“So does your boyfriend know about your change in birth control method?” the OBGYN nurse asked me, at an attempt at small talk.
I grimaced. I had been happily single for two years. Perhaps she was just alluding because I was getting birth control I must be sexually active. But at the time, I was just your average virgin.
“I don’t have a boyfriend, actually,” I replied curtly. I was very nervous and I know she was trying to be polite, but we had had the same conversation at my initial appointment, and I didn’t see how restating facts we already knew about each other was helping ease the awkwardness of the procedure I was about to go through.
“Oh, that’s right. Well you won’t need anyone to hold your hand, because this won’t hurt at all,” she said behind her flushed cheeks. I don’t blame her for blushing, I was also embarrassed. For her heteronormative mistake, and for me about to go through the most awkward procedure I’d ever experienced: getting an intrauterine device.
I was eighteen and sex was inevitable. After all, by age 19, about 70 percent of American teenagers have had sex. I was, however, somewhat reluctant to get an IUD. First of all, the whole idea of something so small and inconspicuous being inside your vagina was kind of odd. I mean it’s always there, even if you forget about it. Kind of like a tattoo, but you can’t even see it.
While a tattoo remains imprinted on your skin for the world to see, the IUD is hidden, and can be more easily removed. After a few days of discomfort following insertion, most users no longer even feel them, and neither can their partners.
I had tried the pill, but was convinced that it made me gain weight, because it made my friends gain weight. Or at least they said it did. Between the pill and the McDonald’s Pick 5 menu we so often ordered from, the pounds were racking up, and I’d decided, personally, that I was going to pass on it.
I was attending college in the fall, and after researching my other options I decided it would be pretty nice to not have to worry about taking a tablet every single day. I can hardly remember to eat breakfast, nevermind take such regular medication. Plus, I had read that the IUD is more effective than the pill. In fact, IUDs are over 99 percent effective according to recent research. I wasn’t interested in a long-term relationship with a boy at the time, but I was more than happy to consider a long-term birth control method.
Disclaimer: The pros and cons I experienced with my methods of birth control are not universal. Please contact your doctor about what works for you before switching or deciding to stick with your method.
The IUD is a small t-shaped device. There are two kinds: copper and hormonal. I chose the hormonal IUD called Mirena. It works in numerous ways, but mainly it keeps sperm away from the uterus. The clinical staff showed it to me before the procedure; it’s smaller and thinner than a toothpick and almost looks like it’s made of dental floss.
Despite being a hormonal form of birth control, IUDs are not associated with the hormonal mood swings that go hand in hand with the pill. A recent Danish study reported that those on the pill reported a decreased quality of life after three months, in addition to a small but significant risk of depression. Another reason many people, including myself, go off of the pill and consider alternate birth control methods is due to weight gain. Less than 5 percent of Mirena users experience weight gain. Since deciding to lose or gain weight should be a personal choice, having it thrust upon me via a drug was not something I was interested in.
Mirena users may experience a change in their menstrual cycle. This is normal. In fact, my periods stopped completely within three months of having the implant, and I can’t say I don’t mind not having to buy tampons or pads every month. I also probably saved a fortune on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Another great thing about Mirena is that it is completely reversible. Once removed, a woman is expected to go back to her normal cycle in no time. In fact, she can get pregnant right away once the IUD is removed. However there is a small (three to five percent) risk of your IUD physically falling out of your uterus. So you just have to listen to how comfortable or uncomfortable your body is after the insertion.
When I was ready to have the procedure done, I made my way to the doctors office. I remember sitting patiently in the waiting room with my brother, who was a year younger than me at the time. Sesame Street characters were painted on the walls and several Better Homes and Highlights magazines were scattered across the end tables in between chairs. They said the procedure would be a little bit painful, and that some people even pass out, so they suggested I arrange for someone to drive me home that day. It was a forty-five minute drive from our suburban town outside Columbus, so I told my brother if he drove me I would buy him Raising Cane’s for driving me back.
Some new parents sat around us with judging glares. I was 18, not noticeably pregnant or with child, plus I was with someone who was relatively the same age as me, so I’m sure they were jumping to the most rash and abase conclusions. Several toddlers were crying and could not be soothed even by the bouncing knees and rocking motions of their caretakers. One baby was screaming so loudly that I thought my eardrum might bust. It was around that time the lady behind the window summoned me. I left my brother alone to take on the scowls and screams of the newborns and their parents.
It was my first and only time getting an ultrasound. I remember the nurse, after she discussed my phantom boyfriend and her daughter’s travelling softball team, telling me about how your uterus either leans to the front of your body or to the back. I had a back-leaning uterus, which is why I would have agonizing back-pain for the next two days.
“Five minutes for five years,” the doctors kept saying as they inserted a very large, cool metal clamp into my body. I felt an alarming pinching sensation and thanked God that I didn’t have to see what was going on down there. I did not want to know. The procedure was short, but it definitely felt longer than five minutes.
“That wasn’t so bad was it?” The gynecologist asked after they removed the foreign clamp from in between my legs.
“Not at all.” I lied trying to manage a smile. It hurt like a bitch.
But they were right. It was worth it. I am about to graduate college, and have had no problems with my IUD. I’m on my fourth year, and I’m fairly certain that after my fifth year I will be getting another one.
A few days of lying in bed with a hot back compress and a prescription for 800 mg ibuprofen was totally worth five years of not taking a pill every day, not making routine appointments to have someone stab me in the arm, not worrying about contraception, and best of all—an added perk—was not having periods.