Birth control and reproductive rights are topics that I feel strongly about. In this article I will speak openly and candidly about my own personal experiences with birth control and my opinions that have been shaped by those experiences. Warning: if you are easily grossed out by vaginas and periods, this article is not for you.
Birth control–where to start? The road had been long and tumultuous while I struggled to find the “perfect” birth control. I’ve tried everything from the pill to the shot to barrier methods and finally I’ve settled down with “The One,” the intrauterine device or IUD. Here I will try to elucidate why the copper IUD has been the best thing that has ever happened for me in terms of reproductive health.
Hormonal birth control had been a scourge on my body. I had tried several different formulations of the pill thinking I would eventually find the perfect one. It went like this: I did my research, went to my provider, got a new prescription, and tried a new pill for about a year before I decided the side effects outweighed the benefits. No matter the pill, I would get a host of unpleasant side effects. In one pill formulation, recurrent yeast infections haunted me nearly every month following my menses. Not only was this expensive to treat, but it was incredibly uncomfortable and frustrating. Nearly every day I woke up with a headache. At the time I thought it must have been caused by stress or the way I slept. If I were to forget to take the pill even for a few hours, I would get my period the next day without fail. Then I tried the Depo-Provera shot because I wanted something that was longer-lasting, something that was not subject to my forgetfulness. This was a mistake! If the pill made me moody, the Depo shot made me a monster. On the pill it was hard to keep off those few extra pounds and I would be consistently and noticeably bloated during my period, but the Depo shot made this even worse. I was uncomfortable in my own skin, and I cried for no reason almost every day. My body was at war with me. I hadn’t changed my eating or exercise habits, so I knew it must be the birth control. Fed up, I opted to go back on the pill again thinking it was the lesser of two evils.
After about a year back on the pill with its host of ill effects and tons more research, I decided it was time to give the IUD a try. This was one option that I’d had in the back of my mind for years, but I had heard horror stories of uterine perforation, PID, and ectopic pregnancy. I researched my options for IUDs and decided on ParaGard, the copper IUD. I weighed the benefits and the costs. It was likely I’d get longer heavier periods for the first few months, but my periods weren’t heavy to begin with so I was willing to take that chance. Understanding all the risks that came with the IUD, I opted to give it a try.
I called my local Planned Parenthood and set up an appointment. The installation itself was awful. My uterus had to be repositioned so the T-shaped device would sit right. The feeling was visceral and it made me incredibly nauseated. I cried. Strangely, I was comforted by the practitioner’s lack of surprise at my misery–she had probably done this a million times. After it was all said and done, I lied in bed for the rest of the day. The pain felt like my worst period cramps times ten; I couldn’t even move without feeling like my insides were falling out. Beyond the first 24 hours, however, it was all uphill from there.
Within weeks I noticed my headaches had disappeared and my mood stabilized. In the next few months my periods were a little heavier, but it was nothing I couldn’t manage. I was no longer getting yeast infections with each period which saved me a ton of money and heartache. I felt my normal self again.
It has now been four months since I’ve gotten my IUD, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m still discovering the benefits of getting an IUD. I’ve become more mindful of my bodily functions since being off hormonal birth control. I’m finally in tune with my body instead of fighting against it. For example, I no longer have to wonder if a headache is a side effect of the birth control or if my body is trying to tell me something. My body is no longer at war with me. I’m at my preferred size and shape and more comfortable in my body without having changed my diet or exercise habits. I now know exactly when I’m ovulating; I get a little pain on one side of my lower abdomen mid-way through my cycle and know which ovary is releasing an egg. My periods are regular, but more importantly I’m on my natural cycle. I’m no longer controlling my body’s hormone levels and artificially shortening or lightening my periods. I don’t get breakthrough periods like I did when I forgot to take a pill. I now know that my natural cycle is exactly 28 days.
The IUD is not only 99% effective at preventing pregnancy and more cost-effective than other forms of birth control, it is low-waste as well. I hadn’t even realized how much waste I was generating with each monthly paperboard box and list of instructions that came with every prescription. The copper IUD is effective for up to ten years after insertion. Imagine how much money and waste is generated from ten years worth of birth control pills! I no longer have to go to the pharmacy every three months to get a refill or to the doctors office every three months to get a shot in the butt, and more importantly I don’t have to worry about taking a pill every day. I just have to make sure the device is in place once a week by feeling for the string and to return for regular wellness visits.
In all the IUD is a highly underrated and underutilized form of birth control. There’s a reason why among women’s health care providers, the IUD is one of the top contraceptive methods of choice. This is not to say that every woman should stop their current contraceptive and get an IUD instead. Everyone’s body is different and everyone reacts differently to certain contraceptives. What I am suggesting, however, is if you’re like me and have been run through the gamut of contraception options to no avail, consider the IUD if you want long-lasting, cost-effective birth control. It’s the best decision I’ve made for my reproductive health. I share my story to give hope to any woman who is in the same place I was in a few months ago.