Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Nina Gets An IUD Fitted

Let's talk about sex, baby
Let's talk about IUDs
Let's talk about all the contraception
And the options that may be
Let's talk about contraception baby

So let's talk about sex, actually more specific contraception. 

Even though I've lived in the UK since I was 14 and feel very British, when it comes to all things womb and sex related I feel very European in my attitudes. Considering that a lot of British humour is based around sex it's funny to me that in the UK you don't more openly talk about the ins and outs (oh god sorry for even writing that) when it comes to sex and especially contraception. 

When I went to the GP at 18 and asked for the pill it was a no nonsense appointment with very little information given to me. The GP asked me whether I'd considered any other options besides the pill, when I said no he simply nodded and filled out a prescription for the pill. 

My mum knowing I had a long term boyfriend, booked me in to visit a gynaecologist back home in Germany that same summer. If I was mature enough to have sex then I was also mature enough to go to the gynaecologist and make sure I was healthy. Nothing about the appointment was embarrassing to me. When I told my doctor that I was on the pill she wasn't thrilled and warned me that it wasn't a long term solution. When I mentioned that lots of girls in the UK get the implant she told me that girls in Germany didn't get them. As it turns out, in Europe the coil (specifically the copper version) was the go to.

That conversation had played on my mind for a long time after but I didn't act on it. The pill seemed like an easy solution so I kept chugging it. For four years nonstop. I'd go back to back to avoid having a period if I had a holiday planned and didn't really put much thought into what the extra hormones were doing to my body.

But after a blood test which flagged up the negative effects of the pill and then more recently being contraception free for almost 1 and a half years, I was amazed at how much better I felt being off it. I've been concerned about using hormonal contraception, and with the pill's links to an increased risk in blood clots and depression (see here and here) I thought it was time to take a new direction and not go back.

After lots of research and chatting with friends, I booked my appointment to get fitted with a coil, specifically the copper coil. The copper IUD (intrauterine device) is almost 99% effective, lasts 10 to 12 years before you have to get it replaced, and because it doesn't have hormones it negates some of those nasty effects you can get from the pill. There is also a hormonal version of the cooper coil which lasts about 5 to 7 years and would be an option for you if you struggle with heavy periods. 

Research is your friend and you have to go with what's comfortable to you. Every body is different and we all have different preferences. It's important to know that you have choices and you shouldn't feel as if you're limited to just one avenue.

Appointment so booked, I was looking forward to it. Little did I know what a mini adventure it would be.

The first stage of the hilarity that was my coil fitting was having to sign a disclaimer which said that I understood the possible risks involved in getting a coil fitted. The odds are low when it comes to IUD risks but the doctors want you to be informed. The second point of hilarity was having it fitted in the Sexual Health clinical at Cardiff Royal Infirmary. 

At the SHC you get a number which they call out instead of your name, to save you feeling embarrassed and to remain anonymous. Sitting in the waiting room is an experience in itself. You can be there for any number of reasons, whether it's a cervical cancer smear test, a pill check up or any other sexual health related matters. But does make it awkward sitting in a room of people, trying not to make eye contact and trying not to wonder what everyone else is there for.

I had a wonderful Northern Nurse who had me sit down as she showed me a pop up womb in a tiny booklet, and how the coil would fit inside. She also talked me through a questionnaire which included fun questions like:
"Do you have sex with men or women?" 
"When did you last have sex?
"Give or receive?"
"Have you done an AIDS test before?"
If it's your first visit to the sexual health clinic they also throw in a free STI and STD test. Yes American girls you read that right. The test, the coil and the fitting of said IUD cost me NOTHING. Praise be to free health care. 

In terms of the nitty gritty, the nurse explained that with the copper coil my periods may be a bit heavier and last longer. The hormonal coil is best suited to girls who struggle with a heavy flow so it's really all down to preference. If I were to struggle with the copper coil she said I could come back and have a discussion about switching.

Where the entire event really gets funny is when I had to lie down on the bench and get my legs into the stirrups so the coil could be fitted. If you girls have been to the gyno (which you should because it's your vagina and you should be taking care of it) then you know that this isn't really something you can do with elegance or grace. So first I had to jump onto the bench pantless (of course) and then get my legs in the stirrups. But alas my legs were too short so it took a bit of wiggling around (pantless) before everything was prepped.

My kindly nurse also provided me with what she called a 'modesty blanket' - a length of industrial sized blue roll to cover my nether regions.

This next part is where things get less hilarious. Unfortunately it took two attempts to actually fit my coil. My dratted cervix decided that it wasn't having it and decided that that moment was the perfect time to have a spasm party making it impossible to get the coil in place. My kindly nurse says we'll need the doctor to fit it. Our conversation goes something like this:

"Do you just want to come back another time or are you happy to wait for the Dr?" 
"If you let me leave now I'll never come back."
So we wait for the doctor.

Whilst all of this is going on, on the hottest day of the year no less, I'm having a massive hot flush from the nerves of it all. The room was so stuffy I thought it would make me pass out. My kindly northern nurse dug out a fan that looked like it had just about survived the 80's and placed it near my raspberry red face. But sadly the force of the wind doesn't just cool my face, it also causes papers in the room to fly around. Including my 'modesty blanket'. Our conversation goes something like this:

"Oh no your modesty blanket has flown away!"
"At this point I really don't care I'm sure you've seen hundreds of vaginas."
The doctor came in whilst I was still lying back, legs in stirrups, modesty blanket back in place but clinging on by the skin of it's teeth. It's really the most awkward way of ever meeting someone but to be fair to the Dr she didn't bat an eyelid, nor did she make me feel uncomfortable.

One anti spasm injection to my cervix (which I didn't fell because you're all numbed up by the nurse before) and some intense but brief discomfort later my coil was in. I was sweaty and exhausted but it was all sorted.

I took the afternoon off from work and laid on my sofa with a big bag of chips, feeling exhausted and a bit poked and prodded but generally pleased at my life choice and that I had the balls to follow it through.

Drama aside, I'm beyond pleased with my coil. 

It took a settling in period of about a week and a bit which wasn't always comfortable I'm not going to lie to you. I do feel really empowered knowing I've taken care of myself. It's a massive bonus that the non-hormonal coil lasts 10 years. So unless I plan on having children early, this can stay inside me until I'm 35. 

My first real period since having it fitted was a bit heavier than normal and my cramps were slightly different. Think more short sharp pains rather than the dull ache that you tend to get around day 3. But it's nothing drastically different and nothing a few ibuprofen can't fix. I've gained no weight, haven't noticed any changes to my skin and most importantly no changes to my mood, which is what I really noticed on hormonal contraception. I can use tampons as normal, I can't feel it in me and it requires me to do absolutely nothing further. 

I think the main reason why girls don't feel comfortable with the coil is because it is an invasive procedure that requires you to get booked in and seen. It's far easier to just keep getting the pill signed off by your doctor.

It makes me sad that none of the British GPs I ever saw took the tim and talked to me about other contraception options. A really great listen if you're interested in an IUD is this episode from Bustle's sex and relationship podcast. It does have the American slant so bare that in mind and do some more research if you're not sure. The coil isn't for everyone and I can understand why people have reservations about it. But don't let the embarrassment of being semi naked in front of someone put you off. 

Sadly it seems that we have to chase down answers but don't let the GP fob you off girls, you have every right to ask questions and to have a contraception that works for you. As females we should feel empowered about any choices that we make about our bodies. 

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  1. I've got the hormonal one and the shock of it being fitted nearly gave me a heart attack, such an odd feeling. I have a weird tilted cervix and it was not a comfortable experience but so worth it for 5 years drama free. I think I'll get the copper one the next time so I don't have to have any nonsense for 10 years. The depression and anger issues I had when using the pill just was not worth it, a few minutes of discomfort and pain will mean I have 5 happy years without crying for no reason and sinking into depression. The clinic I use in Newport is great and they recommended the coil as an option on my first visit.

  2. I had my IUD fitted back in March and I felt the same as you, it's such an empowering feeling knowing that I don't really need to worry for the next ten years, and it is funny getting it fitted. I was lucky enough to be part of a study so got to have gas and air instead of the anaesthetic. I barely remember the actual fitting, but did get very confused when I thought they'd removed the speculum but they hadn't. Since then so many of my friends have looked at the IUD as a contraceptive because the pill isn't working for them. It's such a shame that so many see the pill has their only option and don't investigate further.
    erin veness is dead


All your comments are very much appreciated! If you have any questions either leave them with your comments or get in touch with me here: ninanenor@gmail.com @the_littlenomad

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