White Ribbon Day

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Chances are you know someone who is suffering violence in their home. Chances are that they haven’t told you about it, or maybe they don’t even know that what is happening to them is actually abuse. The statistics are astounding: One in three Australian women over the age of 15 report physical or sexual violence at some time in their lives. Yes, report, not suffer. This means that the actual rates are much, much higher.

Today I have the absolute honour of sharing one very courageous woman’s story. Corina and I have been friends since high school. She is a fabulous writer and journalist, and one of the most honest, genuine, crass and loyal cat lovers I know. She is also a tireless campaigner against abuse, especially when it comes to violence against women.

I’m constantly inspired by women who face fear head on and speak out about injustice and hardships. It breaks the silence and stigma around personal struggles, and it gives voice and hope to all those who have been silenced. Thank you Mena for putting in to words what so many women can’t. x

Corina’s story:

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In Australia, one woman is killed every week by a partner or former partner. The sorts of men who commit these crimes pass us every day in the street. Men in suits, men at the gym, the man in front of you at the checkout, the man walking his dog. Domestic violence is woefully under-reported, and it’s a sad fact that these statistics are probably inaccurate; the amount of women who suffer and die from abuse is likely to be much higher.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have not had a boyfriend hit me. I have however, been a victim of domestic abuse. Violence is not always physical. It can’t always be spotted with a black eye or a broken arm. Emotional abuse is even more common though, and it leaves a mark. I want to tell you about my mark, the one I got in my very first relationship.

*Alex was twenty five when I met him, and I had just turned eighteen. Ecstatic to have just come of age, I had the world to conquer, and conquer it I did, with a steady routine of driving my parents’ car, voting, having anonymous sex, and enjoying an almost daily dose of partying all night long with my friends. I was intelligent, attractive and confident. I was also naïve.

Alex had been raised in a violent house himself. His father was a recovering alcoholic and his mother, now living in a different state after abandoning the family, had spent much of his childhood years telling him how useless he was. Alex considered himself a fuck-up. And he wasn’t far wrong.

He fell in love with me on sight. In case you were wondering, this in itself is a massive red flag, but I was too innocent to know it. I believed that Alex’s devotion to me was pure, that I was special to him and that even though he had more experience than I did, he had never loved a woman quite like he had loved me and that we would be together forever.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Like with every other recorded case of domestic abuse, it began slowly. Subtle things, like feelings of insecurity when I went out with my friends, jealousy because another man had looked at me. Gradually though, it became more dominant, and I found myself watching my mouth, careful not to step out of line. If I said something to make him angry, he would drive recklessly, whipping his car around corners and darting in and out of traffic to frighten me into behaving. He refused to wear a condom when we had sex, and he would slyly try to coerce me into doing things that I told him I didn’t want to do. When I talked about returning to study, he forbade me to do it. He would stop speaking to me and refuse to talk to my friends if they interfered with our time together. He talked me out of exercising because if I lost weight, I would “be hot” and not want to be with him anymore. One time when I ventured the idea of overseas travel, he bashed his dog.

So why didn’t I “just leave”?

Because I needed him.

At the time, I was having a lot of trouble with my family. They couldn’t accept that I was in an adult relationship and they made their displeasure very obvious. They were rude to Alex, treating him like a second class citizen, and Alex, with all his hang ups about being a failure, needed half an excuse to fight. Soon they were alienated from my life, along with all the friends who told me that he was bad news. One person after the other was eliminated until I had no one left. I could see what was happening around me, but whenever I would stand up to him he would threaten to leave me, telling me I was too good for him and I deserved better. I was so scared of losing him, I stopped fighting. I gave in to his every tantrum and whim.

It’s true that hindsight is twenty-twenty. Alex picked me for a reason. I was young and foolish, in love for the first time and willing to do anything to keep my man happy. He wasn’t with women his own age, who were more likely to recognise his manipulation for what it was. He chose a silly little eighteen year old who wanted to defy her parents and fall head over heels in love. I was easy to control, easy to trap.

That relationship was not physically violent. Of course, the signs were all there that it would have eventually become so, but I don’t like to think about that. After a few months of lying, cheating and doing drugs behind my back, I became too much trouble to deal with, and Alex left me for someone more easy going. That relationship of course failed as well, and the last I heard of Alex he was living alone, unable to maintain healthy romances and with a fractured relationship with his family. He still does drugs and he is still verbally abusive.

I get asked a lot why I “dwell” on this story. Well, the truth is that most days, it is the furthest thing from my mind. I am grateful to the experience with Alex, it played a huge part in making me who I am today. But I tell this story because it’s important. Domestic abuse is not always a broken nose or fingerprint bruising. It is subtle. It can be sexual, financial, or physical. But most commonly, it is emotional. It bullies and belittles, leaving the victim feeling pathetic and lost, with only their perpetrator as a source of comfort. It happens to both men and women, to teenagers, to the elderly, to same sex couples, to children and even in platonic friendships. I tell you this story because it happens everyday. It is probably happening to someone you know right now.

Never tell her to “just leave.” Do not ask her why she stays. If you or somebody you know needs help, go to www.whiteribbon.org.au or www.wdvcs.org.au for services, counselling and how to provide help. You can stop it before it happens again.

Corina Thorose

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Thank you Corina for sharing this all-too-common story. Your honesty and bravery is inspiring!

To hear more from Corina you should check out either of her two (!) blogs. She reviews films, theatre shows, events and more on ‘In my Humble Opinion‘ and her newest venture is ‘Their own Bells‘, a blog that showcases the lives of inspiring women.

xoxo

This post just wouldn't have been complete without a cat gif. Thanks Mena! Source: http://canv.as/p/s0vna/reply/1307507

This post just wouldn’t have been complete without a cat gif. Thanks Mena!
Source: http://canv.as/p/s0vna/reply/1307507

What’s Wrong With Adoption in Australia?

I’m so overwhelmed by everyone’s feedback following my last post. It’s astounding to me that so many of you are actually making the time to read my ranty rants amongst your busy lives. It’s just so touching – I can’t really describe how supported it makes me feel. Thank you.

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As promised I am sticking to the topic of adoption this week as it is National Adoption Awareness Week here in Australia.

It would seem that I am quite a slow learner because I bothered to read the comments left on yesterday’s Herald Sun article featuring Deborra-Lee Furness. There is just so much negativity around adoption! I mean I definitely think an honest dialogue about adoption is absolutely necessary, but it just has to be constructive – adoption is not blanket “good” or blanket “bad”. Just as there are some biological families that don’t get it right, there are adoptive parents that don’t either, but this doesn’t make the whole concept wrong or evil.

The reality is that adoption always involves suffering. For an adoption to occur, there has to have been some form of breakage or separation first. This is, of course, not an ideal situation at all, but as we know we don’t live in an ideal world. Adoption, in my humble opinion, can be a beautiful pathway towards restoring what was lost, like healing a wound though the scar may remain. It’s for this reason I believe it should be embraced and celebrated.

To be honest I’ve re-written parts of this post so many times now, trying to balance directing my thoughts at the (very vocal) anti-adoption lobby, and just sharing my own honest feelings and experience. It’s hard because the whole topic is so complex; what goes for local adoption may not be relevant to intercountry and so on. But at the end of the day I think to most people it’s pretty obvious – every child deserves to grow up in a family.

In fact a rule of thumb is that for every three months a child resides in an orphanage, they lose one month of development. It is well documented that institutionalisation is detrimental to the physical, social, and psychological well-being of children. I am planning to talk more about my time in orphanages and my passion for family reunification and community-based solutions to orphan care later, but the bottom line is that we should be ensuring that children grow up within families. Adoption is one way to make this happen.

Except… The Australian government doesn’t seem too keen on this. Last year there was less than 150 inter-country adoptions for the whole of Australia, despite thousands of hopeful couples. This is not because there are no orphans in the world, but rather because we have an outdated and clunky system designed to discourage adoption at every turn, even local adoption.

Believe it or not, but you can’t be on both local and inter-country adoption lists at once, even though the process is likely to take years. And, in Victoria at least, you can’t do any reproductive treatments while waiting to adopt. All in all it makes for a very frustrating and heartbreaking situation where both children and potential parents miss out. There just has to be change soon.

Thank you Deborra-Lee and Hugh for your advocacy work 🙂

As Deborra-Lee says in the article: “The system is broken here. There are children who need families and we need a system that works.” It’s my hope that by sharing my personal journey, a greater awareness of the need for reform is gained.

x

Haters Gonna Hate

Image courtesy of Feministing.com

Image courtesy of Feministing.com

A few years ago, in a fit of rage, I slammed out this Facebook post for all my friends and family to see. The response I received was so overwhelmingly supportive that it ignited the idea to write this blog. Of course I was lazy and it took me a couple of winters and a healthy dose of unemployment to actually start, but to everyone who commented on this the first time around I can’t thank you enough. Your encouragement has helped me to press on despite every ounce of me wanting to give up on the whole stupid, impossible dream.

I’ve decided to share it again today because it still adequately reflects how I feel, and it helps to show some of the stigma surrounding adoption and ‘infertiles’ here in Australia.

I should also mention that since I first wrote this rant the Ethiopian adoption program in Australia that we had been waiting on has been shut down. Years of waiting down the drain, another door slammed shut in our faces…

June 2011
Adoption, Infertility and I’m ANGRY right now!

It’s late, and I know I should be going to bed right now and not rambling on facebook, but something has just got me shaking and I’m considering this as my way of expelling bad energy before sleep time.

For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Lady Breaks and I can’t have kids. As fifteen year olds, we used daydream and fantasise about our future children, naming them and imagining what they would look like. Fast forward to our first year of marriage five years later and we were ready to turn our dreams into reality. Except it didn’t happen. Sludge through another six seven years of appointments, IVF, and the looooong road to adoption, and you’ll get to where we are today.

Anyway, by and large, I’m excited about the future, and I feel like I’ve loved and longed for my future child for the best part of the last 12 13 years. Adoption is something we can’t wait to do, we research it constantly, and are making every effort to ensure that we are able to provide our child with all that she/he needs to develop a strong identity, with a powerful connection to their culture. We even already have a collection of children’s books about adoption.

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But this journey certainly hasn’t been easy, in fact it has been incredibly unbelievably painful – but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, sometimes little things still catch me off guard, like someone complaining about having kids when I would do anything to have that problem, or the sheer length of adoption waiting times. So tonight I was having a little downer with myself in the car, asking God why on earth He made Mr. Lady Breaks and I infertile when we would love our kids so so much? What was the point to all this? It wasn’t fair, blah, blah, blah.

And then I got home.

Like any other good Gen Y-er I checked my facebook and I clicked through to this article about adoption in Australia.

And the article itself is really quite good and just what kind of information needs to get out there. But then I read the comments…*

Now, I know so many of you are amazingly supportive of our adoption journey and eagerly anticipate the day we adopt alongside us. In fact many of you are so supportive that you probably don’t realise there is a whole other side to the story that us ‘infertiles’ have to deal with. That stuff is thoughts like this:

  • It is time adoption was outlawed. Adoption requires the taking of a baby from its mother to satisfy the wants of adopters. It is a very selfish act. If you cannot have a baby of your own then you are not entitled to one from someone else.. It is time people looked at the history of adoption in Australia and come to realise that very few babies were willingly handed over to adopters. They were stolen. The majority of adoptions between 1950 – 1975 were illegal. It is time people realised this and accept that they cannot have a child and get on with it.
  • Adopters do not have the right to someone else’s infant. It is interesting that Mother’s rights are not mentioned in this article just the infertiles desire for a healthy fresh-out-of-the-womb infant.
  • It would be wonderful if people stopped referring to parents as birth parents of Bio parents. These titles are rubbish. You have one set of parents. The ones who created you, then you have adoptive parents. They are the ones who look after you when you are adopted but they are never ever your actual parents. It would be appreciated if people would stop calling mothers these names.

Anyway, that’s just a taster. If you want to see more, go to any adoption video on YouTube – most have comments on them saying that they have stolen a baby, bought a baby, ruined a life, etc., etc.

As many of you know, I have spent time in countries with an enormously high percentage of orphans – many of whom will grow up in institutions or worse. In Kenya alone it is estimated that 300 babies are abandoned every single day. I am not suggesting intercountry adoption is the only answer, far from it! Of course, a child’s indigenous culture will be the best answer for them. However, until adequate foster and orphan care systems are in place, intercountry adoption has to remain an option for the sake of the children.

I do believe very strongly in the absolute importance of ensuring the child’s culture is ingrained in their lives, and yes, I won’t be able to do it as well as their birth mother in their home country would. But the situation isn’t perfect, and no amount of telling me I’ll always be second best at it will change that. There are children whose parents simply cannot or do not want to raise them. There are children without parents at all. We are a couple who can. More than that, we love love them already, just as I imagine a mother expecting a baby would. Only our pregnancy has gone on for years and years.

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I acknowledge that some of you will read this and agree with what the commenters are saying, and you have every right to do that. You may believe that no matter which way I try and spin it, adoption will never be the same as “having your own” (<—HATE those words). All I can say to you is that for me and my husband, THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. Our love for our future child is just as valid and as real as yours.

So, after a very long ramble that I’m not sure anyone will even read, I think I know why God made us infertile. And, what’s more I’m thankful for it. I, unlike many others, will get to say to my beautiful child, I longed for you with every fibre of my being for years and years and years. I knew how perfect you were before I met you and I conquered every obstacle placed before me to get to you. That’s how much you are worth to me.

x

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* Comments on article have since been removed

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The Adoption Option

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Generally speaking, after I’ve bored some poor stranger’s ear off about not being able to procreate, they will think for about 5 seconds and then casually say: ‘So why don’t you just adopt then?’ And we laugh and laugh and I will fill out some paperwork and 6 months later I’ll have a baby in my arms.

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Yep… Except this isn’t my dream world. This isn’t America either. And it’s not England or France or basically any other country in the world. It’s Australia, and in Australia adoption is a dirty word. In Australia you are dissuaded from adoption at every turn and treated like a criminal for even considering it. It’s costly, taxing on your emotions and relationships, and it takes years, and years, and years. And years.

Now, to be fair, we do have a fairly bad track record with adoption and care institutions for children here. You don’t have to be a history scholar to recognise the devastating injustice of the Stolen Generation and the British Child Migrant schemes. There are also horrific stories of children stolen from their impoverished families in developing countries and sold to wealthy families in the West. There were forced adoptions. There are stories of children growing up disconnected from their birth countries and identities. There are stories of children who are abused within their adoptive families. All in all it makes for a pretty bad case for adoption.

So, rightly so, a lot of red-tape and bureaucracy has been put in the way to mitigate these risks. I guess the thinking is that it will weed out the potential child abusers and only keep the desperadoes that are willing to wait up to ten years and spend their life savings. You are told adoption is a selfish, self-centred decision. You are told that there are no orphans in the world. You are branded incompetent parents at best, and criminal at worst. You are callously removed from lists you have waited years on because of a change of policy.

But this kind of thinking is so wrong. This kind of thinking means that children miss out on having families. Adoption can be a beautiful, life-changing, sacrificial, and wonderful thing – I’ve seen it in families who have adopted around me, and I’ve heard it from friends who are adopted themselves. There definitely should be a process, and checks and balances need to be in place, but it has to be done with more humanity than it currently is.

As potential adoptive parents we studied the history and culture of the place we intended to adopt from, we set up a nursery, we read books on adoption and attachment parenting, we bought toys and storybooks, we put safety locks on cupboards, I painted pictures for the room. We eagerly awaited and longed for our child’s arrival… And six years after my initial enquiry, we are no closer to adopting at all.

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Adoption is something that needs to be celebrated and embraced by Australia. We can do much much better than this. Next week is National Adoption Awareness Week and I will be sharing more of our journey towards adoption.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ Lady Breaks on facebook!