My friend Sarah Jones, a freshman at Skidmore College, approached me last week saying that she had recently had an IUD inserted and that it was a bad experience. She explained that she wanted to share her story to raise awareness of the potential negative side effects of IUDs and asked me to share her story. Below is her story mostly told in her words:
Me: “Hi Sarah, can you tell me your story about your experience getting the IUD?”
Sarah: “It starts a while ago, I wanted to get an IUD last June because I kept seeing these articles saying that IUD is the best form of birth control and nobody’s using it, so I was like ‘huh, why am I not using this?’ I’m on birth control (using the pill) and obviously I should be using the best form of birth control, that makes me feel the safest. Also, there’s the added factor that it’s just a one-time insertion, and-- mine is a hormonal IUD-- it’s three years where it just stays there, you don’t have to think about anything, it’s just there and you’re fine. So to me, it seemed like the best option. And I talked to my friend who had an IUD and she explained that it’ll feel like the worst cramping of your life and there will be spotting, but it’s worth it.
Not entirely because of the Trump administration but it didn’t hurt that I ended up getting it eight or ten days after he was inaugurated into office, which I think is funny. I think it was at the beginning of December that I started the process with my mom of finding a gynecologist in Saratoga Springs to go to. There’s a copper IUD and a hormonal IUD and I chose the hormonal IUD because the reason I’m on the pill is that my period is really bad and it helps with that. So we decided to go with Skyla [type of IUD], and they explained that there are certain things that can happen (i.e. there’s the one in a million chance that you could die from an infection, it could puncture your uterine wall, your body can expel it, if you get pregnant there’s a chance of a myopic (?) pregnancy), there’s some pretty messed up stuff.
But my mom was ok to go ahead with it because IUDs these days are a lot safer than they used to be. So they told me all of the side effects, and I didn’t really think about it, I thought it was very unlikely that any of these things would happen. And the way they described the insertion, and maybe I had selective hearing but the way that I heard it was that it would be the worst cramp of your life. So I thought I knew what was going to happen, and I have had bad cramps before so I thought "I can handle this."
So, they ordered it in December, I didn’t come back from winter break until January 21st and then I think they inserted it on February 3rd, so exactly 20 days ago. My mom was smart, she recommended I do it on a Friday (after classes) so I would have Saturday and Sunday to recover.
So I went in and—it’s difficult because you have to get naked and stuff—the doctor highly recommended a numbing agent, so she injected it into one side, and then the other. It was really painful. After the numbing she had to dilate, which caused cramps. And I don’t know how to explain it but cramps and artificially-induced cramps are very different things. When your body is having cramps, it’s your body doing that. It is natural, giving birth is natural. And it’s painful, but that pain is very different, even psychologically different than having something inside of you, making you cramp...and then she inserted the IUD. And I couldn’t even explain it because it’s the kind of pain where it’s more of a great discomfort than a pain, but I had a single tear rolling down my cheek through all of this and I couldn’t even explain it, I couldn’t vocalize how I was feeling.
The actual pain felt like a cramp. And immediately afterward, which I felt like probably wasn’t the best thing, she started telling me about all of the things that could go wrong again. And this whole time she’s asking me "how are you doing?," "how are you feeling?"
At the end I got up and I went to the counter to check out and the lady is looking at me and she goes, "are you ok?" and she comes out from behind the counter and she took me and she was like you need to sit down and then I started crying, before I had tears rolling down my cheeks but now I actually burst out crying.
And it turned out that what happened was that one in ten people might faint, and I was that one in ten. The weirdest thing was that I wasn’t in that much pain, I had discomfort but not much pain. But there was this weird psychological thing I couldn’t explain where I was extremely emotional and I didn’t know why, the way that they explained it was that it was like a trauma to your body. And I couldn’t understand why I was feeling this way. So they took me into another room and gave me some soda and slowly it felt like my mind kind of cleared.
So then I took a cab back to school and I told my roommate and we got ice cream and watched tv. And I was bleeding too. And my lower back hurt. And there was kind of a lot of blood and in the pamphlet, it said if there was severe bleeding to let them know so I called them and they said it was fine. And eventually, the bleeding started tapering off.
And then two weeks after it had been inserted I went to the bathroom and there was bright red blood (different than the darker period blood) so it looked to me like I was bleeding too much. And I was terrified. So I called my mom immediately and she said to go to the health center on campus so I went. And they said they didn’t think it had to do with the IUD or that it was probably nothing to worry about, but that if it happened again to let them know. So I called my mom again and she said to call the gynecologist. So I called the gynecologist and left a message. And then I went to the bathroom again and there was more blood, but our health center had closed. So I called the gynecologist and talked to the nurse and she asked if I was having pains in my stomach and I told her I was and she said this was beyond her expertise and that she would inform the doctor. So I spent the whole day worried and not knowing what was wrong with me.
The doctor finally called me back and she said "didn’t I tell you there was going to be bleeding?" and I said yes, and what I wish I’d said then and what I’m going to say the next time I go was that what I’d heard was that there would be spotting and bleeding, and that was it. Because there’s a very big difference between seeing period blood and seeing very, very red blood. And it’s been getting better since then but there’s still some bleeding and pains. The mindset I went through after those first few days was "why did I do this to myself?" it’s not something I had to do, I chose to do this to my body—along with the fact that I was hating men because they don’t have to do this to themselves. Also this IUD only lasts for 3 years, the other ones last for 5 years. Unless I really hate pills three years down the road I’m going to go back to the pill because this whole experience made getting the IUD not worth it for me. I asked if your body gets more used to getting it inserted the more you do it and the answer was no so basically I would go through this whole thing again the next time I got it inserted.
The reason I wanted to say all this was because I still keep seeing those articles saying that IUDs are the best method of birth control and it makes me angry because all of those articles say "there will be cramping and spotting" and I feel like there is something more to it than that. There is a difference in the cramping and there is a difference in the blood that I feel like needs to be explained more. Even though I was unusual in what happened after it was inserted, I felt like I should have been warned that it could happen. I’m all for women’s rights and birth control, but you should still get a fair warning that you could have a really horrible experience.
Me: I’m so sorry this happened to you, and you went through the whole thing alone too! I wish I had been there for you, I’m sorry. What would your recommendation be for other people, would you say "don’t get the IUD under any circumstances" or would you say "go ahead and get it but be warned that you might have a really adverse reaction?"
Sarah: For me, I didn’t really have any adverse reactions to being on the pill (although I know some people do experience adverse reactions to it, like getting really depressed) but I would say if the only thing you have to worry about with the pill is remembering to take it, set an alarm, and unless you have a truly adverse reaction to the pill I would recommend the pill over the IUD. I felt like I betrayed myself, I felt like I put myself through so much pain and trauma, the actual physical IUD in me now is a foreign object, compared to the pill which is just hormones and is much more natural. And I didn’t think about how bad it would feel to have something like that inside of me. I would say, if you’re not having any issues with the birth control you’re on, I would not do it. Then again, I’ve heard stories of people having it inserted and having no problems at all, but that’s the thing,
Me: You don’t know...
Sarah: Exactly. I think that you can try it and see how your body responds, and I feel like I still would have done it because it’s hard to explain, but I think people should know that it’s not just spotting, it’s not just cramps, there’s more to it than that.
Me: Yeah it sounds like there’s more emotional baggage that comes along with it.
It should be noted that IUDs CAN BE a valid option for many people, we just merely wanted to share the IUD story that often isn’t talked about.