Since the 2106 election results rolled in, women have been rushing to stock up on birth control — particularly IUDs. The rationale behind this is that Trump can only be in office for 8 years, while some IUDs can last for up to 12. You do the math. It’s no surprise that Trump’s commitment, to repeal the Affordable Care Act within his first 100 days in office, has startled those of us with uteruses to look out for.
Women running out to get IUDs isn’t just rhetoric — there’s data to back up this phenomenon. According to Athena Insight, IUD procedures have increased by 30 percent in the United States between January 2016 and January 2017. In this research, the upsurge of IUD procedures specifically correlates with the political climate. The reasoning is valid as the attacks on affordable and accessible health care, as well as Planned Parenthood. But just because we can get IUDs doesn’t mean that all of us should.
My painful, short-lived experience
Birth control has always been a tricky subject for me. In college, while trying out different pills to find the right one, I had a period that lasted 16 days. After that, I said goodbye to the pill and the related frustrations. Besides, I wanted something more permanent.
I even talked to my gynecologist about tubal ligation but unfortunately, as a young twenty-something without kids, that wouldn’t be possible until I was 30. Legally, anyone over the age of consent, which is 18 years old, can pursue sterilization, but there’s still stigma and discrimination against childfree, young women wanting to get their tubes tied. For Marie Claire, essayist Maria Cook says that her gynecologist, who she’d seen since she was in the eighth grade, simply laughed at her for bringing tubal ligation up. In fact, she saw five different doctors until one finally respected her autonomy enough to agree to conduct the procedure.
After a brief consultation appointment at my local Planned Parenthood, I scheduled the procedure for a week later. Despite being warned of the side effects of the IUD by the nurse practitioner, I had already made up my mind before walking into the office that afternoon. I was so wrapped up in the idea of not having to think about where and when I’d get contraception for the next dozen years.
The following week, on a Thursday night after work, I marched into the office with a smirk. After checking in, I confidently popped two Ibuprofen and chugged a glass of water in the waiting area.
Soon enough, that I’m-ready-for-anything grin turned into screams. The pain upon insertion was the most I’ve ever endured. I was told this was normal, and that I’d feel pain for the next few days. I stayed home from work the following day, but by Monday, I still didn’t feel better.
At my second check-up appointment the next month, the nurse diagnosed me with a bacterial infection in my uterus. Unfortunately, these infections are far more commonplace than you’d expect. According to a 2012 study, approximately 41 percent of IUD insertions caused bacterial vaginosis or bacterial overgrowth in the vagina that can also infect the uterus. She said I needed the device removed right away.
Once the device was removed, I gave myself time before using my menstrual cup. My period came and I was back to using pads again. As months went by, I tried inserting a tampon, but it felt like the first time using one all over again. I experienced incredible pain, and most of all, my body just wouldn’t let it in.
I scheduled another follow-up appointment and, this time, the doctor mentioned vaginismus, which is a condition that causes extreme vaginal tightness. As it turns out, those with vaginismus have difficult with any type of vaginal penetration be it from tampons or a partner.
After a year and a half, the pain has decreased but is still very real and present. I still haven’t touched my menstrual cup.
What I wish I’d known before I got an IUD
I had a general idea of what to expect in terms of side effects from an IUD, but what I wasn’t ready for was for the severity of pain. LiveStrong explains that severe cramping, as well as a temporary increase in menstrual-related cramps, are common within three months of an IUD insertion. Other side effects include fever, chills, clammy skin, persistent or severe nausea or vomiting, worsening abdominal or pelvic pain, heavy vaginal bleeding, abdominal bloating, bloody or black stools, dizziness which could cause you to faint, and ovarian cysts.
Insertion also increases the risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease within the first 20 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If left untreated, the condition can cause scar tissue both inside and outside of the fallopian tubes that can lead to tubal blockage, infertility, long-term pelvic and/or abdominal pain, and even ectopic pregnancy.
Additionally, Women’s Health Magazine reports that IUDs fall out of the uterus just under 10 percent of the time. There, too, is always the risk that the device gets inserted in the wrong position, embedded, or displaced within the uterus.
Different brands but similar concerns
There are many types of IUDs, but the two most popular are the ParaGard, which is coated with copper that lasts up to 12 years, and the Mirena, which lasts up to 5 years using the progestin hormone called levonorgestrel. Although the devices are different, they have similar risks.
The ParaGard website mentions PID, difficult removal, perforation, and expulsion listed as safety concerns. Perforation is when the uterine wall is damaged from the device; expulsion occurs when a device slips out, as previously mentioned. However, a reaction from Wilson’s disease, or a disorder in how the body handles copper, can only occur with a ParaGard because the Mirena doesn’t use copper.
In addition to perforation and PID, the Mirena website lists a life-threatening infection called sepsis, when the body’s reaction to an infection injures its organs and tissue, as a safety concern.
ParaGard is the only copper-based IUD on the market, but there are other hormonal IUDs including the Liletta, Skyla, and Kyleena.
Are IUDs worth the risk?
Only you can make an educated decision about your reproductive health, though some lawmakers may try to tell you otherwise. The decision to get an IUD is not one that should be made quickly. Don’t be like me and skip out on the tiny details, especially during the post-election hype. Do your due diligence and research any birth control options you’re considering. This information isn’t meant to scare you, but to help you make a well-informed decision about your reproductive health.
Danielle Corcione is a freelance writer with bylines on Teen Vogue, Esquire, Vice, and more. They run a blog, the Millennial Freelancer, and a newsletter, Rejected Pitches. To learn more about their work, check out their Facebook, Twitter, and website.
Photo credit: GP Online