That little beauty up there? That’s a Paragard Copper IUD. Who got one a week ago? THIS! GIRL! And I am SO proud of myself at the moment. I feel like everyone who’s had an IUD feels obligated to tell their story because it’s such a mysterious, potentially scary thing. I’m the only person out of my group of friends who decided to go the IUD route so I didn’t know anyone who had one. Did you know that while most U.S. women opt for the pill (25.9%), more and more of them are turning to the IUD (11.6%)? That’s 4.4 million women! (More Women Opt for IUD, Contraceptive Implant for Birth Control)
WHY AN IUD?
I’ve actually wanted an IUD for
over a year months now but was too afraid to get one. What if it hurt a lot? Is it really worth the pain? Can’t I just stick to pills and be more diligent? Here’s the thing with birth control pills; I was so horrible at taking them at the same time each day and some days I even forgot to take them and would just double my intake the next day. This happened too often. And the feeling of, WHAT IF I’M PREGNANT?! would plague my mind until the date of my next period (and yes, even on the pill I would make sure to have my period each month although some of my friends only have theirs a few times a year–paranoia). I’m sure most women have had the same thoughts, which are never, ever fun. So, in short, it wasn’t that hormonal birth control pills affected me negatively–it was my negligence that made an IUD the smarter choice. Oh, and it bears mentioning, I wasn’t sure how long I’d have to get an IUD free-of-charge what with Trump in office at the moment, which is why I was determined to get it done this year.
This is another reason it took me longer than it should’ve to get one. I wasn’t sure which IUD I should get. I decided on Paragard for a few reasons. The first is that I went off the pill around 3 months ago because my partner is in the military and left for his final 6-month deployment EVER (unreal). I do this every time he’s deployed to give my body a “break” from the hormones (note: there’s no scientific evidence this does anything at all but a crazy part of my brain says to do it anyway even if it sounds like woowoo). I figured I should keep this no hormones thing going with Paragard which uses copper and is hormone-free. Here’s an article from the NY Times that discusses why I ultimately chose this in more detail. Now, there are downsides to a copper IUD versus, say, Mirena which is a hormonal IUD. First, it doesn’t decrease menstruation and it may make periods heavier and cramping worse (Mirena often completely diminishes periods, which believe me you was very tempting to consider). Post-adolescence, my periods have always been on the shorter side (5ish days) and I would rarely get cramps even before taking birth control pills. In fact, I can remember every period I did get cramps because it wasn’t something that happened frequently. Again, though, I like to get my period every month (as confirmation) so it isn’t a big deal that I will continue to get it each month. This would be a huge downside for a friend of mine who only gets hers three times a year, for example. One other negative, at least for insertion, is that it’s bigger than the Skyla IUD (another hormonal IUD). The size of Skyla makes it easier to insert (e.g., less painful) for women who’ve never been pregnant and may have a tighter cervical opening (me) but it also only lasts for 3 years (more about this below). Another major plus of Paragard besides being hormone-free? It lasts 10 years! Enough to get through this administration and then some. Here’s a good website that compares all the top IUDs.
THE BIG QUESTION: DID IT HURT?!
I’m not going to sugarcoat this: It. Hurt.
I prepared myself by reading other women’s IUD stories online, which I think did help but also made me a bit more anxious because there were a few horror stories I came across. I knew the chances of it hurting were going to be in the 90% range from everything I’d read, especially since I’ve never been had a baby. A part of me hoped the bulk of people who told their negative tales only bothered to because they had a bad experience.
Some background on me. I’ve never been pregnant (which means my cervix has never dilated). I’ve never broken a bone or had kidney stones or experienced a debilitating pain of any sort. With that said, I don’t think my pain tolerance is low. I know this because I’ve done multiple back-to-back days of “wet cupping” or Chinese bloodletting therapy in South Korea, which is illegal in many countries including the United States and is utterly painful. There are tons of reasons why I did wet cupping and why I don’t regret it, but they’re irrelevant to this post. Maybe another day?
On a pain scale of 1-10, I’d say wet cupping was a solid 7 (mostly because the pain was prolonged). Getting my IUD, I’d rate a 5. Here’s the low-down…
Before heading to the hospital, I took 800mg of ibuprofen and ate a hearty meal like the advice I’d read online suggested. When I got to the hospital, I learned that my OBGYN makes everyone take a pregnancy test no matter what, so I had to pee in a cup first. Then the nurse checked the regular things like my weight, height, and blood pressure. I had to sign a consent form. The nurse then led me into a room to wait and instructed me to undress from the waist down just as if I was getting a pap. I waited 10 minutes in that room (which felt like much, much longer) and read everything on the walls (I learned a newborn will typically breastfeed 8 times in 24 hours–dang mommas!) To be honest, waiting was probably the worst part. I was so nervous…
My OBGYN came in and reaffirmed that I wanted the Paragard IUD. She told me the cons about it like potentially heavier periods and cramping. She showed me how big it was with a sample and explained how the strings would hang out of my cervix and told me to feel the strings and that I should check to see if I could feel them after each period to make sure the IUD hadn’t fallen out, etc. The IUD was bigger than an inch, which surprised me because I thought it’d be smaller. So seeing that actually made me more nervous. Then, she told me to lay back and put my feet up in the stirrups, just like with a pap smear. She inserted a speculum so she could see my cervix which was fine and didn’t hurt and let me know what she was doing with each step. The next thing she had to do was measure my cervix as well as insert the clamp to keep it straight for the IUD insertion. This was my first taste of pain. She inserted another tube-like thing called a tenaculum (the clamp, which actually pierces the cervix to hold it in place, hence the pain) and told me it might be uncomfortable and to take a deep breath in. It clamped onto my cervix and immediately I felt the sensation of a really, really bad cramp intermixed with being pinched in a highly, never-before-felt sensitive area. It was such a weird, painful sensation that I actually moaned in pain and said things like, “Ouch,” “This hurts–owww,” etc., which I didn’t think I’d do at all. You suddenly become completely aware of just exactly where in your body your cervix is and that it hates to be touched. The next thing she did was swab my cervix with a long q-tip dipped in Betadine to sterilize it for the procedure, which didn’t hurt, thankfully. I had a mini break there while she and the nurse prepared the other tube which held the IUD in it, which is called a sound. This was the most painful part of the whole procedure. The sound pushes the IUD (which has had its “wings” bent for easy insertion) up past your cervix into your womb where the wings then pop out. My doctor guided me through some deep breathing exercises; a big breath in as the sound was pushed to the tip of my cervix and a big breath out while it went through my cervix and released the IUD into my womb. The part where it was going through my cervix was super painful but I think the breathing helped (again, I mumbled “Owwwwwwwww” and such). It felt like the worst cramping I’d ever had on my period combined with this much more acute pinching pain. But! The good thing was after it was over and done with the pain immediately receded. And! The entire procedure starting with the speculum to the sound was less than five minutes. The most painful part lasted less than a minute.
It’s been over a week now since I’ve had the IUD and things are going great. The first day was not bad at all, thanks in large part to the ibuprofen I took ahead of time. In fact, I felt so okay that first day I went to my kickboxing class a few hours after the procedure. One thing that was uncomfortable that night was that I could feel the strings poking my cervix. The strings feel like dental floss, so they’re tough, and my doctor did say that they would…moisten…after a while, which they thankfully did by the next day. I did re-up on my ibuprofen because of that. The next few days I actually relied on ibuprofen a lot, especially because I kept my exercise routine going. Probably would’ve saved me some pain to skip a week, but it wasn’t so bad. I took about 600mg of ibuprofen before exercise and used a heating pad as well. The pain always appeared in the afternoon. This lasted for maybe 4-5 days. Currently, I’m on my period which came early. I did have spotting and it took me a minute to figure out I was on my period this week since technically I’ve been bleeding since last Thursday. I know it takes a few months (typically 3-6 months) for your body to get used to the IUD and periods to get regular. My period is definitely heavier than before but the cramping is non-existent as of right now. From the looks of it, it does seem like my periods will be longer and heavier, at least for the time being. Overall, though, I am so, so happy I finally got my IUD! The peace of mind is worth the minute of pain. I’ll more than likely update in 3 or so months to report on how everything’s going, but right now I’m so proud I went through with this!
P.S. If you yourself are planning on getting an IUD, pump this when you’re driving home or some similar anthem because you did it!