December 8, 2014

Mindful Birth Control: Why I Chose an IUD.

birth control

Editor’s Note: This website is not designed to, and should not be construed to, provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. For serious.

Four years ago, I decided that condoms just didn’t cut it.

98 percent effective…when nothing at all goes awry? Down to 85 percent with “typical use?” Not good enough.

So I did my research. Unlike most of my friends, to me the thought of a daily pill that would regulate my cycle and supersede my body’s natural rhythms did not sound appealing. Why not? First, both then and now, I was not capable of remembering any kind of daily medication. Second, hormonal birth control simply didn’t feel right.

For many women, the Pill (in its various iterations) is a god-send. It can regulate a disorderly cycle, lessen cramps and other menstrual symptoms, and even prevent certain genetic conditions, like Endometriosis. But I had none of these problems, and something about ingesting or inserting hormones into my body made (and still makes) me uncomfortable.

That ruled out the Pill, the patch, the ring and implants. Something to remember, or something to cause imbalance.

There was “natural family planning,” of course, also known as fertility awareness, which I have always thought to be an incredibly undesirable option. Why?

Essentially this method of birth control involves keeping track of ovulation (easy enough once you know what to look for) and avoiding intercourse in the days before, after and during this time. Sounds wonderful, until you realize that, in the wisdom of evolution, women’s bodies have developed to be most desirous (and desirable) during this time. Naturally our most fertile and most lustful days of the month would be the same.

What was left?

As I sat in the doctor’s office waiting for my appointment, I leafed through pamphlets on birth control. A distant memory of eighth grade Health class surfaced as I came to the pamphlet on IUDs (intrauterine devices). It sounds scary, but in my opinion it is actually far less so than hormonal birth control. A small T-shaped device, inserted by a doctor or nurse into the uterus, the IUD has been proven more effective than any other method available (besides, of course, the obvious suspects like abstinence).

99.9 percent effective. Nothing to remember. And did I mention it’s cheaper? Much cheaper. That was more like it. I think I made up my mind in five minutes—this had to be worth any side-effects.

Now, I had two choices. The first (and more popular) Mirena delivers a tiny, localized amount of hormones (Progestin) and remains effective between five and seven years. It usually causes lighter, less frequent menstruation. If I were to go back in time, I may have chosen this one.

The latter, Paragard, consists of a small piece of copper wire wrapped around the small ‘T.’ It remains effective up to 15 years. Copper, a substance I recognized. And 10-15 years sounded nice and worry-free. The down side? Many women experience heavier, longer periods, especially in the first couple years. For me, it was a fair trade.

Most people, if they know of IUDs, mostly know about the risks:

IUDs increase risk of sexually transmitted infection and PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disorder). The first few days following insertion, yes, the uterus is more vulnerable to infection. After that, yes, you are more vulnerable to developing PID if exposed to an STI. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t want to be exposed to STIs, period—IUD or no IUD.

IUDs cause ovarian cysts. Actually, the risk of ovarian cysts is equal for women with or without IUDs. Hormonal birth control, on the other hand, reduces the risk of ovarian cysts, and so for a woman switching from the Pill to an IUD, there is an increase in risk, but the IUD is not at fault.

IUDs can fall out. They can, but very, very rarely.

Paragard causes heavier periods and cramping. It does. If you are someone for whom these things are already problematic, this may not be the right choice.

There is a long adjustment period. This is also true. I think it took a year or more (much longer than the official six months) for my body to fully adjust to it’s new companion.

IUDs do not protect against STDs. Of course they don’t. Neither does any other form of birth control besides abstinence and condoms. However, in my opinion IUDs force you to care more, due to the increased risk of PID.

Even considering the risks, these IUDs seem like really great options…why aren’t health care providers jumping out of their chairs to tell us about them? In some countries, they are, actually, and in places like Finland IUDs are paramount. In the U.S., too, some doctors endorse IUDs loudly, but many do not.

As I understand it, this lack support is a holdover from an earlier time, when IUDs were still in their infancy. Before their impact on fertility and childbirth had been sufficiently tested, doctors only recommended IUDs to women who had already born children. Since the 80s, however, we have known that IUDs do not impact fertility (barring complications due to infection), and yet many young women still don’t know that they are a viable option.

I think this is a shame.

I want women to hear something besides the horror stories—and, as for every method of birth control, these you will find in abundance on the internet.

I want young women to know they have a safe, ultra-effective alternative to ingesting hormones every day, which comes with its own array of nasty side-effects.

Four years ago, I decided to get an IUD. It was the best possible choice for me and my body. Since then, I have frequently told friends and acquaintances about it. I want to spread the word… and there’s no better way than the internet!

A good, informative source of information on IUDs, plus other methods of birth control can be found here.

Additional sources:

Guttmacher Institute

Advocates for Youth

National Women’s Health Network




Relephant Reads: 

What’s the greenest, safest, healthiest, most affordable (okay, best) form of Birth Control? 

When Women Used Lysol as Birth Control 




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Author: Toby Isreal

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Jeanne Menj/Flickr

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