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Posts Tagged ‘Storytelling’

Exhale is a community of people with personal abortion experiences and when it comes to storysharing, we advocate that:  1) women who have had abortions must have the ability to control their own narratives in our public discourse; and 2) that we must have authority and decision-making over when and how our stories are used by advocates.

Thaler Pekar has been writing about the ethical sharing of stories in a series of blog posts; and her insights offer critical thinking for our community members and the advocates who seek to have access to our stories.

In a two-part series in PhilanTopic, Thaler outlines the concept of Ethical StorySharing, in Part 1:

Because stories are powerful, and because they are wholly owned by the person who shares them, we have an ethical obligation to use story in ways that do no harm. Whether we are asking for stories to better understand an organizational challenge, to use in our organizational communications, or for an advocacy campaign, our goal should be to empower, not exploit…

The need to refrain from treating story as a commodity goes beyond nonprofit and advocacy work; it should inform all your work with narrative. True narrative intelligence respects the sharer of the story and recognizes that his or her story is a unique part of them that cannot, and should not, be taken and shared without permission.

In Ethical StorySharing, Part 2, Thaler gives more advice to advocates who seek to work with stories:

Thinking about the stories you’re not hearing is critical to the ethical use of story. Do you have a responsibility to seek them out? Also, do you plan to label and publicly present the stories you do gather? And if so, how will the context affect the way the audience perceives those stories?…

Or you may be working with a stigmatized population, in which case you have a special responsibility to protect the sharer of the story. For example, you have an ethical obligation to share any knowledge you may have about what could happen to the person, personally or professionally, if they decide to share their story. Might you need to provide for the person’s safety? Does the person sharing his or her story understand how s/he could lose control over the context in which the story is shared, especially in super-public places like YouTube?

In “Working with Stories,” on the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Thaler writes about the concept of empathetic engagement, first described by Sam Gregory of WITNESS:

Develop and engage a keen sense of empathy. Consider what people physically and emotionally need in order to share their stories. Make certain that people are in no way coerced into sharing a story, and explore and protect against any possibilities that the teller may be stigmatized, or even harmed, because he or she has shared a story.

Remember that each individual wholly owns his or her stories. Personal stories are not commodities, to be taken from one person and given to another, in exchange for reimbursement of some sort…Remember, too, that the audience is a partner in the story sharing. Create conditions favorable to the listener fully receiving and making sense of the story.

Understand that story begets story. Story is a contagion: By sharing a story, you will elicit stories in response. Keep this in mind, creating both the time and physical requirements that respect and enable a flow of stories.

In order to hear the real range of people’s complex experiences and emotions, you must avoid communicating that only certain stories are acceptable, welcome, and valued.  If you are too descriptive about the types of stories you want to hear, you may not hear anything at all.

Sagely, Thaler writes:

Refrain from starting a narrative project with a predetermined sense of the stories you will hear. When stories are elicited with honesty and benevolence (and they must be!), you will most likely be surprised, delighted, and frightened by what you hear. Commit yourself to the journey, not to the product.

Finally, in “Pro-Voice and Pro-Chaos” in PhilanTopic, Thaler describes how Pro-Voice is inherently a practice of Ethical StorySharing:

Being “pro-voice” means being anti-predetermined story. The people who work with and support Exhale understand that embracing reality is the only authentic choice for those advocating for sustainable conflict resolution and a more peaceful social climate. Imagine if more advocates let go of their fear of being surprised, contradicted, or losing control and looked to solicit and share stories that didn’t necessarily fit predetermined agendas. In their representation of the complexity of reality, the resulting stories might appear to be chaotic. But the odds are excellent that out of that chaos, profound insight would follow.

To learn more about Thaler and her thinking on Ethical StorySharing, follow her on Twitter: @thaler.

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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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Laura Flanders, host of GRITtv, took a public stand as Pro-Voice yesterday.  In her latest feature she encourages her audience to “Spark a Movement that’s Pro-Voice!Laura continues, “Talk may not heal all that ails us – and our politics – but it’s certainly true that where abortion’s concerned, we could do with less grandstanding about “gag rules” and more honest listening – and talk.”

Check out Laura’s interview above with Exhale’s Executive Director, Aspen Baker, and Natalia Koss-Vallejo of MTV’s “No Easy Decision“; and give thanks to Laura in the comments for her public stand alongside all women who have had abortions.

Keep the Momentum Growing: Your investment in Exhale means more influencers like Laura taking a public stand for a Pro-Voice future; and more opportunities for leaders like Natalia to share their stories. We need your partnership today to raise $15,000 by August 19th. If you’ve never given to Exhale before, your gift will be matched for a limited time, up to $2,500, by a long-time donor.

There is no better time to support the Pro-Voice Momentum!

As this exciting movement expands, we each have our own opportunity to grow the Pro-Voice message and keep women and men with personal abortion experiences at the center of their own stories. How will you use your influence to grow the Pro-Voice Momentum? What story would you want to tell?

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Jovida Ross

By Jovida Ross, Exhale’s Director of Programs

I first came out as Queer when I was 17. At first I told a few close friends; when that went OK I told more people. Then I was out socially. I told my parents; moved in with a girlfriend for the first time; and eventually I became a leader in an LGBTQ organization.

Each of those steps brought a new coming out process: mustering my courage, taking the risk to speak my truth without knowing what response I would get, and living with the consequences. I’m fortunate that my experience has been overwhelmingly positive, with very few instances of shaming or overt discrimination.

Yet still, every time I find myself in a context where people assume I am straight, I face the question of whether I should come out yet again.

As ESPN contributor Mary Buckheit recently told NPR:

Most people think of a person’s coming out as one momentous day, or one unnerving phone call home, or one blurted sentence, even. But the truth is you come out a thousand times. (more…)

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On Sunday, April 10th, MTV Canada aired a special called “Impact: Abortion Stories.” Unlike the panel interview structure and accompanying reality-show style telling of Markai’s experience in “No Easy Decision,” the Canadian special included interviews with people representing a variety of perspectives on abortion. Part of a comprehensive “Impact” series, which includes shows on other topics ranging from Haiti to bullying, “Abortion Stories” included first person interviews with women describing personal abortion experiences; and others representing a range of views.

Nicole Miller is one of the women who shared her personal abortion story in Canada’s special, and she agreed to talk to Exhale about abortion wellbeing and storysharing. As we conclude our 2nd annual commemoration of Abortion Wellbeing Month, we hope that Nicole and all women who have shared their stories in ways from private to public will feel supported, respected and well!

Exhale: What does “abortion wellbeing” mean to you?

Nicole: Abortion wellbeing to me means many things. It’s not a particular place or state of mind, as much as an inner feeling of peace. It means to be completely honest and open not only with others, but with yourself.

To say I have never felt conflicting emotions because of my abortion would be a blatant lie. However, deep in my soul I know that I absolutely made the right decision, despite what anyone says or thinks or does and that is the most important aspect of my wellbeing.

Exhale: How did you decide to share your story? What role has sharing in such a public way played in your post abortion well being?
(more…)

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This April, we are celebrating abortion wellbeing. With this month we raise awareness that the spectrum of personal abortion experiences traverses a wide range of emotions, which can include joy and relief alongside feelings of sadness and loss.  We celebrate the ability of each woman to be well along this spectrum, including every woman who feels regret, pain or grief. These emotional responses to abortion, like all feelings after abortion, deserve the opportunity to be heard, understood and supported.

Exhale’s “16 & Loved” campaign to support Markai, Katie and Natalia, (who shared their personal abortion stories on MTV’s “No Easy Decision)” opened the door for new stories to be shared. Many women who wrote to express their love to Markai, Katie and Natalia also told their own personal stories, some of which included feelings of sadness and regret.  It’s important that these stories be heard and honored.

Feeling heard is key to experiencing wellbeing after abortion.  When we feel heard, we feel less stigmatized, less alone, and more capable of taking care of ourselves.  When we feel heard we can move forward with new wisdom and understanding about ourselves to inform our future. When we feel heard, we feel empowered.

Pro-voice advocates stand with every woman who has had an abortion, including those who feel grief and regret. Feelings like these are common following any significant life decision, as is the experience of a mix of emotions that might seem contradictory and yet, can all be true and valid. In celebration of abortion wellbeing, let us read and affirm the feelings expressed by these women who shared their stories through “16 & Loved”:

Angie says:

By the time it was all over I was laughing because I couldn’t get my pants on and crying because I was alone. It is ok to grieve, cry, and be sad. But don’t hold it in to the point that it is harming your mental well being. After 10 years I am ok with my decision and maybe I will have kids one day, but right now I know that it was the right thing to do.

The sun still shines’ story:

So without my parents’ knowledge I had the procedure done. I have never been so scared in my life but i knew i was doing what was best for me and my future. For months after that I had nightmares and could not sleep. I felt like I had killed someone. The guilt was terrible. It’s now been 3 years and hearing peoples’ opinion of the matter still bothers me and sometimes I do struggle with it. But I do know I am not a bad person for my decision and I am making the best of my life.

Desiree says:

You don’t ever forget but that’s okay. You’re never alone, you’re loved and you did the right thing. You will not be punished down the line, you will have sadness but you’ll also know great and wonderful joy.

Becca’s post talks about regret and affirms her decision:

i regret my decision more than anything but i also know it was the best decision for me at the moment. it’s the most painful thing to live with in the world. every baby i see on the bus, walking down the street, etc. makes me fill with regret and want to cry. watching this show made me realize more than ever that i am not alone and that my decision was the best for me, whether others agree or not.

Vicky talks about feelings that change often:

It’s been years for me, and I still don’t know if I made the right choice. Some days I regret it, some days it was the best choice I ever made. I think the fact that even after all this time I still don’t know, says to me that there was no way I could have known then. I made the best decision I could, at the time, with the support I had, and I cling to that now.

Women’s abortion experiences are varied and unique. In celebrating wellbeing, we also celebrate each woman’s personal journey and all its facets, joys and challenges.  She has everything she needs to be well.  Let’s listen.

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Jovida Ross

Deanna Zandt

The 16 & Loved campaign was built and managed by a fantastic team: social media strategist & technologist Deanna Zandt, with media campaign consultant Sonal Bains.

During the campaign, Exhale Director of Programs Jovida Ross worked with Deanna & Sonal to infuse the campaign with Exhale’s Pro-Voice philosophy.

Deanna wrote a behind-the-scenes look at the campaign on her blog as a “case study in social media for social justice”.

Now that the dust from the campaign has settled, Jovida asked Deanna about her experience with the Pro-Voice approach.

Jovida: Talking about abortion online can trigger a lot of controversy. The 16 & Loved campaign was different: we got an overwhelmingly positive response, both in the media coverage and in the posts submitted to the site. We even received a number of submissions of personal abortion stories, even though we hadn’t requested them.

In what way was 16 & Loved similar to or different from other online conversations you’ve seen? What are essential elements to have in place for more respectful, proactive online conversations about abortion?

Deanna: What was different was how we keep overt advocacy politics out of this particular conversation. I’ve learned from Exhale that polarizing rhetoric doesn’t do anything for the women we’re trying to serve, in terms of offering support. By keeping advocacy out, and letting woman tell their own stories, I feel like a huge space was created for those stories to flood in.

I don’t think every conversation about abortion has to be advocacy-politics-free; it’s always going to be a matter of choosing the right tool for the right moment. We hit the nail on the head here. By creating this safe space, we also didn’t give those who are opposed to abortion, under any circumstance, much to work with. Who can argue with love?

Jovida: Exhale is a pro-voice organization. This can bring up a range of challenges for talking about abortion in a pro-choice/pro-life world.  Did your understanding of pro-voice change at all through the campaign? If so, how?

Deanna: Oh, it sure did. As the submissions first started coming in, I was having a real hard time as the one moderating submissions, deciding which ones were pro-voice and which ones weren’t. Because I hadn’t myself yet experienced the value of having a pro-voice conversation, I didn’t see the nuance.

I admit that at the beginning of the campaign I was skeptical of “keeping politics out of the conversation;” I didn’t see how that could be done, or what the big picture benefit was. The women who told their stories to us were the ones who changed my mind. Seeing messages like “I know now I am not alone in my feelings and a little of my shame is gone!” just blew me away. I feel tremendous gratitude to the women who taught me why pro-voice is critical.

Jovida: From when you were first approached about the project to now, can you describe what, if anything, you’ve learned or come to understand differently about women’s personal experiences with abortion?

Deanna: I don’t think there’s an intellectual or rational thing that I’ve learned; it’s much more that this experience is stored in my emotional memory. In my book, I write about how all storytelling, big and small, creates empathy, and empathy is the fundamental building block of any kind of social change. This campaign was a stellar example of that–because of the women who participated and shared, I have a fundamentally deeper, more human understanding of abortion experiences.

Jovida: Anything else you’d like to add/share?

Deanna: Thank you, thank you for letting me be a part of this campaign!

Jovida: Thank you, Deanna, for being such a big part of bringing our Pro-Voice campaign to life!

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