Lisa Ling Helps Women Share Compassion Through Secrets

Intrepid reporter Lisa Ling made a name telling harrowing stories around the globe from bride burning in India to child trafficking in Ghana. But when personal tragedy struck, she was not sure how to share her own story. So, Ling helped create a new online community called the Secret Society of Women, to help with the healing. Host Martin Martin speaks to her about the web site and its mission.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, two faith leaders share some words of wisdom about getting through the holiday season, even during tough times. That's "Faith Matters," in just a few minutes.

But first, a conversation about how one woman was moved by her own heartache to create a safe, online space for women.

Lisa Ling is a journalist and an author, and she has something of a reputation for taking on difficult topics. She was one of the co-hosts of ABC's daytime show "The View." She served as a correspondent for CNN and for the "Oprah Winfrey Show," and she's produced hard-hitting reports on everything from domestic violence to child trafficking to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

She also took a very prominent role in helping to secure the release of her sister, Laura, also a journalist, when she was detained by North Korea. But when Lisa Ling encountered a very personal tragedy, she was reluctant to share her own story with those closest to her.

Ling suffered a miscarriage earlier this year, and she was surprised that she was actually most comfortable finding support on the Web. That experience inspired her to help create the Secret Society of Women. That's a website where women can share their most intimate experiences and problems.

And Lisa Ling joins us now to talk about it.

Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. LISA LING (Journalist): Thank you for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: And Lisa, I do have to say, I'm so sorry for your loss.

Ms. LING: Thank you.

MARTIN: And sadly, it's an experience that I share. And so I wanted to ask: Why do you think it is that even in this confessional age, where it seems as though we talk about everything, that this is something you didn't want to talk about?

Ms. LING: Well, I really believe that women, when they go through something like this, they feel like it's their fault. And for me, I felt like a failure. I fancy myself as being a fairly competent person. And when I got the news, when my OB said there's no heartbeat, I instantly felt like, what did I do?

And I'm not someone who likes to share a lot of personal stuff with too many friends. So the first thing I did was, I jumped online to just read through anything I could. And I was seeking comfort in other women's stories - and I couldn't get enough. And I realized that there is just so much that women hold inside of them, that they don't feel comfortable sharing with their close friends.

MARTIN: I should mention that you are partnered in the site with a friend named Sophia Kim. She's a digital media executive. What do you think makes this particular site different?

Ms. LING: Well, users can come to this site and anonymously post their deepest thoughts and secrets about anything from miscarriage or anything pregnancy-related to marriage or sex or work issues. And when you go to this site, you'll see that women are just letting go, and they are writing really lengthy and deeply personal stories.

And I know that for me, I've been going to this site multiple times a day. And I'm shocked; I'm moved; I'm troubled; I'm inspired by so many of the things that I've read. And a lot of these women have felt alone for a very long time. And what they've found is generally, many women have harbored similar thoughts and feelings.

And so it has been - become this remarkable community, and the response has been quite overwhelming.

MARTIN: Let me just go to the site, and I'll just read a couple of passages that we pulled from the site.

This was one of the pieces we pulled. It was signed Secret Wishes. And it says: I'm overweight; technically obese, 5-foot-3 and 180 pounds. But I just love my body. I love my flaws. I love my stretch marks. I love my rolls. I love that I have the palest skin ever. I love that my thighs jiggle when I dance, because I have a healthy body that can dance, and I love that my husband loves my body. But every day, it's thrown in my face that I've gained too much weight. And sometimes when I'm being told how fat, unhealthy, ugly, not good enough I am, I start to believe it. I cry and I hurt, and these people don't even know it. These people are my own parents and friends and classmates, and it hurts. I am a beautiful, strong woman. End of story.

Ms. LING: Wow. God, that made me emotional.

MARTIN: Yeah. It's...

Ms. LING: Yeah. And I don't know if the - if you've seen if people have commented since she posted it, unless she posted really recently, but the comments that people are making in support of one another have been - or, you know, there's - some fierce debates have ensued. And we ask that people remain civil. There have been a couple who have not adhered to those rules. But overwhelmingly, users have been so incredibly supportive. And that's something that surprised me, but I was just so proud of.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're speaking with journalist and author Lisa Ling, a name you probably know from "Oprah," the ABC program "The View" or from CNN. And we're talking about the new website that she co-founded. It's called the Secret Society of Women.

What - if you don't mind my asking - has been the most moving, poignant, piercing thing that you have read on the site?

Ms. LING: You know, Michel, there isn't one thing. I mean, all the stories about miscarriage, just because it was so personal for me, have been moving. There are a lot of threads about women who are feeling dissatisfied in their marriages, women who are feeling just very insecure about their bodies. I mean, a lot of these posts are so heartfelt. And it's obvious that these women have been carrying it inside of them.

I've been surprised that I've seen quite a number of posts by women who say: I never comment on anything. I never blog. I never write, but I felt compelled because I went through a miscarriage, or I went through a divorce, or something that someone posted struck a chord with them that propelled them to get something off of their chest.

MARTIN: You know, some people argue that women already do a lot of sharing. What they really need to do more of is kind of making institutions actually work for them.

Ms. LING: Right.

MARTIN: And I just wanted to ask your thoughts about that.

Ms. LING: Yeah. I would like to see this. But the reason why we wanted to create Secret Society of Women is because a lot of women just aren't ready yet. And I think that's OK, too.

Women - people have a process, and if it's something that they've been holding deep down inside of them, it's hard to expect anyone to want to go public and talk about it in a very public forum. But perhaps because they've been able to see just how many women are going through this, people will be more compelled to bring this out into a more public dialogue.

But for now, what we wanted to do - just because miscarriage isn't the only thing that women are holding inside - is provide a place where women can anonymously go just to find community. And if they do feel, at a later point, compelled to organize and come together and speak out publicly, then more power to them, I think.

MARTIN: And one of the things I noticed about the site that I found really, very moving is that there wasn't a lot of this - what I would call competitive suffering. Not to go too deep into it, but one of the things I found when I went through this is that there are people who wanted to compete with you, and tell you how much worse it was for them. And I found that really shocking, you know.

You'd say, well, I lost the baby at 13 weeks. And then people want to say, well, it was worse for me because it was at X weeks, and you'd be like, excuse me?

Ms. LING: Yeah.

MARTIN: You know? And I just - I don't know. I found it very moving that people have not seemed to be engaged in that.

Ms. LING: It's true. I haven't seen a lot of that on our site.

MARTIN: How are you doing, by the way, if you don't mind my asking?

Ms. LING: I am doing well. I - this has - this process has helped me enormously, and my husband and I going to start trying again soon. I also was lucky enough to marry a man for whom adoption is OK. So if, for some reason, we are unsuccessful, he and I are both really open to the idea of adoption. There are so many kids in this world, and in this country, that need homes. And so we're perfectly content to look into adoption one day, if for some reason we aren't able to have a biological child.

MARTIN: You are a public figure. I am wondering how it has been for you to be public about this very personal issue.

Ms. LING: Oh, it's very, very awkward to talk about something so personal. But I'm really proud of the site that Sophia and I have created. And it's really been cathartic for me because while I'm public about miscarriage, there are a lot of other things about which I am not public. And so to have found this community of people, who are sharing and commenting and celebrating, has been really, really helpful for me.

MARTIN: Journalist and author Lisa Ling is the co-founder of the new Web community the Secret Society of Women. In February, she'll begin hosting "Our America," a new show on the Oprah Winfrey Network. And she was kind enough to join us from her home in Los Angeles.

Lisa Ling, thank you so much for speaking with us. Happy holidays to you.

Ms. LING: It's been such a pleasure, Michel. Thank you. Hope to do it again soon.

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