Our 2017 Rachel Falls Compassion Award Recipient

posted October 30, 2017

Alex joined Exhale as a talkline counselor in Spring 2017, and she is currently in a post-baccalaureate student at Cal-State East Bay on her way to pursue a MPH and MD.


The Rachel Falls Compassion Award was created in 2008 to honor a very dear friend and ally of Exhale: Rachel Falls. The Hotline Director at the National Abortion Federation, Rachel passed away after a long battle with brain cancer. Rachel was a true pro-voice champion: she integrated post-abortion counseling into NAF’s services, collaborated with Exhale staff to train others in the field, and became a vocal advocate for promoting the emotional wellbeing of women who have had abortions.


The award is given once a year to a talkline counselor who best embodies the spirit and values of Rachel Falls: exuberance, strength, empathy, commitment, vision, and compassion. Only fellow talkline counselors can nominate the potential winner.  


In honor of Alex’s award, we asked her a few questions about her experience with Exhale as a volunteer. Congratulations, Alex!


What first brought you to Exhale?

I first heard about Exhale while in undergrad at UC Santa Cruz. I was in a sorority and during one of our weekly chapter meetings our service VP mentioned Exhale. I remember going home that night and googling Exhale and getting so excited over all the work they were doing that I told myself as soon as my schedule allowed me I’d apply. I think what drew me into Exhale was the enormous amount of attention they placed on their callers. Given how polarizing the environment around abortions is, it’s incredibly easy to forget that at the center of each abortion is a person. From what I read that night all of Exhale’s services were (are) based around the caller. The callers dictate what they want to share with us, what they get out of our time together, what we do with our time together and what they need. That night was the first time I’d ever thought about abortion in terms of what it meant to me, not what someone else was telling me it should mean. This safe space Exhale has created is incredibly important and special, and I was inspired to do my part in helping maintain it available for those that need it.


Tell me about your experience as a volunteer counselor. Are there particular stories or moments that stand out for you?

While I can definitely find something special about every conversation I’ve had since jumping on the talkline, I do have a couple that are very dear to me. The common thread in each of those conversations have been that I was able to witness the caller having their “aha!” moment. While it definitely doesn’t look the same for everyone, at some point in their journey all our callers achieve a shift in perspective that allows them to continue on to whatever their next step is. Sometimes this sounds like a caller regaining their composure after processing some intense emotions, other times it's a sigh of relief upon having their experience validated. My personal favorite is when the caller is able to look back at all the work they’ve put into their recovery and can recognize and acknowledge all the progress they’ve made. All these calls typically end with the caller being incredibly thankful for “what I’ve done,” but I always like to remind them that I’m not the one who did anything. I was merely there to help as a soundboard. Instead I always find myself incredibly grateful to have been able to witness and share in the moment.


Volunteering at Exhale is a really big commitment in terms of training and time—what is it about this work that has made you want to make it such a priority in your life?

At every major moment in my life or whenever I’ve felt I have had the need to reach out to someone, I’ve been fortunate enough to always have someone to turn to -- whether it be my family or friends. Time and time again they have supported me and held me up when I couldn’t. This sense of community is incredibly important to me and is something I believe everyone deserves to have and experience. By creating a safe place for individuals who have had abortions (and their loved ones) to talk and process their experiences free of judgement, political views, or “right and wrong,” Exhale is fostering a supportive community that these individuals might not have access to otherwise. For me, my work on the talkline represents this community. Through my work not only am I maintaining said community and its accessibility for them during a shift, but by being present I’m also serving as a reminder that they don’t have to go through this alone, and that they are deserving of support. Ultimately, being able to hold that space and fulfill that role for an individual during a call is super special and important work for me. Our callers are also incredibly inspirational! So being on the line,talking to them, and being able to note their own individual progress just within our isolated conversation alone keeps me going.


How have you grown as a result of your experience as an Exhale volunteer? What have you learned?

I’ve learned so much since becoming a volunteer for Exhale. From becoming aware of all the personal biases I hold and how they frame my perspective or how other individuals’ biases affect their perspective, to proper communication skills and being okay with not always looking for an answer to everything. Especially during shifts on the talkline, I find myself continually checking in with myself. I make sure to leave as much of my personal biases as I can out of my conversations with our callers, or recognize when they affect my perspective on the conversation at hand. In terms of my communication skills, aside from making sure that I’m actually being an engaged and active listener, I’ve learned to give myself an extra second to compose my thoughts and words to make sure that I’m getting my point across in the most relatable fashion. Validation has also become integral to my life, both in terms of someone’s emotions and in verifying that what I’ve said or heard is correct. Most importantly when it comes to these conversations regarding heavy emotions I’ve learned that it’s okay to not always have an answer, or that an answer isn’t even always necessary. Instead I end up challenging both our callers and myself to hold the space for whatever emotions they’re feeling and sitting with those emotions as they’re processing everything. Finally, as a result of being a volunteer with Exhale I’ve slowly been gaining more and more courage within myself to have these difficulty/heavy conversations within my own personal life. Initially I didn’t talk about the work I did with Exhale with individuals close to me for fear of how they’d take it. But as I spend more and more time on the line I find myself wanting to share the incredible work Exhale is doing and holding that uncomfortable space with them and challenging the stereotypical ideals that surround abortions and those individuals that have them.


What do you want to share with people who have had abortions, and their loved ones?

If you’ve had an abortion and you’re having trouble coming to terms with everything, remember that your abortion experience does not define who you are as a person. The opposite is also true. If you’ve had an abortion and feel completely fine that does not make you any less of a person compared to someone who’s having a different experience than you are. No two abortion experiences are the same. There’s so much you’re processing and so many emotions coming your way. Whatever that looks like for you is completely valid.


To their loved ones, being present goes a long way. Being present can also look like a million different things. Ask what it looks like for them and do your best. Most importantly, take care of yourself. You deserve just as much support as they do.



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Exhale is a 501(c)3 organization (EIN/tax ID: 94-3393719)