Meet the Authors

Meet several of the writers who courageously shared their experiences in Untold Stories:

Debbie Bamberger

Title of your story:  My Story, From Both Sides Of The Exam Table

Photo by Emily Shur

1.    What inspired you to submit to Untold Stories: Life, Love, and Reproduction?

Last year, I nominated a colleague and friend of mine for a major family planning award.  There was a small part of my story in the nomination I wrote, and once I submitted it, I felt a sense of relief and exhilaration that I had written on paper that I had had an abortion. When I read Sea Change’s call for proposals for this collection, I just felt that as an abortion provider who has had abortions, I wanted people to know my story.

2.    What is your story about? Why did you decide to publish it now?

My story is about my journey to becoming an abortion provider.  I wrote it because I’ve been very open about providing abortion and supporting people who have abortions, but I’ve never said openly that I’ve had abortions.  I am so passionate about abortion stigma and how harmful it is to women, and I decided that telling my own story was a step I could take to decrease stigma.

3.    What do you hope that people take away from the book as a whole?

I want people to know that women’s reproductive lives and choices are rich and varied, and that people often don’t know the story behind someone’s outer persona.

4.    What do you wish people knew about your particular experience?

I want people to know that I feel both shame and pride at the same time, all the time.

5.    What’s one action that people can take to support others in their lives who have untold stories about sex and reproduction?

Tell their own story, share this book with friends and family, be open minded, give people the benefit of the doubt.

Alisa A. Gaston-Linn

Title of your story: In An Age of Science

1. What inspired you to submit to Untold Stories: Life, Love, and Reproduction?

When I read the description of the call for submissions, I immediately thought of my experience of trying to get pregnant at the age of 40. Then I looked at the Sea Change website and was so affected by what each staff member had to say about their personal experiences, hopes, and ideals that I strongly wanted to take part. I’m at a time in my life where I’ve realized although I’ve always been vocal about the maltreatment of others, I haven’t been completely forthcoming about my own experiences because of self mortification. So many people pull themselves through strenuous moments in life and before they can even grasp how they feel, society slaps them with degradation that forces self-shame. Writing about these moments and having others read about them is a way to be released from emotional isolation.

2.    What is your story about? Why did you decide to publish it now? 

My story relates not only the emotional and physical difficulties I went through trying to conceive, but also the reactions and comments I received from others who believed that I was too old to have children or took issue with the methods I used. I wanted it published because I don’t think a lot of people realize how many women my age are having children now either because they didn’t define themselves by having children in the first place, or they wanted to travel or pursue careers, or they simply didn’t have the opportunity until later in life.

3.    What do you hope that people take away from the book as a whole?

I hope they comprehend how much silent pain associated with reproduction flows as an undercurrent in our society. I hope they are impressed and inspired by the triumphs. I hope they are persuaded to openly talk about these types of experiences and question whether they themselves have been accepting and tolerant of people who have been in similar situations to those in the book.

4.    What do you wish people knew about your particular experience?

I want people to know that there is a difference between desperation and determination, and that there are many ways to bring a child into the world. If a woman trying to conceive is having difficulty, don’t make her feel responsible for her failures or miscarriages. Be kind to her, she has enough to overcome without being judged harshly.

5.    What’s one action that people can take to support others in their lives who have untold stories about sex and reproduction?

Encourage people to be candid about reproduction, whether it’s frightening, elevating, or even horrific. We can’t know people unless we truly hear them.

Monica McLemore

Title of your story: Childless by Choice

Monica

1.    What inspired you to submit to Untold Stories: Life, Love, and Reproduction?

Stories of reproduction, birth experiences, and abortion rarely include people who proactively choose to not participate in parenthood.

2.    What is your story about? Why did you decide to publish it now?

I have been thinking and journaling about this for years and finally decided to publish my perspective, which is not as rare as you might think. There are many people in my life who have never had children by choice and I wanted to write about my own journey. I really felt like the opportunity was prime to talk about being childless because as a Sea Change Board member, I know how serious the organization is about representing the widest range of perspectives in this work.

3.    What do you hope that people take away from the book as a whole?

That no one choice is better than any other and that reproduction is complex. I also want there to be room and space to end stigma around any one person or groups of people’s choices around reproduction and I think this book serves as a tool to help them explore their own thoughts and values about reproduction.

4.    What do you wish people knew about your particular experience?

That choosing not to have children is different than not ending up with children.

5.    What’s one action that people can take to support others in their lives who have untold stories about sex and reproduction?

Listen when people talk about these issues, both to what they say and don’t say. You’ll be surprised what you learn.

Karen Harris Thurston

Title of your story: My Bright Shiny Life of Shame

1. What inspired you to submit to Untold Stories: Life, Love, and Reproduction?

I was inspired to share my experience after discovering that countless compassionate people are working around the world to end the cruelty of reproductive shame.  I drew courage from others who have publicly shared the most intimate, vulnerable parts of themselves for the sake of ending the emotional brutality of stigma.

2. What is your story about? Why did you decide to publish it now?

My story is about how it feels to be called a baby killer throughout a lifetime. It’s about living in a culture that shames girls and women into silent alienation and compels us to harbor a cruel terror – that if the truths of our imperfect lives are discovered, we will lose everyone we love.

3. What do you hope that people take away from the book as a whole?

I hope readers take away from this book a desire to reflect deeply about the complexities of life for everyone in the human family. I hope they will feel inspired to give others what they would wish for themselves in the face of unwarranted judgment and condemnation: a chance to be heard, understood, and accepted.

4. What do you wish people knew about your particular experience?

I want people to know that education would have changed everything for me. If I had been taught the truth about sex and relationships, and if I had learned to be strong and self-assured, my teen years would have unfolded differently.  And yet, this lifelong experience of stigma has given me a rich education of the heart, teaching me to think, feel and act with deep compassion for anyone who is scorned and demonized.

5. What’s one action that people can take to support others in their lives who have untold stories about sex and reproduction?

The most meaningful way to support others who have untold stories about sex and reproduction is to listen with an open heart, respond without judgment, and love without conditions.

Angelique Saavedra

Title of your story: A Map for Lost Birthmothers

1. What inspired you to submit to Untold Stories: Life, Love, and Reproduction?

I was inspired because when I was pregnant and trying to learn more about adoption, I only heard the idyllic stories of enthusiastic birth mothers and adoptive parents. It would have been useful to understand that adoption can be more complicated than those stories that I read. All stories are important, not just the ones that are vetted and corrected for imperfections.

2. What is your story about? Why did you decide to publish it now? 

My story is about my journey through open adoption. I wrote my story long before I submitted it because writing was my coping mechanism. When this opportunity arrived, I decided to publish it because adoptive parents have primarily dominated adoption discourse. The voices of people who were adopted as well as the parents who relinquished their rights are both needed for a deeper understanding of adoption.

3. What do you hope that people take away from the book as a whole?

I hope that the book’s audience can be witness to the humanity in the diverse and personal journeys of each author.

4. What do you wish people knew about your particular experience?

My open adoption experience has been multilayered, involving diverse individuals and personalities. There are power dynamics, misunderstandings and insecurities that inevitably arise. Sometimes the complexity of it all can be overwhelming for me. Despite everything, I’m so grateful to witness my daughter grow and thrive. She has great parents and it’s amazing how the love for a child can bring so many people together.

5. What’s one action that people can take to support others in their lives who have untold stories about sex and reproduction?

Listen when they choose to be vulnerable enough to share their stories. You might not be perfect at it, but it’s a great act of compassion if you can show that you are trying to understand their experience.

Desaray Smith

Title of your story: Trying

1. What inspired you to submit to Untold Stories: Life, Love, and Reproduction?

My friend Kate, who I went to college with, asked me to submit a piece. I’ve been writing about my experiences for a few years, but I was excited to sum it all up in a few pages. And I was excited to be able to write for a cause. It’s been a while since I’ve done anything political. I’ve been really wrapped up in my personal life for a few years now and was excited to think about something other than myself.

2. What is your story about? Why did you decide to publish it now?

My story is about trying to get pregnant as a single queer white woman, through illness, divorce, dating, and break ups — both with girlfriends and donors. I also talk a little about my family history, since I’ve never met my own mother and I talk a little bit about being white and having a black donor. I decided to publish the story because the idea of publishing it actually made me really uncomfortable. Luckily, I know that being uncomfortable is usually a good thing.

3. What do you hope that people take away from the book as a whole?

I hope people realize how many stories they have in them, but also how many stories they might still be. Right now, I’m a single queer woman trying to get pregnant, but I’ve also been an unplanned pregnancy, and a foster kid. Someday, I might be a pregnant woman who needs a late-term abortion because there’s something wrong with the baby. Someday, I might be a mother. I might be a mother with mental illness. I think we tend to forget all of the stories we have been, that there’s a bunch of stories we might still be, and that we don’t always get to choose which ones. I hope readers take away a new appreciation of the richness of their own experience — past, present and future.

4. What do you wish people knew about your particular experience?

I wish people knew that the pursuit of parenthood is a human right, as essential and inalienable as having a place to stay and food to eat.

5. What’s one action that people can take to support others in their lives who have untold stories about sex and reproduction?

Honestly? Money. Give money. Find the cause, the group, the organization, the business, the publication, the on-line crowd-funding campaign and give them money. Throw parties and make everyone who comes to your party give money. And, of course, listening without judgment is a nice, supportive action, too. Listening is lovely. But after you’re done, pony up.

Katherine Towler

Title of your story:  The Stories We Tell

1.    What inspired you to submit to Untold Stories: Life, Love, and Reproduction?

I received an email from an editor of the Choice anthology seeking writers who could contribute an essay on choosing not to have children.  Though I had never considered writing about this topic, I realized that it was indeed an essay I could write.  If I had not been asked, I might not have written this piece.  Writing the essay was an invaluable experience that helped me articulate an essential choice I had made in my life.

2.    What is your story about? Why did you decide to publish it now?

My essay is about how I was never drawn to having children and never saw myself as a mother.  I recount the story of how I married when I was 35, when I had just about given up on the idea of marriage, too, and how I have struggled to balance the devotion writing requires with the devotion to those I love.  As I have gotten older, the choices I have made have continued to shift and to be redefined.  My essay chronicles that process, too, of finding new truths about yourself at different stages of life.  Choosing not to have children is something women who have done so do not often discuss.  There is such a stigma around making this choice.  It is assumed that every woman wants children, that having children is essential to being a woman and being a human being. Publishing this essay in the Choice anthology helped me to feel less alone in my choice by voicing and sharing it.  I am delighted to have the essay re-published in Untold Stories.

3.    What do you hope that people take away from the book as a whole?

I hope that the book will help to open a dialogue about the very real and difficult choices women make around reproduction.  Too often women are punished for these choices and made to feel shame.  I am excited to be part of an effort to move beyond the language of shame and to promote honest exchanges about deeply personal decisions.

4.    What do you wish people knew about your particular experience?

Just because a woman decides not to have children does not mean that she dislikes children, and it is not a selfish choice.  There are many ways to experience the love and wonder of children and young people, and many ways to be a parent.  I have been privileged to experience this as a teacher.

5.    What’s one action that people can take to support others in their lives who have untold stories about sex and reproduction?

Listen to them!  Encourage them to share their stories and create ways for this to happen without judgment or stigma.

Sean Saifa Wall

Title of your story: A Body Worthy of Desire

Saifa1

1.    What inspired you to submit to Untold Stories: Life, Love, and Reproduction?

I was asked to submit my story as an intersex person since we are also directly impacted by reproductive health.  I was honored to submit my story in order to open up the conversation around reproduction to include people with divergent bodies and experiences.

2.    What is your story about? Why did you decide to publish it now? 

My story is a complex one.  A Body Worthy of Desire is only a sliver of a greater narrative around what it means to be an intersex person in a society that mythologizes us as “hermaphroditic” beings and a medical community that tries to align our bodies with gender “normalizing” surgeries that often scar people both physically and psychologically.

What people are left with is shame.  In addition to shame, stigma and secrecy surrounds so many born with intersex bodies.  This piece is about my journey toward self-acceptance despite the myriad of messages that I received as a poor, Black queer intersex man.  As far as the timing of the piece, there is no better time than the present.  Our movement toward bodily autonomy is gaining recognition and momentum.

3.    What do you hope that people take away from the book as a whole?

I hope that people are able to identify with the stories in the book and that there is healing that brings people out of isolation surrounding this issue.

4.    What do you wish people knew about your particular experience?

I want people to know that my particular experience is not representative of the whole community of people born intersex.  I have been fortunate to receive healing through talk therapy, somatic therapy and other modalities that allow me to tell my story without apology and fear.  I would also want people to know that my story is very complicated and to contact me if they have further questions because one piece cannot tell the whole story. My life is always unfolding.

5.    What’s one action that people can take to support others in their lives who have untold stories about sex and reproduction?

I urge those people to listen intently and without judgment.