'I Started Sobbing and Went Into Hysterics'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

This is perhaps the most bleak and vivid account of an abortion we’ve received so far. The reader’s procedure resulted in immense pain, emotional trauma, her eventual divorce, and even animosity toward the ethnicity of the doctor who performed the abortion:

I was 20, in college and engaged to my future ex-husband. He would always insist on sex, even if I wasn’t feeling up to it. I honestly think he didn’t realize that was an issue and that’s “just what you do” in a relationship. I was drinking quite heavily, as it was summer. I was on birth control pills. I saw the gyno for a routine and told her that my period had been rather light. She made a smart-ass remark about that’s what happens why you take the pill.

So I took a test. Initially it looked neg, but 10 minutes later it showed a faint positive line. I did not believe it. A few weeks later after chugging chocolate milk like it was going out of style, I took another one.


I’ve always been very pro-choice. So to me the decision seemed a no-brainer. I’d graduate college in May and no hospital was going to hire a pregnant nurse. I would be kicked off my rents insurance as soon as I graduated and would not have been able to get my own before the baby would have been born.

The fiancé agreed, though his reasoning seemed odd to me. He claimed his mother would never accept a kid born out of wedlock … even though he himself was born out of wedlock to a teenager mother. He first tried to tell me just to take black cohosh [a plant supplement used for menstrual irregularities and to induce labor]. I, and not for the first or last time, called him a fucking idiot.

I had a credit card, so I knew I'd be able to pay for the abortion. He never offered. I just had to try to find a clinic. We only had an ancient computer at my house and due to the conservative area I lived in, I was not comfortable looking up the info on my school’s computer. (This was in 2001—one week before *that* week in September.)

The “abortion pill” had just become available, but not in my state. I found a clinic that was 50 miles away and the fiancé said he would drive me. They told me I had to have a counseling phone call. I remember it was on a shitty landline with subpar connection as I fought my siblings off the phone every time it rang that day.

The we drove up. Protesters everywhere. Saying all sorts of vile shit. The only upside was that it made it easier to find the clinic.

What I didn’t realize, was that despite the fact that people getting D&Cs in a hospital were sedated or given an anesthetic, that would not be my fate. I was never offered anything to relax. They told me to take 800 mg of ibuprofen. I did.

The doctor who did my abortion was not kind.

I told them, as a head’s up, that I often had trouble with speculums and found them painful. He was very rough as he did an internal. He told them he needed an eight-week kit. He was even more rough with the speculum. I start crying. He said, “Do you want me to stop. You need to stop crying; it’s shaking your abdomen.” I nodded no, I didn’t want him to stop. The nurse next to me held my hand.

He injected the lidocaine into my cervix so I wouldn’t feel it as they dilated it. But I felt every, single, scrape. I could hear everything. The scrapping, the vacuuming.

Then I was hit with horrible cramping. The nurses helped to a wheelchair afterwards and they make me eat a cookie and drink punch. There were several of us talking and comforting each other in the recovery area. That was a huge comfort.

I hadn’t eaten that morning because of nerves, so the fiancé and I stopped at an Arby’s drive thru. I promptly vomited a half hour later and have never ate their regular fries since.

I didn’t realize until the next day, but in an effort to prevent crying, I had clenched my muscles so hard that I pulled several leg muscles, and muscles in my sides, my buttocks, and arm.

A few weeks later I was watching South Park with some friends and it was the stem-cells episode. There was a vacuum cleaner sound. I started sobbing and went into hysterics.

I would routinely become moody around the same time each year. I couldn’t stand to be near a doctor of the ethnicity that performed my abortion for years. I later found out that other clinics offered Valium and Xanax prior to a procedure and felt cheated.

Later, the husband’s sisters would both have children out of wedlock. His mother loved and accepted them. I felt like I had been slapped in the face. When I mentioned that her son had said she’d never accept a baby born out of wedlock she said, “Why the hell would he think that? I swear, the ideas that boy gets in his head sometimes.”

When I tried to talk to him about this, he told me that to him the abortion had never really happened. Slap two. That cemented my decision to divorce him.

I still don’t have children. My siblings have children, and I’m an amazing aunt. I’m glad I’m able to be there for them.  

I do not regret the abortion, but I very much regret not finding out more about the procedure and the different options clinics offered before having one. If I could do it again, I would have opted to get some form of analgesic/relaxant besides fucking lidocaine (which honestly didn’t work). Having an abortion without anesthetic was the single most physically painful experience of my life—and I do not say that lightly.  

I’m still very pro-choice, even more so now. I feel that if you and your partner want to bring life into this world, then you should. If you don’t, then you don't. Because your choices are not my burden and not my business.