I recently had an IUD (Intrauterine device) fitted and, in accordance with curiosity and demand from pretty much every female I know, I’ve written a shamelessly gross account of the whole thing. This is by no means a cautionary tale. I whole heartedly recommend getting one of these rad badboys, it’s just a pity that you have to go through the NHS to do so, because sadly it’s on its arse.
ps: Dad, if you’re reading this, I advise you to stop here. I know you’re still reeling from the time I ruined Valentine’s Day for you and mum.
What I’ve Learned About IUD’s
So the thing about vaginas, yeah, is that Sex and the City isn’t real. The majority of us regular females with current accounts and boyfriends that play in punk bands don’t have a private gynaecologist to cry in the arms of when “accidents happen”. So when it comes to keeping life simple in the long-run, making sure that happens is a massive pain in the neck, back and pretty much everywhere else.
I should preface this by clarifying that I live in Wales. I don’t have any first-hand experience of another healthcare system (other than three years living in Bath and being outraged every time a throat infection cost me eight pounds worth of antibiotics), but I’d be surprised if the rest of the UK isn’t exactly the same when it comes to sexual (or mental) health care that lies outside of the private sector. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
The only reason I even considered getting an IUD at all is because it’s the first thing any doctor or pharmacist is professionally required to recommend to you if you’re seeking emergency birth control. So when I eventually decided to stop exploiting the free ECP system in Wales because I was running out of hats to wear to pretend I was a different person (J/K…), I was pretty bummed to discover that, given how highly recommended it is, you can’t simply book an appointment somewhere to get an IUD fitted. Unless your GP is able to do it and you are willing to wait like, two months, at which point you’ll probably talk yourself out of it because ew. Anyway that stressed me out immediately because I was all “yo world I’m doing a full time masters course and I have like three jobs and barely sleep I don’t have time for this!” (which is also how I respond to the barista’s at Cafe Nero every time they ask me if I really want an extra shot in my Americano when there’s two in there already).
So forget convenience. Ignore that it even exists as a concept because its total absence throughout this endeavour will only annoy you. You will inevitably end up spending at least three hours of your day in the waiting room of a hospital or free clinic, staring between the legs of total strangers and trying not to calculate how many STD’s you’re sharing air with. These rooms are also hotbeds for the worst conversations in the world because, not unsurprisingly, they are filled with mostly women (which is not a judgement based on a single experience – I went back several times after I got this thing fitted because I was convinced it fell out when I did things like jog or shower or stand up too fast). So if you don’t want to hear about Sandra’s plans to try to get pregnant as soon as she’s completely sure she’s not HIV positive, take an iPod with you or something.
Even more unfortunately, the sort of people that tend to work in a clinic are also the sort of people who hate their jobs and make no effort to not make this blindingly apparent in everything they do and say. Obviously, the first person I spoke to was the receptionist. So I told her what I was there for and she literally face-palmed and said: “OH NO. NOT ANOTHER ONE. YOU’RE THE THIRD THIS EVENING THERE IS NO TIME WHY ARE MY SHIFTS ALWAYS THIS HARD”, as if me becoming laden with unwanted child would be the worst thing that could ever happen to her. I know our healthcare is free and all but I’m pretty sure hospital staff aren’t meant to make patients feel like an inconvenience.
“IS THIS AN EMERGENCY?” she asked, piling on ten times more judgement than the person doing Sandra’s blood work when they have to ask her if she swallows.
“Yes”, I lied. I’d already bothered to go there, I didn’t want to do it again, I’d made my vagina look all pretty and I wasn’t leaving there without having it invaded by some headless copper crucifix.
So this woman made me feel pretty nervous, awkward and frustrated. She didn’t even bother to confirm whether anybody would actually see me, I just had to wait with my fingers and legs crossed. Thus began the longest, bleakest period of time I’ve ever spent sat in one place ever discounting Avatar and the traffic jam into Glastonbury ’09. So to simulate the experience here are some facts about IUD’s:
Contrary to what its most common name implies, “the coil” does not resemble something you soldered to a circuit system in DT. They’re tiny, flimsy little T-shapes made from either copper or progesterone and they live in your womb instead of a baby. Scientists are still unsure why, but copper is essentially like sperm’s kryptonite and makes fertilisation almost impossible. A lot of assholes used to consider it abortifacient, some still do, but that’s because they’re assholes. You can’t kill something that doesn’t exist yet, stoopid. But that’s a whole other argument. If you wanna get it, get it. It can last for up to ten years, they have a failure rate of under 1% and once it’s there it’s there – you can forget about remembering to take pills or getting shots or filling your body with hormones that will make you feel routinely lethargic and homicidal. However, do be aware that despite being the most effective form of contraception, the IUD also has a pretty good chance of moving out of place at some point or falling out altogether and, regardless of all the pamphlets you might read, the insertion procedure is not “relatively painless”. That last bit was mostly what I was thinking about when I was sat there waiting for two and a half hours. That and food. I hadn’t eaten all day at this point and hospital vending machine’s are so far from being vegan friendly they might as well have a live cow in a glass box dispensing milk and byproducts.
When they call your name, seconds before the moment you feel all civilisation is about to end, the first thing that happens is a nurse will takes you into a room and ask you a load of bog standard questions about your medical history, your periods and all the unprotected sex they assume you’re having with anyone that speaks to you. Your answers will contain far too much information because you’ve not interacted with another human in almost three hours and then they pass your file on to the doctor who will do your procedure (everybody you deal with will be female, by the way).
Then they usher you into a different room where your doctor will ask you exactly the same things all over again, making the first meeting totally void, but I guess the first wave of nurses are there to weed out all the morons who aren’t convinced you can’t get pregnant by doing it up the bum.
Oh, and just to mention briefly that you should be prepared, just like I was not, for there to be a trainee doctor not only in the room thereby increasing the number of eyes that have seen you naked from the waist down, but actually doing the procedure. It’s pretty straightforward though so if this happens to you, don’t panic, she got this. Unless she looks like somebody you used to work with in which case you may experience some disconcertion.
Anyway, on top of the repeated questions, she’ll ask you further stupid pointless things like “why are you not on any birth control?”, which you must try your best not to answer with the truth. If you explain that you came off it after breaking up with a long-term boyfriend thinking “OH MY GOD I WILL NEVER HAVE SEX AGAIN” but also because it made you fat and grumpy and generally “weird”, she will look at you like you’re one of those outrageous feminist hippie types who believes in rune stones, uses a moon cup and spells the word “woman” with a Y instead of an A (because who needs MAN, man). Also they don’t really like it when you casually joke about your recent sexual history because I guess promiscuity costs the NHS quite a lot of money or something….
Then they’ll explain the procedure to you. Basically, you’re loaded up with anaesthetic gel, which is like the least fun lube ever, and then it’s just similar to a smear test but with more metal stuff involved. Then you get to look at the IUD, which is actually pretty cool. They make you touch it because although the main body of it goes in your uterus, it has short wires coming out so you can feel and check it’s still in place. That sounds gross and like your vagina will resemble the inside of a plug socket, but when you feel them they’re super tiny and almost like cat whiskers or those thin strips you peel off electronic triggers. They have to cut them to size though, and I know the word “cut” probably just made your labia shrivel but you don’t feel it at all, I promise. About the pain: sure, it’s no easy feat unless you’re getting it because you’ve already had six kids and it’s like a fucking slip n’ slide down there, but for real, the only thing that’s actually painful about the whole procedure is how long it takes, but if you’ve ever had a smear test before it’ll be a familiar kind of discomfort, which counts for something.
Mine was particularly drawn out because Trainee Doctor was so afraid of hurting me, as if having a speculum holding you open for fifteen minutes straight whilst wearing that redundant public bathroom hand towel as a skirt wasn’t already as uncomfortable as it gets. What was also uncomfortable was how she and Actual Doctor pretty much ignored that there was a person attached to the tunnel of flesh they were investigating. They spoke mostly to one another, discussing the landscape of my cervix like it was Monet’s garden and didn’t even blink when I screamed “I HATE MEN” towards the end when things got a little too painful. I mean I imagine people drop the f-bomb in there all the time so they’re probably used to it but I don’t think it’s totally unhealthy to maintain that you deserve ALL the attention in the world from the person who is finger-deep in you.
About ten seconds after that outburst it was over and then Actual Doctor handed me a fistful of tissues and said “things might be a bit wet down there” (y’know, because of all the anaesthetic gel that’s about to experience gravity) in a way that totally killed any future sense of enjoyment that might have been derived from any of those words. Then I had to take a course of antibiotics for chlamydia, which I didn’t need. I suppose I figured it would be easier to just take them than go through the list of reasons why I knew they weren’t necessary, but in hind sight I would have gladly kept them there for an hour reeling off my vagina monologues if it meant I didn’t have to take those four satanic tablets, because were the worst part about the whole experience. They can make you sick as fuck afterwards, which I was.
On that note, another thing you should not do is hop straight off the table and stroll two miles into town to meet your friend for food, regardless of how many prescription painkillers you’ve necked. Even if the antibiotics don’t make you sick, having someone prod around your most sensitive insidey-parts for twenty minutes is guaranteed to make you feel odd and you will upchuck ramen in a Wagamama’s bathroom and be judged by a waiter with dodgy facial hair who does fire poi in his spare time. Go home, and get a friend to drive you there. Or, if they abandoned you to take photographs of Olly Murs like mine did because he cares about pop stars more than me, get any other form of transport that does not involve legs.
In conclusion, I know most of that sounds pretty unpleasant, but unfortunately so are all forms of birth control and the ways in which you have to go about obtaining them. This little guy is – for me, at least – the lesser of all the evils. It’s literally over in under twenty minutes and your belly might hurt for a few hours afterwards but then you can completely forget about it until you want to have it removed (or it decides to fall out, but I’m currently pretending like that’s impossible). No latex, no hormone-crammed pills, no looking at some weird alien crop-square in your arm every day and worrying when scarab beetles will spawn from it like in The Mummy. You have to regularly feel for the cat whiskers to check it’s still in place, but there’s only one way to do that and it’s not all bad…