#shoutyourabortion and how stigma robs us of the richness of our abortion stories

As I mentioned yesterday, people have been tweeting about their abortions under the #shoutyourabortion hashtag this week. At Salon, you can read Amelia Bonow’s truly lovely piece that launched the hashtag. She concludes: “I have a good heart and my abortion made me happy. It’s perfectly reasonable to feel happy that you were not forced to become a mother. Your life belongs to nobody but you; don’t ever let someone make you feel any other way.”

You should read the whole thing though, because I think the power of abortion stories is really in the details. I’ve been writing about my own abortion and the silence around the experience for awhile, and I’m fairly optimistic about the potential of storytelling — fictional or real — to fight stigma and change hearts and minds. But when I read pieces like Bonow’s, I find myself thinking less about the political power in talking about our abortions and more about just what an enormous loss it is that we so often don’t.

Thanks to stigma, abortion has been cordoned off from the rest of human experience. As humans, we seem to be compelled to constantly explore and reflect on our experiences — in writing and art and music and late-night conversations with friends. But we’ve been taught that abortion should not be talked about, and if it is, that it can only be talked about in one way. The stigma so often keeps us from mining these experiences for all the life in them — the joy and sadness and tenderness and fear and humor and literally everything else.

And it’s such a shame, because as Bonow’s piece illustrates, there’s so much there! The hilarious moment when her friend isn’t sure whose positive pregnancy test it is. The beautifully described “wave of calm” that came over her when she realized she was pregnant. The urge — which I so identify with — to overshare to her professor just to make him squirm. Her boyfriend fucking her until she comes and feels alive and healthy. When she bursts into tears of pure gratitute for the clinic workers and solidarity with the other women.

I’m reminded that it’s these kinds of details — the ones that so utterly specifically real — that I recall most about my own abortion experience. How tickled I was that, in an impressive attempt at finding the silver lining when I called, stressed, to report that I needed an abortion, my dad said, “At least now you know you’re fertile.” How my boyfriend and I, having recently watched The Wire, decided to refer to my pregnancy as Omar the Embryo — and though the boyfriend is just a friend now and Omar existed for only a week, I’m still rather glad that’s something we shared. How the friends who picked me up after the procedure ended up in the wrong waiting room, because there are actually two abortion clinics in that particular building in downtown Brooklyn. (Yeah, I know — like Bonow, I am so lucky.)

It’s this richness that makes abortion interesting — or as interesting as any other experience we humans have — and that is so often lost as stigma flattens our experiences to bare-bones facts and politically palatable cliches. Cheryl Strayed has said, “When you’re speaking in the truest, most intimate voice about your life, you are speaking with the universal voice.” And I’m pretty pissed that by making it difficult to speak in that true voice about abortion, stigma so often robs us of that universality and the potential for connection that comes with it.

Header image via Mic

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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