This is an opinion piece based on Sarah’s personal experience. Professional information on the IUD from the NHS can be found here.
“Yes, I am 100% sure.” I told a concerned-looking nurse for about the 7th time. I know why she was concerned; I was 23, had not yet had any children and was making an appointment for a form of contraception which would see the risks of pregnancy significantly decreased during what were supposed to be my best child-bearing years. However, I had firmly made my mind up.
I had not had much luck when it came to hormones, contraception or anything puberty related. I was a very early developer, and my puberty seemed to be amplified. It was thought I had PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) a condition which affects how your ovaries work, causing hormonal imbalances leading to extreme puberty symptoms such as spots, weight gain and hair growth. Because of this, I was put on the pill as early as 12. No “are you sure?” just “here’s a prescription for Microgynon” and there I had it. After being on the pill throughout most of my teens, I decided when I moved to university that I wanted to try something different and opted for the injection. This is a substance that was injected into my stomach every 3 months in order to thicken the womb lining and prevent pregnancy (and on the plus side, no periods). It had fewer hormones and side effects than the pill, and, seen as I was at the back end of puberty, I wanted to see what life was like without such an intense level of hormones racing around my body. I have to say that I loved the injection. I loved that it was less-upkeep and more permanent than the pill and that the side effects were significantly reduced. However, this permanency and lack of maintenance led me to crave more.
I had heard about the IUD (Intrauterine Device) through sex education but had forgotten all about it until I began googling. I decided to investigate it further and upon reading that it would last up to 5 years, I decided to book a consultation and eventually a fitting. Upon entering the kind, Welsh nurse’s office for the consultation, she seemed shocked that someone as young as I was was even considering such a permanent solution and even tried to coax me back towards the pill. However, I was having none of it. The cramps that remained present, even without periods on the injection, were an early sign of undiagnosed endometriosis and the thought of having agonizing periods was motivation enough to act. Somewhat reluctantly, the nurse talked me through the pros and cons, stating that the IUD is more commonly given to women who had already had their children. I nodded my understanding, secretly knowing that I had already made my decision that children are not on my agenda (no, not when I’m older, never). My enthusiasm had its desired effect and the nurse booked me in for my procedure. She told me to make sure I had eaten something before and that I was allowed to bring someone with me on the day. I asked about pain and if I should take some ibuprofen prior to the procedure. She said, and I cannot stress this enough, “it will be mildly uncomfortable, but nothing too bad.”
Let me tell you, that what I experienced on that day was anything but “mildly uncomfortable.” To me, “mildly uncomfortable” is thinking its a good idea to wear those new shoes on a day trip to London but figuring out they rub your feet in the first 10 minutes. The fitting of the IUD was utter hell on earth. I lay face-up on the couch, my unceremoniously discarded pink thong and leggings draped over the nearby chair, my legs in a position which I really should have been given gymnastics training for. (The nurse gets extra points here for telling me that my freshly pedicured toenails looked stunning). I do not say this lightly, but ladies, having your cervix artificially widened with a tool that can only be described as the lovechild of a shoehorn and barbeque tongs is quite an experience. My soul physically drained out my body. However, I could handle it. This is what I thought the nurse meant by “mildly uncomfortable.”
But then came ‘the Click’. That dreaded click of the IUD making its grand entrance to my disgruntled uterus. And my uterus was having none of it. It felt like I could feel my cervix contracting around the device, putting me in the worst pain I have ever felt in my life, and I’ve had some horrendous period cramps in my time. In an attempt to process what was happening downstairs, my body began to sweat profusely and came over all tingly, before slowly blacking out into a state of darkness. I’ve had this reaction previously with piercings, tattoos and needles, so I thought once I came round and had a Lucozade, I’d be swell.
After about the 4th time of passing out and coming to, I realized that any movement was too painful and was causing me to black out all over again. It became apparent I was not going anywhere anytime soon. But it was in. That little T-shaped device that was going to ward off unwanted pregnancy was nestled firmly in my uterus, where it would stay for the next 5 years.
After about an hour, I finally managed to put my legs down, peel my sweat-soaked back off the couch, and, with none of my dignity intact, replace my pink thong and my leggings. I was swiftly whisked from the surgery by my Mum, who fair play to her had witnessed the whole thing and managed to remain calm, and was plopped in my bed where I could begin the process of wallowing in self-pity for the remainder of the day, with a hot water bottle and paracetamol.
Mildly uncomfortable my arse.
Once the pain wore off however, I honestly completely forgot about it. Some medical professionals say that you should be able to feel the little copper wire that comes down from the bottom of the device, but I have yet to feel it, although I have been assured on numerous checkups that the device is secure. I personally don’t have any periods and have yet to experience any complications or side effects, although I know this is not the case for everyone. I have to say, I am dreading having it out, however, in my opinion, a days’ worth of pain is a small price to pay for not having to take the pill everyday and for not having to maintain something for half a decade.
If anyone were to ask me whether I think women should be offered some local anesthetic for this procedure, I would say ABSOLUTELY. The concerns outlined in the aftercare leaflet and by the nurses that did my procedure made zero mention of the sheer amount of pain my body would experience. To me, it seems a very needlessly brutal procedure wrapped in the lie of ‘mild discomfort.’ So would I recommend the IUD as a more permanent form of contraception? Yes. It is perfect for those women who, like me, just want to forget about it. I would also recommend it to anyone suffering from endometriosis, as it can help ease that chronic pelvic pain and those crippling periods. However, would I recommend the procedure? No. It’s not for the faint-hearted. I am hoping to see reform on this, especially with the recent media attention, but with the complete disregard for women evidenced in associated pain or side effects of any form of contraception, I am not holding my breath. All I can do now is wait until 2024 and hope that the removal and reinsertion is exponentially easier than the initial insertion.