Tag: Birth Control

Dad, Skip This One (or, I Got an IUD and We’re Going to Talk About It)

“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, Woman and the New Race

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.

Image via Pexels

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?

Image via Pexels

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. 

Incendiary Monday Post – Healthcare, Birth Control, Women’s Roles – Oh My!

“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, Woman and the New Race

My old job did a horrible job at supporting women’s health. There, I said it. No real maternity leave (unless you count 12 weeks without pay, after which time your job is hypothetically up for grabs and much relies on the goodwill of your department), no day care (there is a single care area, but it is a research facility and not open to public enrollment), and frankly less than impressive health care options.

I have my theories about this, but primarily I think it’s because it’s a private religious school that’s part of a traditional gender essentialist cultural. Women with kids should be at  home with those kids, goes the thinking. Granted I certainly I never heard anyone at the university say this in an official HR capacity, but I heard it everywhere (including some classes) unofficially, even from administrators of my own department. Let me be clear, I do not believe for one second that the policy and procedural edicts on the subject were the result of some cabal of men evilly stroking cats and scheming in a dark room somewhere, but I do think that this idea of prescribed gender roles passively plays a role in making assumptions about what working women do or do not need long term.

1970's ad from Australia.
1970’s ad from Australia.

I’m not going to get into the arguments for or against this cultural set up now, except to say that for a school that emphasized family values, I often wondered why I saw so many policies and procedures – and cultural mores – that made it hard for women (employees and students alike) to have one, because that’s a rant for another day. What really bothered me personally was the issue of birth control.

Yes, my birth control was theoretically covered by my work insurance plan. In practice, however, it turned out to be cheaper for me in the long run to go through Planned Parenthood for my annual exams and prescriptions. That is ridiculous. I often wondered what was the point of my healthcare plan if the main thing I used it for besides dentistry (being otherwise a pretty healthy person) turned out to be more financially heavy than services outside its administrative scope. And believe me, Planned Parenthood was not popular or commonly marketed as an option in this state!

But the real challenge came when I quit that job in preparation for our London move. I needed a supply of  several months to get me through the summer, the move, the settling in, and the setting up of our new health plan in Britain – we’re covered by the NHS but opted for additional coverage as part of Jeff’s work benefits package. Planned Parenthood could only give me 2-3 month of a prescription at a time, and my GP couldn’t write me a prescription that could account for my change of employment status, since my insurance disappeared with my job. My GP was a great doctor who took them time to listen to my concerns and ultimately wrote me a full year’s prescription and worked with the pharmacy to fill it, since they also normally dispense it in smaller quantities. But it was entirely out of pocket for me and cost nearly $400 to do so – a bit more than a $1 a day to remain child free by choice.


Fast forward to London. When down to my last month of birth control, I make an appointment with the doctor’s office I’ve registered at (coincidentally a 7 minute walk from our flat). My stats and measurements are taken, my health history is reviewed, my current prescription is examined to verify they carry the same or a similar drug, a new prescription is written. The whole process takes 10 minutes. Four days ago I walked to the adjacent pharmacy and filled it, getting two months of BC. It is not as attractively or complexly packaged as what I got in the States, but the dosages are identical.

It cost me nothing.

I don’t pretend that socialized medicine is without consequences, particularly for a country as large and divided as the US. But I grew up in socialized medical care – by which I mean… the system that treats the military and government servicemen and women of the country. It too had some major drawbacks (witness a large scar on one arm when having skin biopsied vs the nearly invisible one I got for the same treatment in private care), but when run properly it works. Astonishingly well. I’m for more of it, particularly more that treats women’s health as an integral part of the system, since we’re 51% of the population, instead of a specialty field.


– My friend Heidi documents a less than stellar experience from her Danish doctor. Any other expats have stories to share, good and bad?

John Green talks about healthcare costs on the vlogbrothers channel, worth a view even if you disagree vehemently.

– A post laying out the pros/cons of universal healthcare and comparing it in the US to other nations

Another pro/con examination

My 30 Minute Pregnancy Scare

“Another school dismissed confinements with a cheerful brightness, a ‘so-sorry-I’m-late-darling-I’ve-just-been-having-a-baby-where-shall-we-go-for-supper-afterwards?’ sangfroid which Flora, curiously enough, found equally alarming.”
– Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

Minions, it’s been at least half a dozen posts since I last confessed my idiocy, I’m sure you’ve been on tenterhooks the whole time to see how I would be able to best my sock freakout.  I’m pleased/dismayed to be able to confirm that I have indeed topped it.  Read on.

This is me rising. Enthusiastically.

So, first J. and I were going to Britain together.  Then Her Majesty’s Government changed their visa laws so we were going separately, him in September (next month, ack!) and myself probably in February.  I’ve reconciled myself to my fate charmingly and just like a Real Live Grownup should.  In spite of the occasional bout of annoyance/minor depression, I’ve risen.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, I torpedoed my emotional scaffolding.

(Dad, don’t read this next bit.)  It was the first scheduled day of my period.  I’m on the pill and regular as clockwork.  And I made it through the entire day until 4:30pm.  The office was practically empty, I was alone with my thoughts (first mistake) and realized that the usual torso-bending cramps that I should have been “enjoying” had failed to put in an appearance.

Consequently, angst.

How shall I put this delicately?  You’d think that impending physical separation from my husband for months at a time would reduce the the, ah, threat of unplanned pregnancy, right?  How wrong you would be!  Suddenly, a cramp free afternoon (which, had I been in my right mind would be an occasion for joy) became and fear-scape of previously unseen proportions.

I saw myself great with child…with said spawn’s father on another bloody continent.  An entire pregnancy by myself, freaking out about every flutter, ultrasound, craving, and ache, without J. to tell me I’m being silly/order me to hospital.  No one to send out on late night runs for ice cream when I’ve overreached my gravitational ability to haul myself upright.  The fear that I wouldn’t be able to drive myself to work, since my feet only touch the pedals when the seat is all the way forward in the car – which would not be remotely possible with a fetus between me and the wheel.  A new horror of my klutziness as I pictured myself slipping and sliding on winter ice, which is nothing new, but suddenly far more terrifying with the risk of harming my child.

AUGH! It's trying to escape!

I saw myself going into labor with only my mother beside me – whose hand I couldn’t possibly reduce to pulp in my agony since she’d, you know, originally reduced Dad’s hand to pulp having me.  It would have smacked of ingratitude.  J. not being able to be there for the birth of our first child, perhaps watching and offering helpful tips (no doubt ungratefully received) via Skype.  I saw myself trying to juggle a newborn and still working so that I could retain my insurance to pay for this wrinkled, squalling, helpless thing… without childcare – this particular vision made me break out in a cold sweat.

I’m tough.  But childbirth scares me.  Childbirth without J. there to take my expletives, hold my hand, and remind me that our kid will totally be worth the current pain – that petrifies me.

As you may have guessed, the torso-bending cramps showed up just after I got home from work and the universe righted itself.  Except for one single trembling woman who had to restrain tears of gratitude as she reached for her “feminine hygiene” products with an unsteady hand.  I’m better now, but you’ll observe it took me a couple of weeks to be able to even write about it.

Dear Birth Control:

“For birth control I rely on my personality.”
– Milt Abel

Hey. How’ya doing? You good? You look good. Work going well? Glad to hear it.

Just so we're clear, I honestly believe you are one of the greatest, most important, and most influential scientific and medical developments in the history of the world. But...

Well, Birth Control, you know how fond I am of you. I like to think we’re pals, you keeping me baby-free until I choose and everything. I really do appreciate it and I know not all women are as lucky as I am to have the options you give me. But, Birth Control, you’re kind of sucking these days. Now I don’t want to poison our relationship, but really I think you need to start treating me a bit better.

See, I’ve gained 20 pounds since marriage. And I don’t think it’s entirely my fault. I work out regularly and am conscientious about my diet, after all, I’m not a teenager anymore, I’m aware of it and try to eat accordingly. Lots of salads, lean protein and a hamburger once a month if that. I admit a weakness to deep fried potatoes, but I simply avoid them and other such badness by staying away from temptation. I’ve reworked eating plans several times and cut back on/out everything remotely bad, upping veg intake and forgoing sugar. And yet, when I weighed myself in Los Angeles, I was at 140. I’m (barely) five feet tall, and weighed 120 pounds a year ago. Un-bloody-acceptable.

And speaking of Los Angeles, do you know how humiliating it is for your father-in-law to find you on your hands and knees in the dirt by the dumpsters emptying your stomach of its contents while on vacation? Before I got on you, Birth Control, I had a migraine maybe once a year in times of deep stress. First few months our our marriage I got one every once and a while. Then once a month. I’m up to almost once a week now.

Like this.

Do you know what a migraine feels like? Like a sociopath stabbing one repeatedly in the eye while jumping up and down on one’s stomach, banging a mallet against one’s skull. The slightest light or noise hurts like the Furies and any movement means careening to the bathroom to rid oneself of whatever food or liquid one has managed to keep down thus far. It means dehydration, hours of dry retching, and the shakes for two days after. It means pure, unadulterated misery.

And finally, I have been experiencing random explosions of irritation at people. Not mild eye-rolling, but brief yet intense feelings of wanting to rip some people’s heads off. Roller coaster rides of rage. These have been increasing along with those migraines we just talked about, and I don’t think the two are unconnected.

None of this existed before you and I got involved, Birth Control, so it’s pretty simple to draw a few connections and conclusions. If, in spite of self awareness and attempts to correct the problems, things keep getting worse, I think I’m justified in leaving you for one of your pharmaceutical cousins.

So, Birth Control, you’re on notice. I’m reworking my diet/exercise regime again one more time, but if I don’t lose the weight, the headaches, and the desire to kick baby seals, you and I are through.


First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, THEN Comes…Other Stuff

 “Never go to bed angry.  Stay up and fight.”
-Phyllis Diller

Sooooo, the fun part about getting married when you don’t want kids and haven’t been sexually active?  Screwing (no pun intended) with your hormones.  Time for birth control.  I did my research and decided to start with The Pill first.  I’ve always wondered why those letters get capitalized, but I digress.  I also told J. to DIPLOMATICALLY inform me if my mood or weight decides to to freak out.

Science has never produced anything nearly as effective.  But I don't recommend it.
Science has never produced anything nearly as effective. But I don't recommend it.

Fun Facts!  There is a 8/100 failure rate, something I initially panicked over and asked the doctor about and she laughed.  “Pills generally fail when you don’t take them,” she said.  “The failure rate when taken correctly is less than 1%.”  Good.  Now let’s just pray that I’m not extremely fertile.  And apparently, most women who gain weight on the pill do so not because of drastic chemical changes, but because they start eating more.  Feeling pregnant makes you eat.  Huh.  Geniuses, in the medical community, geniuses.