When I decided to get an IUD, the last thing I wanted to do was read about it online. Without even trying, I had already heard countless instances involving it breaking, getting stuck, getting lost, and every other horrible thing you could possibly think of. I didn’t research the procedure or even the different devices in fear that I’d find something that would make me cancel the appointment and go back to constantly missing birth control pills and forgetting to renew my prescription. I didn’t want a horror story, I wanted an honest one — so here it is.
One thing to bear in mind is that getting an IUD is different for everyone (and I’m not a medical professional, so everything here is about my own personal experience). I’ve heard horror stories, but I’ve also met people who said it was nothing more than a slight inconvenience in their day. My experience falls somewhere in the middle.
Let’s talk about what I knew going into it.
Here are the things I did know: an IUD is a T-shaped Intra-Uterine Device that can prevent pregnancy for up to five years, depending on which kind you choose. Some types use hormones and others do not, but its effectiveness lies in a combination of a few different things. I was interested because I had gotten lazy about taking the Pill. After a string of forgotten Pill days, I was on the subway and found myself staring at an ad that said: “Maybe the IUD is right for you.” I decided it might be time to listen.
So, here’s what happened during my appointment.
I made the appointment for my day off, thinking I’d run a few errands before spending the rest of the day on the couch. I arrived at my appointment thirty minutes after taking an Advil, as instructed. Before diving in, I went through all that normal doctor stuff. They took my blood pressure and gave me a quick exam to make sure everything was a-okay for the procedure. Both the nurse and my gynecologist noticed that I was nervous — even before I did. My blood pressure was high and when I signed the form that acknowledged what was about to happen, I slammed the pen down and backed away from it like it was going to explode.
“Oh, it’s going to be fine,” my gynecologist said in a tone that was both brisk and comforting. She does at least one of these a day, so my trepidation at such a routine procedure was somewhat laughable. “I had one woman ask me, ‘That was it?'” she recounted.
I stripped down into one of those paper robes and hopped onto the table. As I put my feet into the stirrups I noticed they were each wearing socks that said “R E L A X” above a smiley face, which is easier said than done, especially when you’re an emoji.
The IUD is inserted through a small tube, with the arms of the T opening out once it’s safely inside. To allow for a smooth landing, so to speak, the vagina is propped open with a speculum. If you’re cringing at the thought, welcome to the club. I was so tense that the speculum collapsed not once, but twice during the ordeal.
It took about five minutes, tops. As the piece was being inserted, it felt like one long, drawn out period cramp. The part that made it worse was that I knew that it wasn’t. With a somewhat deafening click, the arms popped out, and my body immediately jumped into action, having the biological equivalent of someone screaming “WHAT IS THIS GET IT OUT.” I felt weak, sweaty, and like I was going to vomit into the tiny paper cup of water my gynecologist was gently pouring into my mouth. “Many women faint just then,” she commented. “But I didn’t want to tell you that.”
I didn’t faint. I didn’t faint when she said there was one more step. I didn’t even faint when she put the ultrasound probe inside me, pointed at the screen, and said, “That’s your uterus!”
It did, however, take some time before I was able to sit back up, and even longer before I was able to get back into my clothes and relocate to the waiting room. At that point, however, the color had come back into my cheeks, and my biggest concern was whether or not I was going to make the cab ride home without vomiting and having to explain to the driver, “Sorry, my uterus is very angry.”
A few hours after the appointment, I began to feel normal again.
Instead, after about an hour, I decided to go on foot. The fresh air was soothing and as long as I didn’t start leaping down 86th Street, it wasn’t that uncomfortable either. I was propelled forward by the knowledge that each step brought me closer to my bed, my Netflix, and the pizza delivery I had already ordered using my phone.
With regular Advil, I felt almost entirely normal by the end of the day. Lying in bed, I felt the occasional pang and thanked my lucky stars that I was out of those stirrups. At one point, I remembered what my gynecologist told me as she inserted the device: “This is pretty much exactly what a contraction feels like.” That knowledge, funnily enough, has been the most effective birth control of all.
Getting an IUD might be very different for someone else, but this was my experience: Not horrible, but not great. But totally doable.