When one contraception fails you, try another one. Or, in some cases, it might take you two bad experiences on the pill and three countries to find your preferred method – in this case, the IUD.
Here’s the Lowdown on Petra’s contraceptive journey.
My first and worst experience
My contraception journey started when I was 15 and got together with my first boyfriend. It was a no-brainer for me to go onto the pill; after all, it was advertised everywhere around me as the right thing to do when you start having sex. However, growing up in a small town in Eastern Europe, we had some catching up to do – by then, I have never heard of anything else than the pill.
Even though I had my solitaire and ICQ skills down, googling information was not a thing yet. So, I asked my mom to please take me to see a gynaecologist. She was surprised but supportive, after all, she also knew that was the right thing to do.
As I had no previous experience with the process, I didn’t realise at the time that what the doctor did was an absolute no-go.
With hormonal contraception, there is an increased risk of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis. Because of this, many countries require the doctors to test the blood of the patient before prescribing hormonal contraception in an attempt to prevent any issues. Generally, when a person’s blood is too thick, they either can’t be prescribed hormonal contraception, or they must be prescribed additional medication to thin their blood.
Long story short, I wasn’t tested nor did I know I had to be. I had the worst time on the pill, bleeding for a month straight, crazy mood swings and nausea. I decided it wasn’t for me at all. After three months, I gave up.
Second time’s the charm?!
A year later, I decided to give it another go. Went to the same doctor, got prescribed the same pill. Again, no testing. Fun fact – all of my friends who went to the same doctor, got prescribed the same pill with the same process (or lack thereof) as mine.
I took the pill for three months, I gained 10kg, my self-esteem went out the window after gaining so much weight in such a short time and I felt like I was losing my mind. I decided then and there to never touch hormonal contraception again.
That was until three years later when I met my then boyfriend. This time around, I was living in Austria where, it seemed, the healthcare system was way more advanced (or just better funded). I went to a gynaecologist in Vienna ready to get my pill and give it another shot. But, to my surprise, the process was different. There actually was one as opposed to my previous experience. They took my blood and told me to wait for my results before coming back to get my birth control. It turned out, my blood was indeed too thick and they refused to give me the pill to prevent any issues the synthetic hormones might cause.
By this point, I was really set on not getting any other hormonal contraception ever again.
Trying it the non-hormonal way
Fast forward to last year, when I had an emergency. It so happened that I had to have an emergency IUD inserted. This time, I was in London.
Unfortunately, there was a small mishappening and I was in need of a plan B, just in case. I was ovulating already so I couldn’t rely on the morning after pill which delays ovulation in an attempt to prevent pregnancy. However, when you’re already ovulating, this emergency method will not work. Luckily, we have the power of googling now so that’s what I did.
Turns out, you can get a copper IUD inserted as emergency contraception within five days after having unprotected sex. The copper creates an inflammation in the womb so that you can’t get pregnant and even if, it wouldn’t stick as the environment wouldn’t be suitable for anything to grow.
Other than that, the copper also acts as a contraceptive by killing sperm. I read that it somehow tears off the head from the tail of the sperm. Quite badass, if you ask me.
I was thinking about getting the IUD for some time but like many others, I was scared of the procedure. Not to mention that it’s quite expensive to get in Austria. This is why I was putting off booking an appointment.
The morning of
I called a sexual health clinic and asked what to do. They told me to come in on a Saturday morning before they open and wait to get an appointment. I went there at 7 am as it was first come, first serve and it was already my 4th day after having the accident. I had one day left to make sure I would be protected.
Stupidly, I thought I would go there, get an appointment, go home and come back later. I hadn’t had any breakfast, nor did I take any painkillers – such a noob. The countless videos I watched and articles I read prior to that Saturday, all said to be prepared. And of course, I wasn’t.
So, when they told me to go to room five, I freaked out. It was happening then and there. The nurse was very nice and understanding and she explained what was going to happen. The fitting of the copper coil is the same as that of the hormonal coil. If you want to know how it’s done, The Lowdown has a podcast episode on this. You can listen to it here.
The IUD experience
All in all, it was a really unpleasant experience. It hurt and it was uncomfortable. I would’ve fainted if I wouldn’t have been lying down. It didn’t take long to fit it but it was the most uncomfortable feeling I have ever felt. After it was done, I thought: “yeah, this is not too bad”. I had some water, got dressed and was on my way home. I live about five minutes away from the sexual health clinic and was confident I would be able to get home with no issues.
Let me tell you, those were the longest five minutes of my life. I felt pain, nausea and I was about to faint there and then. While crossing the street, I felt like my legs were giving out. My building was so close, but I couldn’t go any further and had to sit down on the pavement; I even lay down for a minute to gather myself. I somehow made it home, got undressed, got in bed and shivered myself to sleep.
Getting used to the IUD
The next month was on-and-off awful. Some days the cramps were so bad that I had to be sent home from work as I couldn’t function. I went to the clinic for a check-up as I was convinced that something wasn’t right. They refused to check the IUD, saying that it’s normal to have pain. They told me to check the strings myself.
Unfortunately, my strings have curled around my cervix and I can’t feel them. When I had my smear test, I asked the nurse to check for me and she said they’re still there – phew.
It took my body about nine months to get fully used to the IUD. I used to have very bad cramps when ovulating as well as on the first day of my period. For the first three months, I would bleed here and there randomly.
I also started spotting about four days before my actual period came and then had my period for five days. I still get cramps around the time of my ovulation and on the first day of my period, but they are manageable. The spotting starts a couple of days before my actual period but then my period is heavy for one day and then it starts fading. The IUD actually shortened it!
A happy ending
Overall, I am very happy things happened as they did – they made me get the IUD that I was putting off for so long. The initial experience sure wasn’t pleasant, to say the least, but the peace of mind I have since then is great. My only advice would be – eat before your appointment and take those pain killers!