The hellish path to making an IUD work for my body

Emily Zirimis

Dr. R.: “Sit back, relax. Take a deep breath. It’s going to take max 10 minutes.”

Me: “Is everything okay?”

Dr. R: “Yeah, we just need you to be dilated a little more”

Ten minutes later...

Me: “Do you think I’m ready yet?”

Dr. R: “Just a little more”

Me: “OK. You’re going to feel a slight pressure.”

Me: “Oh my, ow, ow” heavy breathing

Dr. R: “Relax, please. It’s okay. Breathe.”

Dr. R: “Okay, it’s almost there. A little more pressure. I am sorry.”

Me: “Ow! ow! ow! ow! ow! Ow! Stop! Wait.”

Dr. R: “Okay, I know, I know,  we’re almost done”

“Done! Here’s a lollipop.”

Two minutes later…

I sprint to the bleach-infected bathroom and vomited into the sink.

It was the summer before my freshman year of college when my mom and I decided I needed to be put on birth control. Together, we reviewed all the options of birth control and the decision was made pretty quick. My mom sent me off to start a new chapter of my life with my comforter, my notebooks, my 10 boxes of clothes, and my Mirena, the IUD I chose as my birth control. It was the best option because after it was inserted, I could go through my entire college career and not think about it once. No forgetting pills, no shots, no awkward rings - just one little plastic device that gets popped into my cervix, and bam - back to normal life I go.

It made sense, right? I’m always moving around, busy with clubs, sports, new friends, COLLEGE. I can barely manage to remember all my assignments and eat three full meals a day - dealing with the repercussions of forgetting my birth control pills was not something I wanted to risk. The “set-it-and-forget-it” promise of an IUD seemed like a dream option.

The IUD Hell Path Begins

When my IUD was first inserted, my gynecologists told me that my cramps would likely last a day - a week max. Later that day, I had gut-wrenching cramps, forcing me into a fetal position for hours when I got home. My stomach felt as if my organs were being squeezed by a rubber band. Because Dr. R said this is normal, I took an Advil and fell asleep after a few hours of wrestling around.

The next day, despite Dr. R’s warning, I was hoping the cramps to be gone, or least subdued. Not so much. My sides and lower back were in constant pain, as if I had slept on bricks the whole night. My stomach was wrenching, and on top of that I was bloated. This absolutely sucked because the summer meant swimsuits and jean shorts. Everything I wore felt uncomfortable, tight and uneasy.

These same symptoms continued for the rest of the week, for the rest of the month, for the rest of the summer and into the fall.  

At the time, I didn’t have dysmenorrhea or any sort of severe cramping disorder. This was completely out of the ordinary and considering the Mirena is meant to reduce cramping, everything about what I experienced felt wrong. On top of the cramping, I was also constantly bleeding. I’d bleed for three weeks at a time, with only a week break in between. This continued for another month, and another, and another. In total, the promised one week of pain and bleeding went on for the better part of eight months.

Outside of the restless nights and pain, the bleeding during that time was inconsistent - mostly light, peppered with sporadic and spontaneous heavier bouts. It became hard to predict when (and how much) I needed to be prepared. I was constantly carrying around tampons to make sure I was prepared no matter where I went.

To add to the sting, it seemed none of my other friends had this experience. In addition to the classic academic and social comparisons college brings, I also felt like something was seriously wrong with my body. Not to mention the anger I felt when the whole point of getting an IUD became moot considering it’s all I thought about for eight months. The constant cramps and bleeding was a torturous reminder that this little piece of plastic was taking control of my body.

I would continue to get my IUD checked almost every month, and doctors would continue to say the same thing, that I was healthy and that my body might be just handling the progestin differently. I even thought about asking my doctor to just remove it. I was so conflicted because I knew I would want to replace it with a different type of contraception; but, I was not ready to take the pill or replace it with another IUD because I was so scared to have a repeat of my eight months of hell. So, I pushed through for the eight, and then some months, and in April they finally changed. I started to have my period for one week with regular bleeding, minimal to no cramps and a 20-28 day break in between cycles. Each period started to become lighter and lighter, to where most days were colored discharge. Hallelujah!

Remembering it’s your body - and your choice

My experience with the IUD was a brutal one, but even after all that, I’m still grateful I did it. My IUD really takes a burden off my back when I am on and off my period. When I’m on my period, my symptoms are mild (light flow, minimal cramps, not as fatigued). My personal relationships are not under stress. However, it was tough to stick it out for those eight months, and there are still times when I get frustrated thinking about how much I had to go through just to get it to work with my body. But the biggest thing I learned is to just keep communicating with your doctor - and don’t suffer in silence! If you think something is wrong, find a second opinion. If you decide you don’t want to deal with it, don’t!

As with most birth control related stories - this is my individual experience and is not meant to sway your decision making. If you are exploring birth control options, please speak to your doctor.


Image by Emily Zirimis