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March 27, 2014

On the terror of speaking out loud

My essay in The M Word is called “Doubleness Clarifies”, and I wrote it almost two years ago during four days in July when I hid out in the rafters at the Wychwood Library while Harriet was enrolled in day camp—the first time since her birth that I’d had the luxury of a couple of hours to string together for writing. And I knew what I wanted to write about, because I’d been rehearsing the essay for years. I wrote the essay from beginning to end while listening to “Call Me Maybe” on repeat, which I don’t think you can tell from reading it, but it was essential to the creation. At the time, the book was still just an idea, and it wasn’t a sure thing that it would ever come to be. This all seems like a long time ago now, which tells you something about how long it takes to make a book. One of the most fascinating things about The M Word is the way in which its writers’ lives have changed since they wrote their essays, each piece a representation of a moment in time. That flux is the entire book’s subtext.

But it’s true that my essay had been in the works for a long time, something I desperately wanted to say, but had lacked the courage to express. Becoming a mother in 2009, as my essay demonstrates, helped me to a fuller understanding of what I wanted to write about. (See what I’m doing here? Not getting to the point. This is my point.) So I finally wrote about it, to the strains of Carly Rae. Publication theoretical, far into the future. (Hmm, is what I’m saying a lot now, maybe I didn’t think this through…)

I have practiced talking about what I’ve written about. Clues dropped here and there in blog posts (which is not “talking” per se, but it’s like talking because people are listening to what I say here.) Last spring when I was 41 weeks pregnant, Dr. Henry Morgentaler died, which gave me a meaningful occasion to finally be out with it–this was a rehearsal for the book, I knew. And the response to that post was enormous, giving me some faith that I could take my essay into the world without fear. I know I have the support of my family too, which means everything, and the contents of the essay will not be a revelation to anyone who knows me, because I’ve always been open about my experience. But this open? (Maybe I didn’t think this through…)

I write in my essay that it’s taken me a long time to say the word “abortion” out loud, not because it’s a bad word or something I’m ashamed of, but just because the word is a trigger for so many kinds of conversations that I don’t necessarily feel like having.  It was a word I was afraid to own, no matter how much I was grateful for the word and its reality in shaping my adult life.If anything, it was my reticence that I was ashamed of though, the way that it was allowing others to hijack the abortion conversation, people whose motives were to restrict and undermine my autonomy, personhood and freedom. I was grateful to the book for providing another meaningful occasion for me to write about my experience of abortion and the surprising ways in which it connects to my experience of motherhood. I was compelled to tell my story also because I know it’s echoed in the experiences of so many other women who, for their own reasons, feel more comfortable keeping quiet about the whole thing.

You know, it’s not shame that keeps us quiet, that kept me quiet for more than a decade. Yes, some women regret their abortions, but that’s only because (as I write in my essay) abortion exists on a huge spectrum of experience. For me, it was barely a decision, more a reflex, but still the smartest thing I’ve ever done. For most of us though, we keep quiet because people can be  cruel, showing a stunning lack of empathy and understanding. There are people for whom  murder seems a fair-enough response, an eye for an eye, I suppose. Who would want to open themselves up to that? (Maybe I didn’t think this through….)

So here it is: on April 15 and on many occasions thereafter, I will be reading from “Doubleness Clarifies” in rooms full of people, in front of my dad. (See why I’m thinking about not having thought it through?) The essay, or part of it, will be published online. And I know that most people who read it or hear it read will be enlightened or else say, “Yeah, that’s exactly how it was…” because I know that most people are sensible and sane, and that even if they don’t agree with the morals of the experience, that they can understand how it was for me, which is the point of the essay after all. People are also allowed to think the whole thing is a load of tosh–a writer has to give her readers permission for that.

So maybe I didn’t think this through, but it’s going to happen anyway. And it’s terrifying. Which is where I’m at now, far away from the Wychwood Library rafters. But I’m also glad it’s going to happen, that (I hope) abortion will become a word that falls off the tongue, that this story might precede me, that maybe the narrative of abortion will begin to be shifted from polarities to something more complicated, part of life, something like how it really is.

3 thoughts on “On the terror of speaking out loud”

  1. theresa says:

    I look forward to reading this essay — and the whole anthology — and I wish you courage and grace. (Which you have.)

  2. m says:

    I read your essay last night and found it touching and thoughtful. Best of luck in reading it, I can imagine it will both be difficult and empowering.

  3. Joan says:

    You will be speaking for many of us Kerry. I am so very proud of you. Go girl!!!

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