3 Real Women On The One Thing We All Avoid Talking About

Even though about 21% of pregnancies in America end in abortion, we rarely hear directly from the women who have ended these pregnancies. When politicians like Wendy Davis or celebrities like Jemima Kirke tell us they have undergone an abortion, it's a major moment. Even the nature of access to abortions seems designed to obscure them: More than 90% of procedures are performed at specialized, separate clinics, even though any trained OB/GYN or nurse practitioner could perform them.

With constraints on abortion seemingly getting tighter, advocates are realizing that we need to get rid of the stigma associated with it in order to make changes. That's where Oakland-based nonprofit Exhale comes in. Aspen Baker founded Exhale ten years ago to reduce the silence and judgment around abortion. In the first-ever TED talk on the subject, Baker said she felt isolated and disoriented after her abortion at age 24. And she states that her organization is not pro-choice or pro-life, but pro-voice.

The more women tell their personal stories, the more nuanced our understanding of abortion becomes. In her TED talk, Baker said, "Empathy is created when we imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It doesn’t mean we have to end up in the same place."

Exhale has maintained a safe space for callers to continue the conversation among themselves, and has developed a program of "ethical story-sharing" to help more women tell of their experiences publicly. The accounts that follow are just a handful that women have made public through Exhale. When we share our experiences, we make the political personal again — for all women.

A. Smith
"Three and a half years ago, I met my boyfriend. He was awesome, and I loved spending every second with him. About a month into our relationship, I found out I was pregnant. Together, we decided it just wasn't the right time for a baby. We hadn't known each other that long, and we both lived with our parents. I made the appointment at the clinic to get the abortion pill. He took the day off and came with me. After meeting with the staff, I decided not to take the pill but have the procedure done. My boyfriend couldn't take another day off, so I went alone. It was the loneliest experience of my life. I've never felt such pain...such complete numbness and emptiness. My boyfriend was very supportive, but quickly we moved on and didn't talk about it anymore. We are still together and now engaged. I'm not sure if that makes it easier or worse. Could we have had a baby and still been together? Or would that have driven us apart? What really brings up old wounds is, his sister had a baby yesterday. I love her so much, but it brings up so much pain. I see the joy and happiness her parents feel, and all the support from people around them, it's a reminder of what I gave up. I honestly regret my decision every day."

"It can completely change people. That's the power of love. So, in a way at least you know you are still operating on love."

P. Hunt
"It was 1990, and I was 20 years old. I found out that I was pregnant just as the one-year relationship I had been in was ending. My 'then boyfriend' told everyone it was not his baby, even though we both knew I had been faithful throughout the relationship. I was devastated because I had always dreamed of having children, but working as a receptionist and waitress was no way to provide the security and care that a child deserved. I could not tell my family that I was pregnant, and only two close friends knew and helped me through it. The actual procedure is very foggy. I think that must be my brain's way of helping me deal with the devastation. Three months after the abortion, I met a wonderful guy. I was honest and told him about the abortion shortly after we met. He never mentioned it or held it against me. We were married four years later, and today we have three beautiful, healthy children."

M. Frank
"I just wanted to let someone know, from someone who's been there, is still there, and will always be there, that it does get better. When it first happens, the grief can be crushing like the world on your chest. And the tears so intense that you can't even breathe. For some, it doesn't go away; at least it hasn't for me, but the weight of it changes. At some point, it becomes bearable. It turns into something you can crawl out from under. And then, you carry it around like a stone in your pocket. You even forget it for a while, but then you reach in for some reason and it's there. Which can be awful, but it's not always so bad, and it's not that you exactly like it, but it's what you've got instead of your son or daughter. It can completely change people. That's the power of love. So in a way, at least you know you are still operating on love. This is at least one small sample in the universe of experience, my own."

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