Stories about abortions lack a calm voice that lets women know that everything is going to be okay. That's why Leah Hayes wrote "Not Funny Ha-Ha," a non-fiction graphic novel that takes the unnecessary mystery and fear out of a procedure that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly three out of every 10 women experience in their lifetimes. MTV News spoke with Hayes about her book, her process and why we need to keep abortion conversations judgement-free.
MTV: So, first off, if you had to explain “Not Funny Ha-Ha” to a random teen girl off the street, how would you go about that?
Leah Hayes: It's a graphic novel that follows the steps of two different women through their experiences of having an abortion (one medical and one surgical, respectively). The book begins at the point where they have already chosen to have an abortion, and ends after the procedures. It attempts to show (in a non-judgmental way) some of the physical, technical, and emotional things a woman might experience during this time.
MTV: What inspired you to write it?
Hayes: Like many people, I have lots of feelings, questions, and thoughts about abortion...and I use writing and drawing as a way to process things. I'm actually not sure what made me decide to write about it at this moment in my life (but I am trying to figure that out, too). I do know that when I began, I had the feeling that I wanted to offer my "voice" (illustrations) to the conversation about abortion, even if I don't have any definitive answers. For me it's about continuing a dialogue about the subject, no matter what the medium.
MTV: How were you able to translate a kind of sterile, difficult experience into comic form? And how do you keep it from becoming too whimsical or fluffy?
Hayes: I tried to keep a comforting/warm/open tone with both the drawings and words, without trivializing it. Abortion is not a humorous subject. My intention wasn't meant to lighten it in any way. Even though it might be an unusual format: I've always gravitated towards comics that tackle hard subjects. There are so many wonderful graphic novels out there that I've learned from in my life. It can be an incredibly moving way of conveying information. In my case, I wanted to offer a feeling of connection without lessening the seriousness, if I could. For me that was one of the most important goals of writing this.
MTV: How do you hope women considering having an abortion will receive your book?
Hayes: If anyone reads this either before, during, or after having an abortion... I hope it offers some sense that they're not alone in feeling a whole lot of (sometimes confusing) feelings about it. I can't say what people might do with this book...but the idea that it might make someone feel better or inspire them to write/draw/talk about tough subjects makes it very worth it for me.
MTV: Conversations about abortion can get turned into soap-boxing from either side really fast, but it really seems like you’ve avoided that at every turn. How did you do it?
Hayes: I totally understand people getting upset about the different facets of abortion. It's a polarizing subject! When I started writing the book, I thought that I had all of my feelings about it in place in my mind, too...but now I feel even more in awe of how vast it is. I learned a lot about my own feelings during the writing process. And again, my intention wasn't to define what is "right or wrong," it was more of my illustrated interpretation of this big thing that women go through everyday, all around us.
MTV: What did you try and keep in mind in the process? What do we need more of in these conversations?
Hayes: I guess that's one of the things that I tried to keep in mind. My feeling was: If you've decided to have an abortion, then you've already gone through your own personal process of decision-making to get there. It's really none of my business how or why you got there, and many things surrounding the actual procedure are stressful enough as it is...! So you don't need me making you feel bad about your decision at any point.
MTV: What (if any) are some common tropes in abortion conversations, coverage, stories that need to just go away?
Hayes: Oof. There are indeed things that bother me about how people talk about abortion...but then again...there are good and bad things about having an open dialogue, right?
MTV: Were there any stand-out scenes or panels that were particularly difficult to draw/write or had more of an impact on you? What was it like putting those thoughts/moments to paper?
Hayes: There were many scenes and panels that were difficult to draw, emotionally. I'd say almost every one, in some ways. It was upsetting to draw the women experiencing physical pain, for one thing. It was heavy. When I needed to get out of my home studio, I would work on the pages in libraries (and coffeeshops...). Sometimes I'd be crying a little while drawing. That must have been a strange sight: I probably seemed like a weirdo. And it was of course hard to draw/depict all of the emotional consequences, too. I felt a big responsibility to represent a lot of different aspects of both of those things. It was intense for me.
MTV: What was your process like? Did you have to step away from other people to write it, talk to some women who had different procedures, avoid certain corners of the internet while working?
Hayes: Writing this was intensely personal for me for a lot of reasons. And yes, I did have to separate myself at times (even while at the coffee shops and libraries!) One amazing thing that happened when I started writing this book was a huge feeling of connectedness that I suddenly felt with various girls, women, and men when they found out what the book was about. There was a lot of: "Oh you're writing about that? Let me tell you what I went through!" And then we would talk for a long time, and I got to hear all of these interesting, brave stories. This happened to me again and again and I was very moved that people felt comfortable opening up about such a personal thing.
MTV: Where can our readers get a copy of your book?
Hayes: You can get it here.
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