Dear United States Voters,
Before having an IUD inserted, the only pain management recommended is ibuprofen. Most suggest taking it 30 minutes before your procedure to lessen the pain. Beyond that, there is no other option available to reduce the intense discomfort (except for extreme cases where anesthesia is MAYBE discussed).
A foreign object is being inserted into your body while you are fully awake, maybe made slightly numb by two pills of Advil. You stare at the ceiling of the examination room. You grimace, cry, yelp. A procedure that in reality only lasts 5 minutes feels like hours. The nurse has to hold your foot in the stir-up so you don’t curl up into a ball.
All of the complications your doctor told you about, no matter the unlikelihood, race through your mind. What if I was one of the few who suffered severe complications like ectopic pregnancy or maybe tearing a hole in my uterus? Would an IUD affect my chances of having children later in life? Was my body no longer in my control?
Finally, the nurse lets go of your foot. The doctor turns off their headlamp and removes the speculum. You attempt to take your first full breath since walking into the hospital, only to be met by severe cramps that cut your lung capacity in half. You’re lightheaded. The nurse offers you water. You eventually sit up, drink the water out of a Styrofoam cup, and the doctor rests a hand on your shoulder asking if you feel alright. You nod. The doctor leaves with the nurse in tow. You try to stand, legs quaking, and attempt put your jeans back on. You can’t zip them because the pressure on your stomach makes you nauseous. Miraculously, you finished getting dressed, uncomfortably walk through a series of fluorescent-lit hallways, and pay your co-pay at the front desk. Thankfully, ObamaCare handled most of this one for you. Your dad helps you walk to the car and you stare out the window the whole way home until you can finally lie in bed for two days with a heating pad semi-permanently attached to your stomach. In a few days, you’ll be all right. At least, you hope.
I’ve gone through this process twice. The first time I was eighteen years old. I opted for a hormonal IUD and it was the first method of birth control I tried. It seemed too perfect in my mind. I wouldn’t have to remember to take a pill every day at the same time, it lasted for five years, and there was the possibility that I wouldn’t get my period anymore, which was a convenience, health, and financial bonus. I was terrified of the actual procedure, but at the time it was the most attractive option.
The month following the procedure, my acne flared to cystic proportions. I gained five pounds. I was bleeding for two weeks straight. My depression and anxiety took me hostage on a hormonal rollercoaster. After only six weeks, I called my OB/GYN crying, begging to get my IUD removed. She recommended I leave it in for three months to see if my body would settle. I told her I couldn’t be a science experiment for that long.
At twenty, I opted for a non-hormonal IUD and I can say that three years later we have been pretty successful wombmates overall. I don’t have to remember to take a pill. It lasts for a full ten years. I’ve never once found it uncomfortable after the initial healing process. However, my periods are comparable to the wrath of God. I commit myself to a constant cycle of Advil and Tylenol, I know I’m going to lose several hours of sleep, and my mental health is going to take a dive bomb. I recognize the symptoms each time it comes around and I can use as many tracking apps on my phone as possible, but that doesn’t cure the pain. I still go to work. I hold conversations. I walk through the world as if nothing is wrong though it actively feels like my body is splitting in half. But this is the only non-hormonal birth control option I feel comfortable with, so I grin and bear it.
I also realize my privilege. I don’t have endometriosis or any other chronic pain associated with my reproductive system. I don’t have any life threatening STDs that prevent me from getting certain forms of birth control. My overall health is pretty good. My parents have open conversations with me about sexual health (my dad drove me to my IUD appointments BOTH times). I have health insurance. I had the resources to research my options and the funds to pay my copay.
Yet, I’m still in pain for a full week once a month, exasperated by my IUD. I am in the small minority that is able to access these resources, manage my pain, and afford to choose. I have options that many do not and there is not a day that goes by where I am not acutely aware of that. My health is a privilege not all are afforded and that is abominable.
So imagine if you aren’t privileged. Just for a moment, imagine if there is no women’s health center near you where you can go to just ask questions. Imagine you live through chronic pain everyday. Imagine if you had abstinence only education in sex education class. Imagine that you don’t have health insurance. Imagine you don’t have the luxury of taking a day or two off of work to recover from an IUD insertion.
I say all this not to dissuade people from getting an IUD. It is an amazing option for many people. Though I have intensely uncomfortable periods, this IUD has been my favorite method of birth control thus far. But I do bring awareness to the fact that asking people to rush to get IUDs is not a solution to the recent political turmoil. Yes, Roe vs. Wade may very well be in jeopardy. However, begging people to endure a pretty uncomfortable medical procedure as a first resort is not a neat ending to this larger issue.
Reproductive health is not a woman’s issue. It’s a global and public health issue. It requires that we all invest in research for less invasive and painful birth control with fewer side effects. It means protecting clinics like Planned Parenthood, who provide incredible educational and supportive resources for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, identity, or economic background. It means pushing the medical industry to develop birth control that does not require the burden rest on individuals with uteruses. It’s means not making citizens who bleed once a month second class. It’s means that we stop making women going through menopause the punch line. It means listening to the people who have lived experiences with birth control and who are definitely not lying when we say we’re in pain, or that we deserve better, or that we are fighting for our basic human rights.
It means you better vote in the midterm elections.
Recommend an IUD to someone, but don’t assume they can get one. Don’t assume that’s the best solution for that individual. And actively listen when they speak.
Curious about more reproductive health resources?
Planned Parenthood is an excellent website
Curious about getting an IUD?
Again, Planned Parenthood, or check out these several articles:
Do you know if you’re registered to vote?
Go to this site to see. And if you’re not, head to your state’s government website to see how you can register.
Vote. Speak. Listen.
A woman with an IUD