A guest post by Renee Bracey Sherman.
For six years, I didn’t talk about my abortion. I sat in the closet, alone – very alone. For six years, I only knew three women who had abortions – one being a cousin of mine, yet we still didn’t talk about it. I was afraid of what people would think of me, what they would say if I talked about it, the names they would call me if I came out of the closet. For a long time, I barely admitted to myself that I had an abortion.
The first time I spoke publicly about my abortion was in Fresno, California. Previously, I’d written about my experience in a blog post and spoken about it with talk line counselors in training, but this was different. It was the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training’s academy for nonprofit fundraising staff. I had been attending for a few days and getting to know my peers, but not on a personal level. It wasn’t designed as a safe space for abortion stories, I was on a panel about fundraising and I was there to talk about why I am a donor to an abortion talkline and story sharing organization. Fresno is a conservative agricultural city in California and I was scared. Why I give has everything to do with my abortion experience and I couldn’t explain one without the other. I was so nervous I couldn’t breathe. I was afraid to out myself in a room of people I barely knew.
“When I was 19, I had an abortion. I was alone and had no one I felt I could talk to. This is why I donate – so no one has to feel like they have to go through an abortion alone.” The room was silent. Thirty pairs of eyes were staring hard at me. I continued to tell my story and why I support abortion organizations. By the time I finished, more than half of the people in the room were crying. I was crying. We shared a moment in that room – you could feel it.
After I spoke, a pastor came up to me and said that he did not support abortion. He said it was wrong. My heart stopped and I thought, “Breathe, his words won’t hurt you.” Then he continued, “I never thought about the women having abortions, just abortion itself. You showed me that women going through a tough experience deserve respect and support, whether I agree or not. I’m going to take that lesson back to my church.” I cried. I never thought that I would be able to impact someone like that.
Now, I talk about abortion all the time – on the bus with friends, at the farmer’s market with aunts, at work with coworkers. I know what you’re thinking, “Who talks about abortion at work?” Well, I do. I do because it has brought me closer to the women and men I work with who have experienced abortion and to those who don’t know anyone who has openly talked about their experience. For me, talking about it is part of my healing and they have said it feels good to find someone else in the world with a similar experience. Through talking about my experience, I have found a supportive community of women, new stronger relationships with family members, and love and acceptance for myself.
When talking about my abortion my intention is not to change anyone’s political opinion, it is to put a face on abortion experiences and the range of experiences. If one in three women have had an experience with abortion, then why aren’t we talking about it? Why aren’t we hearing their stories?
For women thinking about sharing their story, I say go for it. But make sure you do it for you – not for anyone else, not to push an agenda either way. Do it because you want to have your voice heard. It can feel scary and liberating at the same time. It is not an easy decision, but one that has freed me from internalized shame.
In sharing my story, I have met so many of our sisters with abortion experiences and some have begun to speak out publicly. A few months after I shared my story, my cousin wrote a blog about her experience and she met and inspired many more women who shared our experience. I think she and I are now closer than ever knowing that we share a bond through our abortions and speaking out about it.
An aunt told me that she wanted to speak out about her abortion the way I did, but she was afraid of the shame and the way people might treat her afterwards. Speaking publicly about your abortion experience isn’t for everyone. For some people, it is something that they never want to share aloud, and that’s okay. Everyone heals and shares in different ways – both publicly and privately. But as more of us start to come out, the stigma and shame will be left in the closet. And we will join our sisters in the sun.
Renee is a reproductive justice activist who shares her own abortion story to encourage others who have had abortions to speak out and end the silence and stigma around abortion. Renee is a Generative Fellow with CoreAlign, a contributor to Echoing Ida, a project of Strong Families, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration at Cornell University. Follow Renee on Twitter: @rbraceysherman.