Yesterday I finally took the leap and got an IUD! After months of issues with my birth control pill and the release of new information about significant risks associated with my particular brand I gave in and scheduled an appointment. Before I went in, I was pretty anxious about what I would experience, and didn’t find a lot of information about what would actually happen once I got there readily available. Now that I have experienced it, I thought it would be really helpful to share with everyone else how getting an IUD really works!
Below you will find information about what an IUD is and my own personal experiences having an IUD inserted. It is very important to remember that these were my experiences, and that in general experiences will vary depending on your own body. It is also important to know that I got the hormonal IUD Mirena and not a copper device.
What is the IUD? The IUD is a match-stick sized t-shaped rod inserted into your uterus to help prevent pregnancy. They come in two kinds: copper (ParaGard) and hormonal (Mirena). Since my own experiences were only with Mirena, this is what I will be concentrating on here.
The Mirena device works by releasing small amounts of progestin locally which thickens your cervical mucus (which blocks sperm from meeting with an egg), and prevents eggs from being released. This basically means that it prevents pregnancy and not the transmission of STIs (you should use barrier methods as well if you are hoping to do this!). As a form of contraception, Mirena is 99% effective. The IUD is thought to be the safest and most effective form of birth control on the market. It lasts up to 5 years, which makes it a fantastic option for young people looking for something easy and long-term. Although Mirena may have a large upfront cost, in the long-term it often ends up being a very cheap method. Many insurance companies will cover it in full, so make sure you check with your provider!
Mirena is also wonderful since it can decrease menstrual flow, sometimes stopping it completely, and help with cramps after the device settles in. However, it also comes with many side effects unique to this method such as: More spotting, pain during/after insertion, cramping, and rarely uterus perforation which can be very serious. However, since Mirena doesn’t have estrogen it isn’t associated with many of the negative side effects that you usually get with hormonal birth control such as the pill.
The IUD is inserted using a long tube that looks something like what you see in the image below. This image also can give you a good idea of where in the body the IUD sits.
As you can sort of see in this picture, the threads of your IUD will hang down past your cervix. This is so you can reach up every now and then and check to see if they are still there. However, often they settle into your body and even curl up around the outside of your cervix which makes it pretty hard to feel. On the bright side, this also means that the strings won’t be felt with a partner during penetrative intercourse which is a possibility during the first month or so with your IUD. The strings wouldn’t hurt a partner, but many people do report that they can sometimes tell they are there.
It is also of note that the IUD is effective immediately after it is inserted. With Mirena, this actually means that it is effective immediately if you have the device inserted during the first 7 days after your period. Otherwise, you should probably use a back-up method for the first week. Either way, you should consult with your doctor about it.
Now on to my own experiences…
Before the Procedure: There are a couple of things you can do before the procedure to help it go smoothly, and I want to make sure everyone knows how much they can help. It can mean the difference between a little bit of pain and a very short procedure, or a lot of pain and a procedure that lasts a couple minutes longer. Here is what you can do:
During the Procedure: Going into the procedure, I was extremely nervous. Although I had done everything I could to prepare before going in, I had no idea what to expect. I asked a couple of friends who said that there was a little pain and a lot of cramping. In retrospect (and after sending a text or two asking why they did not tell me the truth), I have come to believe they may have understated their own experiences a little bit.
The first thing that typically happens when you get to the office is a pregnancy test. My doctor didn’t do this since I had my period. Again, it is typically better to have your period when you go in to get your IUD. This is because the cervix will already be open more and farther down, making the whole procedure generally quicker and less painful.
Once I actually got into the exam room I had to take off my pants and have a STI test. This is usually done prior to getting your IUD since if you do have an STI and get your IUD put in, you’re at an increased risk for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and then for infertility. I waived the hospitals liability if this were to happen since I had to travel out of state to make this happen, and since I have been in a long-term monogamous relationship for the past three years, and so little chance of having recently contracted and STI.
After that, my doctor felt around to get an idea of the position of my uterus, which involved the insertion of a couple of fingers into the vagina while simultaneously feeling for the uterus on the abdomen. This was a little uncomfortable, but also fairly typically of what you might see at your yearly gyno exam.
Next, the procedure actually gets underway. Some metal holding forceps were put into the vagina and used to hold open the cervix. This felt fairly painful but nothing I couldn’t handle. It mostly felt like there was a lot of pressure pushing around inside of me. The real pain happened when they measured the length of my uterus. I have no idea how they did it, but I literally screamed in pain. Immediately after they inserted the IUD which also hurt, but not as badly as when they measured my uterus. However, it is worth noting that all of this took less than two minutes to do. In my experience, there was a lot of pain but it didn’t last long enough for it to be a real issue.
After the Procedure (Short-Term): I haven’t had my IUD for that long, so I can’t speak to how my body will react to it in the long run. However, I can tell you how the first day went: It was terrible. Immediately after the procedure I was a little dizzy, but not enough where I couldn’t easily get up and walk around. I went to lunch and to the store after.
About an hour and a half after the procedure my cramps seemed to get really bad. I had to head home and spend the rest of the evening on the couch with a heating pad on my abdomen. It felt like there was a lot of pressure and cramps happening in that part of my body. I ended up feeling a little sick to my stomach due to the pain. Even after taking some pain relievers it was still a lot to handle. Fortunately, by the time I went to bed the majority of the pain and cramping had subsided.
In the end, having and IUD was completely worth the pain for me. Since the whole procedure was free, I know have no-cost birth control until 2017. I won’t have to think about, worry about it, or anything else until I am 27. For me, that totally outweighs a day or two of discomfort. I can’t say how the next five years of having an IUD will go, but I’m feeling optimistic!