IUD. It’s not as scary as it sounds

Have you ever wanted something for as long as you can remember? As soon as I found out about this magical contraceptive device that works for 3-5 years, I was intrigued, and wanted to know more.

This has been a long time coming. When I first heard about an IUD as a teenager, I was told that IUD are for women with babies. I can remember going to a doctor, and asking what different types of contraceptions available, and she repeatedly told me that the only forms of contraception were the pill and condoms. I knew this simply wasn’t true, and I was dumbfounded at the time, as there was a family planning certificate on her wall, and we all know that family planning is polite speak for ways to avoid pregnancy. But, as I get older, and the more I speak to my friends and family, the more I realise that being a woman comes with so many different hang-ups and challenges. So this is my story, and my experience with getting an IUD. I’ll try and use all the correct terms, but if you’re reading this to get medical advice, then I strongly suggest you check out your nearest family planning and sexual health clinic. This post is about my feelings and my experiences with fertility management. Also, be warned, this post contains things like blood, menstrual fluid, vaginas, fertility control, cervix and other female body parts and female bodily fluids. Avert your eyes now, if you are sensitive to such content.

 

So, how does one get an IUD? What is an IUD, and why am I talking so much about reproductive management? Ok, an IUD is an Intrauterine Device that sits in your uterus as a form of birth control. It typically lasts 3-5 years and if it is made out of copper, it contains no hormones. The other IUD is known as the Mirena and contains low dose hormones which are released directly into the reproductive organs, as opposed to the pill which has typically higher levels of hormones as the body needs to digest them first.

So that’s the easy part, understanding the basics, an IUD is a form of contraception that is device based and sits in your uterus, and can contain low-level hormones, or no hormones. It’s also pretty cost effective. I only had to pay around $25 for the IUD from the pharmacy as it is on the PBS in Australia. As I am a student, my doctor bulk bills me, and the Gynaecology clinic is free in NSW.

 

Now, for the hard part; getting you hands on one of these magic uterus thingos. Like I said at the start, I began asking doctors about this in my late teens. I was in a (sorry Mum, for talking about my sex life on the internet!) consenting sexual relationship and I was after contraception. I knew I didn’t want kids at that stage of my life, for the next 3-5 years, or in the foreseeable future, so I wanted something that was long-lasting and safe. When I raised the concept of an IUD, all the doctors said no. Both the GP and a trip to the family planning clinic all recommended against it stating that it hurts to insert it, that it should be for women who have had kids as the placement is challenging, and that it was too long term for someone my age. I got a resounding no, from every doctor, but the main reason they gave me, for not recommending it was that I might want kids. That I was too young to decide that I didn’t want kids. Now, I don’t know about you, but in my late teens and early twenties, I thought I was too young to be making babies! Sure, I was in a committed relationship by the time I was 20, but, I was not ready for children. And I certainly was not ready for kids in the foreseeable future. But, apparently, doctors know best, so I was on the pill for the better part of my 20s.

I want to detail one of my pap-smears with you, to demonstrate what it’s like, being a woman who wants to control her fertility. I think I would have been 21 at the time, so I bought my bf (now husband) along to the family planning clinic, both for moral support and to prove that neither of us wanted kids, and that I had a long-term partner. That’s another reason I was given when I was younger. I was told that having multiple sexual partners was not advised with an IUD. Now, I’m not going to delve into my ENTIER sexual history, but I can tell you that I have been in a committed long-term relationship, since I was 19 (ish), and I was married by 22. So, I’m in the clinic, with my bf, and I’m in the stirrups. I’m trying to convince this doctor that I want an IUD, and that neither of us want kids. She tells me it’s expensive, that I’ll have to pay over $200 for an anesthetist, and that she would give my cervix an extra poke so I can feel what it may be like, to get the IUD inserted. Yeah, that’s right, she poked my cervix, to prove a point. In short, she pretty much shut down any further talk of the IUD.

 

Fast forward to my late 20s, and I need to see the doctor about some girly things. The pill isn’t the best for my lifestyle anymore, and I’m having some bleeding, outside of my period. I see a young women doctor, and she is the best. She gives me my own home testing kit for the bleeding, so I can poke my own cervix at my leisure. I make another appointment to get a long overdue pap-smear, where she discovers I have an ectropion cervix (DO NOT GOOGLE THAT! it means the inside cells are growing on the outside, and the images associated with it are less than pretty. You have been warned), but most importantly, she listens when I say, I don’t want kids. I know I’ve said it a million times before, but I don’t want them, and I’ve found that the doctors, don’t really seem to listen when I tell them. They tell me that I might change my mind (maybe, but I’ve known since I was 12 that I don’t want kids), that I might change partners, basically, the medical system is paternalistic in this sense, and it takes a good doctor to listen to the patient, when they say, I want to control my fertility. I also want to point out, that I know that there are many women who do WANT kids, and all this talk of contraception might be really sensitive as they may be struggling to conceive, so I’m sorry for any distress you are experiencing. I can only imagine how it feels, and you have my deepest sympathy.

 

So, I got myself a good doctor, who was kind to my cervix, and after some discussion, I got myself sorted with a copper IUD. I wanted to go without hormones, as the ectropion cervix may have been a side effect of the pill. I got my device from the chemist, again it was relatively inexpensive, had my appointment at the clinic, and I was ready to rock and roll! The insertion was kinda like that bad pap-smear I described, where she poked my cervix, as I had anesthesia. I can’t remember if it was a needle or a gel, but there was little pain. The worst part was the aftermath, as the next 48-72 hours, it’s kinda like a bad period, where you can’t do much, and you’re in a relationship with the hot water bottle.  Nothing a good rest, and some pain killers won’t fix. But little did I know, the worst was yet to come.

 

Yeah, so the copper IUD, no one really wants to deal with, and they’re so un-common these days that when things go pear-shaped the doctors don’t have enough experience with them. After about 2 months of no problem, by month 3, I was constantly bleeding and had INTENSE cramping. It was eye-watering. After some toing and throwing between the hospital and doctor, we decided to pull it out. Which was so simple. I remember the appointment was rushed and late, but once I was in there, it was relaxed, and nowhere near as painful to remove. I remember the specialist talking about the cervix and the uterus and how she used such beautiful terms like luscious to describe the cells in the uterus. Again, making me a firm believer of finding the right doctor for you and your needs. I want a doctor who works on reproductive health that gets excited about the reproductive system. Not someone who doesn’t explain everything to me, and doesn’t allow me to make my own choices.

 

So, in the first instance, my IUD was a big, fat, painful failure. I went back on the pill and left things alone for a few years. I guess, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right? Wrong. The pill isn’t the devil, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I mean, it does allow for fertility control, but I also felt like it was too many hormones in my body, and I had the ectropion cervix which may have been caused by the pill. I still wanted a long-term method of fertility that didn’t have many hormones. And, now with all the other daily meds I was taking, I was a bit over one more daily pill to take. You would think that with all the daily pills, it was easier to remember, but, as each pill had to be taken at a different time due to the side-effects, it was easier to get out of sync with the pill. Just this last month, I was one day ahead, as I dropped a pill and couldn’t find it, so I took the next days pill.

Round 2: how did work up the courage and convince the doctors (again) that an IUD was the way to go? I outright told him (my fantastic lady doctor had moved to another clinic) ‘I’m tired of taking the pill, and I want to try the IUD. I don’t want kids now, or in the long term future. I’m in my 30s and I understand the consequences of not having kids. My husband doesn’t want kids, and quiet frankly, I don’t know how I would cope mentally and financially if I had children’. This doctor was great, and he booked me in straight away for the clinic ( I had to hustle at the clinic to get the appointment, but I think that was more about the lack of resources at the clinic).

Yesterday was V-day, and I was armed with my inexpensive IUD, and ready to be poked and prodded. In preparation, I took myself to the doctor for a pap-smear and I peed in a cup on arrival. Yeah, by this stage, be prepared to talk about all the bodily functions, like when was your last period and when did you last have sex? This is not for the feint-hearted. I also had to wait a while in the clinic, despite having an 8:30 am appointment. Once I was in there, I was cracking jokes and the staff even let me take a picture or two for my blog! There was a nice student doctor, and the nurse assisting the Gynocologist was really sweet.

So I’m in there, pants off and on the bed. The Gynocologist had three different speculums before she found one that really got in there. It wasn’t the nicest feeling. The sweet nurse told me to look at the umbrellas on the ceiling, but looking at umbrellas isn’t the best form of pain relief. The gynecologist keeps telling me to relax, and I was trying, but it doesn’t take much to start tensing the vaginal walls. I was a little bit anxious here, but it wasn’t overwhelming. I wasn’t offered pain relief, which I was disappointed with, as it would have been better, but again, the pain wasn’t the worst. I went quiet and began the goddess chant in my head. A few more jabs in the cervix, and some INTENSE pain, and the device is in. I felt a little woosy, and the gynecologist advises me to take my time getting dressed, but again, it’s not the end of the world. Compared with my post gall-bladder surgery, this is nothing. I hobbled to the car with my husband who drove me there and back, as driving post-insertion is not recommended. We made a quick stop to the IGA, where I ordered my husband get me all the chocolate.

Arriving home, I settle in with the hot water bottle, some chocolate, a tea, and Netflix. The rest of the weekend was spent on the couch, and overnight, I had some really bad pain, but it went away quickly, and I kept some Ibropfen on hand.

All up, I can report, my IUD insertion was tolerable and relatively incident free. It’s now just over a week and I’m yet to be pain-free or stop bleeding, but it’s just like a light period right now, which is to be expected, until my body adjusts to the device and the hormones.

I’d give the procedure a 7 out of 10 on the pain scale. It was intense, but only for a small moment. And if you’re sensitive to pain, you can ask for anesthesia. Post-insertion, for the weekend, it was like a bad period. If I had to be back in the office, I could have done some light paper-work, but I made sure I had the weekend clear. Six days later I was ready for my morning walk. I would have been to yoga sooner, only I had to wear a pad, which would be visible with my yoga pants. I can’t say if I would recommend the IUD just yet, as it still hasn’t settled, but so far, the process is ok. I would DEFINITELY recommend talking to your doctor, and asking ALL the questions about contraception and what is right for your body and your lifestyle. You are the one who has to live in your body, so you have the right to find out what works for you.

 

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