Last week I came across a campaign that is asking people to write love letters to their contraception. As with most nauseating Valentine’s Day messages (I don’t celebrate, in case you didn’t catch on), I found these messages to be way too starry eyed and completely ignoring the not-so-good times that come hand in hand with contraception. So I’ve decided to write my own letter to my IUD and let me warn you that my love comes with some hate (doesn’t all love? no?).
I gave a gift to myself this year. On the 1st of January 2016 I visited my gynecologist and had a copper intrauterine device (IUD) inserted into my uterus. It came with a guarantee of 10 years which appealed to my choice to live childfree and it came with the dark foreboding of more pain which freaked me out to no end. Moreover, medical practitioners as well as many other people I know have confined the IUD to the domain of women who have given birth and older women that I wasn’t even sure if it was for me.
However after flirting with various methods of contraception for the decade or so I’ve been sexually active, I decided that the year I turn 30 should be the year I finally take charge of this aspect of my life. For an extreme control freak, this was an anomaly in my life and it came about due to a combination of my bad reactions to hormone based contraceptives, my constant paranoia about condoms and the resultant panic attacks (accompanied by emergency contraceptives or pregnancy tests or both), several dry spells due to medical complications and the lack of a non-judgmental and approachable gynecologist who would listen to my needs without imposing their views of how I should live my life. So I finally started taking the steps I should have taken over ten years ago. And please note that what I describe below is my personal experience and that it can differ from person to person.
Budding Young Love
Research | The first step was getting more information and gaining more knowledge on what I was getting into. My work on sexual and reproductive health and rights often has me writing about the need for a rights-based approach to access to information on contraception as well as access to services. But I realized that apart from condoms and contraceptive and emergency contraceptive pills, I had at best a vague understanding of the practical implications (both good and bad) of using other methods of contraception. So I did my research with both the more established sources (the Planned Parenthood website is a good resource) as well as by combing through blog posts by women sharing their experiences, again both good and bad.
More Research | I also researched gynecologists. What I realized was that my friends and I almost never discussed gynecologists. For people who go into almost garish details about each other’s sex lives, we were not discussing the health aspects of our sex lives. Of course there would be the occasional casual conversation about contraception, the not-so-casual conversation when someone needed an abortion but until our late 20’s or until a medical complication necessitated it, many of us didn’t bother with finding a gynecologist or doing the routine checkups that go with it. Once I began these conversations, I was able to find a wonderful gynecologist who is smart, professional, patient and at least seemingly non-judgmental.
Conversations | After discussing my discomforts with certain contraception and after learning about my choice to live childfree, the gynecologist recommended a copper IUD. She gave me more reading to do about the IUD (I may have given off the vibe for more information) and answered my questions about other possible options. I had a conversation with my partner, especially about the myths around how an IUD might be felt or come off during intercourse. He was mostly amazed by how much cheaper an IUD that lasts 10 years was compared to any other method so yeah he was onboard and then it was on to the actual insertion.
The First Fight
The first bump in the road to long-lasting protection (from pregnancy and not from sexually transmitted infections/ diseases) came during the slight pain caused during the insertion (details about an IUD insertion can be found here) and the avalanche of pain that came in the 24-36 hours afterwards. I was prepared for the idea of the pain, having had the necessary painkillers and cleared my scheduled for the day, but I was not prepared for exactly how much it was going to hurt. I had read in a blog post that it feels remotely like labor pain and while writhing around in bed with my partner massaging my back and holding a hot compress to my back and lower abdomen, I finally realized what the blogger meant. Just as one wave of pain ended, the other one would come up and so on and so forth. However I was lucid enough to think of the bigger picture and that got me through those hours (kind of, almost).
Things were pretty rosy after that (sometimes literally since the IUD can cause spotting) and I was actually enjoying the feeling of not having to constantly worry about forgetting the pill or not having condoms at hand. At the same time there was a part of me feeling pretty strange about having this foreign object inside me and the first time I had sex after the IUD insertion, I had that irrational fear that it would either poke me or poke him (yes after all of the reading I had done). Thankfully neither happened. It still took some getting used to having otherwise unprotected sex and while I’m fully aware of the copper in the IUD being the spermicide, I have chosen to picture the IUD as a tiny boxer, throwing punches at each sperm that comes its way. Somehow that’s more comforting (don’t ask).
……the period is coming. The first menstruation after inserting the IUD was one of mixed emotions (some of you may ask which period isn’t). I was extremely relieved to find out that it actually works (high five!) and on the flip side, the pain hit me so hard that I couldn’t sit up straight (I had been too preoccupied with work to anticipate its arrival with a painkiller as I usually do). As it is with menstruation, it arrived at the most inconvenient time while I was away from home at a conference and I spent a day fueled entirely by pain killers and black coffee in order to get from session to session. It was definitely worse than a regular period (which are bad enough for me) and an undercurrent of pain went on for about 2 days despite the painkillers. And my spoils of war afterwards were a back spent after spasming and sweet relief that it was over.
How Long Will I Love You
After that raging period, I was back to being in love with my IUD. Sure, there are some slight cramps when ovulation happens but that used to happen to me earlier as well and it’s just more defined now. But for most days of the month, I don’t even remember that it’s there and it has lifted a great burden off my shoulders. Like all new relationships, a month and a half is too early (unless he or she turns out to be an absolute nightmare) to tell whether the IUD and I are in this for the long run or not. In a perfect world I’d have had a tubal ligation years ago but I’m yet to find a medical practitioner who would facilitate that and hopefully the 30-something me would be taken more seriously one day when I revisit that option.
Until then, I’ve learnt that while no method of contraception is absolutely perfect and convenient, the IUD is what I need at this stage of my life and a few days of pain per month pales in comparison to the value it has added to my life. I have also learnt that I should never take for granted the access to information and quality services that is available to me because it has the power to transform your life and yet there are millions of women and girls around the world lacking such access.
So yes, I love you my IUD (maybe it’s time I named you) and please remember that even on the days I’m screaming at you and wishing that you were dead. That’s just how love works.