Interview: Nicole Stewart – Creator of Oral Fixation Series (Part 2)
Nicole Stewart has stories to tell and in her Oral Fixation series, she wants to help others tell theirs. On September 21st she’ll be presenting the first of two live storytelling shows called “Out From Under the Rug: True Life Tales of Abortion”. For tickets and more information, please visit oralfixationshow.com.
A Is For’s David Avallone spoke to Nicole about the upcoming show, and her personal journey to “artivism.” This is Part Two of that interview.
David: But meanwhile, Wendy Davis was having her filibuster…
Nicole: Yes. I was sitting at my desk eating lunch before heading to the abortion clinic for that first day consultation. My husband sent me a link to the live stream of Wendy’s filibuster, and I clicked on it and she was talking about women who find out at their 20 week sonogram that there are fetal abnormalities, that there’s no way to find that out earlier on in gestation, because of fetal development. And I was like, “What? There are other people that go through this?”
It was a wonderful feeling in a horrible time. To find out t in orange, supporting and cheering in the halls of the Capitol building… I felt like there here that this was a real thing that women dealt with, and so I went into the abortion clinic buoyed up by her energy, and of course at the end of the day seeing she was successful and going back and watching… all these women was a movement I could join, there were women out there who cared. I wasn’t alone. More than anything, Wendy was a symbol of stopping silence. That struck me to the core.
By the time those four days of the abortion procedure was over, I had decided that I was going to share my story. I didn’t know exactly how yet, but I knew it was important.
David: What was the reaction when you told the story for the first time?
Nicole: I had been asked to speak at our local TEDx event, some months before and I decided I wanted to talk about the healing power of sharing your story. I thought what if I talk about how I got into storytelling? Then actually tell my abortion story and see how the audience responds. I had twelve minutes, and I spent the first ten talking generally and the last two I told a short version of the story. For 750 people, live, with no notes.
I held it together, I mean I really did. But as soon as I came off the stage I collapsed. I started crying. My husband came and collected me off the floor of the back hallway.
Shortly after my story there was a break in the talks and I went out into the lobby and I think I was there for an hour, receiving people who just wanted to connect with me.
The thing that struck me most was the men who came up to me and said, “Thank you so much for sharing your story. I would have had no idea why a woman would need to have an abortion after 20 weeks a pregnancy and it makes complete sense.” I also had a woman tell me that her friend had gone through something very similar but then had decided to not terminate and all of the pain that she went through making that decision.
All of it was a lot for me to handle.
After the show we went out to a big fancy dinner to celebrate with all the other TEDx readers, and I excused myself to the bathroom and cried in the stall, texting my husband and saying “I’ve got to leave. I need to lay down.”
I think I laid down for 24 hours. I just was so… raw . I was still grieving. It had been less than three months. The timing of things was crazy, because that talk was ten days before the “Bun In The Oven” show, where I told the whole story.
I’m glad that I had the TEDx experience first. I feel like my reading of the “Bun In The Oven story” is the performance of which I’m most proud in my life. I felt so connected to what I was saying. I know this sounds weird, but I was able to take care of the audience. Because I was able to keep it together and no one else in the audience was. Everyone in the audience was sobbing but I was able to show them that I was okay.
Afterward, when I went out into the crowd to talk to people, I was just so embraced. No pushback, no negativity. 100 percent support. I had women who emailed me the next day, saying “I have had two miscarriages and I never told anyone. Please don’t underestimate the power and bravery and courage that it took for you to do what you’ve done.”
When I decided I wanted to tell my story I thought “this needs to go national.” A friend who had a contact there put me in touch with a wonderful editor at The Huffington Post. She was so gracious and generous and received it so well. When they published the story it was shared a kajillion times, and I started to hear from women and men all over the country and even the world. People who had gone through this experience ten or fifteen years before. They’d never heard of anyone else who’d gone through it. I was invited to a secret Facebook group for women who terminated for medical reasons, and that was such an amazing resource and continues to be such an amazing resource for me because I now have women who have gone through a late term abortion reach out to me and I’m able to invite them to this group. It’s a safe space for us to talk about things like when our totally well-meaning well-intentioned husbands won’t allow space for us to have our feelings about the abortion, or what to do when your in-laws don’t agree… you know, these kinds of things. A lot of these women were also telling their stories and that really gave me the support system I needed. Emotionally, the first year after the abortion I was a wreck. I spent hours upon hours on the bathroom floor, or in the closet, with the light off and the door closed. I was devastated by what happened. I wanted that baby so badly.
The healing that came from talking about it can’t be underestimated. I think the biggest problem with abortion for women and for the men who go through it with their partners, is that people don’t talk about it. After it happens it’s just internalized and it’s the internalization of feelings that turns into shame and it turns into guilt. And to me it is poison. It damages the body, it damages the system, it damages the soul.
So as emotional as it was, as deeply grieving as I was, the pure fact of me talking about it… it saved my life.
David: It helps so much that you’re keeping it together because you are saying, “Yes, it’s okay, and yes this is a thing that can be survived.” Your story demonstrates that inspiration radiates outwards. A Is For’s mission is destigmatization, and your story inspires others to tell their stories.
Nicole: If I need be the face for abortion I am happy to do it because, compared to others, I have privilege. I am safe and I know there are so many people that don’t have that and if my story can be an entry point for compassion and understanding, then let’s blow the door wide open.
When I was in my third pregnancy (I had a miscarriage between my abortion and the live birth that I’ve had) I was asked to be on the board of NARAL Pro Choice Texas and I was like, what can I do to help? I mean, I don’t know anything about laws, I’m not going to be lobbying, that’s just not my skill set.
I woke up in the middle of the night with the realization, “I can do a whole storytelling show about abortion.” I had produced a couple of shows on a specific social issue (immigration) here in Dallas, commissioned by the Dallas Museum of Art and had an incredible experience working with immigrants and refugees. “I want to do this show in a huge venue and I want to create a space where I can stand in the front and say, “If you have had an abortion please stand with me. If someone you love has had an abortion please stand with me.”
I feel like we have to create a safe space for women and men to say “I have had an abortion” or “My wife has had an abortion” or “… my daughter, my sister, my girlfriend, my best friend.” If that happens, then people can no longer deny the reality of it being a part of life.
Everywhere I go I look around and I think “one in three. One in three.” Everywhere I go. If it’s a restaurant, the gym… I see these old ladies getting dressed, because I go to an old lady gym, and I think “one in three,” you know?
So I wanted to feel that solidarity. Social media is great, but I’m not really able to reach out and touch these wonderful women in my secret Facebook group. I want to be able to reach out and touch these people. In a community way. We’re not alone.
We are not alone.
I want to produce the show before the election and hopefully let people know how important this issue is. A lot of people don’t know about the restrictions that have been passed. So a lot of it is education. Letting people know that Roe v. Wade was 40-plus years ago but the fight for abortion access is not over. Not at all.
One of the things about Oral Fixation that’s kind of nerdy is that we use idioms as themes. It was my husband actually who came up with the theme “Out From Under the Rug.” We love the idea of coming out of the closet. It’s been revolutionary for the gay rights movement. We wanted to come up with something like that for women. When we first brought the title up to some of my mentors, they were a little bit resistant because they thought it connected women and household chores or something. And I said, “Yeah, that’s exactly right.”
David: Last question… how did you get involved with A Is For?
Nicole: When I had that idea that woke me up out of sleep, I started looking up organizations that support advocacy for abortion specifically through “artivism.” As a former actor, I thought it would be amazing to connect with an organization founded by an actor who uses her standing in society to stand up for what she believes. When I came across the A is For website, I knew I had to connect with Martha and her team.
My cousin, a New York actress and activist named Cynthia Vance, has supported Physicians for Reproductive Health for the past few years. She asked them to reach out to A is For on my behalf. I was so touched by the warm reception I received from Heidi. She organized a meeting with Martha in June when I was in town for the Physicians for Reproductive Health fundraiser. My time with Heidi and Martha was incredibly inspiring! I felt so supported by them to continue my work. To have someone like Martha whom I have looked up to and respected for years for her devotion to her craft treat me as a peer has been invaluable for my confidence in moving this project forward.
I can’t wait to see what else we can do together!