I’ve just gotten back from my appointment with my doctor to check up on my IUD. Now that I’ve had it for three whole months I thought that it would be a good time to have a chat about my experience with the IUD.
What on earth is an IUD?
IUD stands for intra-uterine device. It is a contraceptive device. The device is about an inch long and is inserted into the uterus by a doctor. There are two different types of IUD: the copper IUD and the Mirena IUD. The copper IUD works essentially as a spermicide, as copper is toxic to sperm. The Mirena contains a low dose of the same hormones that are contained in the contraceptive pill, and works by thinning the uterine lining so that a fertilized egg cannot implant and grow into a fetus. Both types of IUD are extremely effective, and are the most effective type of long-term, reversible contraceptives. The copper IUD lasts for three years while the Mirena lasts for five.
Why did you get an IUD?
I started looking into getting an IUD about six months ago. The main reason was that I suffer from chronic migraines, which tend to get worse just after my period. I had been on the contraceptive pill since I was seventeen, and for the seven days when I was taking the inactive sugar pills in the pack, I felt wretched. This got worse as I got older and it was during this seven day window when my migraines occurred most frequently. I hoped that by getting off the contraceptive pill, I’d ease the severity of my migraines.
I had originally wanted to get a copper IUD, because it has no hormones at all and I wanted to get away from hormonal birth control. But after meeting with my gynaecologist and having a long discussion, she recommended that the Mirena would be a better fit. The reason being that the copper IUD has a lot more side effects, such as increased period bleeding and cramping. Also, she hoped that the Mirena, being a much lower dose of hormones than the pill, and also the fact that its’ a steady dose rather than the stop-start nature of the pill’s hormones, would still give me the benefit of easing my migraines.
What was the insertion like? Did it hurt?
The insertion was pretty quick, but it did hurt a lot more than I expected. Now, I know that some people get IUDs and experience very little pain or discomfort. But every body is different.
The first part of the process was pretty much the same as a pap smear. I took off all my clothing below the waist and lay on the examination table with my feet in stirrups. My doctor inserted a speculum into my vagina and then did a manual examination, using a gloved finger to feel my ovaries and check the position of my cervix. That bit was uncomfortable, but not at all painful. Next, the doctor used a clamp to hold onto the lip of my uterus. This is done to make sure that the uterus stays in place during the insertion (did you know that your uterus can move up and down? I only learned that when I started using a menstrual cup, because your uterus and cervix are actually much lower at the end of your cycle). This hurt quite a lot, and felt like a really sharp stinging pain low in my belly. Luckily, my doctor worked very quickly from this point because she knew how badly that clamp hurts.
Next, the doctor does what is called a Uterine Sounding, which is basically using a little rod to measure the length of your uterus. This is done to make sure that the IUD is put into the correct position. I didn’t find this painful at all, it just felt like a light menstrual cramp. Next, the doctor inserted the actual IUD, using the applicator. The applicator itself looks terrifying because it’s so long, but it helps to remember that most of what you see is just the handle for the doctor to hold onto and guide the device into place. The actual insertion was pretty painful for me. Even though I tried to stay relaxed and focus on breathing slowly and deeply, it still hurt. But it was over very quickly, and once the clamp was released I felt much better. My doctor gave me a high five and I was allowed to get dressed and leave.
That afternoon I felt a bit sick and woozy for about twenty minutes after the procedure. I had a bit of cramping, which just felt like menstrual cramps but they only lasted a few hours and were perfectly manageable with some Ibuprofen and a heat pack. I also had a bit of bleeding that afternoon. The following day I felt absolutely fine and went to work with no issues at all.
Did you have any side effects?
I’ve had very few side effects with the Mirena. The main one is that my periods have been kind of irregular. This is probably because my body is adjusting to not being on the pill. It’s a bit of a pain not knowing when I’m going to get my period, particularly as my cycle was like clockwork when I was on the pill. But my doctor has said that my cycle will settle into a rhythm after a few months.
I’ve also had a tiny bit more cramping on my period than what I’m used to. But nothing too severe.
About three weeks after the insertion I had horrible sharp pains on one side of my lower stomach. I realised that these were ovulation pains, which are caused when the ovary releases an egg. When you are on the pill, you don’t ovulate, so this was my first ovulation in 13 years and I think it was a shock to my body, and that’s why it hurt so much. In subsequent months I’ve had the tiniest twinge of ovulation pain, but nothing so bad as that first time.
Are you happy with it?
I’m very happy with the Mirena. I haven’t had a migraine since I got it inserted, which is the longest I’ve gone without a migraine in five years. I don’t expect my migraines to stop entirely, because i know that I have other triggers besides hormonal fluctuations but this has definitely helped to ease them. I no longer have to remember to take a pill every morning or worry about picking up my prescription from the chemist. It’s been really freeing, and so for that short burst of pain it’s been well worth it.
I’d definitely encourage people to think about the IUD as a long-term contraceptive option. It’s a less popular option than the pill because it’s more expensive initially and it has to be inserted, but it’s extremely effective and lasts for years. I’m really happy with mine and I’m open to answering any questions you might have based on my experience.
PS: if you want to find out why I no longer have my IUD, read: My IUD is Gone