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The ‘Elephant in the Room’

On May 9th, thousands of  Canadians traveled to the nation’s capital and took part in the ‘Campaign for Life’ – an annual gathering of the anti-choice community to protest Canada’s pro-choice stance. In ‘solidarity’, regional chapters of the Campaign for Life coalition organized similar small-scale protests that will occur throughout the month of May.

Today was New Brunswick’s turn.

A few hundred anti-choice protesters met at our provincial legislature in Fredericton and engaged in a walk throughout the downtown corridor ending at the ‘Women’s Care Clinic’,  the aggressive New Brunswick anti-choice headquarters that is disguised as a women’s center. As New Brunswick lacks a law protecting women from anti-choice harassment, this ‘center’ is  conveniently located next to the Morgentaler clinic, the province’s only public abortion provider.

Yet I hesitate to even use the term ‘protesters’. The group, although dominated by adults, contained many children who were forced to walk alongside their parents. Forced to take a day off of school to protest a social issue for which they lack understanding. Forced to hold signs projecting hate – with faces of children, outlines of fetuses, and frightening words.

Forced to convict the 50 or so of us pro-choice activists who formed a human chain of protection around the clinic as ‘murderers’.

But for many children who group up in anti-choice households, associating abortion with murder is the only reality they know. In their eyes, there are only two options that are morally just: motherhood or adoption.

In their eyes, it’s really that simple. Isn’t this, after all, what women were ‘made’ to do?

But for those faced with an unwanted pregnancy, and for those stemming from the result of one, their reality is anything but.

I have accepted that I am the product of an unwanted pregnancy.

I was not wanted. Was unintended. Unexpected.

I won’t lie: to write that, say it, even think it, hurts. And it would for anyone. Most of us fear rejection from our family, friends, and partners. But for adopted children, like me, we were just that: rejected. And right from the get go. Some refer to this as the ‘ultimate rejection’ or the ‘first trauma’. But, over time, I’ve come to accept my reality, just as my birth mother had to accept her reality that the child she was bearing was completely and utterly unwanted.

In 1984, when I was born, my birth mother didn’t have a lot of reproductive options. It wasn’t until 1988 that Canada saw the introduction of a law that supported a woman’s right to an unrestricted abortion. While I don’t know the specifics of her situation, I assume my birth mother saw three options available to her at the time – an illegal and potentially life-threatening abortion, raising a child she did not want to raise, and adoption.

And so she ‘chose’ (if we can call such limited options a choice) the latter, and here I am. In my eyes, her decision to pursue an adoption was brave, selfless  and loving. I imagine the social stigmatization she faced. The discrimination she feared. The isolation she more than likely encountered. And following months of such unjust treatment, not to mention the pure physical torment of pregnancy, she then had to give me away and say goodbye for good.

Maybe leaving the hospital without me was easy, and perhaps it wasn’t. But the process she was forced to endure resulting from a lack of reproductive choice was definitely anything but easy. Anything but ‘simple’.

Neither is the reality of adoption. Living life, as a twitter friend of mine so brilliantly coined, as the ‘Elephant in the Room’.

It’s the issue that no one wants to talk about, and no one really understands. As a result, there is a lack of discussion about adoptive issues: rejection, isolation, a general lack of knowing about oneself. Adoption seems to make people uncomfortable, as if an adoptee has an illness that lacks societal compassion. People view us as shunned, unlucky, and ‘injured’, as if we all inherently have someone wrong with us.

They see us, as many adoptees continue to see themselves, as unwanted.

So no, adoption is not ‘simple’. Not for the mother, or the child.

Adoption is a wonderful choice, and a choice that I am beyond proud that my birth mother ‘chose’ for both of us. But adoption is not the right choice for everyone. Not all women are wanting or able to proceed with the challenges associated with adoption.

And even if they all wanted to, or if all were forced to, the harsh reality remains: there are not enough loving families in the world to adopt all the children that result from unwanted pregnancies. MILLIONS OF CHILDREN would grow up without families, would remain unloved and, just as they were born, would continue to live their lives unwanted.

A world without abortion hurts women and children. It’s as simple as that.

This is why abortion is such an important reproductive option. This is what the anti-choice community needs to understand. But perhaps more importantly, this is what the children of anti-choice families, like the ones I witnessed today, need to learn. A world without access to abortion is a world where ‘choice’ does not exist.

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To my Partner on his birthday

Firstly, I’m sorry. I apologize to anyone reading this blog and see it as overtly mushy and completely unnecessary. Yes, this is a blatant public display of affection which, for anyone who knows me well, knows I CANNOT stand. Cringe-worthy and awkward to say the least.

Ok, back to the point. To make a birthday ‘card’ (of sorts) so public could be viewed as narcissistic, perhaps self-entitled, and just plain odd. But I promise you, the reader who I have yet to alienate and scare off by the long-winded preface to this blog, there is a method to my madness.

My partner, Dave, got me into blogging. He’ll deny it and say it was me who ventured into it myself. But in actuality, it was his influence that got me to where I am today. A loud-mouth, blunt, out-spoken feminist blogger and activist. If you dislike my rants, blame him. If you enjoy them from time to time, he’s to thank.

But more importantly, Dave saw something in me long before I had the chance to see it for myself. He saw that I had a passion for change – a desire to make the world a better place, but do so but putting myself on the line and actually watch it happen. As an academic, we often sit back in the safety of our ‘Ivory Tower’ offices and watch the world go by as we research about societal phenomena and hope it will end up working its way to the people that need it most. This, more than anything, is the most frustrating element of being in academia: the lack of pragmatism. Dave saw this – and told me to do something about it instead of complaining.

I still complain, from time to time. But I also started writing. And tweeting. And protesting. And getting progressively angrier and angrier. Now I volunteer. I work in the community. I demand action and call out those who perpetuate injustice.

But this side of me never existed before Dave.

Dave came into my life at a particularly challenging time. I felt lost within my work, unsure of who I wanted to be at the end of my scholastic road, and was extraordinarily lonely. I met him in the most cliché of locations – at a bar. Don’t judge! The bar was merely the location, the fact that we met was fate.
It was fate in that we were meant to find each other, as those who believe in soul mates believe to be true. I needed to be brought out of my shell and he did that for me. He helped me form into the Kathleen that I am today, the Kathleen that I am proud to be, and the Kathleen that sees a bright, rewarding future ahead.
He did this by being himself: kind, considerate, compassionate, kind of silly, deeply serious, yet always supportive.

Dave, without sounding corny (any more so than I already have) is the very definition of love. As a young teenager, Dave founded a not-for-profit to help children he had never even met. As he got older, he worked to fight against child poverty and social inequity. Now, he works to help the women of New Brunswick by acting as an abortion clinic volunteer and speaking out against sexual assault within our community. His academic research focuses on the people of Somalia. He wants to better their lives in the only way he can – by bringing awareness to their plight and finding progressive ways to work with them to help them make their lives better. Collaborative work at its finest.

Dave wants the world to be a better place. If we were all a little bit more like him, I have no doubt it would be.

So on his birthday, I want to thank him for just being him and choosing me to be his partner and (without realizing it) his project. He’s made me a better person. He’s made me develop a love for life I never thought was possible. He’s made me want to do amazing things, and allowed me to see that I actually could.

Dave, thank you for being you. Never change – you are perfect as you are. Except that you’re messy – you could change that.

Happy birthday, with all the faith, hope, and love that I could ever hope to offer. Thank you for letting me spend this, and every day, with you.

Because all children deserve ‘Forever Families’: On the Importance of Same-Sex Adoption

I have a ‘forever family’. It consists of a mom, and dad, and me – their adopted daughter. I grew up in a permanent ‘forever home’ with a loving, supportive family in much the same way other children do with their biological parents.

And with all this love and support I was able to grow into a healthy child who played basketball, roller-bladed, and begged to quit ballet shortly after my very first lesson (you just can’t do a lay-up in a tutu). With the backing of a dedicated support system I was granted every opportunity to flourish into what I consider to be a (relatively) successful adult.

My parents and I don’t share blood, medical histories, or DNA but instead share a bond much deeper than any non-adopted family could possibly begin to understand.  And for that, the privilege that was granted, I’m incredibly lucky, as are many of the 1.5 million Americans who have been adopted into what I hope are similarly loving ‘forever homes’.

But often times I sit back and think about what my life would have been like if my ‘forever family’ hadn’t found me. Who would I have become? Would I have had the chance to go to university? Would I have had the security of knowing that, just a phone call away, I would have a family member who would be willing to help me fight any battle?  Would I even get a birthday card? Or would I have been just another child caught without a sense of permanency, caught within a flawed social system?

Thankfully I wasn’t. And while I’m grateful to all those who had a part in granting me my present-day reality it is tragically not the norm.

Worldwide, adoption is still very rare; the United Nations estimates that 260,000 adoptions occur each year, which equates to fewer than 12 adoptions out of every 100,000 children under the age of 18.What this results in is 13 million double orphans (children who have lost both parents) in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean who lack ‘forever families’.

13 million.

Let me put this into perspective. In Africa alone, it is estimated that the current rate of domestic adoption would need to be multiplied 2000 times in order to guarantee the approximate 8 million African orphans are adopted into permanent homes. Globally, the number of adoptions of AIDS-related orphans would need to be increased by a factor of 60.

Another 119 million children are single orphans (children who have lost one parent) and may also require adoption into permanent homes.

Within the United States, more than 250,000 children are forced into the foster system each and every year. Approximately half of these children will return to family members, leaving approximately 105,000 children stuck in limbo: with luck finding their ‘forever families’, or, like the nearly 20,000 children in the US, aging out of the foster system, without one. In Canada the situation is not much better: over 78,000 children are still waiting for permanent homes.

This isn’t the first time I’ve spoken about my adoption, the need for increased awareness about adoption, or the importance of viewing adoption as pro-choice. But over the past two months we have been witness to a new intensification of the adoption debate. Or at least, in my opinion it has. It’s time to talk about it.

We have a new Pope. For us non-Catholics this doesn’t exactly change anything ; I doubt any of us, particularly in the feminist world, anticipated a newfound acceptance of our ‘liberal values’ – a modernization of old conservative, misogynist worldviews. But what Pope Francis brings is a particular dislike for same-sex marriage, which he declared a “destructive attack on God’s plan” although coming from a country which has openly accepted same-sex marriage since 2010 (a year, in fact, before New York did). But perhaps even more appalling, Pope Francis has a particular hatred for same-sex adoption.

Not that the Vatican has even really been a fan of same-sex adoption either. In fact, just weeks before the election of Pope Francis, the Vatican once again voiced its distaste for same-sex adoption, believing that children should grow up in “the ordinary way…with a father and mother”.

According to Pope Francis, same-sex adoption is not wrong simply because it’s not ‘ordinary’; to him, the adoption of children by same-sex couples is a “form of discrimination against children”.

But what’s obvious to me is the Pope’s misunderstanding of the term discrimination. Perhaps if he had a more formal understanding what it means to be discriminated against he would view this situation a little different, a little less harshly…or simply with a little more compassion.

So let me provide a definition:

Discrimination, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex”

So, the academic in me could say that we could perhaps validate the Pope’s ‘discriminatory’ view of same-sex adopted children if there was evidence to suggest that children adopted by same-sex couples were at risk. Lacking. Limited. Affected negatively in any way by the sexual orientation of their parents.

But here’s the problem: there is none. Empirical evidence supporting the Pope’s ‘discriminatory’ standpoint just doesn’t exist. Thirty years of extensive research finds nothing to suggest that children of same-sex parents are any less likely to thrive. Excel. Be loved in the exact say same that I did with heterosexual parents.

So, who is really being ‘discriminated’ by discouraging adoptions by same-sex couples? The LGBT couples who wish to offer ‘forever homes’ to deserving children, and the deserving children wanting to find ‘forever families’.

Because what those against same-sex adoption and, by virtue same-sex marriage, are essentially suggesting is that children like me – children who have, by no fault of their own, and for reasons mostly unknown to them, been placed for adoption are not deserving of a loving family.

It is better, says those who believe in the abomination of same-sex adoption, that millions of children around the world grow up without ‘forever families’ than to live with a loving couple, who by no fault of their own, just happen to be of the same sex.

People who don’t support same-sex marriage, or the adoption of children by same-sex couples, are in essence denying both deserving children and deserving couples the right to a ‘forever family’. I can find nothing Christian about that, nothing moral about it, and nothing just. This, in my albeit very biased opinion, is the very essence of discrimination.

In the words of Ezra Klein, “adoption by gay couples is one of the best arguments for gay marriage”. Well said, because as far as I’m concerned I would much rather grow up with a ‘forever family’ that happens to have two moms, or two dads, than to live without one.

Cross-posted with permission on Fem2pt0

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On Becoming Kathleen: The Journey from Shy Kid to Overbearing Loud-Mouth

I would characterize my ‘present’ self as a loud-mouth. That’s not the say that I feel that to be a loud-mouth is a bad character trait; the term has a negative connotation that is truly unfair and discriminatory towards all self-described loud-mouths.

Indeed to be a loud-mouth is, for the most part, a great thing. While I cannot speak for others who would define themselves this way, I can say from my own experience that being a loud-mouth has brought with it a universal lack of caring for the way I am perceived by the general populace. More importantly, this lack of shame allowed me to acquire greater confidence, stronger self-awareness, extreme stubbornness, and overall personal contentment.

Becoming a loud-mouth is, by far, one of the greatest accomplishments of my 28 years. Because, from where I started, becoming relatively ‘ok’ with myself and my worldview has been a long and often difficult journey.

As a child I was fairly shy. In fact, it would be more accurate to characterize myself as extremely shy. I was afraid of what people thought about me – what I looked like, what I said, how I acted, what I thought. I assumed that whatever they were thinking about me on a daily basis was obviously bad, therefore meaning I was flawed. I constantly worried about fitting in.

More than that, I worried about everything.

I was also afraid of burning the house down if I didn’t turn off a light switch the ‘right way’. Afraid of hurting someone if I forgot to turn off a burner. Afraid of flooding the house if I didn’t turn off the tap ‘just right’. Of causing someone to develop a terrible illness. Not locking the door and causing a break in.

There was whole lot of fear. I was consistently afraid to fail at something…anything.

So, I developed coping mechanisms. I became a perfectionist, because it’s impossible to fail if you work incessentantly, until the point of exhaustion, to ensure you’ve performed at your best each and every time. I developed obsessive counting tendencies – first the light switch, then the door knob, eventually the taps. Always five times.

I often had difficulty sleeping. I was afraid of trying new things, knowing the consequence of interrupting my schedule.

Worse still, I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I assumed that if others weren’t discussing it then it was obviously me being my weird, awkward self. I was fearful of judgment, ridicule – what I now understand to be stigmatization.

I wasn’t really Kathleen – or at least the Kathleen I had the ability to be.

I eventually sought help when the stress of being ‘the perfect student’ became far too exhausting; physically, psychologically, and emotionally. I learned through therapy that I was far from alone in my struggles. 1 in 5 Canadians battle some form of mental illness, each and every day, most of whom do not seek help. I developed positive coping mechanisms and began opening up about what I was going through.

The fear of failure will never fully leave me, but it has dissipated over time. More importantly, I know how to deal with the anxiety when it shows its ugly face: I work with a fantastic mental health professional, I have a loving support system, and I feel able to ask for help when I need it.

My mental health journey also gave me a mission: I knew I wanted to become a mental health professional and researcher. I wanted to provide the therapeutic support that was so helpful to me but simultaneously find ways to help make it safer to seek help, discuss concerns, and connect with like others. Pragmatic academia – the best kind.

Perhaps more importantly, I developed a strong sense of self, becoming someone that was no longer fearful to live the life I wanted to live. This, as opposed to one that I thought would please the greater number of people.

In my newest venture I have become a Community Correspondent for Partners for Mental Health, a great organization looking to improve mental health awareness through social media. It gives me another hat to wear – I now act as a mental health advocate. While I get to work with individuals and research about their experiences, I now have an opportunity to speak on behalf of those still silenced. Hopefully, I can help bring about the necessary change to improve mental health literacy and give a voice to this all-too stigmatized problem.

And while society is still not a huge fan of individuals who are unafraid to speak their mind and those who choose to ignore societal norms, I have learned to accept my ‘loud-mouthed ways’ and use it for good (not that evil was ever really an option). I am proud of my unabashed feminist self (see my work as a regular contributor for Fem2pt0 for examples of this) – it was a long time coming, but for the first time I’m the real me. The true Kathleen.

And who knows, as an advocate, this ‘loud mouth’ thing may turn out to be a real benefit.

An Introduction

So here it is – yet another blog. I resisted from making my own site for as long as I possibly could. Who needs yet another blog? And to be brutally honest I didn’t even start reading blogs until about two years ago; the academic in me saw them as inappropriate, as a medium for uneducated ranting. More than that I just didn’t understand technology. Texting still throws me for a loop and I have absolutely no idea what Instagram is.

While blogs are a fantastic place to rant (and there are a lot that are basically just that), there are many fantastic sites out that are so much more than random raving about life and society. When written by the right person, with the necessary passion, blogs can be a powerful medium.

Blogs can provide so many of us with a voice when otherwise we wouldn’t necessarily have one. They connect us in our difference and indifference; unite us on a common front. They provide a platform to speak against injustice and discuss challenging topics. Unlike other arenas, blogs can be a safe place for us to start conversing about otherwise taboo topics.

My wonderful partner (whose blog, which is far more eloquently written and intellectually focused, can be found here) introduced me to Fem2pt0. A life changing experience. The women who write for Fem2 are strong, talented, and dedicated individuals who wholeheartedly advocate for the rights of those marginalized by the rest of society. They don’t write for fame but for the sure desire to add a feminist voice to an androcentric world. And so I read and became inspired. I started talking about what they wrote about, becoming angry about the injustices they provided a voice against. My partner convinced me it was time to ask them if they were looking for a new blogger (whether because he felt I was up to the task or was hoping I’d stop ranting at him is yet to be debated). Thankfully, they gave me a chance.

I’ve been writing with Fem2 for nearly a year now and it has been, by far, one of the greatest experiences of my life. It’s opened a window to a new world; one that is often sad, frustrating, and terrifying, but also so full of hope. It has provided me with an opportunity to talk about topics near and dear to my heart: mental health, feminism, reproductive rights, adoption, and gender equality. It has given me a voice and connected with me so many (mostly) supportive others. It has made me a better feminist, advocate, academic, and person.

So I’ve decided that, in addition to writing for Fem2, I’ll give my own site a shot. While I call my blog a rant, and I can guarantee that it will be just that from time to time, I hope it to be another forum for constructive conversation. Like Fem2, I’ll be my feminist self; it’s impossible to separate my feminist worldview from my sense of self. But as I’m also a mental health researcher, practitioner, client, and advocate (as a newly appointed Community Correspondent for Partners for Mental Health) I’ll often write posts concerning issues from the mental health world. I’ll also write about adoption and my experiences as an adoptee, reproductive justice in Canada (specifically within the Maritime Provinces), and other important topics.

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