This post was written by a former ConsumerSafety.org contributor.
There are two reasons why I chose to get the Mirena IUD. First, I have a horrible memory. Truly, there are days where I’ve lost my phone and tried to call it…from my phone. Not a great trait for a person who needs to remember to take a pill at the same time every day. Second, the man who sits in the oval office does not believe in my right to choose. As a woman who is decidedly NOT ready for children, I can honestly say that the current administration and potential law changes made me worry about my continued access to birth control.
Since the new American HealthCare Act provides religious establishments with an “out” for providing birth control coverage, and states the ability to change the “necessary” needs of available health insurance, I am sure that I am not alone in my fears. For me, the Mirena offered a simple solution to both of my qualms. For the next five years, I am safe from unintended pregnancy, and the thing that keeps me safe is bought, paid for, and in a place where it cannot be easily taken from me.
Covering My Bases
That isn’t to say that I didn’t do my research first. Switching contraceptive options can be hugely beneficial, but it can also have some side effects. For long-term effectiveness, I considered the implant device, which is placed under the skin in the upper arm, but I was told by friends that they could actually feel the implant day to day. Ew. I thought about the injections, but those require a schedule too, and I am not a huge fan of needles. So we circled back to the IUD.
I was presented with 2 options: the copper IUD and the Mirena, or similar hormone-based IUDs. The copper IUD is a fantastic option for women who can’t handle hormones. Those who have experienced bad side effects on the combined pill or the mini pill should definitely take the copper IUD into consideration. However, the copper IUD is associated with heavier periods, so if you are a cramp-hating lady like myself, it might not be the best option. You should also not get the copper IUD if you are currently taking an anticoagulant, since it can aggravate the risk of serious bleeds—a risk that resulted in thousands of Pradaxa lawsuits settled in 2014. This can be particularly troubling in the case of Xarelto, which has no antidote. Severe bleeding has lead to thousands of Xarelto lawsuits, including one verdict for $28 million.
Although the Mirena can cause irregular or heavy periods initially, most women have reduced or nonexistent monthly flow after six months. Also, its hormone base is similar to the COC I was already taking, which I knew my body had responded well to. So, after reading the brochures, checking the internet, and chatting with every friend I knew who had an IUD, I decided to go for it!
Alright, so here is where we get real. You, like me, have decided to get an IUD. You want to know what it will be like, so you ask a lot of people. Let me be clear: They will all tell you different things, and they will sugarcoat it. Don’t trust the women who have already pushed a child out of their vagina – their perceptions of pain and annoyance have been tampered by nine months of pregnancy and labor. And your doctor? Yeah, she (or he) is going to downplay it. So listen up, folks, ‘cause here is the deal: IUD insertion SUCKS, and so will the 7 days following that magical appointment.
Let me walk you through. After your initial appointment to discuss your options, make sure to contact your insurance provider to check for coverage – your doctor can’t insert your IUD without running it by them first. Then schedule your insertion for a day when you don’t have to go to work (or dance class or a date or anything really) after. Stock up on some chocolate and grab a couple movies, girls. If you love sex, have it a bunch before you go (while still taking your pill!!), because you won’t be able to for a week or two after. You’re actually not allowed to have intercourse for the first 5–7 days.
Insertion, or The Worst Thing Ever.
About two hours before my appointment, I had to insert a massive pill into my vagina. No joke. This pill apparently dissolved and provided some numbing for the area, “softened things up” as it were. (Honestly, I didn’t realize there was a difference between a soft and hard cervix, but go figure.) I have to say, I was pretty nervous. I went alone, which really just depends on your comfort level, but if you’re more comfortable holding someone’s hand, bring a friend! A close friend! NOT an acquaintance or a new boyfriend.
Before they got started, I looked my doctor in the eye and told her not to sugarcoat it. She said, “This is going to be uncomfortable, and you will probably be cursing my name for the next few days.” I nodded, feeling like that was probably true. First they did a quick exam, to make sure everything in my vagina and cervix was ready to go. Happily, they used a plastic speculum, so I didn’t have to deal with cold metal on a sensitive area on top of everything else.
Then they used a clamps to hold my cervix in place. Ladies who have had a child, you know what came next. It felt like a rolling sensation coming down from my stomach and settling deep into my nether regions. The pain made my eyes water; it was like nothing I had ever felt before. The doc assured me I was doing great and that I should try to relax. ‘Cause she wasn’t done.
Now they got to insert the actual device. They had to go past my cervix and into the tip top of my uterus, so that my IUD could settle into place. Again, the rolling sensation happened. But this time, it wasn’t a quick clamp and get out. The insertion process takes about 30-60 seconds, which sounds quick but felt like an eternity. A literal moan of pain escaped me– the only time I have EVER made an involuntary noise at the doctor’s office. In that moment, I hated my doctor, myself for choosing this, and my uterus.
Lastly, they checked the strings, which was uncomfortable but not nearly as bad as the insertion. I signed up for a one-month check-up to make sure the strings stayed in place, got my clothes on and was out of there. I felt pretty normal for about an hour, and then the cramps began. For the next three days, I worked from my bed, if I worked at all. It felt like the worst period of my life, on steroids. I ate chocolate when I wasn’t nauseous, and switched from heat to ice packs to help with the cramps. And, my doctor was right: I was cursing her name.
After Effects (A.K.A. The Joy of Long-Term Birth Control)
Okay now we get to chat about the good part. The pain ended. I got back to feeling like myself. After 2 weeks, I tried being intimate with my partner, and was thrilled that I had no pain, and he couldn’t feel the strings (this had been a big worry of mine, as some men claim they can feel them during intercourse). I had a moment of panic right after, thinking I’d forgotten my pill, and then the biggest smile came over me. There was no pill. I was safe. I could enjoy my love life without fear.
Most women do experience heavier, longer periods for the first 3-6 months they have a Mirena, and I am no different. But I can honestly say that I am happy with my choice. The anxiety about forgetting a pill is gone. I can enjoy a healthy intimate life with total freedom. Other than the long periods, I have had none of the side effects from Mirena that I saw in those Mirena lawsuit headlines. And the best part? If I change my mind, I can get pregnant almost immediately after IUD removal. If I want to be a mom, it will be my choice, my joyful, loving choice. And that was worth it all.