It seems like every woman and her sister is using birth control today.
You probably know plenty of ladies who are taking the traditional birth control pill (you yourself might be taking it!), and you may even know someone who uses the IUD as their chosen contraception. Or perhaps you’ve heard the term IUD thrown around a few times, but you’re just not quite sure what it is.
What’s an IUD?
The IUD is an intrauterine device that’s inserted by an Ob/Gyn into your uterus in order to prevent pregnancy. The device stays put in the uterus for up to a few years, depending on which IUD you get, but you can take it out whenever you want if you choose to have children or if you simply don’t want to use birth control anymore.
The IUD is an intrauterine device that’s inserted by an Ob/Gyn into your uterus to prevent pregnancy.
There are two main types of IUDs — the hormonal IUD and the copper IUD. The most popular hormonal IUD is the Mirena, but there are many other similar ones that fall into this category. There’s no estrogen whatsoever (which often makes it more desirable than the pill) and low levels of progestin. The copper IUD, on the other hand, is entirely hormone-free, which makes it especially suitable for women who have had issues with hormonal birth control in the past. Instead of using hormones, the copper attacks the sperm and prevents it from fertilizing the egg.
Why I Chose an IUD
Nearly 10 years ago, I decided to get the copper IUD. I had gone a couple of years without using any birth control at all because I had survived a pulmonary embolism when I was 20 years old. As a result, hormonal birth control posed a danger to my body, because once you experience a pulmonary embolism, you live the rest of your life with a much higher likelihood of contracting another one. I had narrowly survived the first time, and I was in no position to risk another blood clot incident, as it could very likely result in death this time.
So my Ob/Gyn at the time recommended I get an IUD. I was in a relationship that was getting more serious by the minute, but the last thing I wanted was to accidentally get pregnant as neither of us was prepared to have children. So my doctor laid out the pros and cons of both IUDs and left the choice up to me.
The copper IUD posed zero risk for blood clots but reportedly gave women heavier, more painful periods.
The Mirena IUD boasted lighter, much more manageable periods. In fact, many women reported that their periods had all but disappeared. But there was always that slight risk of contracting another pulmonary embolism, even with the smallest trace of hormones in the Mirena. The copper IUD, on the other hand, posed zero risk for blood clots, but this IUD reportedly gave women heavier, more painful periods. While this wasn’t an absolute guarantee, it was a very common side effect.
The Insertion Procedure Was Painful
I decided to avoid the risks that came with the Mirena IUD, so I chose the copper IUD. The insertion process alone was harrowing enough. After spending a little too much time scrolling through Google and freaking myself out, I learned that before the doctor inserts the IUD in your uterus, they have to “sound the uterus,” which means they have to measure the uterus in order to measure the length and direction of the cervix and uterus.
Believe me when I tell you, the uterus sound was far from pleasant. It was painful, invasive, and wildly uncomfortable.
“Relax, relax, honey,” the nurse said to me as I clenched my whole body. No amount of soothing could ease the discomfort, though.
The uterus sound was far from pleasant. It was painful, invasive, and wildly uncomfortable.
The uterus sound was over quickly, thankfully, but I still had to endure the placement of the IUD. I was fortunate enough to have an Ob/Gyn who was kind, gentle, and well aware of my fear. He explained every step of the insertion so I knew what was coming. He finally announced that he was placing the IUD in my uterus, and with clenched teeth and a short outcry, it was done.
The whole process didn’t take very long, but I had painful cramps and light bleeding for the next 48 hours. I was told that after the first few days, my body would get used to the IUD and things would settle down. This was true — until my next period arrived.
The Side Effects Were Unbearable
All the side effects that I read about online were coming true. The cramps were mind-numbingly painful. I couldn’t even sit through a full class at graduate school without wanting to lie down in the fetal position and take an obscene amount of ibuprofen. And this was before my period even arrived.
When my period finally did arrive, I experienced such heavy bleeding that I ruined a pair (or two) of underwear. I found myself running to the bathroom every hour in case I needed to change my menstrual cup. Add on top of that highly painful cramps, fatigue, and mood swings—and it was a monthly recipe for disaster.
After months of missing work and class, and laying in bed in excruciating pain, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I read online and heard from my doctor that the periods would likely get easier as time went on. So I waited three months. Nothing changed. I kept telling myself that maybe the doctor was right, so I waited eight months. Nothing changed, yet again.
I dated my then-boyfriend for quite a while, which was a factor in my decision to keep the IUD for a little over a year. I knew it was my only shot at reliable non-hormonal birth control and I didn’t want us to end up pregnant. However, after many, many months of taking off work, skipping class, and laying around in bed in excruciating pain every time my period was on its way, I couldn’t handle it any longer. I made the appointment to see my doctor and have the IUD removed.
By no means am I saying that all women who use the copper IUD will experience the same amount of pain and discomfort that I did. But what I faced was certainly not uncommon, so I think it’s important to warn young women about the potential future of their birth control choices.
Today I don’t use any form of birth control, and I haven’t used any contraception since I removed the IUD. My cycle is normal, very easy to handle, and it comes and goes without much fuss. Sure, my husband and I have to be very careful about sex when I’m ovulating, but life is much better now—even during my period.