There are several assumptions in your letter that I want to ask you to question—that you should feel a certain way about the abortion, that not feeling that way might make you “a bad person,” that your girlfriend has deeper feelings about the abortion and its aftermath than you do, and that the experience of going through an abortion “should leave a scar.”
First, let me assure you that there’s no right or wrong way to feel—not just about the abortion, but about anything. Too often we judge our feelings: I’m “a bad person” if I’m … envious of my best friend; glad that my neglectful father is dying; sad that my sister fell in love because I never see her anymore; relieved that my girlfriend and I chose abortion even though I think she found the ordeal far more upsetting than I did. But not only do these feelings make us human—we also can’t control them. They’ll be there whether we like them or not. We can pretend they don’t exist, of course, but it’s nearly impossible to keep them sealed up forever. Inevitably they escape, because they’re always lying in wait, searching for air.
This is great news, though, because once our feelings make themselves known, they become extremely useful. Our feelings are like a compass: Follow them, and they’ll point you to something important. If a patient is envious but wishes he weren’t, I might say, “Follow your envy; it’s telling you what you want.” If a patient says, “I hate waking up in the middle of the night filled with dread,” I might reply, “What do you think your anxiety is trying to tell you?”
You say that you and your girlfriend were “overwhelmed by a sea of emotions” at the time of the abortion. It might be helpful to better understand what yours were and might still be. Maybe you didn’t feel gutted by the abortion, but perhaps you felt anxiety about whether your girlfriend was also going to want to end the pregnancy, relief that she did, guilt at feeling such relief, then sadness over the breakup, and all of this followed by a sense of numbness—which isn’t the same as nothingness. Sometimes people mistake numbness for the absence of feelings but it’s actually a response to being overwhelmed by too many feelings.
You and your girlfriend wouldn’t be alone in not talking about this sea of emotions around the abortion. There are certain types of losses that tend to be “silent” because they’re less palpable to those not involved, and therefore people think that their feelings don’t matter, or shouldn’t be too intense or last very long. You’ve had an abortion, but you didn’t lose a child you’ve held in your arms; you’ve had a breakup and not a divorce—well, you didn’t lose a spouse you’d committed your life to. Most people don’t know how to talk about these silent losses—or even want to. I imagine that you two didn’t quite know how to manage your own feelings, much less the other person’s. How much easier it was to get rid of the relationship than to bring each other’s feelings to light.