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Posts Tagged ‘Creative’

Kassi Underwood, a Pro-Voice Ambassador, has written about her personal experience with abortion in two major newspapers this year.   As a community of people with personal abortion experiences, we stand beside Kassi and provide her with our unconditional love and support.   We look forward to reading her memoir about her search for post-abortion therapies.

On Monday, May 2, 2011 in the New York Daily News, Kassi wrote in “Get Your Politics Off My Grief”:

Contorting rich experiences and complex emotions into partisan slogans shames women who do not “feel” within their political lines, separating us into distinct, sometimes-opposing groups that struggle to relate to one another. Pro-voice is an antidote to the alienating ills of America’s abortion culture.

Here’s a right I’d march for: the right to wail myself to sleep, to yearn for my long gone baby, yet to know that I needed to delay parenthood. Transcending heartache is possible as long as I keep my story unabridged – and out of the political sphere.

On July 28, 2011, Kassi went further, sharing more details about her experience with abortion in the Modern Love column of the New York TimesKassi shared in “A Lost Child, But Not Mine”:

With sobriety and a salary, I couldn’t stop thinking about the baby that wasn’t, a loss somehow made more painful by his baby that was. I spent my workdays browsing photos of his little girl, believing in some twisted respect that I was glimpsing the face of the child I could have had. On lunch breaks, I went home to cry in bed, longing for a paranormal miracle.

By the time I called him, his daughter was about to celebrate her first birthday. He was living at a halfway house in Boston, where my company was flying me for a conference. I harbored a secret motive to find out if he dwelled on the loss as much as I did, so I asked him if he would meet me….

THE heat of summer hung down on our shoulders when we hugged on the bustling street corner. As we parted, I walked up Gloucester Street toward the conference center; he headed toward the pickup truck he’d borrowed from a friend at the halfway house.

In the three years since, he has spent much of his time incarcerated for drug-related offenses. I wish I could share my sobriety, my degree and my career to rent that apartment for his little girl, but reality has finally sunk in: the abortion is mine alone, just like Jade is his.

These two articles demonstrate how each person’s story with abortion has multiple layers, with diverse ways to share about such an intimate experience.   Show your support to Kassi and follow her on twitter: @KassiUnderwood.

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Cross-posted on VolunteerMatch!

In 2010, Exhale faced a number of challenges. Like many organizations, we saw our revenue go down and the demand for our services go up. Simultaneously, one of our long-time organizational leaders decided it was time to move on to other endeavors.

These challenges could have seemed insurmountable to many. The Exhale Board and Staff team considered the challenge, and, importantly, we considered our strengths. Exhale turned to one of our strongest resources: our counselors, who are volunteers.

The counselors felt it was so important for Exhale to continue to offer welcoming, non-judgmental support to callers and members of our private online community, that they opted to manage these programs themselves. A team was formed to lead this effort. Dubbed the “Transition Team”, these four women – Holly Carpenter, Erika Jackson, Danielle Thomas and Carolina Gonzalez-Vilar – worked in tandem to ensure Exhale’s programs continued to operate with their usual standards of excellence.

The Transition Team led Exhale’s programs for six months, until a new Director of Programs, Jovida Ross, was hired and oriented. Jovida recently asked the Transition Team members to reflect on their experience.

Jovida: How did it feel to take on a higher level of responsibility, managing programs as a volunteer?

Holly: Stepping into leadership during the staffing transition felt really risky. I had never done it before, and it had never been done before at Exhale.

Danielle: When I initially took it on, I thought it wasn’t that big a deal. But as I got more involved with it, I realized how important it was.

Erika: There was a point, midway through, I had this moment of thinking, “How much longer are we going to do this? Are we doing a good job?” I felt less anxious when we were able to connect as a team.

Carolina: Seeing so many different people work together to do one person’s job helped me to see teamwork in different way, because we really had to work together to make sure everyone was on the same page.

Holly: You all are such incredible women! I felt such great peer support, as well as received great feedback from other counselors.

Danielle: The counselors were really receptive; at first I worried that things would fall apart or that counselors wouldn’t respond, but everyone really stepped up. That made this role feel good. It demonstrated to me that Exhale’s counselor model is ingrained in how we work together.

Jovida: How did you learn and grow through this experience?

Carolina: I definitely have a newfound respect for managing volunteers and how different it is from managing staff. With each volunteer, you have to understand what their motivation is [for participating] and speak to that.

Holly: Being the Lead Counselor forced me to slow down; I learned that nothing works better than being present. When I read a call form carefully, and put care into my response, I formed a better relationship with that counselor and there is more learning for both of us.

Danielle: Communication with the counselors was so key; I really strengthened my communication skills in this role. I also came to realize the value of holding people accountable. I have seen this value at Exhale more than anywhere else. Our counselors expect to be called out if they don’t follow through, and because of this I felt really comfortable saying, “This is what you have committed to, let’s have a conversation about why it isn’t happening, and how you can be supported to make it happen.”

Carolina: It was important to me to step up and demonstrate my participation to the other counselors. I wanted to role-model that sense of responsibility and teamwork. That felt very similar to the leadership skills I use at work, so I was able to draw on other experiences in this role.

Holly: Leadership involves more grunt work than I imagined! It’s not just about being an innovator, it takes work and follow-through. My understanding of non-profit organizations also increased.

Erika: This was the first time I stepped up into a leadership role at Exhale. I always thought before that I wouldn’t have time to do all these awesome things. Now I know that being a leader doesn’t mean I have to be available all the time, as long as there is clear communication.

Holly: Taking leadership within Exhale helped me recognize that I am valuable and have something to give, just by being myself. I also learned that when I really care about something, I can go beyond what I thought my limits were. I care that Exhale thrives because I find it to be so valuable. Taking this leadership position stretched me, and I accomplished more than I thought I could.

Erika: I’m more vocal now at Exhale meet-ups. I’ve always participated somewhat, but it’s given me the confidence and opportunity to be comfortable being more vocal in the Exhale community. I know that I do have knowledge and experience to share, that others can learn from.

Jovida: Did the experience change how you think about leadership, community, or what Pro-Voice means? If so, how?

Danielle: From the get-go, I knew that the Exhale community is a powerful, special community. My expectations in this role were exceeded—I had been really worried about folks not being open to the transition and to doing things differently. But the counselors were really supportive and communicative. I realized that Pro-Voice isn’t just something we talk about to our callers, it is a value we hold with each other as well.

Holly: Before this experience, Pro-Voice was an intangible idea. It was different to work behind the scenes, to see how much care and training goes into developing Pro-Voice counselors. Exhale is really a refuge.

Erika: It made Pro-Voice a very tangible thing I can talk to people about, and it helped me articulate what is different about this approach. The fact that we were trusted, as volunteers, and empowered to have really major responsibilities really exemplified having ownership, which is such a big part of what the Pro-Voice experience means to me. Beyond abortion stories, here is an organization that took a really radical approach to a staffing transition. Now I feel compelled to talk to other people about Exhale and the Pro-Voice message.

Holly: I have become more positive at Exhale. I came into this work because of a personally difficult experience. It has been powerful to turn that around and connect with others. It feels like love. There is so much room for creativity in this work; it feels like there is a ton of potential!  It’s exciting to be part of an organization that is learning and growing.

Accepting their Leadership Awards (from the left): Erika Jackson,  Holly Carpenter, Danielle Thomas (Carolina Gonzalez-Villar not pictured)

Celebrating the Transition Team (from the left): Aspen Baker, Holly Carpenter, Leah Uberseder, Jovida Ross, Erika Jackson and Danielle Thomas

From everyone at Exhale: Thank You Holly, Danielle, Erika and Carolina!

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Exhale partnered with MTV on their groundbreaking special “No Easy Decision” which gave three young women  – Markai, Natalia and Katie – the opportunity to tell their own story with abortion, in their own words.  Our “16 & Loved” campaign, launched in conjunction with the special, gave everyone the opportunity to express their love to Markai, Natalia and Katie to  let them know they are not alone.  They are loved.

The special and our campaign were covered extensively in the media and the blogosphere, successfully creating new public conversations about the need to support and respect each person’s unique experience with abortion.   Our pivotal role in this television milestone and the challenge of being Pro-Voice in a pro-choice/pro-life world were reported on in The New York Times.

Exhale’s own speakers bureau member, Mayah Frank, wrote about her own experience of abortion and what the special means to her on Care2Causes.  Read her blog post:  “MTV’s 16 and Pregnant Takes on Abortion: One Reason Why.”

Here is a roundup of articles featuring “No Easy Decision,” and our “16 & Loved” Campaign:

Lynn Harris, Salon.com: “MTV’s Shockingly Good Abortion Special.”

Circling the wagons against nasty backlash, nonpartisan post-abortion support talkline Exhale, who partnered with MTV on the show, had already planned an online campaign called “16 and Loved” to act as sort of virtual clinic escorts for the young women outing themselves.

Shelby Knox, ShelbyKnox.com: “MTV’s Abortion Show Was…Actually Good.”

Also exceptional was the online space created by Exhale, a multi-lingual after abortion counseling talkline, called 16 and Loved. The site’s sole purpose is to support Markai, Katie, and Natalia and other young women who’ve chosen abortion. Exhale got ahead of the inevitable anti-choice shenanigans and focused most of the conversation online, especially on Twitter during the special, toward loving and accepting the young women rather than arguing the politics of abortion rights.

Of course, the real sheroes of No Easy Decision are Markai, Katie and Natalia. Because of their courage, young women who saw or see the show who’ve had abortions know that they’re not alone and they don’t have to be ashamed.

Jessica Valenti, JessicaValenti.com: “MTV’s abortion special treats issue with compassion, facts.”

Amanda Marcotte, RH Reality Cast (podcast): “Aggressive Women, Rape Myths, And Abortion Realities”

Roxann MtJoy, Change.org: “MTV to Air Special on Teen Abortion Tonight”

MTV is partnering with Exhale, an after-abortion counseling talkline, to make sure that this sensitive subject matter is handled right. Exhale wants to make sure that those brave girls who shared their stories feel loved and supported. To that end, they have launched a major social media campaign called 16 & Loved, and there are plenty of ways for you to get involved.

Linda Lowen, About.com: “MTV’s No Easy Decision Follows Teens Who Choose Abortion”

Knowing that the girls featured on the special will be bombarded with hate after their stories air, the website 16 and Loved is already up and running to provide messages of unconditional love and support to the three girls who are featured in No Easy Decision. The site offers readers a chance to post their own stories about abortion and leave comments for the girls to let them know that going public with their decision is a courageous act.

The driving force behind the site is Exhale, a nonprofit organization that provides a nonjudgmental national, multilingual after-abortion talkline and trained peer counselors.

Sean Daly, NYPost: “MTV Follows ‘Teen Mom’ Who Chose Abortion in Controversial New Show” and “16 & Pregnant Abort Show Furor”

Luchina Fisher, ABCNews.com: “MTV Airing Teen Abortion Special, ‘No Easy Decision'”

To find the young women for the special, MTV partnered with Exhale, an after-abortion counseling hotline …that takes an apolitical or “pro-voice” approach that “honors and respects each person’s unique experience with abortion,” according to volunteer Erika Jackson.

Exhale launched its “16 and Loved”website to support the young women who will tell their stories next week, as well as women who find the stories resonate with them. The group has been posting messages of support to the women on the special and will be live blogging during the program.

“My grand vision is that everyone who has had an abortion or is in the middle of the decision-making process will know that she’s not alone,” Jackson told ABCNews.com.

Bianca Laureno, Latino Sexuality: “No Easy Decision/16 & Loved: MTVs Airing of Teen Stories About Abortion” and “Reflecting On “No Easy Decision”

I’m not a huge fan of the “speak outs” especially when connected to abortion, personally. Part of this stems from seeing people who are not prepared to hear those testimonios respond to them, youth thinking they are expected to share when they are not prepared or ready to do so, and the somewhat voyeuristic space that may be created. However, I have not ever spoken out against these spaces existing, or the importance and need they fill for many people. Any way for such healing and consciousness-raising to occur is essential. There is enough space for all of us to heal and build together.

Vanessa Valenti, Feministing: “MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” to air special on abortion tomorrow”

Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Feministing: “On MTV’s special, “No Easy Decision.”

Beth Saunders, RH Reality Check: “Morning Roundup: Alaska, Wisconsin, and 16 and Loved”

Kelsey Wallace, Bitch: “Love for the Women of MTV’s “No Easy Decision”

Barbara Glickstein, WBAI Healthstyles (MP3)

Jill Fillipovic, Feministe: “16 & Loved”

I’m sure the show will be controversial (and Dr. Drew is the worst, so that part concerns me). I’m also sure that the young women who have abortions will not be warmly received by many members of the “pro-life” community.

Which is why I’m glad that Exhale is doing a “16 & Loved” campaign to support these (and all) women who terminate pregnancies. It’s important for women to know that no matter what their story and what reproductive choices they make, they are supported.

Irin Carmon, Jezebel: “MTV Airing Teen Abortion Special”

LATimes Show Tracker: “How groundbreaking was MTV’s abortion special?”

But Pinsky earned raves from abortion rights advocates, as did MTV’s decision to partner with Exhale, a “pro-voice” counseling service for women who’ve had abortions.

Sarah Seltzer, The Washington Post: “MTV’s ’16 and Pregnant’ exploits teen moms but addresses abortion with dignity”

BostonHerald.com: “MTV Abortion Special: No Easy Decision”

Steph Herold, AbortionGang: “16 and Loved: Supporting Women Who Have Had Abortions”

Jamia Wilson, Womens Media Center: “MTV Abortion Special “No Easy Decision” Addresses Abortion with Compassionate Integrity”

I appreciate MTV’s portrayal of the three women on the show, presenting them authentically without promoting stereotypes as they often do in other reality shows. I loved their positive depiction of an African American/Multiracial family, their engagement with spirituality, and their portrayal of women with families and partners who were loving, supportive, and respectful of each woman’s choice.

We don’t often hear these stories and I am glad they gave air time to Natalia, Markai, and Katie’s realities. When Katie, explained that she made a “parenting decision” by making the choice to end her pregnancy, I regarded the concept of choice with a more enlightened perspective. I am proud of these young women for living their truth.

Jennifer Pozner, Reality Bites Back: “Viewers Guide to MTV Abortion Special: Send young women your love but give Dr. Drew the sideeye” and “Liveblogging ’16 & Pregnant’ Reunion Show and MTV abortion special No Easy Decision”

I’m pleasantly surprised: the framing of Markai’s abortion experience has been respectful, and seemingly true to her authentic reactions during pregnancy, through her decision-making process with her boyfriend, mother and friend, and finally in the aftermath of how she has been coping with the choice she made. She seems resigned to knowing it was the right decision, but feeling doubt and sadness that this choice was necessary — which, of course, is how a great many women feel when they find themselves having to terminate an unexpected pregnancy. I knew it was possible that MTV could produce a reality special that handled abortion with nuance, respect and authenticity. But having documented ten years of reality TV manipulations, misrepresentations and regressive anti-feminist backlash for my book, Reality Bites Back, I was skeptical that they would really want to do so, or know how to do so even if the good intentions were there. So far, at least for this first 1/3 of the special, I’m really glad that my concerns have been misplaced…

Dr. Drew ended the special encouraging those who have had abortions to visit Exhale’s website if they need support. Unfortunately, the special never mentioned “16 and Loved,” the Exhale-led companion campaign to this special aimed at showering Markai, Katie (and the other teen whose name I didn’t catch) with support and love, which I blogged about earlier. Was this a perfect special? No. Did it cover all the reasons young women have abortions? No. But it was far more honest, and allowed far more authenticity of girls’ experiences, than I expected. And my biggest surprise: Dr. Drew wasn’t the moralizing, judgmental, faux-sincere jerk he has often been on his other MTV shows, Celebrity Rehab, Sex Rehab, and Sober House.


Thank you to every person who participated in conversations about the need to support and respect each woman’s unique experience with abortion, whether she shares her story in private on our talkline or in public on MTV.  Every woman deserves the opportunity to feel heard, understood, supported and respected.  And, most of all, loved.

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*Guest Blogger*

Nat Okey, Exhale Volunteer:

Aspen Baker recently wrote, “Transforming hearts and minds is not the job of our government and abortion stigma is not reduced through elections.  Changing culture requires people.  It takes you and me.  Our friends and family.  Our neighbors and co-workers.”

It also takes Exhale volunteers.  As volunteer counselors we create safe and sacred spaces where women and men create their own personal narratives about their abortion experience.  When we volunteer, we commit to hearing every caller’s story, to be with people who are struggling, and to validate their feelings and help them to see and recognize their own inner strengths.  Though we are volunteers, our work is neither easy nor free. (more…)

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For over eight years, Exhale has been a confidential listener to the stories  of thousands of women and men, after an abortion.  Yet, rarely are these voices heard in public discussion.  Thus, the evolution of our pro-voice agenda that aims to transform public dialogue so that it is grounded in the voices and experiences of people who have had abortions.

But, how do we go from confidential listening to public storytelling around abortion given the great risks women and men face if they share their story with abortion?

Enter our partnership with the Center for Digital Storytelling who is the leader on how to do storytelling around stigmatized or sensitive issues in ways that empower and support storytellers.  We were honored to learn from them in a recent digital storytelling workshop we held where women told their stories of listening and abortion.

We are honored to give a “Pro-Voice High-Five” to the Center for Digital Storytelling for Leadership.  I hope you enjoy my interview with its Executive Director, Joe Lambert, and the Director of their Silence Speaks program, Amy Hill.

Staff of the Center for Digital Storytelling

Aspen: Tell me about how the Center for Digital Storytelling came to exist and about your mission.

(more…)

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Earlier this year, Eyal Rabinovitch wrote the paper: “Can Listening to Women Who Have Had Abortions Bring Peace to the Abortion Wars” which Exhale was proud to publish in May.  Heralded as “remarkable,” “ground-breaking,” and “a great idea,” Eyal explored the opportunities and challenges that a pro-voice approach brings to the abortion conflict.

For his New Thinking, Exhale is honored to present Eyal with a “Pro-Voice High-Five” on our 5th Anniversary of expanded service. I hope you enjoy my interview with Eyal where he shares his background in conflict transformation, how he came to write his paper, and his hopes for the possibility of peace through Pro-Voice.

Aspen: Tell me about your background in conflict transformation. (more…)

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*Guest Blogger*

Nat Okey, Exhale Volunteer:

As a counselor on the talkline, I have heard callers share about pain so great, that I lack the tools to address the scope of their problems.  It’s often impossible to make things better right then and there on the phone.  Their hurt is so immense, it’s like a Goliath who is standing in their path, blocking any progress or even a view of the way forward.

Whether it’s a survivor in a violent and controlling relationship who cannot leave her abuser and must hide her pregnancy and abortion, or a mother of two who just could not bring another child into the world, as a counselor, as much as I’d like to, I cannot “fix” their situation. What I can do is give them some tools to help them clear their own path forward: validation of their emotions and their strength, referrals to resources, and an anonymous and safe place to tell their story without judgment or retribution.

For anyone who is facing a Goliath of hurt and who has called our talkline, or is thinking of calling, you have more tools than you may realize, even if you feel small and weak in the face of your pain and your circumstances.

I have always loved the story of David and Goliath.  Little David was once small and weak and yet he faced the mighty Goliath, despite the fact that Goliath was bigger, stronger and equipped with better tools and weapons.  Little David knew he was strong though, and a strong person – like all the callers I listen to on our talkline –  can figure out the resources they need to help themselves.

David had his slingshot, so he picked up some rocks as they were all he had at that moment.  What do you have laying around?  A friend, a pet, a good movie, a park you can take a long walk in?  What kind of resources do you have available?

What about a pen and paper?  Imagine your hand as the slingshot, the pen and paper your rocks.  Write out your feelings. Write what you need to express.  Write to who you need to hear.  Your first attempt may fail, no words may come, or they may miss the mark, but try again and you’ll get closer. Or you can try watching a movie with your dog snuggled close. It probably won’t remove your Goliath of hurt by the time the credits roll, but your second and third and fourth attempts will get you closer and closer to that day.

So pick up your slingshot and your rocks.  You’re a strong person, or you wouldn’t be here looking for answers. You’re probably pretty creative too as abortion is an issue we can’t talk about freely in public right now, and you’ve found a resource that most people aren’t even aware of.  Give us a call, read or send an ecard, refer a friend or partner. Think of us – the Exhale counselors – as rocks.  We’re here for you to pick up.  We’re ready to help you fell your Goliath and move you forward.

Pick up the phone and call Exhale: 1-866-4EXHALE.

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