If there is one scientific invention I could choose that has enabled women to have greater autonomy over their own lives, it would have to be birth control. Whether it’s condoms, the pill, or the countless other inventions we have developed to deter pregnancy, the ability to decide when or if to have children has given women the ability to plan their lives in ways that would have been unimaginable decades ago. As someone who is an avid fan of shows like Downton Abbey, Mad Men, and Call the Midwife, it seems like such a foreign concept that at one time nearly all women were at the mercy of their uteri, and having a baby was not a choice, but an eventual result if they were sexually active. While most of these shows portray child bearing as a wonderful event for a woman, they also acknowledge that for women who already had too many children or who were focused on work, raising baby was not an ideal situation, and many went to dangerous lengths to either prevent or terminate pregnancy.
However I know all too well that there are still millions of women in the world who still face these same issues that women over half a century ago were facing, and that access to safe, affordable, and effective birth control is still extremely difficult, or even illegal. Not to mention that new studies have found that for many who use various types of birth control such as the pill or shot, the chances of becoming pregnant over a ten year period can increase with use. So what is a lady to do? Well, there are a few options out there, and like any good scientist, I used myself as a guinea pig. I got the hormone IUD. This is my story.
I agreed, and then came the hard part: insertion.
A quick back story. Since the time I got my first period to until very recently I had horrific cramping. Like my-insides-are-trying-kill-me cramping. On the first couple days of my period I would have to take prescription-strength painkillers to get through the day, and often I still had to deal with cramps, just slightly less agonizing. In college my OB/GYN decided it was time to put me on the pill to see if that could help with cramps and, you know, not get pregnant in college.
And it worked for a long time. My cramps got better, the length of my visits from Aunt Flo decreased from nine days to about seven (my genetics are fucky), and generally life was a bit easier. Except for that momentary anxiety of trying to remember if I took my pill that day or not. Or if I took it at the right time. Or if I forgot a day and had to read through the directions to know that I needed to double up the next day. Or if I forgot to reorder a pack in enough time. I started looking for something that might be easier to manage.
I didn’t want to do the shot, Depo-Provera, because I’m a huge chicken when it comes to needles, the patch sounded like a mess, and the thing that goes in your arm, ow. A close friend of mine had recently switched to the non-hormone IUD (ParaGard) and couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful it was not to have to take a pill anymore. After some quick research and a call to my doctor, I had myself scheduled to get the same thing.
I ended up spending the evening whimpering on the couch while having a very doting boyfriend get me pizza and ice cream for dinner while telling me it would all be worth it.
When I went to my doctor’s office I didn’t need to fast or have any weird diet before the procedure. My OB/GYN is a longtime family friend who has an encyclopedic knowledge of gynecological medicine. He started off by asking why I wanted to switch and why I wanted the non-hormone IUD instead of the low-hormone IUD (Mirena). I explained that my brief search on Google told me that the non-hormone IUD lasts ten years, while the low-hormone one only lasts five years. He reminded me that before I went on the pill I used to turn into a sad lump of cramps (my words) and the hormones were what greatly helped reduce those cramps (his words). On a non-hormonal IUD my cramps and the length of my period would increase. With a low-hormone IUD I would have a tiny, if not non-existent, period and less cramping. IUD’s blow the pill out of the water in terms of preventing pregnancy (again, his words), even over a ten year period.
So, I agreed, and then came the hard part: insertion.
I was told before the procedure to take a decent painkiller and that the procedure would be a little uncomfortable, but would only be about fifteen to twenty minutes. First, my doctor did the normal stuff, made sure I was not in pain, that my uterus was in good shape, and using those always pleasant speculums to keep everything open. He showed me the IUD and explained how it would go in and how I could check to make sure it stays in. Then he suggested I get a local anesthetic, which I immediately did not want (read: needles), so he said we could try doing it without it unless it hurt too much. The second step involved figuring out where my cervix was to determine how long the string bits that hang off the end of the IUD would be. This involved shoving a ruler about the size of a really long pencil inside until it hit the top of the cervix. At that point I learned the hard way that I desperately needed lidocaine and the ruler caused what felt like a very painful cramp. Needless to say, six local injections later and you could have stuck a cactus inside me and I wouldn’t have noticed.
The insertion process still felt like a few more cramps, but I had a nice nurse hold my hand and reminded me to breathe through the minutes long process. After it was all over, he explained that I should check periodically to make sure it is still inside by feeling for the strings with my fingers (however he did mention that many women cannot feel them at all). He also suggested I have an easy night because I might not feel so hot.
On the drive home I started feeling the kind of cramps I used to have before the glorious days of the pill and when I arrived home I had to hang out in my car for about an hour before I could muster the strength to go inside. I ended up spending the evening whimpering on the couch while having a very doting boyfriend get me pizza and ice cream for dinner while telling me it would all be worth it. The next few days were still pretty shitty, I had cramps even with painkillers and got super bloated, but after about a week, things settled down and my body returned to normal.
Now two months in, I can proudly say that I have had maybe one-ish period. It lasted maybe half a day and I used a grand total of one tampon, a big change from my standard six day period. I had a slight amount of cramping right before my period came, but honestly I couldn’t even figure out what it was until my boyfriend suggested it could be a period.
Honestly, for a long time I was very skeptical of using any kind of long-term, inserted form of birth control, especially after hearing all the horror stories of the first gen IUDs (mangled fetuses and the like). While it did suck for a week or so, the payoff is, in short, fucking amazing. If you’re like me and are looking for a semi-permanent solution to that pesky pregnancy problem, an IUD can be a safe, effective, and better alternative than the pill. Plus, no periods. I really have no idea what I’m going to do with my stockpile of tampons now.
Picthx Comfortably Numb