My IUD and Me

 

Access to reproductive technology has been an ongoing issue that activists have long been fighting for. As Chikako Takeshita writes in The Biopolitcs of the IUD, an IntraUterine Device (IUD) is a tool that, when used autonomously, can allow women to control their own reproductive futures. For this reason, it is very popular in the global South and gaining prominence in the global North. For example, through a grant from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment began to offer free Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) like the IUD and the implant through Title X health centers in 2007. Title X, The National Family Planning Program, is a federal initiative to make family planning services available to low-income women. From 2009 to 2013, Colorado saw teenage pregnancies fall by 40% and abortion rates fall by 42%. This illustrates how IUD’s are safe and easy to use.

 

I have a Mirena IUD, that I autonomously chose as my form of birth control because I don’t want to have to think about contraception on the daily. I got it before I went to study abroad, at my university’s health clinic at no additional cost. I recognize that I am very lucky to have such easy access to this contraception. I basically marched into the Student Health Center, asked which LARC would last the longest and I got that one. I didn't do all my research

 

So while noting that I am privileged to have access, let’s talk about how an IUD affects your body. When you’re picking a form of birth control, you need to consider your lifestyle, STD risks, any existing menstrual cycle issues, other medical issues, and the timing of desired pregnancy.

 

(image via unsplash)

 

An IUD gets inserted by a doctor or a nurse. I had to undress from the waist down and put my feet in stirrups. They insert a speculum into your vaginal canal, and then use a special inserter that places the IUD through the opening of your cervix and into your uterus where it will sit with strings hanging out of the cervix. For my procedure, I was told to wait until I got my period and then make an appointment. The insertion simulates a cramp, which is your uterus expanding and contracting to release accumulated vaginal lining. Right before it was inserted, I took a painkiller. The doctor was quick and when it was done, I was given a pad, and then I went to class. I had a heavy period for two weeks and slowly bled less and less until three months later, I stopped bleeding. This was three years ago, and I still haven't bled. The most jarring difference that I noticed was that my vaginl discharge smelled different, which made me keep thinking I had an infection when I didn’t. It became my new normal.

 

When you’re thinking about getting an IUD an important question to ask is “How will you bleed?” because you inevitably will, but you get to pick how. I am very lucky in that I don’t bleed. With the birth control pill, the NuvaRing, and the patch, the goal here is to stop ovulation. You get a steady supply of hormones that act to stop an egg from developing. With an IUD, there is still ovarian activity. I had painful cysts on my ovaries that form when I ovulate before my IUD and they’ve gotten more painful since then. Since this is a LARC, it does not protect you from STI’s. There is an added risk with IUD’s that if you get gonorrhea or chlamydia and don’t get treated, it can lead to a pelvic inflammatory disease that can block your Fallopian tubes and lead to infertility. So use a condom! There is also the rare possibility of an ectopic pregnancy, which is very dangerous.

(image via unsplash)

 

Now that we got the general IUD info out of the way, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

 

Copper IUD

A copper IUD is wrapped in copper, and when it is inserted into the uterus, the copper acts as an irritant. It thickens cervical mucus so that sperm cannot get in, and if they do, they are neutralized by copper. With a copper IUD, there is a potential to have heavier and more painful periods. Furthermore, this type of IUD can be inserted as a method of emergency contraception if you get it inserted within five days of risky sex.

 

Hormonal IUD’s

 

These IUD’s also thicken cervical mucus, making it harder sperm to reach an egg. The Mirena and Liletta IUD’s last for up to seven years, the Kyleena works up to five years, and the Skyla works up to three years. They all release different doses of progestin into your body that can slow down ovulation. The Mirena for example releases enough progestin that there is a high possibility of amenorrhea or the absence of menstruation. I’m not gonna lie, this was a big draw for me too. But there is still ovarian activity, so I still have a hormonal cycle, acne, bloating and ovarian cysts.

 

The IUD saved my butt from some questionable sexual decisions. Even though it is the best decision for my lifestyle, I wish I had put more thought into it. At the end of the day, it is not just a privilege to access, it is a privilege to choose it for yourself. This means doing your homework, as disgusting as that sounds because it is imperative to make informed decisions.