Dear Internet: IUDs Are Not The Devil
IT HAPPENED TO ME: MY IUD CAUSED AN ECTOPIC PREGNANCY.” As I read the bold-print words in XOJane, I heaved a gargantuan, here-we-go-again sigh. This was not the first “my-IUD-tried-to-murder-me-in-my-sleep,” scare tactic essay I’d seen on the popular lifestyle site. But here I was, reading it with my friend Kristina and debating whether or not it was ultimately safe for her to get an IUD of her own. She understandably had reservations — she was doing fine on the pill, and her mother had become pregnant after getting an IUD some years earlier — but as a recent convert to the intrauterine plastic, I’d been trying to explain why it was the right choice for some.
“But if you get pregnant on the pill,” Kristina argued over Gchat, “You can just stop taking it. Done.” I paused, thought, and replied, “Yeah, I guess the odds here are small enough that I choose to disregard them.” She wrote back, “Yeah, the odds are in your favor… BUT WHAT IF YOU’RE PRIM?”
Kristina had a point. What if one day, after months of working properly, my IUD [spoiler alert] put me in the same metaphorical position as Katniss Everdeen’s doomed younger sister? What if it gave ME an ectopic pregnancy? Fell out? Disappeared entirely? Caused my uterus to rupture? Seceded from my body and declared itself an independent nation? Short of checking every month to see that the strings were still in place, I was essentially powerless to stop this foreign piece of plastic from obliterating my midsection. I don’t typically dwell on worst-case IUD scenarios, but it’s hard not to when I’m visually assaulted by shrieking “IT HAPPENED TO MEEEE” stories published every few weeks and written with little to no context. Like this: Every year, one out of 100 women get pregnant while using an IUD, and IUDs are also “some of the least expensive, longest lasting forms of birth control available to women today,” according to Planned Parenthood.
You’d think that XOJane, a site founded by Smart Women Queen and former Sassy editor Jane Pratt, where thousands of women go to get advice on clothes, hair, makeup, and sex, would dedicate time to helping readers learn more about a perfectly safe contraceptive device that is 45 times more effective than the pill and 90 times more effective than condoms. Or, at the very least, attempt to balance the editorial scales with some informative, research-based content. But wait — had I missed a hidden crop of pro-IUD essays or news posts? I looked into it. Across the site, I found 16 stories tagged “IUD,” seven of which had terrifying titles like:
- “An IUD Perforated My Uterus and I Had to Have Emergency Surgery to Remove It”
- “I Got Pregnant With an IUD, Then Lost the Baby”
- “My IUD Nearly Ruined My Life”
- “I Tried to Get an IUD Three Different Times Until I Finally Gave Up and Let a Planned Parenthood Nurse Slit My Arm Open to Insert the Cyborg-Like ‘Implant’”
It’s like reading the Uterine National Enquirer. It’s these click-baity headlines that, while, yes, give women an outlet to tell their horror stories, only succeed in preventing the IUD from overcoming its long-held negative stigma, which is arguably rooted in the Dalkon Shield fiasco from the 1970s. (For the unschooled, the Dalkon Shield was an early IUD initially promoted as a safer alternative to birth control pills but later became the subject of as many as 200,000 lawsuits, mostly related to pelvic inflammatory disease and loss of fertility.)
Other XOJane essays, while less graphic, weren’t exactly positive. One had to do with being harassed by pro-lifers at a small-town Planned Parenthood while on the way to get an IUD. Another was about being denied IUDs for religious reasons. Some were about making jewelry out of IUDs. Only one story, written in 2012, actually had the writer giving her IUD an emphatic thumbs-up. But I guess internet stories with happy endings don’t perform as well as something called “My IUD Failed Spectacularly and Nearly Killed Me.”
Even the Cut, which historically has done a marvelous job of trying to educate women on the most up-to-date birth control methods and stats, recently ran a clicky essay asking if the IUD was TOO good at its job. “With an IUD, pregnancy is not something I can drift toward vaguely or expect to somehow befall me, as has traditionally been possible,” wrote Molly Fischer.
“Condoms break; pills get skipped; pulling out seems good in theory. An IUD fills in the gaps where chance has always leaked into reproductive life. An IUD allows me to think of having a baby the same way I might think of moving cross-country: not impossible, maybe interesting to imagine (under the right set of hypothetical circumstances), but definitely a non-obvious turn for life to take at this juncture, and one that would require significant action on my part.”
Okay, so maybe the IUD isn’t the right choice for women who would be open to a chance pregnancy. Still, there is no such thing as a “too good” birth control method, and to imply that “too good” equals a negative factor women should think twice about is worrying.
Listen, I get it. IUDs aren’t for everyone. The insertion process definitely isn’t a picnic, and, if you opted for a copper guy like me, you’ll probably find yourself asking, “Didn’t I JUST have my period??” every two weeks. I know women who have been content to pop pills, use the NuvaRing, or learn the Rhythm Method. I also know that none of those things are for me (anything hormonal sends me spiralling into an emotional K-hole). And if they’re not for me, chances are they’re not for many, many other women.
Of course I was moderately anxious about my own insertion (I have a long history of crying in doctors’ offices), but logic told me that the long-term benefits would far outweigh the cost. The only way I can describe my mindset that day was to say that I mentally committed to the task at hand and barrelled through (kind of like the episode of Felicity where Keri Russell tells herself that it’s time to sleep with Scott Foley. Keep your eye on the ball, etc. Except I actually followed through). The procedure itself was brief; the office was welcoming, and my OBGYN was smart and comforting — even as I yelled a single “FUCK!!” as she dilated me, measured my uterus, and did the actual inserting. Pleasant it was not. But when my doctor handed me a slip of paper stating the date of insertion and removal date for ten years in the future, that moment was too pleasurable for words.
I was lucky — I had Obamacare to cover my IUD, plus a doctor to perform a judgement-free insertion. I’d also educated myself with a really helpful article by Melissa Dahl that broke down a list of reasons why women have been so reluctant to embrace their plastic, T-shaped friends. Most of it had to do with religious types likening it to an abortion (?!), and the simple psychology that, like Dahl wrote, “We remember negative information more clearly.”
Fortunately, Dahl did conclude that with the Affordable Care Act now covering IUDs and the recent uptick in women opting for the device, society is turning a contraceptive corner. It would only be a matter of time before the IUD’s negative stigma fell away entirely. I wish I saw more articles like hers — because as long as lifestyle websites get their clicks with heart-palpitating headlines like “My IUD Gave Me Toxic Shock Syndrome” and publish very few extolling the IUD’s virtues, that time will be significantly extended.
Rachel Brodsky is an NYC-based writer and editor. She currently works for SPIN. One of her cats is named Jones after Sigourney Weaver’s tabby in Alien.