Thursday, 3 May 2018

Cramps, Coils and Contraception: My Experience With an IUD

This is a very different kind of post from my usual beauty reviews and nail art posts, but the topics I am going to cover do have an aspect of health which I think are relevant to this blog.

If this kind of topic isn't your bag, literally every other post on this blog is firmly beauty or nail related (apart from that one slightly embarrassing post where I went on a rant about Taylor Swift which I am not going to actively link) but you can find plenty of other content beauty content in the popular post bar on the right :)

There are a couple of reasons why I am writing this post which I will get into later on, but mainly I think it is because more and more women are becoming aware of the pill, and how sometimes harmful the effects of the added hormones can have on your body and health. I did a poll on instagram to see if my followers would be interested in this topic, and there was a resounding yes which makes me think that people are much more aware of their contraception and the options they have. As someone who has a IUD or the coil as it is more commonly know, I always find people have a shed load of questions for me when they learn I have one, so I thought it would be helpful to put my experiences with it in a post.

I am fully aware I started a BEAUTY blog, but I feel sometimes we need to talk about these more taboo topics as life isn't all about lipsticks and lashes. I will openly admit I feel a little nervous posting this on my blog, but I think it is important to open up the conversation, especially when it comes to talking about your hormones, and the effects it can have on your mental and physical health.

To start, I am going to give you a little back story on my contraceptive journey to give you an idea of my experience with other forms of contraception and maybe indicate the reasons why I ended up choosing to have an IUD, so if you want to skip over that, scroll down to the Q&A part of the post.

I vividly remember first being told about the coil by one of my school friends when I was sitting in my common room at the ripe old age of about 15. I am still not a fan of the word 'coil' as I think it sounds a little scary and for me personally, I thought it sounded like a big metal spring like contraption that rattled around inside of you. The girl informing me about this contraceptive device made the idea of it sound horrendous. She told us all sorts of horror stories about how she'd heard it "scraped out your insides" and could "burst through your womb and get lost inside of you and kill you", and how one time she'd heard "a baby had been born with one embedded in it's skull". I distinctly remember thinking, and probably saying out loud, "I would NEVER get the coil", yet here I am ten years later writing this post with one inside me as I type.

So what changed? Well firstly, I grew up! I learned not to be put off by something that doesn't always work for everyone else. Sure, everyone has heard horror stories about the coil, but that is because you rarely hear positive stories about them, making the bad press they get more common. Of course with anything like this there are risks, but they are very rare and also unlikely. If the horror stories happened all the time, doctors wouldn't recommend them and actually you tend to find a lot of doctors really support this kind of contraception.

I went on the Microgynon pill when I was 17. It was a decision my mum supported me in, and she took me to the doctors to discuss it. At this time of my adolescent life, the pill was something everyone just went on, and no other options were really discussed (in my friendship group anyway).
The pill actually worked really well for me, my tiny boobs ballooned, my skin stayed baby soft, my periods were as light as a feather and lasted about 3-4 days and I was loving life. The only slight negative side was that I did tend to experience head aches.

When I was around 19, I went to the doctors where I explained my headaches, and the first thing they suggested was that I should try the pill Cerazette. I took their advice and again, got on with this different pill very well. Cerazette is a pill you take continually meaning you never have a break. This worked so well for me during uni. I was living with four boys, and I never once had to worry about sneaking to the loo with a tampon up my sleeve (not that it is anything to be ashamed of), or have a panic about leaving any laundry around that may have been victim to a little leakage. Financially, it meant I could buy all the Vodka red bulls I wanted as I wasn't splurging on sanitary products (ban the tampon tax!). All in all, Cerazette made my life really really easy.

As I grew older and left uni however, I started to feel slightly uncomfortable about the fact that I hadn't had a period in about four years. As rubbish as they are, periods are a natural function of your body, and I felt as though I needed a sign to reassure me that everything was all working as normal in that department. When I spoke to my doctor about it, they suggested I have an IUD inserted in which I instantly wrote off with the year 10 common room stories at the forefront of my mind.

It was around this time after uni that I had decided that I wanted to go travelling indefinitely, and it suddenly occurred to me that I couldn't exactly order a year + supply of my pill. It was then that a friend suggested the coil to me again. She had had one inserted, and for some reason someone my age discussing it with me without the big scientific words made it a lot less scary. With my feelings of wanting to come off the pill combined with her positive experience, the more an IUD made sense to me, so in November 2013 I had my IUD fitted.

How do I go about getting the coil and know if it is right for me?

The only way you can know 100% if the coil is right for you is by discussing it with your doctor. There are a few reasons why you may not be able to have an IUD, but my doctor talked me through the details and was very supportive of the coil. Sometimes an IUD can actually help ease other health problems such as endometriosis. The IUD works well for some, and not so well for others, but you can't really know if it will work for you unless you try it. Of course if you don't get on with it, you can have it removed.
As I said above, for me the coil was the best contraceptive option for me as I wanted a hormone free option and was also going travelling, and I still stick by my decision to do so.

What kind of IUD do I get?

I didn't realise that there were different kinds of coil. There is actually an IUS which DOES contain hormones, so if you want a hormone free option like I did, make sure you specify you want a copper IUD. There are also different sized coils. Smaller IUDs last for five years, and larger ones which last for 10. 
I have a small IUD called Nova T 380 which will last me 5 years

How does it work?

If you haven't seen one, a hormone free IUD is a T-shaped device made of plastic and copper. It is actually the copper that prevents pregnancy. The released copper is like kryptonite for sperm, and makes it more difficult for it to reach the egg and survive. The IUD can also stop a fertilised egg from being able to implant itself in the womb.

Does it hurt when it is inserted?

This is probably the most common question I get asked when talking about the coil.
To say I went about getting my IUD inserted slightly blind would be an understatement. After going through the discussion phase, you are then booked in for your separate insertion appointment which should have really been an indication to me that it wasn't going to be like popping in a tampon.
I had the morning off work when I had my appointment, and had every intention of skipping off to do my shift afterwards like any other day. I told this to my nurse and she looked at me a little concerned and asked if I had realised the insertion process is classed as a 'minor surgery'. I shrugged it off and said I had a high pain threshold and laid down on the bed, legs a akimbo.

I won't sugar coat it, the insertion was not comfortable and it did take my surprise. To describe the feeling as 'pain' I think is the wrong word. The feeling is more like an intense ache, and what I can only imagine a contraction feels like.
Essentially, you're having a foreign object put inside of you, so your bodies natural reaction is to cramp around it and expel it, similarly to what happens when having a contraction.

Like I said, I went into this very blind having done no research, and I had to take the afternoon off work as well as the following day as all I wanted to do was lie in bed. I realise this sounds terribly dramatic, however it was nothing painkillers and a hot water bottle couldn't solve. Just make sure you go in prepared, and are topping up with pain killers as soon as they start to wear off.
 I would highly recommend taking pain killers before you go to have your coil fitted, and also having your appointment when you have a couple of days off to relax afterwards.

It didn't happen for me, but you may get slight bleeding or spotting after the insertion and you should use a pad for this. Not that you will want to, but do not use a tampon or even THINK about having any kind of sexual activity for the next 24 hours because... just trust me it will be the last thing you want to do.

What is it like after the first few weeks?

Some people can unfortunately experience a lot of bleeding for a few months, and some people's bodies may also reject the coil which can lead to infection. The weeks after will be a good indication as to how your body will deal with the IUD. For me, I have had it pretty smooth sailing since my coil was inserted. I didn't have any constant bleeding which I hear is quite common for people. I didn't have any dramas or extra pain, it seemed to just settle fairly well into my body and lifestyle which I have been really lucky with.
If you do experience any thing you feel isn't right, go straight back to the doctor to discuss this.

What are the pros?
  • Obviously the main pro for me is that I no longer have extra hormones flying around my body and I have a natural cycle again.
  • Due to no hormones, this can be used by women who have just given birth and who are breastfeeding.
  • The IUD will prevent pregnancy as soon as it is in.
  • I was able to go on my travels without a year supply of contraceptive pills getting me stopped and searched at every airport.
  • I don't have to remember to take a pill or worry about missing one as the coil has a 99% effeciency rate.
  • It sounds silly, but I feel as though I know my body a lot better which brings me to the 'beauty side of things'. I am a strong believer in what you put in your body shows on the outside. I find my moods, skin, weight is really finely tuned now and although I may not like the added spots, bloat and mood swings at that time of the month, I do feel it lets me keep tabs on what my body is doing on the inside.
  • I no longer get that many headaches! (unless they're hangover induced of course)
  • Once the IUD is removed, it is possible to get pregnant straight away should you wish, as your body does not need to adjust to the hormone levels like it does when you come off the pill or any other hormone.
And the cons?

Firstly, I feel as though this list is going to look longer than the pros list and also maybe outweigh them, but don't be put off by this at all! Things also get a little more graphic here as well so apologies in advance!
  • My periods are really really heavy now. To put it in perspective, I could use the yellow packaged light tampons throughout the whole of my 3-4 day period on the pill, but since having the IUD inserted, I have pretty heavy days on the second and third day, and a period can last between 7-9 days. I usually have to wear the orange jumbo tampons (yes you can still wear tampons or a menstrual cup when you have an IUD) and for particularly heavy days I will also have to wear a precautionary sanitary towel as I can easily leak through a jumbo tampon within a couple of hours. Sneezing, exercise and even laughing can be risky and catastrophic on these first few days of my period, and there have been occasions where I have leaked through onto my clothes (once at a wedding which was a nightmare!) so I would always say to keep a well stocked sanitary bag with you wherever you go.
  • I unfortunately get fairly bad period pain around the time of my period too which I never used to experience. Whilst it is nowhere near on the scale of the feeling or the IUD insertion, I do usually have to take painkillers in order to get through them.
  • Not that this is a con as such, but if you are with a new partner it may be something you want to mention to them before sexual activity but it is common that any sexual partners will be able to feel the IUD strings that are attached to the coil, particularly shortly after having it fitted. The strings do 'moisten' naturally over time meaning they become softer, and partners are just aware of the strings being there, but they don't hurt, scratch or anything like that. (blergh I've been grown up and mature up until now but the 'moistening strings' gets me every time)
  • IUD's are a form of contraception however it of course does not prevent STI's so you do still need to use precautions if you're unsure of your partners sexual health history.
  • Not that it is a direct cause from the coil, but my skin, moods all that jazz really hit rock bottom at the time of the month since having the coil, which did come as a surprise as I am on a hormone free contraceptive. 
So should I get the coil??

As mentioned above, getting an IUD is completely personal to every situation. I went on my travels as planned and was incredibly grateful that I didn't have to ask for, or mime for any contraceptive pill or anything else in the depths of a local town in the middle of Bolivia (side note they don't seem to use tampons in Bolivia so stock up if you go!).
 Whilst there were some days of my travels I couldn't go swimming because of having a heavy day (and not wanting to be shark bait), I have not regretted my decision to have my IUD at any point (apart from maybe when they first put it in).
If I have felt particularly queasy from a dodgy meal, or been a bit sicky from a rancid hangover, I never once had to worry about sicking up my pill or even if needing antibiotics, it is just something I haven't have to think about for a whole five years.

It is only writing this post that I have realised my IUD will 'expire' (not even sure what happens after the suggested time limit comes round but I'm pretty sure it won't explode) at the end of this year which has given me a lot to think about.
Firstly, it says a lot about 22 year old me's mindset, as I was pretty sure after the five years were up I would be ready for children, but I can categorically say that is not the case!

To say I am not nervous about having my IUD removed would be a lie. After knowing what it felt like to have inserted, I can't imagine it will be any less uncomfortable coming out, but this is something I may update this post on when the time comes.

I guess the biggest question would be will I have another IUD fitted? and whilst this is is something I now need to think about (honestly thought I had another couple of years with this thing!), the way I feel about it at the moment is that I probably wouldn't have another IUD fitted, but that isn't to say that it's a bad thing.

For me, I think it served its purpose for that time in my life, and it was the best possible option which I have had no regrets about. After five years of pretty bad periods however, I do think I will explore other options as it is a massive pain having to deal with it, however I would say the only things I don't like about the IUD occur during a period, the rest of the time it is hunky dory, so if you can cope with one week of your life being a little more stressful than usual, then you can totally cope with the negative side affects of an IUD.

I will let you know what I decide to go for after removal (if you care?!) but I would REALLY love to know what your thoughts on IUDs are now having read my post.
If you were thinking about getting one would you still? Or if it wasn't even a thought you had, would you look into it more now?
I would genuinely really like to know so leave a comment or slide into my DMs as I fully appreciate you may not want to be as open about it as I have been on the public forum that is the internet!

It goes without saying that I am NOT a doctor or gynecologist so some things I have written may not be 100% correct so seek advice from a medical professional if you have any queries or go to the NHS page or read this booklet which is really insightful. Another blog I found really helpful and also for completely different reasons such as the endometriosis factor is Lottie L'Amour's post so I would have a read of that for more info!

I hope this post hasn't been too graphic for some of you, but I hope it has helped you if you have been looking at changing up your contraception!