I feel sometimes I can be really intellectual about what occurs to me. It’s how I coped with trauma for most of my life. It’s how I began to confront one of the biggest changes to my uterus since menarche: an IUD. I am no stranger to birth control. I have experienced being on the pill and the patch in my early twenties, and didn’t have the best time with them. It varied from physical changes that included enlarged breasts (ones that were almost too big for my frame), nausea, and psychological ones that made me feel off, crazy and at one point suicidal. I was not sexually active enough at that point to need it to prevent pregnancy. It was solely to regulate my menstrual cycle, which comes with a couple of emotions.
I got my period when I was 14 shortly after school was done for my first year in high school. I remember that day clearly. I was in the bathroom and looked at my toilet paper after I cleaned myself, seeing blood. I wasn’t freaked out by it because I had been told about it (superficially) and my mom had me carrying a pad on me for a while before it happened. I remember feeling both relieved and ambivalent about it. For years I thought that the reason it took so long for me to get my period was because God was punishing me for being a bad little girl in regards to my childhood sexual trauma. Reflecting on it now, the experience of being on birth control pills back then exacerbated my insecurities about my reproductive system because I was dealing with wishing my body was “normal”. I was put on birth control by an uncompassionate male gynecologist who coldly told me that I had polycystic ovary syndrome (which turned out to be false) and that it was going to be very hard for me to have children. That was a blow to me, someone whose deepest desire is to be a mother.
Knowing what I know now about hormones and the menstrual cycle, I understand the vulnerable state I was in when I was on that medication. After I got off the patch, I used only condoms for contraception because I didn’t want to feel the way I did on birth control pills. In this time between getting off hormonal contraception and getting the IUD inserted, I put myself in situations that could have led to pregnancy. This risk was exacerbated by becoming slightly baby-crazed around 25 years old. Thankfully I never did conceive (to my knowledge). Additionally, condoms in the past were very uncomfortable. They caused a great deal of irritation after use, which led to using the withdrawal method in long term relationships. I am now at a point where I want to be a mother from a much healthier perspective, which is why I got the IUD. For a long time I was vehemently against getting one. The idea of having a device inside my uterus that I couldn’t control was scary to me. I was most afraid of my uterus being perforated.
My decision to get the IUD last year then came from the desire to be intentional about when I bring a child into the world. I saw it as a sacrifice for a greater good, especially because I was clear that I was not willing to use the other forms of contraception that required more work and less spontaneity as I became more sexually active. I wanted to be sexually intimate and welcome the possibility of children with open arms; as I matured, that notion without having support in place to cultivate those children was ill-advised. I no longer wanted to play Russian roulette without a condom even in committed relationships. I felt this way intensely throughout midwifery school and after, the gravity of what becoming a parent having been made real to me during that time.
Still, I felt a vague apprehension and fear about getting it inserted. I remember asking other women about it and getting both support and stories full of everything that could go wrong with an IUD. I went to my appointment at Planned Parenthood one morning to get it inserted. The nurse practitioner that attended me was incredibly compassionate. Before we went through with the procedure, I told her that I had a vague fear that I couldn’t put my finger on. I told her I was afraid that something would go wrong. I disclosed to her that I had a history of sexual trauma and was worried that I was going to have a trauma response. Her eyes even watered up as I let myself be vulnerable.
The procedure itself was not very long. It was uncomfortable physically but my healthcare provider talked me through it and stayed present with me. The worst part though was the steps before the actual insertion of the IUD, which is when they measure your uterus internally and the manual dilation of the cervix. I normally do not have cramps at all when I’m on my period so having a cramp at this point was incredibly painful. Thankfully she was done quickly. What happened for the next week and months after that, I wasn’t ready for.
I remember not wanting to look anyone in the eyes after I left the examining room. I felt strange and uncomfortable as my uterus began contracting again. I had to go to work after but stopped to gather myself and got a hot chocolate. I had a distinct awareness that I was disassociating as I felt myself become far away from the coffee shop and the volume seem to have lowered on everything. I couldn’t focus and knew right away that I was attempting to leave my body.
The memories that stay with me most is the torrential amount of blood I lost. That first week, I went to the emergency room because I could feel the strings and was bleeding so much that it triggered my deep anxiety about hemorrhages. I was physically fine but some part of my emotions and mind were rattled. The relationship I had cultivated with my uterus after years of disassociating from it was in jeopardy, as the pain from my cramps and the bleeding made me less interested in regulating my cycle and more pressed to find relief. I experienced brief moments of disdain and nearly hated my reproductive system. The IUD was disrupting my well-being. I kept questioning myself as to why I’d do something I said I never would, and kept these thoughts to myself, regretting my choice and finding that sexual intimacy without the worry of pregnancy came with a price for me.
I had the IUD for seven months. It was the most painful seven months for my uterus that I can remember in my short little life. I can safely say the copper IUD is not for me, but with more thought, I am not convinced to try any other forms of the IUD or anything that will alter my body. The idea of having something metallic or plastic inside my uterus never sat well with me before and definitely does not sit right with me now. I have strong feelings about how much a woman must compromise her hormonal and by default, overall health just to prevent and control pregnancy. The necessity to be able to do so is not lost on me; the adverse feelings is how much of the burden is squarely placed on the shoulders of women. I fantasize about a world in which we would control our reproduction as humans in a collective way. I dream of using herbs and natural methods of intercepting sperm, supporting our menstrual cycles into their own balance and gaining a deeper knowledge of a female body that can be healed without an onslaught of medication. I imagine that generations of women who have no idea what it means to know their own personal moon cycles and it chills me to the bone.
My experiences with hormonal and invasive contraception give me first hand knowledge of their effects and compassion for the choices we make about our bodies. There is power in being able to control when we have children; it is the sole reason why we have so many politicians trying to outlaw our right to our bodies. Yet, as a budding medical professional, I am concerned about the suppression of our intuitive reproductive knowledge by synthetic hormones. I am not sure we are having conversations about how altering our hormones and natural processes affect the psychological well-being of women. I know that returning to invasive and hormonal contraception for me would be a long decision making process because of how my body reacts to it. For anyone considering the IUD, this is just my experience. Do your research and ask yourself if the type of birth control you are using is right for you.