I’m writing because I am sick of being silent and feeling like I don’t have a voice. I have come to realise that nothing will ever change or move forward unless we speak about our experiences and share our stories loudly. And today, I want to give a voice to women’s health, and talk about the healthcare system in this country.
I had a copper IUD fitted back in 2019. Like many women who decide to opt for the copper coil, my choice stemmed largely from wanting to go hormone-free. They say it takes approximately 3 to 6 months for the coil to settle in your body, during which one might experience heavier bleeding and more intense cramping.
A couple of months into having the Paragard fitted, I landed in hospital with possibly the worst stomach pains I had ever experienced in my life. I always considered myself to be quite pain tolerant. But that night, I was fearing the worst, because this pain was far from normal. My partner at the time rushed me to the hospital and spent 5 hours in the waiting room with me, before someone eventually called me in for an initial medical review. The result? I was told off for not taking enough paracetamol. That was pretty much it. No further enquiry, and not even an ultrasound scan was offered. We left at 4am.
The pain has subsided since then, but even months on, not having any answers from that night was tugging at my brain like an annoying itch. I never liked not having answers. With that said, I felt relatively content about the coil for a while. Put aside the fact I was getting more intense cramps than ever before, bleeding heavily, and unable to walk around or work without wincing in pain some days. But it was worth it, in my mind. ‘Better to cramp and bleed all throughout the month than have to fill my body with unnecessary hormones, right?’. In my mind there was no better alternative. ‘Besides, pain was a normal side effect, no? It’s just something women have to put up with’, I told myself.
Hang on a moment – have you ever stopped to think about all the GP visits you’ve been to, where you happened to raise concerns over your contraception, only to be told “this is very common when you’re on the pill,” or “yes, this is normal for many women, you might just have to take more paracetamol.” Have you ever thought about all these non-answers given to you, that somehow end up in you leaving the doctor’s office, and realising that this is just what you have to put up with?
We have normalised pain in women, so much that even serious side effects rarely result in a further medical investigation. Women have become conditioned to accept pain simply as part of being female. And I was about to fall victim to that.
About 4-5 months onwards, I began experiencing severe anxiety symptoms. They crept up on me slowly, but before long I was falling into panic attacks, mood swings, depressive states, and suicidal thoughts. My brain felt fried. I had memory and concentration troubles. I could no longer retain any information. I felt angry, irritated, and extremely self-critical. Soon enough, I stopped feeling like myself. I felt lost in my own body and mind. But I did not suspect the IUD as a potential contributing factor.
Two years on, things took a turn for the worse. I was finding myself in pain about 75% of the month. And just a few weeks ago, it turned into daily pain that was increasing by the hour.
I can’t quite describe it. It felt like muscle contractions mixed with bloating, and a stabbing pain in my ovaries and the right abdominal. My insides felt inflamed. The GP examined me, noted that I felt very tender around the area, and advised that I go to the hospital to check for appendicitis.
Hours later, I was on the hospital bed, crying in pain. I will omit a heap of other upsetting and frustrating details from that day, which were largely down to patient mistreatment. That night, I was sent home with more painkillers and told to come back for an ultrasound the next day. I cried myself to sleep hoping the pain would go away, and somehow eventually dozed off, probably from the mix of codeine and other medication.
One ultrasound, a CT scan, and many hours later, a doctor came in to review me. “We have excluded the worst,” he said. “You don’t have appendicitis and you don’t need surgery, so you’re not an urgent medical concern. You can go home today.”
I tried emphasising how much pain I was in, but he seemed happy enough having excluded appendicitis. “Well, could it be my IUD perhaps?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not a gynaecologist. You can come back to your GP to discuss these things.”
“But the GP sent me here in the first place,” I explained. At that point, I was starting to get frustrated – why wasn’t I offered to see a gynaecologist?
“I’m not trying to undermine what you’re feeling, but from a medical standpoint, you are not an urgent concern. If you want, you can come back to us when the pain is worse”, he said .
“… but the pain is already the worst it has been,” I continued.
In that moment, he turned to me and said “Some women just have worse cramps. It’s normal, especially with a coil.”
That sentence hit me like a brick wall. I grabbed my discharge papers and left hospital that day feeling angry, confused and upset. I wanted to get as far away from that place as possible.
I booked a GP visit the next day to have my IUD removed. Though I still didn’t know the cause of the problem, I wanted to eliminate any and all possible sources of pain. By that point, my days revolved around it, and I couldn’t even process daily tasks. The GP put in the speculum and examined me.
“I can’t find your strings,” she said.
“Sorry darling, I keep looking but it’s just not there. You have a bad bacterial infection as well. Are you sure the ultrasounds came back clear?”
I started panicking – “Well, they excluded appendicitis. But I’m not sure if they checked my IUD properly. The doctor who reviewed me said he is not a gynaecologist, and that he doesn’t know about these things.” I knew for a fact the strings were there just a few months ago, because the nurse checked them during a smear test. The GP seemed a bit startled, and suggested that we refer me back for an ultrasound.
“How soon could I see somebody?”
“I don’t know, but it won’t be until after next week, maybe a few weeks.”
“Weeks? But I can’t wait that long. What if it’s too late by then? I have no idea where this thing is inside me, I want to take it out.” She could see my distress, but there was not much more she could do on her end. This was the point at which she turned around to me and gave a suggestion I will never forget:
“You know, women in France are often told to remove their IUD by themselves. If you’re in a lot of pain, you could try getting in a hot bath to relax, and attempt to remove it yourself. IUDs pop right out.”
“Sorry?” – I was a bit puzzled at what was just suggested to me. “Isn’t that dangerous?”
“Nope, it’s perfectly safe. If you’re in too much pain over the weekend, you have my official permission to get in a hot bath and try to take it out yourself.” Those were her exact words.
That’s right. The doctor had just suggested self-removal.
So let me get this straight. There is now a strong possibility that the IUD has migrated somewhere in my body, and the doctor is telling me to get in a hot bath to try and pull it out?
IUD removal is a medical procedure. Even if, for whatever reason, a woman decides to take it out herself, and does so with no complications – why on earth would you suggest it to someone whose coil is currently AFK? How can you even give this out as actual medical advice?
Coincidentally, just days earlier, I stumbled upon an article about Paragard from just three weeks prior, claiming that thousands of women are filing lawsuits against the manufacturer. Why? Because the device has been reported to break during either insertion or removal, forcing women to have leftover pieces of the device removed surgically, via methods like laparoscopy.
And yet here I was, getting ‘official permission’ from the GP to remove it myself, with the claim that it is ‘perfectly safe,’ and that there is no risk of breakage.
I got back to my mum’s car 5 minutes later and something inside me just broke. I started having a panic episode, and was crying into her lap helplessly. I didn’t know where my coil was, the pain was worsening, and I still had zero answers. I didn’t expect my mum to get as furious as she did in that moment. “You’re not coming back to the hospital again,” she said. “They will hurt you more sending you back and forth like that.” Bless my parents for being so amazing, because within minutes of coming home, without me even asking, they called around a few doctors, and managed to find me a private gynaecologist for an emergency visit.
That doctor found my IUD. And I can’t tell you the relief that came with having that piece of crap removed from me. My legs immediately felt lighter. My bloating went away within an hour. I was still sore from everything, but the mind-numbing abdominal and pelvic pain slowly started to float away. It was the IUD’s fault all along.
“It either moved slightly out of place, or was improperly inserted to begin with,” he said. “And you have no bacterial infection there. The coil just upset your body. The moment you start having pain like that, it’s a sign it’s not working for you, and you have to take it out.”
When I told him what the GP said about self-removal, he laughed out loud like it was the most ridiculous thing he’d heard all year. The GP not only gave me dangerous advice, but she prescribed me antibiotics for a bacterial infection that wasn’t even present.
Although I considered myself lucky, I couldn’t help but think how things would have panned out if I did decide to opt for self-removal. I was certainly getting desperate enough. I thought ‘maybe I’m the stupid one here who’s overreacting, and I should just take my GP’s advice.’ Or maybe this pain really is ‘normal.’
I managed to get the opinion of 3 other doctors after the incident. And what did they say? “You should never, by any means, try to remove an IUD by yourself.”
So what was happening here? I realised getting fobbed off and sent home in pain was standard for many women. I realised that the moment the doctor said, “Some women just have worse cramps,” I fell victim to a dangerous trap in our society and the healthcare system.
To add to that, I found thousands of women like me online, who, with no history of mental health issues, started experiencing severe anxiety, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, after having the coil fitted. One post was from a mother, whose daughter’s deteriorating mental health led her to take her own life. Hair and skin samples eventually revealed high levels of copper in her system.
And yet when I brought up the issue of my deteriorating mental health to a gynaecologist a few months back, he said “I have never heard of copper toxicity from an IUD in my career before. There is no evidence for this,” and made me feel stupid for even asking the question.
I’ve noticed this pattern in most doctors I’ve encountered here in the UK. “I’ve never heard of this” or “there is no evidence,” they’d say, therefore it can’t be true.
Let me clarify that I’m not a doctor. But when I think about the human body, I consider how our enteric system alone is filled with over 100 million nerve cells that line the gastrointestinal tract and connect directly to the brain. Then I think about the studies that suggest the uterus plays a role in cognitive function and mental health. Whenever you were cramping, were you in a good mood? Probably not. How about the time you were so stressed out that you felt sick to your gut?
And so I can’t help but question – is there not the slightest chance that even a hormone-free IUD, surrounded by all these nerve connections, is capable of affecting our mood? Is it not especially likely if that coil is also out of place? Are you really telling me that walking around with a foreign object in your uterus has no chance of affecting you mentally at all?
Why does such a simple notion get so largely rejected by doctors, especially when it comes to women’s health? Why do we get fobbed off, even when the pain is unbearable? I believe it’s because we, as women, are expected to endure more. Our pain is undermined. Female reproductive health, including side effects in female contraceptives, don’t get enough research or attention. And the medical industry as a whole is gender biased.
I’m not trying to put every single thing down to sexism, but let’s think about it – why has the male contraceptive not been released yet? The last time trials were stopped, was because men reported side effects like decreased libido or mood swings. Compare that to the literal risk of blood clots, severe mental health issues and bleeding with most female contraceptives. So I ask – what the hell are you doing to our bodies? Why is this allowed? And why are men shielded from it?
It’s about time we take women’s health seriously. And it’s about time we re-evaluate the healthcare system, which is quite literally endangering lives. Your pain is valid, and it is never something you should have to put up with.
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