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Posts Tagged ‘Strength’

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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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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By Susan Lehman, Exhale Counselor & 2010 Rachel Falls Compassion Award honoree

This piece was written as part of the Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice‘s Strong Families initiative, as apart of their Mama’s Day Blog series and cross posted at On The Issues Magazine.

As the mother of grown children, I have basked in the annual glow of Mother’s Day recognition for a long time. Both my family and my community offer me blessings and praise for raising and providing for my children. But one of my most deeply maternal choices, my abortion, does not warrant the same recognition.

(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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Guest Post By Jamia Wilson

Turning thirty this year came with many lessons and challenges, including a gift of self-acceptance. One theme that has prevailed in my mind this year has been family. While my family, my faith, and my loved ones have always been of the utmost importance to me, the stunning loss of my beloved great-uncle ignited a renewed commitment to loving my family (biological and chosen) ferociously, faithfully, and unapologetically.

In celebration of Exhale’s Abortion Wellbeing Month, I reflect on the role that a loving family has played in my life and how important love and family is for the health and wellbeing of African American women who have abortions.

My great uncle taught me about what it means to feel loved by family.  For as long as I can remember, Uncle Jeff lit up my life with his sparkling eyes, melodious laugh, and generous gifts on each of my birthdays. My grand-mother’s best friend and older brother possessed stunning beauty inside and out, and his strength of character and compassion impressed all who knew him.

Over a year ago, I visited with Uncle Jeff during a business trip. When I arrived at his house, he greeted me with a warm embrace and told me stories about his work, his love for his late wife, and his experiences in the military. He said he wanted me to know about his life because he was 90-years-old and he didn’t want me forget him. I expressed to him that I loved him and would never forget a soul as beautiful as his. At this moment he embraced me and said, “It feels so good to know that you love me. Thank you for that. I know I am not alone”. I will never forget that day, the last time I saw him alive, and the message he permanently burned into my heart.

When he died last year, I was devastated.  At his funeral, I looked around the church and saw the whole family surrounding his coffin. As they played “Taps” and laid a folded flag in my grandmother’s arms, I fully understood what he had been urging us to see for so long—the importance of valuing and celebrating each other–and I will never forget his lesson.

Markai Durham

In December, when I watched the premiere of MTV’s ”No Easy Decision” and saw the portrayal of Markai Durham’s family and their supportive and respectful response to her decision to end her pregnancy, the strength of her family unit reminded me of my own. I was drawn to Markai because her family’s sense of unconditional love and support in the face of adversity reminded me of my family and their unyielding compassion during challenging times.

I was pleasantly surprised by MTV’s presentation of Markai’s family during the show. Instead of exploiting and promoting negative stereotypes about African Americans, single-mothers, and multi-racial families, the network covered Markai’s experience with integrity. The Durham family and their friends were depicted authentically, and even though they weren’t perfect, they were real, loving, and caring without judgment.

As I watched the show and the interactions between Markai and her wise and supportive mother, I reflected on a phone conversation with my mom when I was 17 and just starting college. I remember calling my mother for advice about helping out a friend who had an abortion and couldn’t tell her family. I recall explaining my frustration that this friend could not confide in her own mother due to her fear of being disowned and excommunicated from her church. My mom praised me for being supportive and urged me to treat my friend like a sister, and be the family she needed in lieu of her own.

I asked my mom what she would do if I found myself in a similar situation and I’ll never forget her forceful but sweet southern-accented voice saying, “Don’t have sex until you are a responsible adult and make sure you use protection. I’m too young and fabulous to be a grandmother, but if you do find yourself pregnant, I will be there for you, and support you no matter what option you choose”.  Years later, I remember those words, and I’m glad that I always knew that she would be there for me, no matter what, and without any stigma.

I’m thankful that Markai, me, and many other young women of color have mothers like ours who have our backs and respect our agency.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting around a table of diverse women of color and allies discussing the emergence of anti-abortion billboards targeting African American women who have had abortions in Soho.

One of the young women sitting across the table from me explained her frustration after hearing about a friend’s very young child asking her what the billboard meant. Her friend’s child saw how the young brown girl in the billboard looked a lot like herself. For three hours, we discussed what we could do to take action and prevent other women of color in cities across America from being targeted with such judgmental attacks—attacks which try to shame and disparage African American families alongside the billboards’ more overt, ideological messages about abortion. We knew that each attack on one woman’s dignity and respect was an attack on every one of us, whether we have had an abortion or not.

There is a long, ugly history of this kind of attack on pregnant African American women. I know about the insidious realities my foremothers faced during slavery. It is terrifying to fathom what life was like for women who were raped by their owners and forced to carry pregnancies to term in order to increase the workforce for their attackers. It is outrageous to imagine a time when families were split apart and forced to live in isolation while their kin were being sold far away. The billboards attempt to bring this hurtful legacy into our present lives.

When I think of the past, it reminds me why I am so grateful for my family. I will do whatever it takes to value and fervently love the people I share my life with. Having a family that supports me is a true blessing.

We often hear negative stories about African American families in the public discourse, but today, I write to recognize and celebrate the love and communion that has been holding our community together for hundreds of years. My great-uncle Jeff taught me that we are not alone when we share our stories.

We are never alone when we give our love.

____________________________________________________

Jamia is Vice President of Programs at the Women’s Media Center in New York City. after serving in several roles related to youth leadership development, grassroots organizing, and communications. Jamia worked for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund  and served on the PPFA Structure and Governance Committee and the Pro-Choice Education Project Steering Committee.  Jamia was honored as one of the “Real Hot 100″ by the Younger Women’s Taskforce, and she has been nominated twice for Women’s Information Network’s annual Young Women of Achievement Awards as well as awarded NYU’s Department of Student Affairs’ Fall 2007 Hallmark Award for Wellness and The Center for Multicultural Education and Programs NIA Administrator Award.  Watch Jamia’s speech at the February 2011 “Stand Up for Women’s Health” rally!

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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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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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