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[SWP: Behind the Book] Why I'm Telling Secrets
Written by
Colleen Haggerty
October 2014
Written by
Colleen Haggerty
October 2014

​I grew up as the peace-keeper middle child, wanting everyone to get along. I don’t like to ruffle feathers or stir the pot. And if conflict does happen, I’m the one who plays mediator, ensuring everyone’s viewpoint is heard. 

This all comes from my desire to be liked. I really want people to like me.  And yet I also have an intense need to be authentic, which creates inner tension for me. If people really knew the Real Me would I still be liked? Admired? Respected? For years I thought the answer was No, so I kept secrets about parts of myself.

So why did I decide to reveal two of my biggest secrets in my memoir, A Leg to Stand On? Perhaps being a contributor to the anthology Dancing at the Shame Prom (Seal Press, 2012) made me think twice—three times—about the shame I tenaciously held onto about these two events. Perhaps I realized that I want people to like the real me, not just the shiny veneer of a Survivor that I projected for so long.

When I took my mom to Milwaukee a month ago to see some of her high school friends, they were all fired up about my book. “Tell us when it’s out. We want to read it,” they said enthusiastically. Through a forced smile I said, “I will.” All the while I’m thinking, What the hell do I do? These pious Catholic ladies don’t want to read about my two abortions. How do I break it to them? I decided I’d tell them about that part of the book’s content in an e-mail. I just couldn’t do it face-to-face. 

I was talking to a mom from my kids’ high school the other day and she asked what I do for a living. After I explained that I’m publishing my book this fall, she said, “That’s great. Let me know when it’s out, I’d love to read it.” I know this woman is a fairly fundamentalist Christian and I thought to myself, No you wouldn’t. But I smiled that forced smile again, and said okay. 

These people, though not in my inner circle, seem to like me. And I like that they like me. That makes me feel good. And I assume that if they know about my abortions, they won’t like me anymore.

If bringing my secrets out of the closet could potentially make me lose people’s respect, then why do it? 

I could write an expose about the merits of bringing light on the issue of abortion. How 43% of women will have an abortion by the time they are forty-five years old. How abortion has become so politicized that women, especially poor women are at risk of losing this fundamental right to self-determination. How the literature about abortion itself is so polarized that it’s hard to find anything written from the raw, truthful, agonizing perspective that many of us face when making this decision.

But the truth of the matter is this: Secrets are toxic. I didn’t write about my abortions so I could emotionally throw up on my reader. I wrote about the abortions because they were a part of my journey into motherhood, which is what my book is about. Making my abortions public isn’t just an antidote to the toxicity I’ve carried for over twenty-five years. I believe that reading about them will prove to be an antidote for the women who have kept their abortion a secret and have lived with guilt and regret.

I may lose the respect of some people and some people may not like me once they know that I had two abortions. But I made a vow to myself when I turned fifty four years ago that this would be the decade of the F*#k You Fifties. I was shocked when I first heard the term, too, but after I thought about it, “F*#k You Fifties” gave me the freedom to say F*#k You to the intense need to be liked. F*#k You to secrets. F*#k You to shame and worry and playing small. So I’m saying F*#k You to the fear of sharing my authentic self and I’m telling my damn story!

There is a deeper truth to the story of my abortions, a deeper truth to any memoir. And that is that we are all struggling to be good people in light of and in spite of the challenges we face in life. There is magic in the telling and there is magic in the reading. And that magic is transformation. 

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  • Susan Brandt

    I relate to both your need to be liked and create peace and the desire to be real and authentic.  I am still struggling with how (and why) to write my memoir. One major issue is the tension between the "everything is great" facade I maintain and the "boy, am I screwing things up" feeling I usually have. 

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    Colleen email me at [email protected] and I will make it happen. is amazing, and you should definitely be a part of it.

  • Lisa Thomson

    Hi Colleen, what an amazing post. Your message is important and yes, why not share our truths? Who cares if people don't 'like' us? Being judged is scary but it's scarier to hide part of our own heart and soul. Good luck with the book launch!

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    Love this so much, Colleen. F-it to the shame, the pain, and the fear. And hurray to you for making this happen. So so happy for you, and I will personally say I'm so pleased that all those secrets made it into your published book. This is great modeling for other memoirists. Congratulations!

  • Colleen Haggerty

    Thanks for the supportive comments, gals!  I really appreciate them.

    Kamy, I'd love for you to connect me with Sherry and Beth.  I checked out their website and I'm impressed.  It's time to break the silence around this issue! 

  • J. Dylan Yates

    Thank you so much for this work, Colleen. I can't wait to read your book.

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    I love this so much Colleen. I'm honored that you are publishing with us. (And I love your cover, you should share it!) Do you know about I am friends with the founders, Sherry Merfish and her daughter Beth. They were just featured in Good magazine. Let me know if you want me to put you in touch--they should know about your book, and might also connect you to a community of women who need your voice to help them find their own.