Leah Kelley

The Truth Is, I Still Grieve My Abortion (But I Don’t Regret It)

“Just hold tight, this is only going to hurt for a few seconds.”

That’s what my doctor told me as she stuck a long, cold cylinder inside of me.

“Alright, we just need to locate the embryo,” she said as I sat in what felt like perpetual silence.

“Ah, there it is. See that flashing light right there? That’s the heartbeat.”

I looked up at the screen and felt my heartbeat pick up, almost as if to match my child’s 94 bpm. At that moment, I knew I’d never love someone more. I looked over at Carter seated in a chair against the wall, and tears slowly rolled down my face. We both knew.

Almost everything else from that appointment is a blur. In fact, many intricate details from that time in my life are. I suppose that’s expected with time. But still, there are also many moments from my pregnancy, like the first time I saw my child’s heartbeat and the day I tested positive, that feel so close and as vivid as yesterday.

There are a few moments like that from my childhood, too. I remember once as my mother was reading Beauty and the Beast to me before bed, I told her that I wanted to marry her when I grew up. It was weird but cute —at that age, I figured if you loved someone you should marry them. My mother laughed and told me one day I’d find my own Prince Charming that wasn’t her and live just as happily as Belle does. It was a cliche affirmation, but my seven-year-old self cherished it.

I met Carter when I was 20, and we fell in love quickly. There were others before him, but none compared in depth to what I felt for him. He gave everything clarity, and I felt myself instantly surrendering to his sweet nature. Quickly after he became a part of my life, our love took its deepest manifestation—a child.

“Do you have an idea of what you’d like to do?” That was one of the few things my doctor said that I processed after confirming my pregnancy. I stared at the floor as it swirled and replied faintly with “I don’t think I can keep it.”

I navigated so many feelings of disjunction following that appointment. Anxiety from harboring a stigma as I walked around my college campus quickly turned into nonchalance during conversations about exams, parties, and weekend plans. My usual productivity was decimated by nausea, fatigue, and severe tater tot cravings as my body adjusted to providing for two. Caring for someone had taken on a whole new meaning and I could barely fathom that someone was depending on me for survival. Strangest — and most painful — of all was knowing I’d be intentionally ending a life that I created.

The stress from my pregnancy and the need to hide it left me isolated, empty, and dissociating. But the day of my ultrasound amplified everything I already felt. It only took one look at my child’s heartbeat to know that I loved that little embryo unconditionally. This wasn’t a Beauty and the Beast fairy tale kind of love—it was better. As I looked at Carter with teary eyes, we both knew letting go would be the hardest decision, but the right one.

The medical abortion was a physically excruciating process. It took about three weeks for the fetus to completely leave my body. At eight weeks and six days, it had almost tripled in size since I’d seen its heartbeat, with limbs and eyes already growing. Holding the lifeless fetus in my hand, I don’t think I’ve ever cried harder. 

A month later I found myself studying abroad and suppressing everything. When I returned to campus, my last memories from there invited the emptiness and isolation back in. Months of guilt and grief would turn into years. The disjunction I felt with everything and everyone permeated every aspect of my life.

Carter and I didn’t know it then, but the abortion was the end of our relationship. We both struggled to heal from the trauma and I felt myself slowly losing something else I loved. In the coming years, I turned cold. I questioned whether or not love was just a social construct that people invented to make themselves feel less lonely. Nothing ever compared to the sense of purpose and responsibility I felt as a mother, even if it was for eight weeks and six days. It felt like nothing could fill the void in my heart that I carried with me every day.

Almost seven years have passed and each day really does get a little easier. The pain has matured into grief but also strength. Today I find myself with someone who has brought a new kind of love to me, and in doing so inspires me to keep moving forward. But grief is a little bitch… it’s that stone in your pocket whose weight becomes such a part of you with time that you almost forget about it. But every now and then, you’ll take a few steps and it’ll move around, reminding you that it’s still there and will never fully go away.

I don’t regret my decision. It was the hardest one I ever had to make, but it was the right one for me. I look back and there’s nothing really from that experience I would change. Except maybe one thing. If I could, I’d go back to that ultrasound appointment, and as I’m sitting in the exam room I’d ask my doctor to correct “a few seconds” to “a few years.”