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Dear Irene,

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

Aspen Baker

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One of my Exhale co-founders, Carolina De Robertis, started working on her first novel about the same time we founded the organization. Nine years later, that novel, The Invisible Mountain, is now available. It’s getting great reviews from Elle, Publisher’s Weekly and more. It’s a story about 3 generations of Uruguayan women and I was lucky to be one of the first readers on the first draft many years ago.

“Marvelous…bold…filled with songs both ecstatic and tragic.”
– Cristina García, author of Dreaming in Cuban

“Incantatory…This visionary book beautifully, bravely opens all the old secrets.”
– Lisa Shea, Elle

“Enchanting, funny, and heartbreaking…extraordinary”
– Publishers Weekly

“Lush…lyrical…beautifully wrought”
– Kirkus Reviews

“Exceptional”
– Booklist

I cannot be more proud and excited for Carolina’s tremendous accomplishment. I’ve never met a more disciplined writer, confident in her craft, lyrical in her approach, and thoughtful with her characters. I cannot imagine the huge challenge of writing such a beautiful novel and the thrill of success that I hope she is able to experience in every moment.

I hope you buy it, read it and love it!

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The day of President Obama’s Presidential Address I posted an article on RH Reality Check, asking President Obama to directly address the millions of American women, and our loved ones, who have personally experienced abortion. Along with my article, I published the voices of women who have had abortions and who said – in one sentence – what it is they want to hear. The conversation continues and with over 75 comments made on the article so far, it continues to be one of the most popular discussions on the site.

One of the women who has been very active in the discussion is a woman named Lisa. Lisa has had 3 abortions and is filled with regret. She is strongly against abortion and has made several comments on my post speaking out about her beliefs.

As a woman who has had an abortion, I invited Lisa to join the campaign and to say what is she wants to hear from President Obama. How can he express his support and respect for her unique experience? Our conversation grew. Here is the dialogue between Lisa and I. My goal was to express respect and nonjudgment for her experience and beliefs and to advocate this approach for every woman who has had an abortion.

Lisa, Feb. 24th [in response to a woman who used the word choice in her one sentence]:

It would be helpful if you would state what is actually occurring rather that gloss over it with that idiotic word “choice”. It would read like this: …”I know it pains some commenters here to be reminded that women are humans who decide to kill their babies for good reasons…” I am saying this as a woman who had three abortions when I was young, scared, and with no true understanding of what I was doing. I regret killing my babies. I WISH there had been a law to save myself and those little human lives from my own stupidity and I wish there had been SOMEONE pulling for me to be a mother to my babies instead of killing them. I pray this nation and the world WAKES UP about this senseless, barbaric baby killing that has been going on for far too long. Your remark about sperm is brilliant also. WAKE UP PEOPLE!

Aspen, Feb. 24th:

Hi Lisa,

As a woman who has had abortions you are invited to join in this campaign. If President Obama could say one sentence tonight that would make you feel seen and heard for the experience you are describing above – what would that sentence be? What would you like to hear? I hope you will contribute.

Lisa, Feb. 25th:

You could sum up yourself from my comments what I wish he would say! He won’t say it–not now. He and the other liberals in Washington currently are chomping at the bit to kill as many pre-born children as they can. Thanks for the invitation, but I am not like the post-abortive women here, I suspect. I came here off a link from Jill Staneck. I regret my abortions. I wish not another woman would choose it for herself and the unborn human baby she carries. Abortion is satan’s PRIZE on this earth.

Aspen, Feb. 26th:

Thanks for responding Lisa. One of the first things I noticed after my own abortion was that there seemed to be two groups of women who have had abortions – pro-life women who regret it, and pro-choice women who don’t – and that somehow these groups saw each other as the enemy. This hurts my heart, deeply. What I really want is for us to listen and learn from each other. You may not be like the other women here, and you do share something in common with them. And there are many others here who may have more in common with you than you know, but who aren’t public with their story. Judgment and blaming are big parts of why women will chose to keep their story to themselves. That is why listening and understanding is so important.

Regret is real and hard and can stay in your life for many, many years. I also believe that healing is possible and I have heard from many women, as I’m guessing you have as well, who have found peace and a way to reconcile their pain. I want that for every woman like you.

My pro-voice work with Exhale is about creating support and respect for women like you, and others who have had abortions, across the range of experiences, values and beliefs. What we have in common is the need to be seen and heard.

Lisa, Feb. 28th:

Aspen,
I have attended Rachel’s Vineyard and that began my healing process. I do not know if one can ever be fully “healed” from abortion, but I have fully faced my abortions and am continuing the healing journey through activism and speaking out. I am part of the Silent No More Awareness campaign. I will ALWAYS regret my abortions, I do not see how I could ever NOT regret taking human life. It isn’t something you can just one day not regret having done. That doesn’t mean I will not have joy in my life, it just means I will always regret taking another human life. I have to say, my own belief about pro-abortion women who have had abortions is that they do not want to face the reality of what they have done. To do so is for your world to come crashing down on you with the realization that you have killed a human person in the safest place that would be known to them. Period. Now, I understand what it is like to be in that place very well. It is a ‘safe’ place, where you tell yourself you were a victim of your circumstances and oh thank God I had the choice. Like I said in another response- this debate is all about how you choose to look at it. The problem with that is IT DOESN’T MATTER whether or not you choose to deny it, that beating heart is a life, and before that it was still simply growing into that beating heart. Science has proven it no matter how much people choose to deny it. Like I said, say, “Women deserve the choice to kill their unborn child” and “I am glad I had the choice to murder my child in my womb so I could finish college” or “I am relieved that I have the option to murder my fetus so I do not have to deliver a baby I cannot afford” When abortion is not candy coated and glossed over, it sounds different, doesn’t it?

Aspen, Feb. 28th:

Many callers to Exhale’s talkline have also attended retreats with Rachels Vineyard and have benefitted from that experience. I agree with you, regret and healing can be lifelong journey’s, and its never about arriving at a static place in time, as in today, “I am healed.” I am glad to hear that you can relate to other women’s experiences, having been there yourself, but I think we disagree about one thing, and that is what it means to truly understand others, and have empathy for them. I believe you when you tell me you regret your abortion and I believe women when they say they did their best. I believe that what women say is true for them (even if I may disagree with it or not like it). I want to be believed, I want you to be believed, and I want every other woman to be believed. For me, this isn’t about glossing over the reality of what abortion is, it is about understanding each person who experienced one. If there is to be any change on this issue, this is where I believe it will come from, not from attacking or judging each other. Thanks for the dialogue, Lisa, I appreciate it.

Lisa, March 1st:

Aspen,
What do you mean by ‘change on this issue’? Are you saying that you would like to see abortion unavailable, or against the law, or reduced, or still a choice to be had for whoever wants it for all time? Do you want women to know that it is not a good choice, or is a good choice, just for them to decide?
I will never attack a woman because she aborted, or wants to abort. Speaking the truth is not attacking, but, it can FEEL like an attack if you are in denial about what the REAL issue is, no?
An abortion is: The purposeful killing of a human life at a point where that life has absolutely no power to stop the killing of it, in the safest place that it will ever find on this earth, it’s mothers womb.
Do you agree with this statement? It is a true statement, yet the wording of it is what will make women feel attacked. The word ‘killing’. I will never ever be able to both regret my own killing of my unborn children, and at the same time pat another post-abortive woman on the back to comfort her in her denial of what has happened. That hinders a TRUE healing journey. I do not agree that healing of a symptom rather than the real issue is of any benefit to anyone, for any reason. The woman also deserves to MOURN that baby, mourn the loss of her baby whom she will never hold in her arms, never provide comfort for. It takes pure honesty to be able to do that. My hope is that not another woman would choose abortion for any reason because it ends the life of the unborn, and it also takes a large chunk of the mother’s life as she spends the rest of her life contemplating the abortion. I thank you too, Aspen for this forum for women to discuss this! It is so important for all ideas to be heard and shared without being filtered. Thank you so much!

Aspen, March 1st:

Hi Lisa,

This might be the longest online discussion I’ve had with any one person. We got a marathon session going here.

In our back and forth I was reminded about the way personal experiences with abortion get stereotyped and understood. There is this idea that women who don’t regret their abortions are somehow “in denial” of the truth or their personal pain, while women like you who do regret their abortions and have found healing and forgiveness from God are somehow “brainwashed” or “manipulated” by others. Which stereotype you believe depends upon which side of the political issue you find yourself on.

I don’t believe either. I don’t believe that you are brainwashed or manipulated – I believe you speak your truth. I give that same level of credit and belief to women who say their decision was best – I believe they speak their truth. I don’t think they are in denial.

When I talk about bringing change on the issue, this is what I mean. I want to transform this conflict, a conflict that pits women with a shared experience against each other and stereotypes (in one way or the other) all women who have had abortions. This is personal and hurtful and we can do better. We should listen to each other.

I will be posting my second article in my series “peace for the abortion war” within the next week. I write much more directly about what I mean when I talk about change. I hope you come back and read it. I hope you comment too!

Lisa, March 2nd:

Aspen, do you agree with the statement I made on what abortion is in my last comment? Please respond.
And, is there “a truth” in addition to “your truth” and “my truth” ?

I have not answered Lisa’s question. I would love to. Unfortunately, the online format and discussion we are in is not a safe place to discuss our deepest ideas and beliefs, as you can see from reading the entirety of the online discussion around my article, and in order for me to answer, that is what I need. It also reminds me yet again of the pro-voice challenge – both sides are always looking to nail us down to one side or the other – they want to know, are you with me? or are you my enemy? This is part of the problem, and what contributes to lack of safety, the lack of trust. Answering the question doesn’t build either, it just serves to place me in a category, to make people think they know who I am, to invite their judgment, their stereotype. Today, I don’t answer. Maybe later.

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A Good Story

I saw this video for the first time at a benefit fundraiser for Rowan, at the climbing gym in Berkeley.   It’s quite amazing.   Talk about a big challenge!

Full Lung Capacity from Chris Bloch on Vimeo.

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