When I was 19, I fell in love. He was small but mighty, a cheap date in those days, easy to swallow at any kegger and, most importantly, eased my mind. His name was Ortho. We just broke up.
My relationship with the birth control pill lasted eight years. I never got pregnant, and despite a few blips during the dark days of no insurance, it was relatively easy to acquire. If my calculations are correct, I ingested over 2,000 of those suckers.
Headaches, dizziness and an overall sense of being down were just part of my daily routine. At 27, I got curious—was this really me, or was it the pill all along? A close friend then told me about the T-shaped, smaller-than-a-penny, plastic-and-copper contraption she’d gotten inserted into her uterine cavity: a ParaGard IUD. Eek! Plus, I thought those were just for women with kids. My friend didn’t have kids, though, and birth control sans hormones sounded very attractive (the copper in the ParaGard acts as a spermicide, whereas the Mirena IUD works like the pill by releasing a constant dose of sperm-confounding hormones into your system). I was interested, but Ortho still had me by the (lady) balls.
After a price hike the next month, I fumed while writing a $120 check for a three-pack of pills. That was with benefits. (I realize now I could have gone for a generic brand, but those Ortho commercials made me feel like running through fields of pink gossamer.) A few days later, I was late for work after spending 20 minutes crawling on the floor in my underwear searching for a pill that’d slipped through my fingers. The camel’s back was getting heavy with straws.
The tipping point came in July when—having never missed a dose—I got my period for four weeks straight. (So awesome when you’re starting a relationship with someone new, as I was.) At the two-week mark, I passed out at a concert. That was it. The next day, I frantically called my gyno, who told me with catatonic calm, “Sometimes your body just rejects the pill. Wait it out.”
Whaa? So long, pink gossamer.
At my annual checkup in September, I asked her about getting a non-hormonal IUD. Her doll-like face seemed to say, “How’d you discover our secret?” IUDs got a bad rep in the U.S. in the ‘70s when a faulty brand (the Dalkon Shield—sounds terrifying!) was recalled. Just as effective as the pill, they’re built very differently now and are popular among childless women in other countries. She apparently did the procedure all the time and even had a ParaGard herself. (Question: If these are so common, why do most of my friends know nothing about the option? Are they/was I not paying attention during sex ed?)
She asked if I was in a steady relationship (I am), because if you get an STD, IUDs put you at greater risk for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. PID, if not treated, can lead to infertility—hence the misconception that IUDs cause infertility. My pap was normal so I was good there, and they’d measure me at the time of the procedure to make sure I wasn’t too small (if you’re not the right size, it’s difficult for the IUD to stay put). How much? With insurance, $20 co-pay. Sold!
The day of the procedure, I was nervous. I’d read it could be extremely painful, and I already felt crappy because I had my period. (They prefer to do the procedure then, to be assured you’re not pregnant and so that your cervix is, um, looser.)
The cramping is vicious for the first few seconds, loathsome for a few hours, and bearable but irritating for the next day or so. But the procedure is a quick, one-time ordeal that, without complications, can last up to 10 years. ($20 co-pay! Baby-proof and recession-friendly!)
Once the IUD is in, they snip the floss-like string that hangs from the IUD to a length that doesn’t get in the way of penises but is still accessible if you want it removed. Then they do an ultrasound to make sure it’s perfectly in place, which mine was.
That evening, my boyfriend brought me wine and spooned me, cupping his hand on my belly until I fell asleep. I kept randomly bursting into tears—my body felt raw from the prodding. When I woke up, I felt better. I have a follow-up in a few weeks to make sure the IUD is right where my doctor left it.
I don’t miss Ortho. I’ve been off his sauce for two weeks now, but it’s too soon to tell how my body’s adjusting. Maybe my boobs will get smaller (this would make me happy) or my periods will be wretched (this would not). But without the extra hormones, I’ll be just me. I have noticed one thing, though: my sex drive is through the roof. Come, spermlets, and meet your doom at my cervix!