Exhale Pro Voice and Texas: The Power Of Storytelling

Exhale Pro Voice will be coming to Texas in November. I’ve written about this before, here at my blog, but along with the story sharing and facilitation, will come a documentary team who is capturing the good work this non-profit is doing in the world.

Exhale creates a social climate where each person’s unique experience with abortion is supported, respected, and free from stigma. Exhale provides services, training, and education to empower individuals, families, and communities to achieve post-abortion health and wellbeing.

Exhale is pro-voice. Coined in 2005, the term “pro-voice” was developed by Exhale to represent our approach to creating a social climate where each person’s unique experience with abortion is supported, respected, and free from stigma. Designed to pay homage to the historical struggles for voice and affirmation that our founders had learned from—civil rights, queer acceptance, and the anti-domestic violence movement, among others—pro-voice points towards a whole new way forward on abortion conflicts by giving new focus to an element typically exploited or ignored: personal experience.

Pro-voice is a practice of nonviolence rooted in conflict-transformation principles. It is a process to create fundamental change in the way our culture addresses personal experiences with abortion. Our pro-voice approach creates, replicates, and sustains strategies that grow culture change.

BedPost Confessions is helping to host Exhale Pro Voice here in Austin. We are thrilled to collaborate with those focused on the power of stories and how working in the narrative of people’s lives can truly shift the polarized frame these topics stay mired in. I personally also adore documentaries for the same reason as I love storytelling. My husband works in the documentary world and so I was thrilled to find out Exhale was part of a documentary on their work.

I had the chance to interview the filmmaker, Rebekah Fergusson, about the project which follows five women as they travel all over the country sharing personal stories with abortion and inspiring dialogue in the communities they visit. Here is our conversation, and at the end of this piece, there will be a link to their Kickstarter campaign if you feel inspired to help!

How long have you been working in documentary filmmaking and what was your inspiration?

RF: I graduated from Duke in ’07 (after studying at the amazing Center for Documentary Studies there) and immediately directed, shot, and edited my first film. Shot in 25 countries around the world, Pelada is about stories of street soccer, and the people and places that are all tied to that universal game.

Since then I’ve been behind the camera on many projects- TV, feature documentary, etc. Earlier this year I met the Pro Voice fellows after being hired by Exhale to film some of their college visits. I got a chance to do extended interviews with them and was really taken by their personal stories.

How do you see the desire for stories (narrative) reflected in what documentaries do for the people who watch them?

RF: We are always shaping our own experiences into story–our memories, fantasies, our own personal dramas. Documentaries do a really amazing thing– they take real life, connect the dots and reveal layers of story–physical, emotional, and psychological, allowing us to see things in the lives happening around us everyday that we would have never seen with our own eyes.

Myths are how humans have always made sense of their lives, it is as necessary as breathing to us. Myths are most important to us when something is at stake–when we need something, or we are suffering… its important to us to be able to make sense of that– and this is where storytelling comes in, and how we allow ourselves to empathize with a story that may be something we have never physically experienced…but something that resonates emotionally and psychologically.

What impact do you personally hope the film has? What have you witnessed so far that indicates a need for these abortion stories?

RF: I keep going back to the moments when I sat down with Natalia Koss Vallejo and Kassi Underwood to do our first interviews. My first thought was not what could I do to impact the abortion debate, but rather…wow, I was just totally sucked into their world, and their journey for over three hours. I was suddenly in the mind of a 17 year old having to make an imperfect decision, but simultaneously in the mind of a 27 year old looking back on that high school kid and wanting to shelter them, to impart wisdom.

There was something at stake for these women– the decision that they were faced with left them with something to lose no matter which path they took, it was paradoxical and imperfect in that way. And no one really talks about that when they talk about abortion. They are talking about what someone should do or shouldn’t do.

That was something I could identify with, and I know the average American can…no matter what their political standpoint on abortion is, or whether they’ve experienced one before. These women aren’t saying “I think this, and therefore…” or “you should do this…” They are talking about how they couldn’t talk about sex in their Indian-American home growing up, how they thought of a baby name…still hoping they could carry the child, how they had to skip class, lie to their parents and hitch rides across town to make sure no one ever knew this had happened to them. This film taps into universal themes of stigma, grief, and being caught between two extremes.

And there is a need— there is a need for people to understand when they draw a line in the sand (on any issue), most of the time the people standing on the other side of that line are a lot like them. The women and men who have actually experienced an abortion are the ones caught in the middle of this debate.

I think people are ready for a different conversation to emerge around this issue. 1 in 3 women (and countless men) have experienced an abortion…so chances are that you or someone you know has experienced it in some way…we have taught ourselves to stifle these stories for too long.

How do you see these stories affecting the larger political rift in the US over sexuality, reproduction and women’s rights?

RF: I think stories create empathy and understanding. They expand the conversation, we suddenly realize how much more there is to what seemed like a trite overplayed two sided shouting match. I think the most important thing that a film like this can do is allow other women and men who have felt like they couldn’t speak out their experience, whether its just to their own family, gain the strength to do so. I also hope it allows for us to have conversations about the issue with an acknowledgement of the humanity on all sides.

Next month they are headed to Texas, and we are raising money to follow them and get the film one step closer to completion. Every little bit counts!

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I love Rebekah’s last paragraph. Humanity, empathy, baring and being witnessed. These are all things we at BedPosts believe in and we couldn’t be happier to help Exhale get to Texas. As promised, here is the Kickstarter campaign and a video about the project:

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