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Tuesday Guest Post: "Similar Experiences, but Never the Same"

Every Tuesday we will be featuring a guest post related to abortion support, reproductive justice, and other topics relevant to our mission as an organization dedicated to providing nonjudgmental, compassionate and empowering full-spectrum doula services. If you are interested in writing a post for our Tuesday series, email Kelly N. 

This week's post, which was originally posted on the blog at Exhale (an organization committed to "addressing the emotional health and wellbeing of women and men after abortion"), comes from a new Bay Area Doula Project volunteer, Renee Bracey Sherman. Renee is from Chicago, Illinois where she graduated from Northeastern Illinois University, studying economics and sociology. Renee found a passion in working to break down barriers of multiple oppressions that women/people of color/LGBT/low income/immigrant folks face each day by sharing stories. Renee hopes that by sharing her personal abortion experience, she can help move the conversation past partisan lines and to a compassionate level.

Similar Experiences, but Never the Same

by Renee Bracey Sherman
Originally posted at Exhale 

Indifferent. As I rode home from the abortion clinic and the days after the procedure, I felt indifferent. I had been told to expect overwhelming feelings of sadness and physical pain, yet I felt none. I felt fine. Not better than normal, but also not worse than normal. Indifferent. It was not at all what I was told to expect, by the doctors, the nurses, or what I had heard from friends.

I grew up in what many would call a ‘liberal’ family. We were middle class; my parents are both nurses, college educated, we lived in the suburbs of a major city, and we were a very open family. My parents are both ‘pro-choice’ and would have supported my decision when I was 19 years old to have an abortion, yet, why did it take me six years to tell them about it?

My experience wasn’t unlike other women's; I had a steady boyfriend, I was on birth control, but I missed a few weeks of pills and became pregnant. At sixteen, when I told my mom about a friend’s abortion decision, she told me that it was a personal choice and one she supported. So, I should have been able to go to my parents when I needed support, right?

It just wasn’t that easy for me. Many of my cousins had children in their teens and were unable to finish high school and college, yet I was on track to do both. I didn’t want to disappoint my mother, I felt that if I told her that I was pregnant, I would let her down, make her mad. I felt that she and my father would be disappointed, even though they would have supported my decision.

Even until recently, I was afraid to tell anyone, for fear of the reaction that I would get, or the way they would view me. I felt that if I told my story, I would be wearing the scarlet ‘A’ forever. I felt that I would be one of the vicious women that senators and representatives talk about who ‘abort their babies to fit into a prom dress’. That kind of rhetoric hurts me because that wasn’t what happened. How could I make others understand without having to share the whole story of the abuse I had endured during that relationship, how to say that it was my choice and it was a way to get out of a really bad situation. It’s hard to justify your actions without giving away a huge part of yourself every time.

Even though some people may see me differently after knowing I had an abortion,  I’ve chosen to share my story to let others in the community know that abortion shouldn’t be a taboo subject. We can comfort one another and change the conversation. We can shape what people hear about our lives and our stories.

After talking to many of my friends, family members and co-workers, I found out that almost everyone has an experience with abortion; whether they themselves had one, a partner, a parent or a sibling, it is not uncommon. It is an experience that crosses all racial lines, the gender spectrum, class backgrounds and sexual orientations; yet, we don’t talk about it. I understand that there are many reasons some folks won’t want to share about their experience. Even if I don’t hear their story, I want them to know they are not alone. We’ve been through a similar experience and there is love and support available to you.

I recently told my mother about my abortion experience and she cried, not because she was mad, but because she was proud of me for having the strength to make a tough decision on my own. She wished she could have been there to support me. When I asked her if she was disappointed in me, she said, “No honey, I am proud of who you have become. You made a decision for you.”

Abortion is different for everyone. Each abortion is like stripes on a zebra; while on the surface they may seem similar, no two experiences are exactly the same. I hope that in the future, the abortion debate moves from above the heads of the people it affects, down to a conversational level, where women and family members who have experienced abortion can talk about how to best support each other. Our voices matter. Let’s listen.

Thanks to Renee for allowing us to repost her awesome piece! Check out Exhale's site at


Meet the doulas: Sarah Whedon

Who are the doulas who volunteer with the BADP?  They're amazing, diverse people, doing so much great work in the world that it's hard to believe any of them has time to volunteer with us.  In the coming weeks we'll use this space to introduce you to many of these doulas.  

I'll start this week with myself, since I've been making most of the blog posts here without having properly introduced myself.  Watch this space for an upcoming profile of Kelly Nichols who's joining me in managing the blog, followed by lots of other BADP doulas.


Sarah W. Whedon earned her Ph.D. in Religious Studies with an emphasis in Women's Studies from UCSB and she teaches in the Department of Theology and Religious History at Cherry Hill Seminary.  She is the founding editor of Pagan Families: Resources for Pagan Pregnancy and Birth and the author of Birth on the Labyrinth Path: Sacred Embodiment in the Childbearing Year. Sarah is an ALACE-trained birth doula and BADP-trained abortion doula.  Sarah's teaching, research, and advocacy work center around topics of spirituality, feminism, and reproduction. She makes her home in San Francisco with her partner and their children. 



Follow-up: Orgasm Out of the Box

After her Salon presentation on "Illuminating the Intersections Between Passion, Sexuality, & Birth," Carrie Flemming wished she'd had time to answer a couple more questions. Fortunately, with this blog, there's no time limit. Here's what she wanted to say:


Follow-up: Orgasm Out of the Box

By Carrie Flemming

After we watched the unassisted birth of a Russian midwife featured in the film, Birth Into Being, a woman in the audience asked,

“How come this is the first time I am seeing this kind of birth?”

Tatyana’s birth is calm, gentle and confident as she squats in a clear plexiglass tub surrounded by her partner and children in her home. The births we see in popular media are often traumatic, full of drama and have the overall feeling of a medical emergency. These images live in our cells and minds, shaping the way we perceive and feel about human birth throughout our lives.

But there is another image of birth we rarely see outside of women-centered childbirth education classes. This is the image of a woman listening and moving from her innermost knowing, following her instincts and birthing from the depth of her power. It is inspiring and satisfying to watch.

So, how come this women-centered imagery is rarely seen in mainstream culture?

To find the answer to this question we need to understand the history of midwifery, the creation of the field of obstetrics by a young, male (and largely uninformed) medical community, and the eventual medicalization of birth. We also need to ask ourselves who benefits from this arrangement?

Luckily, there are many wonderful resources available. For those who wish to read more in-depth about the history of birth practices in the United States I recommend:

The American Way of Birth by Jessica Mitford. 

A chronological examination of the history of Western birth from midwives to obstetrics.

Immaculate Deception II by Suzanne Arms    

History, practices and culture of Western birth.

Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesto by Ina May Gaskin

Outlines the history and future of birth from a midwifery perspective.

The Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici.

Gives a broader understanding of the state’s control of reproductive rights as it relates to western capitalism and conquest.

The Business of Being Born, 2008 

A documentary created by Abby Epstein & Rikki Lake
Watch the trailer here: 

Stream it here: 


The second question that came up was:  

“Is home birth as safe as hospital birth?”

There are no definitive studies that compare the safety of home vs. hospital birth. The Farm Midwifery Center put forth a study in 1992 based on their birth outcomes over 30 years. Read the study here: The Safety of Home Birth: The Farm Study, A. Mark Durand, MD

The prevailing wisdom is that for low-risk pregnancies home birth is as safe as hospital birth. There is no one answer for every woman. Each woman needs to weigh the different factors that will help her feel most safe and confident to birth her baby.

Many practitioners from the women-centered, midwifery perspective believe that the possibility for a safe and satisfying birth increases when a woman:

~Feels secure in her environment and her body

~Is surrounded by people who support her decisions

~Is physically, emotionally and psychically comfortable

~Has minimal lighting and observation by people & machines

~Has the freedom to move & express herself the way she wishes

For some this will be at home with a midwife and for another it will be in a hospital with doctors and nurses. Some women will choose to birth at home unassisted with only their partner and children present. And yet others will opt for a birthing center.

There is no right or wrong choice and there are no guarantees. On a positive note, it is exciting that we have so many possibilities. I do think we have the right (and the responsibility) to be fully informed of our birthing options and their consequences. I believe all women deserve to have access to the information and resources that allow us to make the best decisions for ourselves, our bodies and the new humans we choose to bring into the world. 

Also, continuous labor support from a doula has shown to improve birth outcomes and to be highly beneficial to the mother well into her first few months with her baby. Read more information about continuous labor support here:

The Effect of Doula Support During Labor on Mother-Infant Interaction
Women’s Perceptions of Their Doula Support

The Proven Benefits of Having a Doula

To learn more about increasing the possibility for a safe and satisfying birth for you and/or your clients, I would recommend:

The Birth Book: Everything You Need to Know to Have a Safe and Satisfying Birth by William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

Orgasmic Birth by Debra Pascali-Bonaro and Elizabeth Davis

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer


Even more about the placenta

- Sarah W., BADP Doula and Blogger

 I've been sent some great photos from the All About the Placenta salon that I just have to share. 

The first three come from Kelly, who was one of the presenters:




The next three come from Mary Franck of the Million Fishes Art Collective:




The Abortion Diaries

- Sarah W., BADP Doula and Blogger

The BADP’s first quarterly meet-up and ongoing training for abortion doulas happened back in Februrary.  If you weren’t at the meeting you can get a lot out of watching the documentary that was screened there.

The Abortion Diaries is a short documentary by Penny Lane.  The twelve women who tell their stories in this film surprise us by failing to fit any of the standard polarized narratives that are commonly manipulated by media and politicians in the abortion debates.  They are simply, painfully, beautifully human stories.

You can watch the entire documentary online at The Abortion Diaries website.

BADP doula Barby observed, “one of the most striking points of the movie was that most women recounted having never talked about abortion before having one and never even hearing it mentioned before they "joined the club." This silence is central to creating the fear and stigma around abortion. It reminded me how valuable and important it is to share our experience with each other.”

Watch this space for an announcement of an upcoming opportunity the BADP is working on to make space for people to share their abortion experiences.