So, on Monday, I had an IUD inserted.
For those who don’t know, an IUD stands for Intra-Uterine Device. It looks like this:
Basically, they put one of those things in your uterus to stop your uterus putting a baby in there instead.
Up until recently, I didn’t know a whole lot about IUDs. I remember them as one of the contraceptive options from sex education, but they were way down the list of recommendations. I didn’t (think) I knew anyone who had one. I think, in the 90’s, IUDs were pretty much only suggested to women who had already had babies. Because the baby has kind of already… well, cleared out an easy path through it’s mother, making it easier for any medical professional who might want to put something back into the uterus.
Ahem. Anyway. I’ve been a fairly happy user of condoms and, later, the pill for most of my life. I’ve never had any scary moments, despite my, let’s face it, pretty lax approach to taking the pill at a regular time of day (look, the back of the packet says I’ve got at least a 12 hour window before it’s considered a missed day, ok?) Recently, the fact that I’ve never had any problems has started making me worried that perhaps I’m actually infertile (as I explained to my bestie over summer: ‘Well, I’ve never even been a little bit pregnant, so that must mean I can’t get pregnant.’ Forgetting that pregnancy is pretty much a black and white issue and proving fertility doesn’t involve getting a tiny bit pregnant or six-thirteenths not pregnant. You’re pregnant or you’re not).
But, as I’m not yet willing to look after a child 24/7, I am still on the contraceptives.
Moving countries does make life difficult when you’re on the pill. In 2014, I was put on the generic UK pill, which seemed perfectly fine. I had no problems, just as, previously, I had no problems with the generic Australian pill. I got a 6 month supply before moving from the UK to Germany. When that supply started running out, I went to my German doctor and asked to get a new prescription. She couldn’t get me the exact pill as I had been on in the UK, but she could get me something as similar as possible. I agreed.
Despite it being ‘as similar as possible’, this pill wrought havoc with my body. My periods never used to cause me much trouble. Sure, I needed the occasional ibuprofen, a few hours with the trusty hot water bottle. But, suddenly, on the German pill, I found myself bedridden, trying to figure out ways of fixing a hot water bottle permanently to my lower abdomen, as well as chomping down as close to the maximum daily limit of ibuprofen as I could legitimately get away with. My flow got heavier and longer. My moods went haywire. In the days before my period I was suddenly depressed, irrationally irritated and just feeling completely wrong in my own skin.
Alex kept telling me to go to the doctor and get a different pill, but as things in between my periods seemed normal and as my doctor had said this was ‘the most similar’ to what I’d had in the UK, I was reluctant to make a fuss. What further horrors could await me with a different, less similar, pill?
But, earlier this year, I noticed a strange discolouration developing over my cheeks. It looked like I was permanently tanned on the area underneath my eyes. I was convinced it was skin cancer. My step-mum, however, told me it was ‘melasma’, something that happens when you are pregnant. She said it was probably related to the pill.
I don’t know why that did it for me, but that did it for me. I hated the look of my skin. I don’t really like wearing make-up, unless it’s a special occasion, and my skin has always been fairly good, meaning that I was certainly never made to feel that I should wear make-up. But, the discolouration made me look tired and old. It made my eyes look puffy. And I started getting paranoid. What else was the pill doing to my body that I couldn’t see? I started being more receptive to people warning about the dangers of pumping your body full of hormones.
But, if not the pill, and if not hormones, then what? The diaphragm seemed unnecessarily complicated and old-fashioned, spermicides can’t be used on their own. Condoms are fine, but they’re the most unreliable contraceptive method for preventing pregnancy (expect for, perhaps, the withdrawal method or the natural planning method), they’re kind of wasteful in terms of materials and expense, and, look, I’m just going to say it, they don’t feel as good (but that is certainly not an excuse to refuse to use them if your sexual partner wants you to, Douchebags of the World). What I’m saying is, condoms are fine. I just don’t want to be using them day in, day out (ha).
So, an IUD (or, the coil, as it is more commonly known) seemed to be my best option. They appear to be coming back into fashion, as they don’t require you to take a daily pill, they’re getting smaller and you can have them hormone-free, if you so desire (which is a thing that a lot of people are desiring). Plus, they are available to all women, even if you haven’t had a baby yet.
But, I didn’t actually know many people who had used one. I also wasn’t sure how to go about finding people who had used them. My usual recourse in this situation is to post on Facebook, but, because it was about contraceptives and uteruses (uteri?), I chickened out. I talked to my doctor, who gave me the run-down of what needed to happen if I wanted one. Some STD tests, a half-hour appointment with the doctor and nurse. A bit of pain during the procedure (though they could give me a local anaesthetic if I wanted). A bit of spotting to be expected afterwards, longer, more painful periods, but otherwise a reasonable choice for a young woman looking for a long-term option. I did some googling, but I didn’t really know what questions I should be asking in regards to the contraption. What was it that I wanted to know? I messaged my step-mum. What did she think about the IUD? She thought the only way I would figure out if I liked it was if I just tried it. They could always take it out.
So, on Monday, I had my appointment. I really hadn’t thought it through. Sure, I kept telling people I was having ‘minor surgery’, but I didn’t take on board the full impact of that term until I was half-naked on the table with my lady bits being spread apart by a speculum (hey, it looks like the beak of a duck! What fun! Except, it’s inside you!) At this point, I was struggling to keep my nerves in check due to the unwanted contemplation of what it might mean to have my uterus perforated (something that happens in a very small number of cases). So, when the doctor offered me a local, I was like, yes. Yes, numb it all. Numb everything. I don’t want to feel anything below my bra line.
It was still possible to feel the IUD inserted, even with the local. It felt like someone had poked a stick into the bottom of my stomach, except from inside my body. It was weird. I did not like it. The doctor cleaned me up and I saw her throw out swabs soaked in blood. I did not like that either. She took out the speculum and then offered me a sanitary pad, as I should expect some spotting. I gingerly put my clothes back on and stood up. Immediately, I could feel pressure in my uterus. I felt dizzy and weird and I really did not like that. The doctor said, yes, that’s just your body trying to get rid of the IUD.
I had stupidly cycled my bike to the doctor’s surgery. No-one had told me, or at least, hadn’t told me in a way that had made any impact on me, that I should expect to be feeling unwell, in pain or uncomfortable straight after the insertion. So, I got back on my bike and cycled extremely slowly home, making sure I avoided the biggest potholes and the bumpiest parts of the road. I am lucky nothing out of the ordinary happened, as I was in no way concentrating on the traffic. Just the feeling of my uterus contracting and trying, desperately, to get rid of the foreign body that had taken up residence inside it.
That first night was hellish. I was supposed to host a writer’s group and had to cancel. There was no way I was getting back on my bike, there was no way I was moving. I couldn’t eat. I had a hot water bottle attached to my stomach and was taking the maximum dose of ibuprofen every few hours. It didn’t take the cramping away, but did make the cramping bearable, as opposed to cramping that made me cry hysterically. Usually, during a period, you can find positions that help your cramping – the foetal position, for example, or lying on your back with your knees bent. None of these positions did anything for my uterus. Every time I moved, I was certain I could feel the IUD sticking out of various parts of my body. In my mind, the IUD was now about as big and as pointy as a corkscrew. I kept expecting to see it pushing out against the skin of my abdomen.
And, spotting? Yeah, sounds adorable and non-threatening, doesn’t it? Like, that song you sang as a kid, ‘there’s a spot over there’ and you’d put a tiny little spot in the air with your tiny little finger. No, it’s more like, unexpected and terrifying gushing. Not all the time, of course (that would definitely require a trip to the doctor), but just, occasionally. When you shift in your chair. Or stand up. And, it’s just this reminder that there is something in your body that is not meant to be there and that your body DOES NOT LIKE IT and is constantly trying to flush it out. Every time it happens and I have to clean myself up, I get all weak and jittery. Which is not because of the amount of blood that I’m losing, but definitely is because losing blood unexpectedly, from that area, is scary. It doesn’t seem right. My instant reaction is… oh, god, I’m breaking. I’m breaking apart.
I’ve been hobbling around the house, not able to do anything too fast (like run) or anything too bumpy (like ride my bike, or get on a bus), first of all, because I’m worried that I’ll dislodge the IUD (unlikely) and second of all, because I still feel totally weird and weak. I keep getting worried that I have a pelvic inflammatory disease (very small chance, considering I had no STD’s) and occasionally freak out that because I am feeling weird, I must be dying. I realised yesterday that I kept attributing things that often happen to me in my normal life because of stress or, you know, anxiety (dizziness, nausea, stomach pain, overheating) to the IUD, so what with the cramping and then the extra list of anxiety-based symptoms, it really did seem like I must be desperately unwell. I also keep getting weird urges to just rip the IUD out of my body. I think it’s due to the fact that the only thing my brain can compare this to is a tampon, and there’s a time limit on those things – you have to get them out at some point or you’ll get sick. So part of my brain keeps bringing this up in regards to the IUD – oh, quick, you’ve forgotten to take it out, get it out now before you get sick.
You may be thinking that I’m building up to some kind of, ‘And then, I had enough of all this shit and insisted the doctor take the foreign body out of me before things started getting worse.’ But, no. That is not what has happened. Because, all of these side effects that I am experiencing are normal. NORMAL. They are expected. They are also (slowly) getting better. I haven’t cried due to cramping since Monday night. I’ve started talking to others who have the IUD and the stories they tell are kind of terrifying (I’m getting off easy). A colleague was bedridden for a week. She threw up immediately after the insertion and then fainted. She still has hers and loves it. Loves it! Of course, just to keep things in perspective, I’m also reading terrifying stories from the internet like, ‘My IUD almost killed me’. Good! The doctor warned me on Monday that if I came back after a week and asked to have the IUD removed, she’d probably ask me to keep trying with it for a bit longer. Usually, doctors say you need 3 – 6 months before your body is properly used to it. That could mean, 3 – 6 MONTHS MORE OF THIS SHIT.
There are lots of questions I have now, after the insertion. Suddenly, having gone through the process, I’m quite aware of the things that I’m worried about. I’m vegetarian, what are the chances I become anaemic with all this extra bleeding? If I’m only intending to keep my IUD for about 3 years and it takes a maximum of 6 months to get used to the thing, is it actually worth it? What is the difference between cramping and the ‘lower abdomen pain’ that signals a pelvic inflammatory disease? (seriously, uterus cramping is all in the lower abdomen, that is not a good description of what to look out for) How much spotting/gushing is too much spotting/gushing?
I’m not angry. I’m not demanding that the IUD get taken out immediately, that it’s a hazard, that it’s unnatural and unhealthy (but I can certainly understand why people feel like that after having it inserted, this shit is SCARY). But I am absolutely gobsmacked about what women have to go through to reliably avoid becoming pregnant. All this, just for worry-free sex! (Believe me, after the insertion, I am in no mood for sexy times. Perhaps this is the real contraceptive benefit?) In sex ed, teachers were all, ‘you have so many options! Look at all your lovely contraceptive options!’ Whereas, in reality, every single one has some kind of down-side. And, the most reliable forms definitely involve the woman enduring some sort of invasive, uncomfortable, mind or body altering thing.
If everything works out and my symptoms improve, I’m sure I’ll get used to having something alien in my uterus. But, in the meantime, the whole thing is totally weird and completely f***ed up.