health

The unpleasant reality of getting an IUD, from someone who's been there.

Two days ago I had an Intrauterine device (IUD) inserted. For the second time. No, nothing went horribly wrong with the first – I’d simply had it for the allotted period of time and it was time to get it replaced.

If you’d asked me before my appointment with my gynaecologist this week, I would have told you that I was not looking to forward to repeating what I’ve often described to others as “one of the most painful things I have ever experienced in my life”.

The procedure is quick, but it is the farthest thing from painless. In fact, when I begin to tell anyone what happens during the insertion, I soon find myself talking to a face that looks something like this:

via GIPHY

Mention the words ‘dilate’, ‘cervix’ and ‘probe’ to anyone in the same sentence and they immediately reply with, “Why would you EVER do that to yourself?”

“Surely no contraception method is worth having to go through…that?” they ask.

The thing is, it totally is: the IUD I have, known as the hormonal IUD or Mirena, can stay in place for up to five years.

In my experience, it’s been a pretty ‘set and forget’ method of birth control – one (not-so-fun) trip to the doctor and you’re done for the next few years – and for the first year, my periods stopped altogether (around 50 per cent of women stop bleeding altogether when the IUD is in place).

mirena
The Mirena up close.

But the insertion itself is no walk in the park. For many, it's the fear of the unknown that scares them the most about using an IUD as their form of contraception.

Not that I'm a certified IUD veteran (note: that's 100 per cent totally not a thing) I'm going to talk you through exactly what goes down, down there when you're getting an IUD.

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Time spent in the waiting room is made infinitely more awkward than any other time you've ever been to the doctor because you have to sit with THIS bad boy on your lap:

mirena box
HELLO, FRIEND.

Yep, that's the box that the Mirena comes in. But don't worry, just as the pharmacist tells me, it's "like a bag of chips": the box is mostly just air and packaging.

The actual IUD is just over two centimetres long.

Mirena size
Oh, this is MUCH better.

It begins like your average pap smear appointment - lying on a table getting up close and personal with a speculum. Sounds fun already, right?

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Since I was having my old Mirena replaced, this needs to be removed first, something my gyno tells me is better if it's "ripped just like a Band-Aid".

No, the words 'rip' and 'vagina' should never, ever be said in the same sentence.

"If I do it slowly, it will hurt more," he says.

"So I'm just going to yank it out...ready, set, GO!"

snow white giphy
THANKS BUT NO THANKS. Via Giphy.

Soon, I was reminded of the exact pain I went through almost five years before when my first IUD was inserted. This was...not shaping up to be a fun day at all.

I'm told that there is gas available for me if I find the pain too overwhelming, but I'm worried about it making me feel too woozy and sick. I decide that I'd rather "see how everything goes", despite deciding beforehand I wanted as much pain relief as possible after the first insertion.

Next, the doctor applies an antiseptic solution to minimise the risk of infection. A tenaculum, or a clamp, is used to help keep the cervix "steady" throughout the procedure.

What happens next can only be described as an "aggressive pap smear". There's poking and prodding and a LOT of discomfort as the gynaecologist measures the length and direction of my cervical canal and uterus to ensure the IUD is inserted in the right spot.

gyno
What happens next can only be described as an "aggressive pap smear". Image via iStock.
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Tip: this is where your need to remember every deep breathing exercise you've ever been taught in your entire life. BREATHING MAKES IT BETTER.

By the time the pain tips over into the semi-unbearable stage, it's almost over. I PROMISE, it's almost over.

The IUD (with the arms bent back into a straight line) is inserted using the tube containing the Mirena (this comes with the packaging) to the proper position in the uterus. The arms are released to form a 'T' shape and everything - tube, clamp and speculum - is removed and YOU ARE FINALLY FINISHED YOU DID IT.

The pain feels like a strange and very unpleasant pinching and, for me, was combined with what felt like the worst period cramps I've ever had. After my first insertion, it was at this point (when the procedure was done and dusted) that I passed out for a few moments.

The second time? The cramping was only mild and I was able to get up and walk out of the doctor's office almost straight away. (Handy hint: I packed some lollies to bring with me to the appointment so I could munch on them afterwards and go to a happy place...)

via GIPHY

I spent the afternoon resting, snuggling up in bed with my reliable old heat pack. For the rest of the day, I felt as though my pain was just your average day on my period.

The procedure is definitely not something I would recommend as a fun-filled activity. It's painful. But it's quick, and if you have a good relationship with your gynaecologist, is not as frightening as it sounds.

Of course, it's not for everyone and is something that you should always talk through with your doctor before deciding.

For me? Ten minutes of discomfort is well worth sleeping easy for the next five years.

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