“Woman must have her freedom, the fundamental freedom of choosing whether or not she will be a mother and how many children she will have. Regardless of what man’s attitude may be, that problem is hers — and before it can be his, it is hers alone. She goes through the vale of death alone, each time a babe is born. As it is the right neither of man nor the state to coerce her into this ordeal, so it is her right to decide whether she will endure it.”
― Margaret Sanger,
Late last year I decided to switch my birth control to an IUD, which was a less common option available to me when I was first considering it nearly a decade ago. It’s becoming more normal, but still isn’t fully normalized among some groups so I thought, hey! We haven’t had a massively controversial topic here on SDS in a minute (…unless you are one of my more conservative readers, in which case, hi, I’m really glad you’re here! Thank you for putting up with my almost weekly exasperated political grumpiness). Why don’t we talk about one woman’s experience in controlling her fertility, thanks to a socialist system of medicine. That will bring people together!
Honestly, though, it’s worth talking about because I think IUDs should be a more common option than they are in some areas of the world. When I first went on birth control in the US, I timidly asked my then-doctor if it was an option only to be scolded that it wasn’t something I should consider. I kind of wish I had pressed the issue, but as I didn’t have massive complaints about my experience with the pill at the time, I stayed on it for nearly nine years.
In order to get an IUD I had to first discuss the option at a normal appointment, book a secondary appointment with a specialist to talk through the pros, cons, and risks of the procedure, and then book a third appoint to actually have the device inserted. It sounds a bit obnoxious, but I appreciate the amount of effort the NHS puts into informing and preparing patients for this birth control option. There are hormonal versions and non-hormonal ones, each with unique common side effects, and there are risks to any kind of invasive procedure, so arming yourself with information and asking a boat load of questions is not just encouraged, it was practically compulsory. I went through my series of appointments and scheduled the final one over the Christmas break to allow my body to go through any of the symptoms I was warned I could experience.
Everyone’s experience is unique but typically the insertion procedure more difficult for for women who have never given birth, and sure enough, mine was not a walk in the park. It turns out that deliberately inserting something in the opposite direction nature intended things to move, through an orifice designed to stay closed until another human forces its way out–not easy! It took multiple attempts and I bless my doctor for for being willing to keep trying and talking me through the process and options. I handled the process with my usual style and grace: doing my best to crack jokes to mask my awkwardness and making conversation while stripped from the waist down as the doctor became intimately acquainted with my internal workings. The high point (or low depending on your point of view) was when the doctor, several instruments and intrusions into the procedure, suddenly exclaimed, “What on earth is that?” causing me to demand, “What’s wrong?” in a squeaky and alarmed voice. She burst out laughing and apologized, saying that she had overheard someone raising their voices in the hall and everything…of mine…was a-ok. I chuckled weakly and did my best to calm down.
The sensations were mostly discomfort with flashes of intense-discomfort-bordering-on-pain-but-not-quite. Pre-warned by friends, my GP, and plenty of research I came to the appointment armed with over the counter painkillers and was able to breathe through the worst of the poking and prodding. My procedure was longer than the average appointment, but the doctor built in time for a bit of recovery and monitoring in-office, which I appreciated.
After my innards had gotten over the initial shock (and I use that phrase seriously; my uterus had several questions about the situation and was making its discomfort known through some vigorous cramps) my GP took my blood pressure. It was nicely spiked, which is apparently a good thing because it turns out that for reasons not fully understood, the female human heart rate tends to plummet when you poke her in the cervix. Bodies are weird.
Fellow uterus-bearing types: be smarter than me. If you have transportation, and more importantly a designated driver, use this resource.
After my heart rate returned to normal and I felt pretty calm, I walked home the blessedly short distance between my GP and my flat. This was probably a mistake. At my normal pace this is a brisk, five minute jaunt and I had some vague motion that easy movement would help me “settle” my new internal friend in a gentle way. I was a fool, it was the slowest, saddest walk you can imagine. My steps were about four inches in length–anything more strident than that and I experienced intense muscular twinges from my knees to my shoulders–and very small movements triggered cramps that are on par with the most serious menstrual cramps I’ve ever experienced.
Again, I wouldn’t classify what I was experiencing as pain. The best way I can describe it is as a full court press of discomfort. My body had experienced something invasive and highly unusual and every part of me from my uterus to my lizard brain was clearly trying to adjust to a series of new sensations. It’s not unheard of for the body to expel the device for some women on their first try using it as their primary birth control method, and this was my most immediate paranoid concern.
By the time I shuffled slowly through the front door, I felt exhausted and achy all over. Jeff immediately tucked me into bed where, thanks to continuing full body cramps, I stayed there for the better part of two days. It might sound foolish, but I honestly believe I was going through some kind of wussy version of shock as I was a bit floaty for those two days and slept heavily. I was also advised to take it slow for a few days to allow my uterus to adjust to a foreign body, so things like exercise were cautioned against until I felt fighting fit.
But wait, there was more! The procedure triggered an early arrival of my period and kicked off an additional week of uneven spotting (both are very normal side effects and ones I had been prepped for by my GP). I was advised that spotting could occur intermittently for a few weeks but thus far I’ve not experienced anything past that first week of adjustment. In fact I’ve had no other negative side effects at all: my skin has remained even and healthy, which I was lucky enough to have before I went on the pill years ago, and after that first few days of wild physical and strangely emotional sensations, everything has leveled out.
So, why did I do it?
A few reasons. Though there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the pill contributes to weight gain or difficulty with weight loss, there is a lot of anecdotal content from people who believe that hormonal birth control contributed to their weight in some way. As for me, I’m not sure. My weight changed after I went on the pill all those years ago and whether this was due solely to the lifestyle change of getting married and living with a guy who consumes approximately seventeen times as many calories a day as me, or was influenced by other factors I cannot say for sure. But my weight started going up at about the same time I went on my prescription/got married and for the past nine years no matter how healthy I was eating or how regularly I was exercising (every day at my most dedicated), I never lost what I had gained. I’ve made some diet changes recently, about the same time I went off the pill…and I’ve lost nearly 10lbs in under a month with no other changes to my day to day life. It’s purely anecdotal and personal to me, but I’m very happy to see a dramatic positive shift even if it’s temporary or plateaus in some way.
I also suspected, and I discussed the possibility at length with my doctor, that the pill might have been contributing to the frequency of my migraines. These attacks have become more frequent in recent years and as time went on I found them getting closer and closer together. Changes in your levels of female sex hormones are a possible trigger for migraines, so it seemed possible that the medication that regulates my hormones might have something to do with the pattern of these attacks. Then again, stress also triggers migraines for me so a number of factors could be at play here. Again, the science is still evolving on this, and again, I discussed this with my doctor across several appointments in considering switching up my birth control methods. Ultimately we decided to try a non-hormonal option to see if there were any changes. About a month later, I’ve yet to have another migraine attack.
Finally, removal of an IUD is a fairly easy procedure and if you’re on a non-hormonal option as I chose, your normal fertility is restored almost instantly. Meaning that if and when we decide my husband and I want to try and start a family, I won’t have to go through a process of weaning my body off hormones first. An option that was instantly effective upon insertion and is instantly negated on removal appeals to me.
So all in all, this first foray into addressing a couple of health concerns this year seems to be going okay and the decisions seems like it was a good one so far. It was worth it for me to take a few days discomfort in exchange for a non hormonal method of birth control that’s over 99% effective, lasts up to ten years, and doesn’t require a daily medication. I did a lot of research into it as an option and am lucky to enjoy a health system that offers it as an option and takes providing me with it as a serious matter worthy of informative sessions with specialists.
The comments are open: if you feel like sharing an experience in making a major health decision, please do so. I’m interested in hearing how people choose to take control of their health or wellbeing and as there are about 7 billion bodies on the planet, I suspect there are 7 billion stories out there about choices, consequences, and information to share.