When I told my mom that I was finally going to get a copper IUD, her response didn't surprise me. "Just be sure to tell the doctor your mother almost died from it." Thanks mom, really appreciate the vote of confidence. It's true, though. My mom was one of the unlucky women who used one of the first incarnations of the IUD, the infamously defective Dalkon Shield, in the '70s — and she almost died from an ectopic pregnancy as a result.
So considering that my mother was nearly killed by an IUD, it's not particularly surprising that I've always been scared of them. Sure, these days, IUDs are safe, and the failure rate of an IUD is only .08 percent, making it the most effective reversible form of birth control around. But everything about the idea of an IUD made me a little queasy. What if it made me periods unbearably bad? What if it somehow ended up perforating my uterus (something that only happens to one in 1,000 women), or was expelled by my uterus into my vagina (which happens to roughly two in 100 women)? What if I felt like I was walking around with something foreign inside me all the time?
But after editing dozens of articles about the benefits of IUDs, I finally decided to face my fears, and take the plunge. Because I don't want to use hormonal birth control, condoms, or the rhythm or pullout method with a long-term partner, I decided the cooper IUD, or Paraguard, made the most sense for me. I made an appointment, and readied myself for an experience I was legit scared of.
While getting an IUD was physically challenging, it turned out the financial and emotional aspects of the process were actually more anxiety provoking. Here are 11 things I learned while getting an IUD that no article I read prepared me for.
1. They Wouldn't Let My Boyfriend Come Into The Room
I asked my boyfriend to come with me to get the IUD. After all, it was a decision that I was making, in part, for both of us. Also, I was scared (especially since every time I Googled firsthand accounts of the procedure, they all seemed to either say OWWWWWWWW or Whatever, no biggie, so I had no clue what kind of experience I'd have).
But he wasn't allowed in the room. I was too nervous to ask my doctor why, but I imagine that it probably had to do with what their medical liability insurance covered. Even though he would have been at least 10 feet away from any actual IUD action, the idea was shut down immediately.
2. I Had A Spiritual Experience ... With RBG
They led me to the procedure room, told me to get undressed from the waist down, and left me alone to wait.
Calming classical music played through the intercom as I contemplated my impending pain. I sat there, for 45 nervous minutes, staring at a giant pair of stirrups, an enormous examination light ... and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her face, front and center on the magazine rack, stared me down.
As I mentally freaked out on the exam table, RBG seemed to call to me: Rachel. This is about your reproductive future. You can do this. I fight for your right to do this. Don't punk out on me now.
3. I Had Some Very Surprising Feelings About My Fertility
Laying there, waiting for one of the most permanent methods of birth control out there, I shocked myself by realizing that there was part of me that would actually miss the risk of pregnancy.
Truthfully, I think some of us play it a little fast and loose with unprotected sex/the pullout method/fertility awareness because it's kind of ... exciting. There's something really committed and risky about taking that chance with a partner, and knowing that you could, potentially, get pregnant. Is that something I want right now? No, and I hope to never experience an accidental pregnancy — I had been six days late this month and nearly lost my mind. That's why I got the IUD.
But lying there on the table, it was humbling, in that damn-feminism-is-complicated way, to realize that a part of me was mourning the loss of being able to get pregnant on a whim or by accident. It wasn't logical. But it was real.
4. Dealing With The Insurance Was Worse Than The Pain
When the doctor finally walked in, her first words were what no one wants to hear when they're pantsless and emotionally vulnerable: "Well, we have a problem." Long story short: because my insurance fully covers the device and procedure, they told me the doctor would simply bill for the IUD. The doctor claimed otherwise — she said that unless I wanted to pay upfront, I would have to submit a claim and then they would have to order the IUD through the insurance company. If I didn't do this, there was a chance I couldn't get reimbursed for the very pricey device.
As the doctor told me (very aggressively) that I had messed up the protocol, I started to realize that I might not be able to get an IUD that day — or for another few months — unless I paid for the device right now, out-of-pocket. And after all that waiting and nervousness, I really wanted to get it over with.
"What is my option here?" I asked, on the edge of tears. She told me I could put the $750 charge on my credit card, and hope that my insurance reimbursed me. I decided to do it.
I hope I made the right call. But the fact that money was the first thing my doctor talked about? That she said "I need to make sure I get paid" and "you can hope they cover you"? It made me feel really nervous, out of control, and PISSED. Only in America, I thought. I looked at RBG as I signed the receipt, pants still off.
RBG stared back at me. And you're one of the lucky ones.
5. The Procedure Was Kind Of Like Demented Yoga
As we began the procedure, the doctor had me scoot all the way to the edge of the table, then put my feet in stirrups hanging about three feet above my head, told me to pull my knees into my chest, and spread 'em. It was kind of like doing happy baby pose in yoga, only while while semi-nude and also sick with anxiety.
At this point, she inserted an extra wide speculum into me, and I started to feel really nervous. Not because it was so uncomfortable, but mostly because I was tensing up, thinking of the Moment of Great Pain described in all of those articles. It was upon me!
6. She Spent A Lot Of Time Washing Out My Cervix
It seemed like at least half of the five minute procedure was spent sterilizing my insides with a wash that she then sort of scraped around (it was hard to tell exactly with what, but it felt sort of like being sprayed internally, then having it rubbed in). It was an uncomfortable feeling, kind of like a pap smear with water, but not exactly painful. I've never been cleaned out there, and I can't say I recommend it. That said, I'm sure it helps prevent infection, so ... worth it.
7. Getting Shot In The Cervix Is Less Painful Than You'd Think
This doctor told me beforehand that she gives patients a cervical block before IUD insertion, shot directly into the cervix, because she had heard too many women "scream bloody murder." (I know, she really had amazing bedside manner.) I was excited for the anesthetic, which I read helped reduce the pain of the insertion for many women.
The shot felt like a dull, achy pain. I sort of felt the numbness kick in, but I could definitely still feel the big speculum in me, and my anxiety was making me clench up like a motherf*cker. When was she going to put the damn thing in?
8. I Wasn't Sure When It Actually Went In
Probably because of the cervical block, I'm not 100 percent sure when the much-hyped Magical Moment of Pain/ IUD insertion happened. The whole five minutes of the procedure was just a blur of discomfort and slight nausea, which once again, I can only compare to a very long pap smear.
I did feel one sharp, quick little pain, which I'm assuming was the moment she inserted it. She didn't prep me, or tell me when it was being inserted — maybe because she knew it would just make me tense up more.
After what seemed to be the insertion, (but could have been a painful adjustment of the IUD's placement in my uterus) she trimmed the string, which just felt like more uncomfortable prodding. Then she washed my cervix again, which was more nauseatingly invasive than painful. And then, finally, it was over.
9. I Started Crying When It Was Finished — But Not In Pain
It wasn't until I got to the office's elevators that I started crying into my boyfriend's shoulder. "I hate this country," I said, not at all melodramatically. "I can't believe the worst part of that was about arguing over the money and worrying if I'd be able to get the IUD in the first place. I can't believe they wouldn't let you hold my f*&ing hand! This system is backwards! Why do we live here?"
Wisely, he suggested we get a drink.
10. It Didn't Totally Ruin My Night
I'm not even a huge fan of alcohol, but that drink was a GOOD IDEA. I didn't need to convalesce in bed all day — I was still feeling crampy and weird, but the warmth, the drink, and the conversation did relax me. My muscles began to follow suit, and finally, I could feel relieved about the decision I'd made.
That night and the next day, I felt crampy, like I was having a worse-than-usual period. But already, just two days later, I feel pretty much normal, maybe just a bit crampier and less open to sex than usual. I survived — and so far, I feel pretty good about this decision.
11. I Was Afraid Of The Wrong Things
I'm protected against pregnancy until 2025, when I'll be 37, godvilling, as my grandmother always said. And while the procedure was certainly not the most fun I've ever had at the doctor, I regret letting fear get in my way for this long.
If you're thinking about getting an IUD and fear of pain is the main thing standing in your way, I'd tell you the same thing my dude told me before the procedure: "You're tough. I'm not worried about you."
We're women. We're all way tougher than we think. And truth be told, the physical experience wasn't that bad. The real thing that made me feel like crap the day I got an IUD was our for-profit healthcare system; a system where it's considered normal to have to hand over your credit card in order to obtain healthcare, where the bill is discussed before your well-being, and where having emotional support in the room is viewed as a potential liability.
It is that broken system, and the people who seek to control our access to it, that we should really be afraid of. Not the IUD.