When I started sharing my abortion story publicly ten years ago, it felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I was able to share my whole self with my family and friends, and my loved ones shared their abortion stories back with me. That’s the power of abortion stories. That’s the power of “Ours to Tell.”
Like we see in the film, Brittany, Hannah, Nick, and Ylonda own their stories. It is an undeniable truth — sharing it can radically shift how someone who had an abortion reflects on their own experience — including the stigma they faced. It can also help challenge the stereotypes and misinformation about people who have abortions. Sharing your abortion story will help remind people in your family, circle of friends, and community that they love someone who had an abortion.
If you are thinking about sharing your abortion story — either with loved ones or publically — to change the conversation, here are a few things you may want to think about as you take the next steps.
Your feelings are valid
Abortion experiences are as diverse as the people who have them. Our experiences are complex, and we experience a wide range of emotions. In “Ours To Tell,” the storytellers shared a range of feelings about their experiences — some of those emotions were in response to the circumstances surrounding the pregnancies and some were in response to dealing with the stigma associated with abortion. Research shows relief is the most common feeling after an abortion, 95 percent of us do not regret our decision, and 99 percent feel that it was the right decision. Sometimes people feel guilty for not feeling guilty, some feel happy because they received warm-hearted care from their provider and others can feel sadness over the circumstances, yet be sure of their decision. And you can feel all of those things at once. We’re strong and complex people. We can handle it. All of your feelings are valid.
Deciding what to share
As you think about sharing your story, think deeply about what parts of your stories you want to share and who you want to share with. When I started sharing my abortion story, I talked to my parents first and they were supportive and loving. That gave me the courage to speak out more. What do I suggest? Start with what feels most comfortable. What you want people to know about your decision? What are misconceptions about abortion do you hope to push back on? Remember, you don’t have to share everything. In “Ours To Tell,” the storytellers shared their stories to build an understanding of their lives and why they had abortions. Nick spoke powerfully about their experience having an abortion and receiving care as a transgender person. Sometimes people also discuss the cultural environment and messages they received from their family, friends, and media about abortion. What was it like to navigate the numerous barriers to access — was there someone whose compassion helped you through your process? Think about what feels easier and more natural to share and what feels more difficult to share. That can help you decide which parts of your experience you might want to keep to yourself.
When people share their stories with you
Whenever I share my abortion story, others who’ve had abortions share their story back. This is a bond vulnerability creates. When you share, you should be prepared to receive stories in response. Sometimes people who hear your story might be curious to learn more. Answer the questions you feel comfortable answering — you don’t have to answer all of the questions you’re asked, especially ones that make you uncomfortable.
Whenever I share my abortion story, others who’ve had abortions share their story back. This is a bond vulnerability creates.
Caring for yourself
After you share, be sure to plan for some self-care and relaxation. Being vulnerable and sharing deeply personal stories can be freeing and exert a lot of energy. Reach out to a trusted loved one who you can call on in case you want to talk about what happened when you shared. Take time to relax and care for yourself gently.
Because abortion stigma is pervasive in our society, people may respond to your story with attacks on your character and unkind words — especially online. Under no circumstances do you deserve to be called hurtful names or slurs. Take care of yourself and step away from conversations or social media discussions that refuse to recognize your humanity or treat you with respect.
Your voice is mighty and your abortion story deserves to be met with love and support. We hope you’ll share your truth — just like Brittany, Hannah, Nick, and Ylonda — and that you find a community of people who’ve had abortions. You’re not alone and you are loved. The more we share our truths, the more we can change the conversation, change our culture, and remind our communities that everyone loves someone who had an abortion.
Renee Bracey Sherman is the founder and executive director of We Testify, an organization dedicated to the leadership and representation of people who’ve had abortions.
Ours to Tell is available for screening at OursToTell.org
A version of this piece previously appeared on BillMoyers.com.