Exhale is proud to honor Susan Lehman with the 2010 Rachel Falls Compassion Award.
In her time with Exhale, Susan has served as a talkline counselor, online community moderator and a Pro-Voice Ambassador. Susan is a well-respected counselor whose peers use terms like “warm heart” and “unflagging compassion” to describe her mentorship and contributions to our callers, and the greater Pro-Voice community. I have been inspired by Susan’s thoughtfulness and commitment to everything she puts her minds to and I am honored for the opportunity to work beside her at Exhale.
The Rachel Falls Compassion Award was created in 2008 to honor a very dear friend and ally of Exhale: Rachel Falls. The Hotline Director at the National Abortion Federation, Rachel passed away after a long battle with brain cancer. Rachel was a true pro-voice champion: she integrated post-abortion counseling into NAF’s services, collaborated with Exhale staff to train others in the field, and became a vocal advocate for promoting the emotional wellbeing of women who have had abortions. The award is given once a year to a talkline counselor who best embodies the spirit and values of Rachel Falls: exuberance, strength, empathy, commitment, vision, and compassion. Only fellow talkline counselors can nominate the potential winner. Past awardees include Elsa Valmidiano, who you can read about in our zine (pg.7), and Jan.
In honor of her award, I sat down with Susan to ask her a few questions about her experience with Exhale as a volunteer. Here is what she said.
What first brought you to Exhale?
I read about Exhale in BUST magazine. The possibility of offering after-abortion support was very meaningful to me, and I was eager to know more about its pro-voice mission. I had past talkline experience, and knew the healing support that’s found in quiet compassion. It just seemed like a very rewarding opportunity within an intriguing and inspiring organization.
You volunteer as a talkline counselor and online community moderator. Tell me about these experiences.
Several months ago, I spoke with one woman who was really questioning where her life was going after her abortion. She voiced the confusion and guilt that anyone can feel when life seems out of control. As I listened, I was struck by how well she expressed herself! There was such dignity and intelligence in everything she said; I felt really privileged to hear her story and consider her statements. Because she expressed feelings of isolation, I referred her to our online community. I thought that she might be a powerful voice on the EOC. And, in fact, her story resonated with several members who thanked her for her words, and I think she was able to see her own strength as she helped others find theirs. I think all of us on the talkline have had this experience-more than once! It really is a testimony to the strength and energy that is to be found in shared vulnerabilities. It also speaks of the necessity of providing safe space for this sharing.
Volunteering at Exhale is a really big commitment in terms of training and time – what is it about this work that has made you want to make it such a priority in your life?
As a woman with long-ago personal abortion experience, I know how little emotional support- and how much judgment- face women who seek abortion. I also know how much concern and care often go into the decision to end a pregnancy. I just want to be there for women and men who are processing any aspect of the abortion experience for themselves. It’s purposeful, and it allows me to spend time with truly extraordinary people. Our callers are phenomenally brave, loving, and generous in spirit, and the Exhale staff and volunteer team are,too! It’s a pleasure to give my time to Exhale.
How have you grown as a result of your experience as an Exhale volunteer? What have you learned?
Practically, I’ve learned very valuable skills and been introduced to a wealth of local and national resources for a variety of needs! I’ve been able to actively engage in a dialogue about voice that is far-reaching and holds great promise for our society. Personally, I’ve learned a great deal about myself, and gained in confident self-acceptance that can come from opening ourselves to the narratives of other people.
What do you want to share with women who have had abortions, and their loved ones?
An abortion doesn’t define a woman. You are the same valuable and unique person you’ve always been. Neither does an abortion define a relationship. It is possible that it will be a defining moment in your life or relationship, and that is nothing to fear. You have it in you to know what to take from this experience, and to see where it will best lead you. There is no danger, and there is certainly no shame in abortion. I also want to share my unconditional support, respect, and warmest wishes for always.
Thank you Susan Lehman for your compassionate service to women who have had abortions!