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Archive for February, 2010

*Guest Blogger*

Nat Okey, Exhale Volunteer:

We all know the routine for Valentine’s Day: buy your love interest some stuff, take ‘em to a totally straight movie because queer couples are just too difficult to acknowledge, even in a movie trailer, add some flowers, chocolates, and dinner and you’ve done right, right?  Oh, and don’t forget to tell them you love them with a prescribed message from an international corporation, you know, because nothing says “I love you” like hegemony.

What if instead you decided to give someone your unconditional love?

Do you know someone who has been through a difficult time recently, or who is having trouble letting go of old but lasting and magnetic pain?  It might be your lover, your former girlfriend, or just a friend.  It might even be your mom who has felt alone for decades.

There are no Hallmark cards for dealing with abortion in our stigmatized culture.

But, there are e-cards from Exhale. Exhale can help you reach out to someone in your life who deserves your love and respect.  It’s important that we acknowledge the women in our lives who’ve had abortions and who afterward may have never had anyone say to them: “You’re a good person.”  “You’re a good mother.”  “I love you and I’m here for you.”

This Valentine’s Day, please consider honoring the women in your life who may need your kind, unconditional words in addition to the usual gestures.

Unconditional love goes a long way.

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The tagline for the Center for Digital Storytelling is “Listen Deeply.  Tell Stories.”  For more than 8-years, Exhale has listened.  Deeply.  Actively.  Purposefully.  Intently to the women and men who call our talkline.

We developed our Pro-Voice approach in response to their needs and in recognition that the stories we hear on our talkline are rarely included in public discourse.  The stories are hidden.  Neglected.  We think they should be heard.

Most importantly, we think they should be heard with dignity and respect.

The board, staff and volunteers of Exhale have been grappling with the challenge of how abortion stories can be heard with dignity and respect in the midst of such conflicted, contested terrain.  In the midst of war.  At a time when abortion stories are used or manipulated for political goals.  When stigma keeps many people silent.

This challenge is not a new challenge.  Over the course of history and throughout the world, important stories – of people and of communities – have been hidden by conflict, taboo, violence or stigma.

“Silence Speaks” is a program created by the Center for Digital Storytelling to respond to these untold narratives.  Silence Speaks helps people to tell their own stories, in their own way and in their own words, in the form of short digital videos.  Silence Speaks promotes personal and collective healing and transformation.  Silence Speaks can change the way a people or a community are perceived and provide us with the tools we need to change conversation and thus, our very own history.

Storytelling – and oral history – are critical components of transforming conflict and building peace.

Exhale is proud to partner with the Silence Speaks program of The Center for Digital Storytelling on a pilot project to support the telling of abortion stories and stories of nonjudgmental listening.

We are sharing our own stories.  We are experiencing healing and transformation. We will create forums where our stories are heard with dignity and respect.  We will change conversations with these stories.  We will change the course of our own history.

We will build abortion peace.

*photos from the Silence Speaks digital storytelling workshop with Exhale, February 2010

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*Guest Blogger*

Nat Okey, Exhale Volunteer:

“I just read about a new study which shows that:

people who volunteer donate ten times more money than those who do not give their time. Furthermore, two thirds of those who give their money donate to the same organization they volunteer for.

This research finding is no surprise to me and my volunteer cohorts at Exhale.  Many of us give our time and our money to support the Pro-Voice Cause.

I volunteer with Exhale as a talkline counselor and as an intern in the office.  My extensive involvement with Exhale as a volunteer made making a financial donation an easy decision because I have great confidence as to where the money goes, how it’s  used, and why it is needed.

My work in the Exhale office shows me where donations go and as importantly to me, where they don’t go.  Other than the obvious use of donations for staff salaries and office rent, putting together orders from clinics for Exhale talkline brochures effectively quantified the need for me to make a personal donation.  My $25 would pay for hundreds of brochures that a clinic will hand out to abortion patients, some of whom will call the Exhale line.  If the clinics don’t have our brochures to hand out, then fewer people who need Exhale’s service will be able to utilize it.  If I wasn’t unemployed, I would have made a larger donation.

What volunteering in the office also did for me was to assure me that my donation would be used wisely.  Seeing in person how hard the staff works along with how frugal they are with resources, (we print on both sides of the paper here and the office fridge looks like it’s from Aspen’s first dorm room), I knew my money would go to essential operations.”

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*Guest Blogger*

Lauren R.S. Mendonsa, Law Student and Member of Law Students for Reproductive Justice:

“I had the pleasure of attending Law Students for Reproductive Justice’s Western Regional Conference last Sunday.  Among the amazing speakers, was Apsen Baker, of Exhale. Just saying the organization’s name puts me at ease.  Knowing that Exhale provides women the ability voice to their experiences with abortion, free from judgment or the risk of damage to personal relationships, gives me great comfort.

At the end of Aspen’s presentation, she posed a question to our group, “What do you think is the role of law students and the legal community in creating a more supportive and respectful social climate around abortion?” Support and respect are not central tenants of a profession that is inherently adversarial, so I found this question challenging.

As a law student, former policy advocate, and member of the reproductive justice movement, I’m perpetually strategizing about how to counter the “other side.”  I’ve frequently asked myself whether “our side” could benefit from a national “coming out” of women who have had abortions.  As a recent RepoRepro blogger remarked, “if people could put faces to the numbers of women we are told have abortions in this country, abortion could not be a political issue.”

This may be true, but Aspen’s presentation made me realize that such strategizing ascribes value to women’s experiences not because they’ve had them, but because they can be used to promote political change. It risks objectifying the people and decisions that “our side” aims to empower.

I don’t have a good answer to Aspen’s question, but it has prompted self-reflection and criticism of my profession, which teaches its members to speak on behalf of our clients, emphasizing the “good” facts, minimizing the “bad,” and discarding the irrelevant.  A supportive environment around abortion requires listening to women’s stories without an ear toward the legal hook, and refraining from ascribing our own values to the details.  I need to work on this, and I’m going to encourage my peers and colleagues to do the same. As the decades since Roe v. Wade have shown, a legal right to abortion does little to engender support for women who choose to have one.”

*This post is also featured on the blog of LSRJ.

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