She Brings Her Microphone, and Women Tell Their Stories of Abortion

In an effort to have a more candid dialogue about abortion, Melissa Madera created the Abortion Diary, 125 first-person podcasts — stories of relief and grief and “every emotion in between,” Madera says, as well as the sense of release that comes from sharing cloistered memories.
  1. Here’s how Karen, a woman in her mid-50s, looked back on her abortions four decades ago:
    "The shame of those experiences in my teen years created in me this belief that if [my husband] were to find out that he would — he would leave me. And in fact, that’s a guiding thought in my mind all my life about every relationship."
  2. Trained as a historian and working as a doula, Madera, 36, broached the idea of creating podcasts at a midwifery workshop in Brooklyn in the fall of 2013.
  3. About 10 women were making their introductions, Madera says, when she explained her goals for the diary. Three women spoke up. They had abortion stories to share. As did a fourth, who later joined the group.
  4. “Does it matter,” one asked, “how long ago it was?”
    Even now, after recording more than 150 stories from women ranging in age from 18 to 85, that question stops Madera short.
  5. Her own abortion was a long time ago. She didn’t doubt her decision, but she describes in her recording how it left her with a hunger for other women’s stories.
    "Even though I felt a lot of negative feelings about the abortion experience, I don’t regret it at all. Like there’s not one bone in my body that regrets that, you know, the abortion. The sharing is really powerful. Like the power of sharing is something I had never thought about before."
  6. It happened that first summer after graduating from high school. She was 17 and she had a boyfriend
    Her mother noticed the ­changes, but at the time they didn’t speak about them. Madera’s aunt escorted her to the clinic where she took the pregnancy test and brought her back the next day for the procedure. Her aunt cared for Madera in her apartment, where she sat on the bed and ate a bowl of Lipton noodle soup.
  7. Then Madera carried on with a high-achieving life. She got a BA in history, a master’s degree in education, and then, in 2011, a doctorate in Latin American and Caribbean history from the State University of New York — giving little conscious thought to the abortion that had opened up new opportunities.
    "And what’s interesting is, my research for my dissertation is somewhat about abortion. So I would talk about it about other people but not in terms of myself. So I just kind of like buried it as something, like, that I couldn’t talk about, that was, like, very shameful to me, like I felt completely like out of control and that I didn’t have a voice. And that carried on into other parts of my life."
  8. She doesn't see the stories in her podcast as her stories to edit or reshape, Madera explains.
    “I give people ownership of their stories,” she says. “They decide how much information they want out in the world.”
  9. Here’s L.B., 28, recalling her 2011 abortion in New York City, when she felt her voice had been lost in the decision-making.
    "One of the biggest issues that I have with sharing [my story] — my experience was so negative. For me, it was so overwhelmingly awful, I hate to put it out there that abortion somehow is so terrible and that people regret it, because I know that’s not everyone’s experience."
  10. The Abortion Diary has given rise to a small exhibit this month in the art museum at Ohio’s Denison University, where Madera has a one-year fellowship in the women’s and gender studies program.
  11. Stories beget more stories.
    After sharing their abortion stories on the podcast, two women told their sisters, who each in turn said that she’d had an abortion. One woman decided to tell her husband. Another told her mother, who then revealed she’d had a pre-Roe abortion. Several told their sons and daughters.
  12. Maryann C., in her late 20s, realized she wasn’t alone after she decided to talk about her abortions in 2011 and 2013.
    "My first pregnancy I started telling women in my life that I was pregnant and that I didn’t know what to do and I was thinking about keeping it. Almost every woman I talked to had told me, like, 'Oh yeah, I had an abortion.' Or 'I had two.' 'I had three.' 'I had five.'"
  13. Toya thinks the story of her 2014 abortion will help other women facing similar decisions:
    "I feel like knowledge is power. If I can share some knowledge and share some of my experience that will give a woman a different perspective and understanding of what our options are, that’s golden."
  14. Read more about Melissa Madera's The Abortion Diary podcast: http://wapo.st/1UytQIF