In this time of extreme political division, with its unprecedented bluster and bombast, conversations at every level of society are in dire need of dignity.
However, super-charged rhetoric is nothing new in the realm of abortion. Here at ACP, we have years of experience working to temper toxic talk by fostering conversations that are calm, inclusive, respectful, and that often use unexpected, innovative approaches.
A recent project that has sparked many respectful conversations is Holding Our Space, the brainchild of ACP Grant Partner, Jacqui Morton, who creates safe environments where people feel free to share openly about reproductive loss.
ACP provided funding, resources, and support to Holding Our Space because Morton proposed innovative methods to promote respectful conversations and to expand the topic of abortion beyond predictable bounds.
“I wanted to create safe spaces for folks to speak about the whole of their experiences — infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, adoption, even birth,” says Morton. “The goal is to help people find healing and community, and to decrease stigma around all of it.”
Morton specifically strives to acknowledge and honor that there is no one ‘right’ way to feel after abortion, and that feelings of grief, relief or both are deserving of honor and respect.
Holding Our Space began as a digital community — a Tumblr page — where people are invited to share about their experiences by posting anything they choose, including stories, photos, quotes, and moments. Contributors have the option of revealing their identity or remaining anonymous. Holding Our Space also has a Facebook page.
Then this summer, Holding Our Space became an actual place — a temporary sanctuary in a suburb of Boston, putting into action ACP’s unique stigma-challenging strategy of generating personal conversations at the community level.
“We invited people inside to be together, participate in a ritual, nourish themselves, share their stories, and honor their experiences,” says Morton, adding that the three-day event was about “changing the conversation on a very local level.”
While you are here, breathe out that which you’d like to leave behind. Breathe in what you hope to keep with you. You are loved. You are not alone. ~From the Holding Our Space Welcome Letter
Visitors to the sanctuary were able to approach an altar and light a candle, paint meaningful words on rocks to leave or take home, and post messages and feelings on a wall adorned with purple flower petals. They also could sit on a couch in a cozy corner to talk with others. There was even a Yoga session.
From the moment she began organizing the Holding Our Space event, Morton’s own conversations with others in her community changed.
“I was more open about my own experience with people I encounter in my community,” she explains. “For example, I shared my abortion experience at a children’s birthday party with another woman, who told me that she had recently had a miscarriage.”
Morton plans to continue seeking ways to expose more people to her welcoming and healing environment so that conversations about abortion and other reproductive loss will dignify and honor people, rather than shame and silence them.
Her long-term vision includes arranging more events in community centers in other areas across the country. In the meantime, in her own community, she is encouraging others to create similar events in their own safe spaces.
“I plan to hold an ongoing drop-in group, recruiting different facilitators to create a peer- led group that offers space for all reproductive loss,” Morton says. “I’m always thinking about how this can become a sustainable and on-going project.”
Holding Our Space is part of ACP’s mission to widen the circle of conversation around abortion, bringing new voices to the table.
We know culture change begins and thrives at the community level. This is what we at ACP work toward – collaborating with others to help create and support as many grassroots conversations as we can in the many communities that reach out for support.
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