Monday Notes: The Power of Story

Shortly after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, I received several notifications from writing platforms. These publications had an urgent interest in “personal abortion stories.” Suddenly, hearing about women’s lived experiences was integral. I understand why. 

Stories are important. 

It’s one thing to be marching around in your knit, pink pussy hat; it’s quite another to share why you feel the need to. 

Sometimes, marching is easier than telling the person who disagrees with you that, you too, had an abortion at one point in your life. However, I’d argue that the narrative you share is what will actually create empathy, and eventually, a nuanced understanding of an issue.

Personal story is why the #MeToo movement was partly successful. For the first time that I know of, not only women, but also men were discussing definitions of sexual harassment. Is giving someone a compliment okay? Can I ask my coworker out on a date? If someone says, “yes” to sex, and then “no,” what should happen? I believe the only reason we were able to openly have conversation is because your favorite celebrity, your mother, or your friend shared a #MeToo story, and you offered a compassionate ear.

But personal stories are hard to share. 

I don’t want to speak for everyone, but it seems we’ve collectively bought into a similar message: life should be lived in shame. Sometimes, we do it to one another. For example, anytime you suggest for someone not to openly share what happened to them, you’re encouraging them to live a secret life of shame. And so we keep things from one another, but to what end?

I guarantee you know at least one woman who has had an abortion, and I’d bet money that at least one person explicitly or implicitly told her to hide her story. Subsequently, women who’ve chosen abortion live with the following: shame for getting pregnant, shame for getting an abortion, shame for not choosing motherhood, or D: All of the above. 

Even those of us who lived in homes supportive of our choices still navigated a bickering country that saw women who had abortions as another type of human being, separate from society and meant to be shamed, shunned, and lectured. We were seen as people who committed shameful acts. We were called murderers. In our own ways, each of us wore handcrafted scarlet letters, even if the only one who saw that red “A” was us when we looked in the mirror. 

So I get it. Choices can create isolation, and sharing about them can feel as if you’ll be further ostracized from society. 

But stories are important. Shared narratives make something less of an anomaly. 

So, I was thinking…What if instead of scaring and shaming women, we actually provided them with our own sex stories: stories about contraception, stories about sexually transmitted infections, stories about sex without love, stories about sex with love, stories about pregnancy, stories about birth, stories about miscarriages, and stories about abortion. The stories about abortion would be encompassed in stories about sex, not as fear tactics or moral instruction, but as an option for what could occur, should you need it.

Personal abortion stories should’ve been a part of our sex conversations since 1973. Now, it seems major publications are seeking narratives as a reactive form of storytelling. The conservative, Republican Supreme Court has “gone rogue,” so we need abortion stories—NOW! 

Sheesh! Reactivity to issues seems like an immature and exhausting way to be in the world. 

Personal abortion stories should have been part of our lives over the past fifty years. Perhaps, if more women discussed the commonality of our experiences, then we’d be less likely to allow a court, men, or anyone else to take away our rights. But as long as we’re tucking our lives away in the crevices of our closets and acting as if we know not of what those other heathens speak of, well…we get where we are now. 

Please don’t mistake this for victim shaming. It just seems that at some point, we have to stop living in shame for fear of what others, especially those who look like us and may have had similar experiences may say. Maybe if we would’ve shared “personal abortion stories” sooner, we would have a different national narrative. 

Or maybe I’m living in la-la land, we’re all powerless, and Roe v. Wade was always going to be overturned. I’d like to think otherwise, though. I’m a writer, after all, and believing in the power of story is what gives me hope.


51 thoughts on “Monday Notes: The Power of Story

  1. Delightful blog post here. Yes I agree personal stories are hard to mention and share. As far as my knowledge about stories , I believe there are 2 sides of a story. At the end of the day we all have stories whether we reveal them or seal them inside, the story is always there

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing!!.. I do agree… unfortunately in today’s world, instead of having a polite, meaningful discussion about issues, just sitting down and talking and sharing experiences, there are many who will use whatever means they can to quiet any any opposing thoughts to their way of thinking, often by “shouting”… 🙂
    There are states trying to ban talking about gender in schools, if one should disagree with someone of Jewish ideology, one is immediately considered anti-semantic, two of many examples too numerous to mention…. hopefully one day wisdom will reign supreme and we can all have a polite conversation that will make this a better world for all…. 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May love and laughter light your days,
    and warm your heart and home.
    May good and faithful friends be yours,
    wherever you may roam.
    May peace and plenty bless your world
    with joy that long endures.
    May all life’s passing seasons
    bring the best to you and yours!
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The shouting part is so true Dutch! Even online, people are shouting over each other, instead of stopping to listen and take in what the other person is saying, whether they agree or not.

      And yep! I live in the state that’s banning talking about gender in schools. It’s very frustrating watching all of this unfold, but i do hope that we can create a civil society at some point.

      Thanks, too for this poem ❤

      Like

  3. As a non-US citizen, I have been watching the US news and must say I am worried for everyone who can’t access safe abortion.

    My mother got an abortion when I was a child. I still remember how I agreed with her decision because, deep down, I knew she wouldn’t be able to feed my brother and me if she had another child. I was a 9-year-old kid, but I knew that was what my mother had to do to protect us. It baffles me that adults can’t understand why someone wants/needs to get an abortion. And mind you, I come from a conservative Muslim family and grew up in an equally traditional country. I’m really sad to see the situation in the US and hope things will get better there soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s borderline embarrassing to be here during these so-called modern times. We’re definitely not showing progressivism and I’m not sure many of us are clear on how to gain clear footing.

      With that said, thank you for sharing this story about your mother. I’m sure it’s because you were aware of her situation that you can speak from a place of empathy and understanding, as opposed to a judgmental one.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. A brilliant and heartfelt article, Kathy. So many takeaways and food for thought. I also absolutely agree “stories are important but personal stories are hard to share.” Here’s to sharing our stories, on our own terms!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I absolutely agree that it is so very important to share our stories. Personally, when a protester shakes her sign and yells at me (happened last weekend in Kansas, and I honestly didn’t even know what bill they are protesting about, but apparently she was mad that I drove by) it just automatically puts me off of their cause. But if that same person tells me their story, and explains why they feel the way they do, then there is a chance that my heart and mind will be opened to a different point of view. Only when we are willing to risk being open and honest can we find common ground to move forward, together. I think this is crucial in all the areas that divide us, not only abortion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree, Ann. That’s the only way we’re going to understand another person’s point of view. I’d want to hear the protestor’s pov, too. There’s a reason they feel passionate enough to shake a sign at someone they don’t even know.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, that would have been good to know! That’s why talking is so important, especially when we tell our own stories rather than simply yell at one another. When someone yells at me, I feel attacked and get defensive. When someone tells me their story, then I’m engaged and feel a connection to them that makes me want to help, even if I don’t completely agree. And that’s the kind of common ground that is necessary for all of us……I will go to my grave believing that we all have much more in common than we think we do.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I know if anyone understands what I’m saying with this, it’s definitely you. This is partially why I appreciate your blog so much. There’s nothing but a release of all of the things that people tried to shame us (as women) for 😉

      Thanks for this comment, Libby ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Once again we are faced with the grim reality that the notion of freedom is relative in nature and what we assume as conscious evolutionary gains are mere illusions. What if we are the last generation that experiences the final flowerings of the enlightenment before we enter a new chapter of the dark ages?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YES, MC, YES! It’s all an illusion, intended to keep us confused and distracted. It’s starting to seem like we are going to be the last generation; however, I think it’s going to be something none of us have ever seen.

      Like

      1. Yes, I try to be fully engaged even when it makes me rant. I personally know several women who had medically necessary late term abortions including a woman I worked for who was told there was no heartbeat at 30+ weeks. Today, in certain states she would be required to carry the pregnancy to term. It’s horrifying.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. “Personal abortion stories should have been part of our lives over the past fifty years. Perhaps, if more women discussed the commonality of our experiences, then we’d be less likely to allow a court, men, or anyone else to take away our rights.” I think this is such a powerful insight! It makes me wonder how many anti-choice women secretly had abortions? That could have been one slice of the story-sharing pie over the past 50 years. I have not had an abortion. If I had, I wonder how long I would have hidden it except from closest friends. I don’t know.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, Fran…don’t get me started. I always say, I’m sure MANY anti-choice women have had abortions, and who knows how it affected them (because everyone doesn’t feel the same afterwards). It could explain how vitriolic some are.

      Believe it or not, some women even hide it from their close friends; imagine being in that space for decades.

      Like

  8. I agree with you completely, Katherin. Writing stories is not only inspiring for others, it is therapeutic. I feel angry, helpless and discouraged by this rogue Supreme Court. I’m pretty upset about it. I did not experience having an abortion, so I’m imagining how much more upsetting this must be for woman that personally are close to this issue!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I just read your brilliant poem. I can relate to the sentiment. I had one of my daughters the same month Columbine happened, and the other a month after 9/11, and I wondered both times what was the point…what type of world was I bringing children into?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. It is scary to share personal stories in this violent, pro-Trump era. People don’t disagree quietly, they yell, call people nasty names, and even resort to violence or threats. It all comes down to who gets elected. If we go back to a Republican Senate, women will lose more rights.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree about the climate and how dangerous it can be. I agree with what you’ve said about the senate, and I also think that women won’t be the only group to lose more rights. I predict it’s going to get ugly for all of us in some way or another.

      Like

  10. “It just seems that at some point, we have to stop living in shame for fear of what others, especially those who look like us and may have had similar experiences may say.”

    I can’t speak to abortion, but…when I share about my father’s suicide, someone always thanks me for my honesty, and then tells me about their experience with a loved one’s suicide.

    When I share my story of divorce in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and all *that* entailed, someone always thanks me and shares their story.

    Listener and storyteller alike are set free when are vulnerable.

    So yes…I think it’s important that these stories are shared…

    Thank you for this post…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s exactly my point, Laura. Someone, somewhere will feel better and may expand their understanding simply because you or I spoke up and told the truth of a situation and its impact on our lives.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. People adjust very quickly to anything new, and very soon carry a belief that “It was always this way”.

    I was a kid when Roe v. Wade was established, and I remember my mother speaking about the importance of it and how life was for women prior to it. I was strongly impacted by that, but I was also amazed at how quickly it became accepted as the new normal, to the point of being taken for granted.

    Actually, ALL gains by women were quickly taken for granted. Talking about how things USED to be became seen as irrelevant because the new normal was seen as immovable and unchangeable.

    Surprise! We now have a whole new generation of women discovering that our “rights” haven’t actually been ratified! Women weren’t mentioned in the writing of the Constitution, because we were still seen as property. Abortion wasn’t mentioned because it was “a woman’s issue handled by women”.

    For so many years, attempts to ratify the ERA were met with derision, “why do we need to do that, we have Roe v. Wade, why do we need anything more?” Many women didn’t see the need, for we took the new normal for granted, that it would be a forever thing. We were so wrong.

    We need to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, the ERA, so not only women, but minorities have entrenched and solid rights. This needs to be our next step!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Tamara, thank you for mentioning the constitution. I got into an argument ON the 4th of July about how this country was not created for women or diverse people; the constitution was my proof.

      I TOTALLY agree about the ERA! Women dropped the ball on that, when we should’ve kept pushing; however, I never thought about the reason why…taking freedoms for granted seems like a sound reason. We got comfortable, and we need to begin to be uncomfortable so we can fight for all of our rights.

      Like

      1. Maybe having Roe struck down will turn out to be the blessing in disguise we need. Now that women across the nation are tasting what life is like without the protections, we can finally get ot ratified.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I think narrative is a very powerful thing, but in terms of Roe v. Wade, it seems like the anti-choice movement has gotten louder rather than quieter over time, while at the same time, sharing of personal stories has increased rather than decreased. It makes me wonder if the increased salience of the issue has provided something more solid to latch onto for people who always were going to be inclined to moralize abortion.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for this, Ashley, I agree it’s gotten louder, but it seems like it’s louder because of power, not necessarily because the majority of people feel so strongly anti.

      I’ll have to think about that last part, which I think is a sound point.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I agree with the power of story to build empathy. However, I also feel like society has a massive listening problem. By that, I mean that I think society generally is really bad at listening to stories that don’t fit narratives we want to hear. And I’m using “we” because I think this is more of a human nature problem than an us vs. them problem. I get that it’s something of a catch-22 because personal story can be what it takes to get people to listen and understand, but also, given that storytellers can face personal and professional consequences to sharing their own stories (because our society is so bad at listening), it feels a bit irresponsible to me to just encourage people to share personal stories without acknowledging potential negative consequences.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey JYP! I agree that we’re historically polarized, and because of that, not many of us in this country are actually listening to what someone who disagrees with them has to say, personal story or not.

      I understand that everyone doesn’t have the personal freedoms that I enact, and it took me a long time to get here. I didn’t share much previously because I’ve always taught at some level of public education (including now with a job as a professor). So, I get it. Who wants to lose their job because they said something someone else perceives as “wrong?”

      However, at some point, I decided that sharing personal stories was more helpful for society than negative consequences, which knock on wood, I’ve not had any.

      With that said, I want to reiterate that I know everyone isn’t me. And it is important for each person to weigh their situation carefully and make a decision.

      But it is my hope that whoever should feel so inclined to begin sharing should do so. I think learning about one another is another way to remove the polarity that has been created. Otherwise, we’re just talking heads of differing opinions speaking into the abyss.

      Liked by 1 person

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