I managed to make a relatively simple procedure a month-long anxiety fest.
As far as birth control devices go, the IUD is hailed for its effortlessness. Set it and forget it. Like a Crock Pot! Like a Chia Pet! Like a Jello casserole! Or any other number of happy home hacks requiring little maintenance — though one could argue the IUD has a much better payoff.
I had been nervous about getting an IUD for a while. I had a bad experience in my teens taking birth control pills as part of my Accutane treatment, so I was afraid of Skyla or Mirena because of the hormones. The copper option, Paragard, was hormone-free, but I had heard from friends (and the internet) about the crippling pain and deluge of blood that became a permanent part of their post-Paragard periods.
I had been seeing my boyfriend for 4 months. It was my first committed, monogamous relationship, so it felt like as good of time as any to commit to an IUD. We both got STD tested, and with two clean bills of health, we began eagerly counting down the days to condom-less (yet still childless) sex! So simple! So easy! With an IUD, we could have sex a la Shakira.
March 1, the first day of Women’s History Month, would be(IU)D-Day. My beaches would be occupied by the allied forces of my Ob-Gyn and Nurse Practitioner, united in our common goal of an offspring-free uterus until the end of my 20s.
I consulted with my Ob-Gyn about the best choice for me. Prior to our discussion, I had decided: tidal wave of blood be damned; I would go with the Paragard. With a history of depression and anxiety, I was just too afraid of potential emotional side effects from the hormones. However, at the last minute, my doctor convinced me that I’d be happier with a Mirena. The copper in the Paragard would likely irritate my PCOS, and the hormones in the Mirena would likely balance my cycle and relieve some PCOS symptoms.
Although my doctor had to re-insert a new speculum after the first one was discovered a dud that wouldn’t stay open, I didn’t have much pain during the placement procedure. The Mirena insertion felt like a swift, blunt punch to my cervix. Not a comforting punch like a Swedish massage, but nothing like the horror stories I had read on the internet.
After an achy afternoon filled with naps, noodles, and Netflix, my partner and I had sex. I imagine it the feeling was similar to when people first used wireless telephones:
You mean … we could do the same thing we always did … just … without that annoying … thing … in the middle?
So, you know, nothing heart-stopping, but definitely novel.
A week later, I was texting my friend about the experience. She’d gotten an IUD a week before I had, and we hadn’t yet touched base to celebrate our newfound sexual freedom. The celebration was short-lived:
All that stuff about effortless, anxiety-free, condomless sex? I had been having that for a week, but the verdict was out on whether the peace of mind was warranted. Because I’d gone with the Mirena at the last minute, I didn’t think to verify that it would be instantly effective like the Paragard. I felt like a fool for not reading the little brochure that accompanied my Mirena.
I called my Ob-Gyn. I spoke with a nurse, but was too ashamed to tell her what had happened. I asked, in general, how long it took for the Mirena to be effective. She echoed Google’s sentiments of 7 days, but recommended that I used condoms “just to be safe” for a MONTH.
As a meticulous condom-user for all 15 of my past penis-having sex partners, I was horrified by the possibility of my potential unplanned pregnancy. The dramatic irony was more devastating than Alanis Morissette’s ten thousand spoons.
I got a second opinion from a Live Chat with a Planned Parenthood professional online, and my fears were confirmed. The window of effectiveness had passed for a Plan B pill. All I could do now was cross my fingers and wait for my period.
I told my partner what I’d learned. He was supportive and never told what I should do with my body, beyond “Here baby, eat these noodles I bought you.”
We had had the abortion talk earlier in our relationship. Although we were using condoms, we knew no method is 100% effective. As an underemployed 24-year-old with a lifestyle that couldn’t accommodate a dog, much less a kid, it would be irresponsible for me to raise an infant. But beyond that, I had no desire to ever be pregnant or to be a mother. If I was indeed pregnant, I would be having an abortion.
Regardless, I was still anxiously awaiting my period. Contrary to the GOP’s rhetoric, most women are not eager to get an abortion. And so I waited for my already petulant PCOS uterus to give me a reassuring, bloody beacon.
As a naturally neurotic human, my over-thinking and disaster-making brain took over. What happens if you get pregnant with an IUD inside of you? I committed the cardinal sin of hypochondriacs: I googled it.
I learned about ectopic pregnancies, or “extrauterine pregnancies”, or “that time when you get preggo in your fallopian tubes and they explode and you bleed to death”.
I was sleepless and counting down the days until I could pee on a stick and get a read on whether or not I was at risk of become a human womb grenade.
About a week after the IUD (and the condom-less penis) insertion, I started to bleed. According to my normal menstrual cycle, it wasn’t time for my period. And if this was blood from the trauma of the IUD insertion wouldn’t I have bled earlier? Does this sludge even count as blood??
But the womb is a cavern of mystery, and here I was, bleeding. A slow, sticky parade of blackish brownish blood goo for ten days straight.
Part of me wanted to celebrate: This means I’m not pregnant, right? But a larger, masochistic part of me returned to the internet. Surprising to no one, I found something new to panic about.
Turns out that spotting, this intermittent flow of half-assed molasses tar out your cooch, can be a sign of early pregnancy.
It was still 4 more days until I could dribble on a pee stick and get a conclusive answer. Your mind goes to a pretty dark place when you contemplate the idea that you might actually be pregnant and you might actually need to get an abortion.
Although I am staunchly pro-choice, I’d be rattled by terminating a pregnancy. There’s a large part of my brain that is already consumed with the WhatIfs of every major decision I’ve made in my life. When I am feeling particularly discouraged about my current situation, I can’t help be revisit the past. If I had done that internship differently, gone to a different school, pursued a different career, treated my body better, had a new set of childhood friends, never met that person, never tried that thing — would I be happier now? Am I miserable eating off-brand soy chicken nuggets in front of a box fan in Chicago because I didn’t study Computer Science at Stanford?
A potential abortion was a potential weapon with which I would self-flagellate. I knew I was neurotic and self-loathing enough to romanticize a life I certainly did not want, if only to punish myself when I was not quite satisfied with the one I had. If I found my creative and personal life frustrating or lacking meaning and value, would I regret my decision to terminate that random pregnancy when I was 24? Who am I to tempt fate? I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual, and what if I had impeded something that was “meant to be”? Maybe I would have been a really beautiful, satisfied and happy blog mother. My life populated by pies with star shaped centers and finger paints made out of organic vegetables and Instagram posts tagged: #quaint or #grateful or #poise or #bliss.
I was afraid of having an abortion because I was afraid I would internalize the rhetoric of baby killers and selfish, reckless women with no respect for human life. Even despite my conscious awareness of how deeply wrong and deeply inaccurate those narratives are, I could feel the judgements scratching at me whenever I played through the imaginary movie of my own potential experience. I had to pull myself out of my own neurotic downward spiral. I knew I probably wasn’t (and certainly wouldn’t stay) pregnant. I knew that even if I was, and even if I did get an abortion, I would work to disavow the shit that had gotten lodged in my brain, in spite of my conscious feminist politics that would have never chosen that thinking.
I continued to spot; a light, steady flow of brown blood for 10 days. (10 days!)
I took the early pregnancy test three weeks to the day after I had (semi)unprotected sex.
It said I wasn’t pregnant. I was still anxious, and took another one each day for three days, just to be sure.
I got my “real” period, thicker flow and bright red blood, a week later.
I wasn’t pregnant.
And now, I was 99% certain that I wouldn’t be. Not for at least 5 years, thank goddess-incarnate-Stevie-Nicks.
The whole thing is absurd now. Although it’s likely that I was never at real risk of becoming pregnant from my post-IUD sex, it took my first real pregnancy scare — albeit one while I was actively sporting a birth control device inside my body — to uncover the level of fear I had about abortions and the amount of women-hating rhetoric I had internalized. Enough to send me into a minor panic spiral of potential judgements about potential feelings about potential outcomes of terminating a potential life. I am a ninja at finding ways to punish myself.
Perhaps in anticipation of the copious, carefree sex I’d be having post-IUD, I felt compelled to subject myself to one last freakout fest. Shrodinger’s Cat my uterus, and I will turn my anxiety up to eleven.
Now that that’s securely behind me and I’m guaranteed baby-free until 2021, I’m happy to say that I’m having a lot of carefree sex. And with all my freed up mental real estate, I’m finding new and interesting things to obsess over.
(Completely unrelated pro-tip: Don’t Google “tested lead water levels YOUR ZIP CODE HERE”. Just sayin’.)
(Another completely unrelated pro-tip: If the City of Chicago Water Quality department asks you if you had a child under the age of 5, say YES, even if you do not. They will not come test the lead levels in your water otherwise. Even if you beg and assure them that you have the same level of neuroplasticity and delicacy as a small child. They do not care.)