My Son Didn't Suffer During My Abortion — He Would've Suffered If I'd Had Him

by Colleen Johnson
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and Mariakray/Getty

When a coworker who didn’t know I wasn’t pregnant anymore tried to compliment me by telling me I looked good for six months pregnant.

When a friend ran into my husband outside the supermarket and asked how I was feeling and he had to be the one to tell her.

When my daughter came home from school and told me that her class was learning about siblings and she told them that she has a dead brother named Patrick.

These moments in time are as heartbreaking as they are meaningful. I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me every time they happen, but they also give me the chance to talk about my son who’s not on earth, but very much “here.”

Patrick was my third pregnancy: A healthy pregnancy for my first-born, a miscarriage at 10 weeks for my second, and then Patrick, a blissfully uneventful pregnancy until the moment it wasn’t at 19+ weeks. Every August, I get Timehop memories from the beach trip we took that year when my OB called to tell me all of my blood tests and screens came back normal. And then each year between that day and September 11, I feel like everything moves slowly toward an anniversary no one wants to celebrate: our beach trip, our Labor Day party, a trip to the Thomas the Tank Engine Park. He was with us for all of that, and then suddenly our lives changed unimaginably.

September 11, 2017 was a cool morning in Connecticut and I had gotten to work early. I was working on a press release when my phone rang from my OB’s office. When I picked up expecting to hear one of the nurses providing me the results of my standard neural tube defect screening, I was surprised to hear my doctor’s voice instead.

“Routine tests came back on Friday…cause for concern…didn’t want you to worry over the weekend…can you and your husband come in today?”


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I called my husband and he rushed to the hospital for the appointment. The ultrasound technician was exceptionally quiet and tight-lipped. The doctor came in and explained why: a hole in our son’s spine that never closed; a bundle of nerves that were exposed; fluid in his lemon-shaped head was putting pressure on his brain.

If the diagnosis was heartbreaking, the prognosis was worse. His quality of life, if he made it through the pregnancy, would have little quality to it. I had always been pro-choice, but I never thought that would be a choice we’d have to make. But how could we bring this baby boy into a world wholly unequipped to care for him physically and mentally, with his life so dependent on machines and medicine, shunts and surgeries? Moreover, my mind flashed to our two-year-old daughter: How could we upend her life like this? It would never the be the same, and to a large extent, it would never be her own.

My husband and I went across the street to collect our thoughts and calm down before we went home. Driving home I replayed every moment, every second of this pregnancy in my mind. I had been on folic acid for over a year. I was exercising. I was eating right. I wanted him, as if that had anything to do with why this happened. I desperately wanted to rewind the clock to earlier that morning before the doctor called and changed our lives forever.

The next four days were a blur- telling family members and close friends our decision; asking my coworker to send an email to the office to let them know I “lost” the baby and feeling so embarrassed; finding a painter to quickly come in and repaint Patrick’s deep navy blue room into a nondescript gray. On September 15, I walked into the hospital pregnant, and walked out a few hours later … not.

Our daughter was too young to truly remember that I had been pregnant without us reminding her. And so we do. For a long time, I pretended what happened didn’t actually happen, and I became depressed, angry, and resentful. The more I talk about Patrick – in long drawn out conversations with the people I trust the most, or in fleeting moments as things happen that remind me of him – the more I feel his proximity to us and his rightful place in our family.

So even when the subject of Patrick comes up unexpectedly and I’m momentarily knocked unsteady, I’ve come to realize there’s a beauty in it, too. It allows me the chance to talk about and remember him, and for others to do the same. Those conversations are not always easy, and sometimes they can be a little uncomfortable (What I left out about what happened with my daughter in school is that she also told her class that Patrick was buried in our backyard next to where we keep our spare key in a fake rock, which is decidedly not the case…) But they are always worth it. I don’t want to pretend that this- our son, Patrick – didn’t happen. She knows she’s growing up with her little brother watching over her from heaven, and it helps to know he’s watching over me, too.

*The views and opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s solely and do not necessarily represent the official policy or position of the author’s employer

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