a single day, you are faced with the obstacle of navigating the challenges of being adopted into a dysfunctional home.  Some adoptees face more than dysfunction -- they face abuse. My heart breaks for those adoptees.  

Facing the double whammy is like the difference between a single and double amputation, with twice the work necessary to heal. In the midst of it all, as you grow up – you are admonished to be give thanks that all of this has happened to you.

There are many people are speaking out about adoption reform who were not placed into dysfunctional or abusive homes. There’s a myth out there that all of the adoptees who speak out about the need for change in adoption “must have had an adoption that didn’t work out.” That is false. There are many adoptees speaking about the need for reform who were placed in healthy adoptive homes. And unfortunately some were not so blessed, lucky or whatever you personally want to call it.

I am one of the adoptees who faced the double whammy. 
I now live what I would describe as an overcoming, healthy life. I had a lot of outside help (counseling) to recover and move forward. And for that, I am very thankful. I would have never survived or thrived without that assistance. And I know without a doubt, I would not be healthy today had I not physically moved away.

If I were not adopted and my adoptive family was my natural family, I would still have been faced with huge challenges to overcome.  That isn’t to say that there weren’t good parts, or redeeming qualities within the journey. For sure, there were. I’m glad for those. And some of them still exist. But those positive parts don’t negate the painful parts which were not only reality, they were huge.   

I quip that my adoptive home can be characterized as “Pentecostal Jerry Springer.”  Seriously, it has that much intrigue flat our mental sickness if you were to hear the entire story. I’m surprised Dr. Phil, Jerry Springer or Montel Williams haven’t called yet. I am not even kidding a bit that it wouldn’t shock me. And sadly even though I am at mid-life some of that chaos continues and I try as much as possible to not harmonize with it.

My parents’ marriage crumbled in dysfunction and divorce. I realize millions of homes break apart, and it’s nothing rare in today’s world. "What's the big deal?" some wonder. For starters, for an adoptee the divorce of your adoptive parents is a loss of greater magnitude being that you already lost so much. When this happens to an adoptee, they face the loss of not one but two family units.   

In my case, it was beyond the breakup of a marriage.  Our home was rocked by multiple family secrets, untreated mental illness, co-dependency, and more. Perhaps what drove me to frustration most in the past (before I got help) was the way many extended family or friends characterized our home as ideal. My sister once had someone tell her our family was “like the Brady Bunch.” To say she was stunned was an understatement. Those who make that kind of judgment have absolutely no idea what really occurred and in some cases still happens. And most have never had the decency to actually ask my sister or myself for that information and are content to believe one side without knowing all of the facts.

Despite all that, by the grace of God I have created the life I dreamed of.  I am blessed to have a marriage of 28 years and counting. Spiritually and emotionally healthy children. A functional family! Doing something meaningful with my life and helping others. Following God’s plan for my life. Impacting other people in a positive way.

I’ve noticed that many if not most adoptees who face the double whammy aren’t able to come to this place of peace or wholeness in their lives, forever tied to dysfunction. And my heart goes out to them. I understand first-hand how hard it is! But I’m here to say that it’s possible. It will require taking courageous steps to break free.    

For most of these double whammy adoptees, peace and wholeness will require a total restructuring to develop a healthy life and family of their own. Sadly, some may have to put a significant space between themselves and the particular family members who are dysfunctional  and refuse to change -- in order to develop a healthy life of their own – the one God intends them to have.

Many of these adoptees face ridicule when they set boundaries.They are chastised that they must put up with whatever treatment one or more of their adoptive parents dish out, because “they gave you a home,” and “they changed your diapers,” and so many other well worn clichés. If someone does actually take time to hear their side of it (and they are brave enough to share it) they will probably receive admonishments about forgiveness. This is especially true of a Christian family. Without a doubt forgiveness is important, however it doesn't always mean trust, or a high level of contact with the one forgiven.  For one's own physical, spiritual and emotional health -- sometimes limited or even no contact is necessary. You can still forgive and do that.

Every child deserves a safe and loving home. It’s not something they should ever have to earn or face a guilt trip once they are adults, over the fact that someone changed their diapers. Every baby needs and deserves a diaper change. I wish the world would lay off of this well worn cliché about diapers that we are all so tired of.   

Upon developing and implementing new standards in their lives, many double whammy adoptees are faced with family members who try to discredit them. Sadly, an adoptive parent would have to practically kill them for many people to agree with separating themselves from the dysfunction.  

 Take the Rosie O’Donnell case, for example. Her adoptive daughter Chelsea just turned 18 years old and has separated herself from her. The entire world can see what a basket case Rosie is. She recently declared to the world that she wanted to smear menstrual blood on people's faces.  But that doesn’t matter. She’s an adoptive mom. And all that matters for most of the world out there regarding her being an adoptive mom is that her kids rise up and call her blessed despite the fact that she’s crazy. Menstrual blood be darned! She changed her kids diapers, don’t you know???

Most of the world feels sorry for Rosie that Chelsea walked away and said, “Enough!” and refused to subject herself to the dysfunction any more.  The comment threads on stories about the situation are rife with admonitions that Chelsea just needs to be grateful. That she is a brat who needs to come to her senses which to these folks means, back to Rosie. “Poor Rosie” is heard over and over again. What about “poor Chelsea”? Does anyone see that this girl has been subjected to a mentally ill mother for the past 18 years? A mentally ill mother that for some reason still has many fans in the world? 

In typical gaslighting fashion, Rosie accused Chelsea of being the one who is mentally ill. Many people are inclined to believe Rosie because after all, what kind of adopted child distances themselves from one or both of their adoptive parents? 

Maybe one who is tired of their dysfunction and wants to live a healthy, overcoming life.    

Photo credit:

October 19, 2015

The Adoption-Reconstruction Phase Theory:
Where I'm At With It Today

I know some people take great offense to this theory. Not to the graphics, (thank you Amanda Woolston/TDA for a great job in creating the graphic) but the content. I write this post not to hurt anyone at all, simply sharing how my thoughts have evolved about the theory over time.

I didn’t know what I used to think or feel about it and have mulled it over a lot. Here is what I have come to believe, and of course it's my observation and opinion, and well – it’s just that – what one person thinks.

I realize this graphic shows a very brief summary of what is a large body of  work. There’s so much more to it. But I want to speak in general today of what I think/feel when I look at this today versus many months ago.

There are times I have bounced around and fluctuated between all of the phases. I think that happens because of triggers, and from what I understand, that is normal.  A huge trigger can put me in phase 3 pretty quick, and thankfully I now have tools to help guide me out of that and into a peaceful place.

I also believe that working through and finding peace doesn’t necessarily mean acceptance that what happened was right, fair, etc.  Acceptance can be a place of peace that this is what happened that you can do nothing about – BUT – you can be at peaceful and successful, and not be stuck in life.

Observing many in the adoptee and first parent community, what I notice – and this should be no shock – is simply that those who get real help fare better  than those who do not. And my observation is also that most don't get real help, which is sad.

With all that said, I’m glad I insisted upon getting help. It took courage because so many people think we don’t need it and even ridicule us for getting it. In their minds, it would be like winning the lottery and going to counseling over it.

They. Have. No. Idea.

It takes fortitude to press beyond the jeers of, “Explain to me again what you’re upset about or why you’re getting counseling..?”

Maybe that’s why so many people don’t pursue help. They may have to wade past a lot of emotional abuse to get it. I understand that and have faced my share of it.

To add insult to injury some people show up and have a therapist tell them they don’t understand why they are there. It’s devastating. Thankfully times are changing in that regard.

To summarize my thought today – getting the right help is so important for adoptees. And my observation is that those who have had the most help, move forward the most. That should be a no brainer except for the fact that so many people are still doing it on their own, all the while emotionally bleeding. And some don't even realize the trail they leave behind, why it exists and how it's affecting others.

September 14, 2015

What You Can Do To Support Adoptee Rights
An Interview with Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD

Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.

Deanna: Karen, I admire your work with Access Connecticut Now, and am eager to have a conversation with you today to find out latest development. First times, things get discouraging. Do you believe there any hope for adoptee rights?

Karen: In a word, Yes!
Karen Caffrey, LPC, JC

If you’re an adoptee born in the United States, chances are that you do not have the legal right to obtain a copy of your true, original birth certificate or any records or documents related to your birth.  We adoptees have the misfortune to be living in an era where shame and stigma surrounding our conception and birth has been codified into law in most states.  

But we are also fortunate to be living at the end of this era.  A small but growing number of states are changing these laws to allow adult adoptees access to their birth identities.  These legal changes have typically occurred as a result of advocates clawing their way through a miasma of myth and misinformation that infects the general public’s understanding of adoption.  

Adoptees have been isolated from each other as a result of the cloud of pretense that fogs our very existence, covering the underlying shame and stigma.  For years we were supposed to “pass” as non-adopted.  Or buy into the myth that we were “special”.  Why would we need to gather, to share our stories, to share in the strength of our numbers?  What, for heaven’s sake, could we have to complain about?  Never mind raising our voices, organizing, shaking our fists and lobbying…

(If you’re a regular reader of Deanna’s blog you know the answers to these questions.) 

Deanna: Why do you believe it is taking so long to get adoptee rights laws passed?

Karen: A while back one of my fellow advocates and I were brain storming around the challenges we face.  Suddenly he said, “If only our cause were more emotionally simple, you know, like ‘Kittens Deserve Milk!’ Who could disagree with that?”  We imagined the groundswell of support that would arise.  We saw the flocks of supporters who would come to our meetings, write their legislators, and contribute their funds.  We envisioned thousands of people chanting, posters held high above their heads on the steps of the Capitol.  “Kittens Deserve Milk! Kittens Deserve Milk!”  We laughed.  We sighed.  Then we got back to work.

If you’ve had even a single conversation about adoptee rights with anyone besides a fellow advocate, you are well aware of how the myth, misinformation, emotional complexities and outright hostility we encounter make us long for our mythical kitten constituents.  

Unfortunately our “enemies” are legion, and reside both inside and outside of us.  Shall I name a few?  

·        There must be something wrong with me for wanting to know my birth identity.  I must be maladjusted/crazy/sick.

·        I must be a bad/ungrateful/selfish daughter/son to even consider hurting my adoptive parents this way.

·        I have no right to invade my birth mother’s privacy.  I am selfish to even consider it.

·        Why can’t I just leave well enough alone?  (Answer:  Because I am bad/ungrateful/sick/selfish.)

(I have had people say ALL of these things to me.)  

Add on top of this the run-of-the-mill fears and challenges that many social justice advocates grapple with:

·        I’m just one person.  One person can’t make a difference.

·        Politicians are corrupt.  Why should I waste my breath trying to get them to listen?  They don’t care anyway.

·        Politics is all about highly paid lobbyists and special interests. I don’t want to dirty my hands.  

With these kinds of impediments, it’s a wonder we’ve gotten anything done!

Deanna: Who should pay for us to get our rights back?  

Karen: Among adoptees, I’ve also noticed a suspicion of being used around money that may exceed that of the “average bear”.  Perhaps it’s due to feeling like we were treated as a purchased  commodity early in life.  And in today’s environment where the for-profit adoption industry abounds, adoptees have a particular right to be suspicious of potential abuses around money.  

So who should pay for us to get our rights back?  Our parents?  The government?  Adoption agencies?  Frankly, none of these entities are going to pay.  But more to the point, why should they?  Do we really want to take the stance that we are owed a special privilege that entitles us to have other adults pay our way?  

We are no longer children.  We can’t be claiming we deserve the same rights as other adults if we are not willing to shoulder the same adult responsibilities.  

Deanna:  I'm glad you've shared this, Karen. It's definitely needed and timely. Many people may wonder how much their one contribution will accomplish. So let me throw this question out there to you...for the person out there who thinks that -- how much good can any one of us do?  

Karen: John Wesley exhorts us to do all the good we can.  Yet not all of us can give the kind of time, money and energy that is devoted by the most active, “in the trenches” advocates.  When I donate to a cause, I am so grateful that there are people willing to actively do the work that I don’t have the time or the skill to do.  I have a friend who works in Africa building kitchens and serving meals to orphaned children.  I’ve chosen not to do this with my life at this time, but I’m grateful that I can help HER do it.   

Hundreds of years ago the English writer John Heywood immortalized the phrase, “many hands make light work.” I’m sure all of you have causes you support in various ways and with various levels of energy.  We can’t do all the work that needs to be done in the world and take care of ourselves, as well.  So the question becomes whether a collective group of people can offer their “hands“, so that the strength of the crowd allows the good work to become possible.   

Deanna: What good has been done so far?

Karen: About a year and a half ago, Deanna graciously allowed me to post here on the topic of advocacy, and my personal journey from devastation to empowerment.  Since then, in my home state of Connecticut the efforts of our adoptee rights group led to the passage of a partial access bill.  As a result of that law, on July 1, 2015 any adult adoptee born and adopted in Connecticut after October 1, 1983 has the right to get a copy of their true, original birth certificate. That’s the first time in forty YEARS that any adoptee in our state can get their original birth certificate as a matter of RIGHT under the law!

Deanna: What did this good cost?

Karen:  Blood and treasure.

Through incredible synchronicity and hard work, the energy of thousands of individuals was marshaled to restore this right to adult adoptees.  Our supporters gave of their time and came to meetings, called and wrote their legislators, spoke to their friends and families (who in turn reached out to their legislators), and obtained endorsements from professional organizations (by attending their meetings, reaching out to their members and talking with their leaders).  We had supporters from local churches and clergy, lawyers, and adoption professionals.  

Hundreds of legislators and government officials read our information and listened to us.  Some of them helped us draft several iterations of the proposed bill.  They spent time with us, thought about our issue, and discussed it with their own friends and family.  We met with the Governor’s office, the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, the Commissioners of the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Public Health, the Probate Court Administrator’s Office and their staffs and attorneys.  

TV reporters came to our events with their camera crews and televised interviews with our supporters.  Journalists interviewed us, wrote articles, talked with their editors and published stories.  People wrote letters to their editors, and posted on blogs, Face book and Twitter.  Advocates all over the country advised us, shared their experiences and supported our efforts through emails, Facebook posts and phone calls.  

Many, many people sent $5, $10, $50 dollars or more.  We received anonymous $1000 matching grants and $7000 in grants from the American Adoption Congress.  We used these funds to hire an experienced lobbyist who cared, listened to us, learned about our issue and used his skills and experience to help us.  

Thousands of people combined their energy, their “hands”, and got the job part way done.

We want to finish the job.  We are going back to the legislature in a few months to try to get the law extended to the pre-1983 adoptees who weren’t covered by the law that was passed.     
There’s a great scene in the classic 1975 movie “Jaws”, when Sheriff Brody first sees the massive shark lunging out of the water right next to Captain Quint’s boat.  Backing up in shock, he tells the Captain, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.”  As it turns out, they didn’t need a bigger boat.  They had enough grit, determination and yes, luck, to get the job done.

We’ve got the boat.  We’ve got the grit and determination.  (And the structure, organization and connections.)  

Deanna: What more do we need?

Karen: We need YOU.  We need the tangible support of adoptees like you, in any one of the following ways:

1.      A donation to our crowd funding campaign, which continues through October 7.  Frankly this is our most immediate, pressing need to ensure we can pursue our legislative efforts.  We invite you to take a few moments to watch our moving video and read the information about our work.  (Our financials are transparent and can be viewed on our website.)   

2.    Sign up for our email newsletter, so you can keep up to date with our activities and help in ways that fit best for you and your available time and energy level, especially as the legislative session gets underway.

3.    Please let us know if you are a member of a United Church of Christ church. The Connecticut Conference of the UCC is considering an Adoptee Rights Resolution at its annual meeting on October 23-24, 2015.  We are meeting with many UCC churches and are garnering support for the Resolution.  If it passes in Connecticut it will be considered by the UCC General Synod in 2017.  The moral and practical impact on adoptees throughout the United States if the UCC adopts this Resolution is immense.

And if you believe prayer, please pray for us.  

Deanna: You can count on it. 

Access Connecticut Now, Inc. is a non-profit, grassroots adoptee rights organization working to restore the right of ALL Connecticut adoptees to obtain a copy of their true, original birth certificate.  Visit them at, on Facebook and Twitter.  Karen Caffrey is the President of the organization.