A few months ago, I sat on a bus headed to Salinas, California, a three hour bus ride from Oakland, where I was traveling with the podcast. As I sat on the bus, I watched the California landscape with the sun shining upon it; a view that was quite different from the snow covered trees and slush I left behind in New York City a month earlier. I was on my way to Salinas to meet a woman who wanted to share her abortion story with The Abortion Diary. Jean contacted me through The Abortion Diary’s website a few days prior to our meeting. As I sat on the bus I thought about how strange it was to once again be on my way to listen to a stranger share such an intimately personal experience. Sometimes these stories have never been shared with anyone else.
For the past six months I have been listening to people as they share their abortion stories with me and, with the help of digital media, podcast listeners around the world. I launched the podcast in November, a few months after the idea first entered my mind. Last summer, I felt a very strong need to connect to people with this shared experience. For sixteen years I remained relatively silent about my abortion experience as a seventeen year old. Most of the silence came from the understanding, from society and my own family members, that my abortion was not something I was allowed to talk about or even acknowledge. But what I came to realize was that I needed to share that experience and that I needed to be surrounded by the stories of others. I needed to listen and know I wasn’t alone.
I searched online for something to read or listen to and share my story with, but I didn’t come across anything that resonated with me. I thought about listening to a podcast that featured abortion stories, but all I found were anti-abortion podcasts (there are many). A podcast seemed logical to me because I wanted to hear another human being’s voice. I yearned for the kind of connection that only listening offers. Since I couldn’t find one I decided that I would create a podcast on abortion stories. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wasn’t a techie or part of a large organization and I didn’t have lots of money. What if I failed? What if people thought my idea was stupid? After months of wavering, I finally got beyond my initial fears and started sharing my idea for a podcast with others. I also knew that I was committed to creating a deeply personal space and community of support where we could tell our own stories and where every story could be told and heard.
I did some research and found out that starting a podcast was much easier than I originally thought it would be. I bought a domain name, paid for website hosting, and paid for a SoundCloud subscription with an iTunes feed. I also bought recording equipment and learned (and am still learning) how to record and edit audio (thank you, Apple Store, for that free class). I created and launched the podcast in a matter of months. I then started sharing the project with people I knew or met in my daily interactions; at the yoga studio, a workshop, the lobby of a building, the subway. Through that sharing I realized how much other people want a safe space to share their abortion experiences and to be listened to without fear of judgement or pity. Listening seems like a simple thing but it is lacking in many of our lives. Both sharing and listening requires the courage to step into a space of complete vulnerability; an openness that builds a bridge that connects people. As Brené Brown has discussed vulnerability is the key to feeling connected; to see and to be seen, and to hear and to be heard. Sharing and listening can both be a double-edged swords. It’s not easy and it’s scary but all I can say is that both can be beautiful and rewarding. They have shaken me to the core of my soul and have provided a healing and connection so deep that it is immeasurable and indescribable.
As I continue to travel and record stories (fifty so far) I get asked the same question over and over again: how do you find people who will tell you their stories? The answer is simply that people learn about this project through a personal connection, through word of mouth; from me (that means “outing” myself constantly), a friend, a friend of a friend, through an e-mail, a Facebook post. When I started traveling with the podcast I was concerned that I would have a hard time connecting with people who would like to share their abortion story with me for the podcast. How would I connect with folks in places where I didn’t have a life? What I have realized as people continue to offer their experiences and as I listen is that, like me, people have craved the space to share their stories, to let their stories out, to be listened to, to heal, to share with others and feel connected. Through the podcast they are able to personalize their abortion experience and, most importantly, to honor their experience and have it honored. I am constantly surprised by people’s bravery, vulnerability and willingness to share. The response to the podcast has overwhelmed me.
Every time I am on my way to meet someone and listen to them share their story I have doubts about what I am doing and then I sit down with them and listen as they share and I know why I am there. And this girl with a podcast is humbled and grateful for every moment of it.
these are the stories we share.
Melissa is currently on the road with the podcast and finished this blogpost while sitting at The Harvard University Library Cafe (thanks to Sandy) and in the guest room of the Lantern Collective House, whose residents have generously provided a bed and some anarchy, in Cambridge, MA.
You can listen to The Abortion Diary’s most recent story here.