I was alerted to the pending release of your book, Impossible Motherhood, by a friend and when I read the summary, I thought: “Wow. That’s intense.”
I read in another article that you feared your “self-described ‘abortion addiction’ will be misunderstood” and that you only scheduled “closed-door interviews and will not do a book tour.” You also had to make “sure all public property records do not reflect [your] name, so [you] cannot be targeted at [your] home.”
You are quoted as saying: “I am worried about my safety and the hate mail.”
I just want you to know that I’m sorry you had to take these steps to protect yourself and your family (though I am very glad that you did) and I want to let you know that I’m thinking about you and wishing you well.
Beyond the real threat of physical violence that you undoubtedly face, I want to acknowledge the impact of how it can feel to have so many people judge and ridicule you for telling your story, in your own words, in your own time, in your own way. For an issue as fraught with controversy as abortion, where the only language we have is one of blame, defense and attack, talking personally about how you experienced one, or in your case, many, is unfortunately, not something most of us are used to. Most people really have no idea how to respond.
I know this is true because I too have had an abortion. This experience made me realize how ill-equipped most of our culture is to talk about the personal experience of having one which led me to found an organization called Exhale. We provide women and men a place to talk without fear of judgment. For nearly eight years, we have listened to thousands of women and men share their stories, their feelings, their needs, fears, and the hopes and dreams associated with an abortion experience through our national after-abortion talkline. Time and time again, we hear how the silence and stigma, how feeling alone and isolated, and how having no one and nowhere to turn to for comfort or care is one of the biggest obstacles for emotional wellbeing. We have found that the chance to speak one’s truth, to be believed, to be heard and supported, can be a transformative, empowering and healing process.
Another thing we have learned is how important it is for women to hear the stories of other women. Abortion is so common, but because we rarely talk about it, we lose the opportunity for connection with those who share this experience. Across the range of feelings, backgrounds, perspectives and values, something that women who have had abortions often talk about is their feeling of being alone. And yet, if they take the risk and reach out for support really bad things can happen to them (not always, lots of time people surprise us in great ways!). Things like being cut off from family and friends. Being targeted and harassed in the workplace or being shunned by your religious community are some of the experiences we hear about on our talkline. As I read the blog posts and articles (which I refuse to link to here) I can see that some pro-choice and some pro-life people think it is their right and their duty to shame, pity or judge you.
In this, you are definitely not alone. Many women have shared this experience.
This is why Exhale is pro-voice. We take a stand with every woman who has had an abortion and serve as a witness to her truth. We know your story is important and you deserve to be heard. We stand with you, Irene.
Irene, I don’t know if you’re crazy or sane, a truth-teller or an attention-grabber. I don’t know if you habitually put yourself in situations to be victimized or if this is a symbol of your personal healing and growth. You might be all of these things, or none of them. I have not even read your book.
I do care about who you are and your emotional wellbeing, and that is why it matters to me how you are treated as a woman who has had abortions and who has chosen to share her experiences publicly. While your story of repeat abortions may be shocking and your language of “abortion addict” controversial, any woman who tells her story with abortion publicly, including those stories which may be seen as sympathetic, risk similar kinds of attack. One abortion or thirty, rich or poor, brown or white, abused or safe, public abortion storytelling is never accepted.
I am very sure that is not a surprise to you. And yet, you did it anyway. For taking this risk, I cheer for you. I can’t imagine it was, or is, easy.
I don’t know that sharing our personal abortion stories will ever be easy, but surely the reactions can become a little more supportive and a little more respectful. One in three women will have an abortion in their life. It’s an incredibly common experience. For some it was the best decision, for others, the worst. Women can feel grief or heartache or hopeful and confident. There is no right or wrong way to experience abortion. It’s unique to every person.
Unfortunately, our public dialogue has not made room to hear these stories or to learn from them. It’s our mission at Exhale to change this. We seek to replace judgment with understanding and stigma with support. Not agreement or endorsement of someone’s decision or life choices. Only recognition of the very human need to be heard, and our own individual ability to meet that need.
We can all chose to listen.
I wish you and your family safety and wellness, Irene