As a newlywed, I found myself, like a lot of women, wondering what form of long-term contraception would be best for my body. After much deliberation, and having already tried the majority of methods available, I decided to give an intrauterine device (IUD) a go. Little did I know that it would make my life a living hell.
For those of you who don't know what an IUD - or coil, as it's often referred to - is, it's a small T-shaped piece of plastic that's inserted into the uterus. There are two types of IUDs, and the names they go by differ depending on where you live. One is the hormonal intrauterine device - called an intrauterine system (IUS) in the UK - and the other is the nonhormonal copper IUD.
Copper IUDs primarily act as a spermicide within the uterus, by damaging and disrupting sperm mobility so that they are prevented from joining with an egg. Whereas hormonal IUDs work by releasing levonorgestrel, a manufactured form of the hormone progestin, in the uterus each day. The IUD's predominant technique is thickening cervical mucus, making it impenetrable to sperm. With an estimated 150million users globally, the IUD has become the most popular form of reversible birth control. It is more than 99% effective at controlling pregnancy for up to five years and remains the safest method of contraception.
Since I live in both New York and London, I resolved to have my IUD inserted whilst I was in England, as it's free under the National Health Service. Compare that to my insurance company in America, which quoted me upward of $800. I chose to have a copper IUD put in place, because in the past I'd had a terrible time on the oral contraceptive (birth control) pill.
The male doctor was just about to begin the insertion when he informed me that I should try a hormonal IUD, such as the brand Mirena, instead of the copper IUD that I'd originally opted for. I explained the reasoning behind my personal choice, but he insisted, stating, "I don't normally make suggestions, but from what I can tell of your body, you should really go for Mirena." Legs spread, and feeling somewhat insecure, I changed my decision at the last moment, as he strongly advised. And boy did I regret that one!
The procedure itself was painful. I have a high pain tolerance, but I don't care what anyone says: When someone is giving you an injection into your private parts with a syringe the length of my size-nine foot, let's just say it's not exactly a fun time. The doctor attempted to sympathize with me, informing me that it was normal to feel "slight discomfort or mild pain" following insertion. Upon hearing this, I wanted to punch him in his nonexistent uterus.
When I left the doctor's office, I felt as though I'd gone through serious invasive surgery. I remained on co-codamol (codeine/acetaminophen) around the clock, due to the severe state of pain that I was in. As I predicted, my breasts grew to porn-star proportions and my mood swings went full American Psycho. I was lethargic, unmotivated, and depressed. With this new strain on my relationship, I had no libido to speak of.
I called the sexual health clinic multiple times to speak with someone about my side effects. I was repeatedly told that I just needed to accept the "settling-in period" as my body adjusted to hormones. When I made further complaints, I was informed that I'd have to wait the recommended three months before deciding whether I could have it removed. As you women know, the struggle is real, and I couldn't handle the heat. I couldn't imagine another week with the IUD in me, let alone three months. I'm having it removed, finally, in a few days' time, but I'm faced with yet another dilemma. Do I swear off IUDs for the rest of my pitiful existence? Or do I switch to the IUD I'd dreamed of, a copper coil, as the answer to my prayers?
I've received mixed messages from medical professionals and friends. Some informed me that in the UK doctors favor IUDs for being foolproof and cheap contraception that results in fewer visits to overstretched medical offices. In America, I was told that doctors were being paid by big drug and pharmaceutical companies to push IUDs on patients. Everyone scared me with their too-soon-to-tell statistics and cancer theories.
Regardless of whether you're a diehard Mirena fan or a supporter of another contraceptive method, women must seriously question the physical and emotional (and don't forget literal) cost of an IUD. I only hope that doctors will start giving women the full picture before prescribing something that might have serious health implications.