My experience with the copper-IUD
Let’s start off with this fact — I have a Mona Lisa copper-IUD inserted in my uterus to prevent me from getting pregnant. It’s one of the few non-hormonal forms of contraception available in the North American market. There’s a hormonal version of the IUD as well (most popular ones in Canada are Mirena and Jaydess). I used to be on the pill in my early-20s and didn’t really enjoy the side effects — acne, weight gain, bloating, and the potential to develop blood clots or have a stroke because of it. Granted, I’m sure hormonal contraception has come a long way in the last 10 years, but I prefer going au naturel with my hormones, even if it means I turn into a poutine devouring ogre every 3–4 weeks.
I wish I could say my experience with the copper-IUD has been stellar. As I’m writing this, I’m on my third IUD in as many years — that means on average I have had one IUD interested and removed from my lady bits every year for the past three years. One IUD is meant to stay in for 5–10 years (depending on which brand you go with). So, what’s going on with me?
The short answer is this — my body has been rejecting IUDs since I started using them in 2015. My first two IUDs were the Flexi-T 380, with a price tag of $150 each (thank the Lord for my husband’s awesome benefits package from his job). And I’ve had as many different gynaecologists as I’ve had IUDs.
IUD №1 — Flexi-T 380 (December 2015 — February 2017)
After a pregnancy scare and consultation with my physician about getting a copper-IUD, I was all set and ready to embark on my empowered woman journey of engaging in hormone-free, pregnancy-worry-free, as-close-to-natural-as-possible contraception, monkey sex with my hubby. I got a prescription to buy the IUD from a pharmacy, confirmed an appointment with a gynaecologist through my physician’s office, and on the big day took two Advils and went in to have my life changed (just not the way I had imagined).
Getting an IUD is a unique experience. If you’ve ever had a pap smear (ladies, you should get one every two years!), then you know that tool they use to pry open your vagina and take a sample of your uterine lining to test for abnormal cell growth? So that tool is used here to pry open your vagina. Next, there’s a long, thin plastic straw-like apparatus (with the IUD at the end) inserted allllll the way up into your vagina, past the cervix, into the uterus, till your fundus (the top of your uterus). There, the gynaecologist uses the little contraption to release the IUD and have it sit firmly in your uterus, using its T-shape to lodge itself where its meant to be. After that, the little straw-like inserter is removed and discarded.
If you’re thinking “This is all happening in your vagina?! How is there space to do any of this??”, then yes, it’s all happening within the few inches from the opening of your vagina all the way inside till the top of your uterus. And you’re leaving behind a plastic ‘T’ with copper coils all around it so that your uterus becomes an inhospitable environment for sperm by literally beheading any of those would-be fertilizers when they shoot into you (preferably accompanied by an orgasm). Oh and there’s a little string that dangled from the bottom tip of the IUD till the opening of my cervix which the gynaecologist trimmed so it didn’t “poke” my husband’s manhood during intercourse.
It goes without saying, I started bleeding during the “procedure”, which took under 1 minute to complete. If you’re a woman, you know how bad period cramps can get. Now take the worst cramps of your entire life, multiply that by about 14, and that’s what it was like having the IUD inserted in me. It was like the sharpest, most intense cramp I’ve experienced without passing out from it. If the Advil was dulling the pain, it was doing a really shitty job at it.
When it was all over, the gynaecologist gave me a little paper card (kind of like an organ donor card) with the date of insertion, what kind of IUD it was, and when it needed to be removed. She told me to keep it with me in my wallet in case there was ever an emergency (she didn’t specify what kind of emergency would require me to pull out my IUD health card, but I kept it). She gave me a pad to put on till the bleeding stopped, told me to take Advil for the pain, and that my bleeding would stop in about, 2–10 weeks. Maybe more. I bled, non-stop, for the next 3 months. It wasn’t heavy bleeding like on the second day of a period. It was more spotting, but with bright, fresh blood. I lost count of the boxes of pantyliners I used up in those months. And sex was off the table that entire time.
HOWEVER, when I finally did stop bleeding and my periods went back to normal, my husband and I started having a very different kind of sex. It was no worries, no having to stop in the middle of foreplay and take out condoms, no asking if I was ovulating before ejaculation (I should mention that prior to getting the IUD, I was using the rhythm method for contraception, hence the pregnancy scare which led to getting the IUD). To say our sex life got better (a lot better) would be an understatement. I was hesitant about going all the way during sex with the IUD for the first few weeks, but seeing that I was getting my period every month on time, AND having awesome, worry-free sex, I quickly embraced the IUD lifestyle and thought I’d never look back!
The only downside I felt was in the beginning, I would have awful PMS and a lot more cramping before the start of my period. And my periods got slightly heavier. I read they get much worse for some women, but fortunately it wasn’t that bad for me. And after about 6–8 months, all these side effects subsided and my monthly cycles and PMS became “normal” (what’s normal for me). I was living my best life, having sex more frequently, never having to worry about taking a pill or tracking my ovulation or calculating the likelihood of being pregnant. It was bliss. It was everything being a woman in the 21st century should be. I fell in love with the IUD and what it did for my sex life.
More than a year after getting the Flexi-T, I went in for my annual physical exam with our family doctor. She asked me how my experience was so far and I couldn’t stop gushing and raving about how the IUD is the greatest invention since sliced bread. As part of the check-up, she wanted to make sure the IUD was in its proper position, and had me lie back with my pants down to check (this is where the dangling strings come into play). She had a peep and said, “Hmm, the strings look longer than they should be. I can’t tell if the IUD is being expelled. Let’s have you go for an ultrasound just to make sure.”
My heart sank upon hearing these words. My body was rejecting this miracle from God? Why?! Was it something I had done? Was I having too much sex? Were certain sex positions off limits with the IUD? Why was this happening to me?!?
The following week I went in for the ultrasound, and even though I begged the technician to tell me what was going on, she didn’t say a word. The same evening after I got home, my physician’s office called. It was the nurse, and she told me the IUD was, in fact, being expelled, and that I should use condoms while having sex since the IUD’s efficacy couldn’t be guaranteed if it wasn’t in the right position. I felt like I wanted to cry. Just like that, the dream was over.
But I wasn’t going to give up so easily! I booked an appointment with my doctor to have the IUD removed, and get referred for another one! Try and try until you succeed, right?
IUD №2 — Flexi-T 380 (September 2017-January 2018)
IUD №1 was removed in February, and I was immediately referred to another gynaecologist who was (supposedly) more experienced with inserting IUDs than the one I had gone to before. Only thing was, it would be September before I’d see her since she was booked solid for seven months. In those seven months, having to turn back to (what now seemed like) archaic methods of birth control made me long for the IUD even more. Somehow though, the summer passed and it was time for my appointment. I bought a new IUD from the pharmacy with my physician’s prescription, took two Advils, and went to my appointment.
Right off the bat, I did not click with this new gynaecologist. She was one of those doctors that’s quick to judge and doesn’t listen to what you’re saying. Instead, she was more interested in lecturing me about how I was being irresponsible by not using “proper” contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy. And she did not have a very positive opinion of copper IUDs. Hormonal IUDs were far superior in her eyes. But copper IUD was “better than nothing”, in her words.
I didn’t care for her, but I wanted to get my IUD in so I played nice, smiled through her condescending opinions, shut my mouth and laid down with my pants off, hoping it would all be over soon. I don’t know if she botched the insertion on purpose, but the pain I felt while she was fiddling around with the applicator inside my uterus was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced before. And it took her close to 5 MINUTES (!!) to insert the IUD! When I got up, my head was spinning, I thought I would pass out, and there were tributaries of blood flowing down the bench from my vagina. It looked as though I had been stabbed and was bleeding out.
She casually handed me a pad, did NOT give me the IUD health card with all the info like the previous gynaecologist had, and was ready to send me off on my merry way when I asked her how I was going to know if this IUD too was being expelled. She gave me a referral for an ultrasound 3 months later, and to book an appointment for around that time to come in and talk over the results with her. I was less than enthused at the prospect of having to meet her again, but I had no other choice.
I bled for about 2 months before it subsided, started having the awesome sexy times again, and pretty much embraced this new IUD as “The One.” Then time came for the ultrasound, and a week later I was back in the snippy gynaecologist’s office waiting to get the results.
She came in, sat down, opened up her computer, clicked around on her screen, and looked at me with that look that I immediately knew what it meant.
“It’s being expelled. See, here. It’s dislodged and will eventually migrate down and sit in your cervix. It needs to be taken out.”
I DID NOT want this woman touching me again. I thanked her for her time and told her I was going to get a second opinion before having it removed. I said goodbye and never went back to her clinic again.
IUD №3 — Mona Lisa 5 (February 2018 — Present)
I went ape-shit researching on the internet for the next month while I waited to see my family doctor again and discuss my options with her. I went to a public sexual health clinic and spoke to a doctor there about my options as well. I checked on RateMyMD and saw my most recent gynaecologist had a 2.1 rating on the platform — I was not the least bit surprised! And reading through her reviews, I saw I wasn’t the only one who had a terrible experience with her when getting an IUD; several other women had written about their underwhelming encounters with her as well.
In my search for answers, I came across a research paper online, published in 2013, on some of the reasons why IUDs are expelled. The number one reason, as stated in the paper, was physician skill. So if your physician isn’t very good at inserting IUDs, chances are much higher that you’re going to expel it. I knew after reading this that if I wanted to have an IUD stick, I needed to see a gynaecologist who knew what the fuck he or she was going. I spoke with a friend of mine who had a copper-IUD between all three of her pregnancies and never once had any issues with expulsion. I couldn’t rely on government-funded healthcare to link me up with the best doctors anymore. I had to take matters into my own hands.
Eventually, after spending hours and hours on reddit, IUD Dives, Google, Mayo Clinic and pretty much all other reproductive health websites, I found a gynaecologist in Ottawa who I felt knew his shit. He was a sex researcher, and his specialty was women’s sexual health and how to improve contraceptive use and efficiency. This was my guy, and at my appointment with my physician, I asked her to refer me to him after she removed my IUD. (Side note: IUD removal is pretty quick and painless and any physician can do it. But an IUD insertion can only be done by an experienced midwife or gynaecologist, not a family doctor.)
I got the referral, and within that same week I was in at gynaecologist #3’s office. I didn’t get a prescription for an IUD from my physician because I didn’t want to get the Flexi-T again (maybe that brand wasn’t the one for me). Lucky for me, this new clinic had IUDs on-site that you could buy and have inserted in the same appointment. They carried the Mona Lisa copper-IUD, which was what I was hoping to get after learning about the various kinds of copper-IUDs available in Canada (Paragard is the only copper-IUD available in the US as of this writing, but Canada has three different ones to choose from).
Mr. Gynaecologist sat down with me, and I went through my almost 3-year ordeal of trying (and failing) to have a copper-IUD stay in place. He was understanding and patient and when time came to insert IUD № 3, he stopped, took out the instructions from the box, read through them and told me he wanted to make sure he was doing it right, seeing how it was my third time getting one. I braced myself for more of that debilitating pain I knew to expect at these appointments, but to my surprise, it never came. I held my breath and waited to let out a mental scream, but before I could, it was over. I sat up, and there was no blood anywhere! Had he even done anything?!
He filled out the IUD health card and handed it to me, made an appointment for an ultrasound at the same clinic for 6 weeks later to ensure the IUD was in place, and told me I could pay the $100 for the IUD at the front desk. It was unreal how pleasant the whole experience was; I was gripped by a dark feeling that this was going to fail, just like the other two attempts.
I eventually did start bleeding later that week, but not at all like the previous two attempts. It lasted for about 6 weeks, and by then it was time for the ultrasound appointment. I went in with no expectations, didn’t ask the technician for the results, and waited to get that dreaded phone call later in the week telling me the IUD wasn’t going to work out and had to be removed.
But…that never happened. I actually had to call the clinic back and ask them to confirm that everything was, in fact, okay. They told me things looked good and the IUD was exactly where it should be. Hallelujah…?
As of today, it’s been over 4 months of stress-free sexy times, and the IUD is still there and working as it should. I want to say this is it, that against all odds and with loads of time and a willingness to succeed, I’ve finally managed to find the right gynaecologist and get the right kind of IUD for my body. I don’t know if it’s still too early to say that in the end, it all worked out. I do know that the IUD is one of the best forms of non-hormonal contraception available today and it would majorly suck for me if after all this, it turns out the IUD and I are not meant to be.
For now though, I’m hopeful. You know what they say, third time’s a charm (if you do hours and hours of research and exhaust every resource available at your disposal and finally get a doctor who knows how to do his fucking job).