Before I got an IUD, I had been on the pill since I was 19. For nine years, the pill was my friend. I had no trouble popping it every night, and I never once had a pregnancy scare. The changes it created in me were noticeable, but not unpleasant. I went up a cup size. I went from being someone who barely ever cried to getting why people cry at Santa commercials. But hey, it was nice to have all that empathy. I felt like I cared more about other people’s feelings than I had before.
Then I started getting headaches. Powerful, debilitating ones behind my eyes, especially during my period. One weekend a month was often incredibly unpleasant. I was sure I had some kind of sinus infection, but my doctor wasn’t convinced. He told me that I was on a type of pill (Trivora) that most doctors were told not to prescribe to patients with a history of headaches. Before doing anything with my sinuses, he wanted me to change birth control. His recommendation? An IUD.
I had barely heard of IUDs. I knew there was a pill that made your period very rare, and I knew about the Nuva Ring, but I didn’t know much about IUDs. Almost no one I knew had one, and I quickly figured out why. After I told my hairdresser about my upcoming IUD appointment, she groaned and warned me that getting one inserted is horrible. The procedure had made two of her friends pass out.
This got me somewhat worried, but I had already had a colposcopy, where a doctor takes a biopsy of your cervix. If I could survive that, I could probably survive this. After all, women go through childbirth every day and that has to hurt wayyy more than having a small plastic IUD inserted in your cervix.
I called a friend who is in med school to get her opinion. She cosigned that this was the best solution for me, adding that the hormones are released right into your uterus, so they don’t affect your overall body nearly as much as the pill. This appealed to me. I was excited about returning to the me I had been before the pill, the one who could resist sad commercials and workout without my boobs hurting.
There are a lot of benefits to getting an IUD. One insertion of an IUD can protect you from pregnancy for 5 to 10 years, depending on what type you get. The hormonal IUD (like Mirena) lightens your period and even stops it for some people.
I was told that to get an IUD, you have to schedule a consultation with your doctor rather than expect to go in and get it inserted right away. I went to my first appointment and the doctor recommended Mirena. She said the hormonal kind that reduces your period was more likely to help with my headache problem. She offered to insert it that day, which surprised me. I was ready to get it over with, but she told me I couldn’t go back to work afterward, so I waited.
I came back just after my period had ended. Doctors like this timing because it helps them know you’re not pregnant. (I did some researching … if you are pregnant with an IUD in your uterus, it’s not pretty, and will likely lead to miscarriage.) She had given me a pill to take the night before to loosen my cervix. (It’s like poppers, but less likely to kill brain cells!)
I was pretty nervous, and it showed in my blood pressure test. I made the mistake of saying yes when the doctor asked if a male med student could come help with the procedure. I had specifically requested a female doctor, so I’m not sure why I said yes. Having a guy there to watch the whole thing go down did not make it more comfortable.
Here’s how the procedure goes down. After the speculum business you know and love from a pap smear, they put a clamp on your cervix. This sounds absolutely terrifying, but I couldn’t even feel it. Then, they measure your uterus by sticking a super long ruler inside. This part actually hurts more than having the actual IUD inserted.
What does this feel like? It’s very strange. It’s not even physical pain, like a pinch or a stab. It feels more like an emotion, like having a really bad feeling deep in the pit of your stomach. It also feels like a period cramp, or like your uterus is a second stomach that ate something it did not agree with. I imagine this feeling is different for everyone.
After that unpleasant business, they inserted the IUD. It came with an applicator, kind of like a tampon. This produced the same feeling, but milder. I breathed a sigh of relief after it was over, only to be told they had to measure my uterus again. Oh joy. Once that was over, I was actually done. That wasn’t so bad, I thought. I didn’t pass out, like my hairdresser had warned. (My doctor said that people actually pass out just from the speculum hitting a nerve, and those people would have also passed out during a standard pap smear.)
Despite my pride at getting through it, the process was not totally behind me. When I got home, I had horrible cramps for about four hours. I’m not someone who gets bad period cramps, so the feeling was entirely new. Again, I felt like my uterus had eaten something bad. “What’s this plastic thing?” I imagined it saying. “Get it out of here.”
I finally found relief by laying on a heating pad. Do this right away! That’s my recommendation. After dinner, I went shopping and felt fine. I had mild cramps the next day at work, but I was done. (Oh and I had to wear a pad, which I hadn’t done since I was like 12. Those things are awful.)
Now you’ll probably want to know – does it make your period go away? The next month, I got my period slightly worse than it had been before. It takes a bit for you body to get off the cycle of your birth control pill’s hormones. The second month, I had no period to speak of. Whoa! My doctor warned me that I would have periodical spotting, and I have, but it’s been super minimal. I might be one of those lucky people who doesn’t get a period with Mirena. Score.
It’s a bit weird not to get a period. You have to trust you aren’t pregnant, and you no longer see a full moon and know you’re about to get cramps. It’s just the moon now to you, no longer a celestial being that controls the tides of your uterus and makes you synch up with sorority girls (I noticed this phenomenon when I had to keep a moon journal in astronomy class). But not having a period is mostly awesome. And the headaches? I haven’t had any more of that type since switching. (Cross your fingers).
I’ve seen articles pop up saying that more women’s health organizations are pushing IUDs as a first choice in birth control. It’s more effective than condoms and the pill, but it’s not always offered as a first choice, and can be expensive. I didn’t have to pay anything for my IUD (Thanks Obama!), but for uninsured women, the price can be a major deterrent. There’s a new $50 IUD coming out called Liletta that aims to help low-income women have access to affordable long-term birth control. This thing could end the Teen Mom series if marketed right.
If you’re thinking about trying birth control (or switching yours), and you don’t plan to have kids for at least five years, the IUD just may be worth it. Sure, it causes cramps for a couple hours, but so does having a period. It’s worth a few minutes of discomfort for years of knowing you won’t have to pee on a stick anytime soon.