My IUD: How I Learned To Stop Pill-Popping & Love My Cramps

Despite having an IUD, I was unaccountably thankful when my first post-break-up period arrived recently. I celebrated by getting relentlessly drunk. Before I went to bed, I went to change my tampon, and found no string. Since I'd put it in when drunk, I figured it was just up in there somewhere. Before too long, I was lying on my bathroom floor and rather forcefully reacquainting myself with my IUD (or, at least the couple millimeters of twine that stick out of my cervix to allow the doctor to remove it in a clinical setting). I realized relatively quickly for a drunk that I was about to yank my own IUD out searching for a non-existent tampon, thanked my lucky stars that my favorite little medical device/far-preferred method of birth control was still in place and that I didn't have to go back to the dreaded Pill, and went to bed.

I got my first Pill at 17 — my doctor took one look at me about to head off to college, and told me I was going on The Pill. She extolled its skin-clearing, cramp-reducing, cycle-regulating virtues (and the fact that she wouldn't see me back pregnant at Thanksgiving), wrote a prescription for Tri-norinyl and sent me on my way. I was back at Thanksgiving, anyway — my boobs went from their long-accustomed B-cup to a C-cup between August and Columbus Day, my cramps weren't gone, and my skin hadn't cleared up. We went with Demulen, but my tits never did regain their original size/shape.

Cramps drove me back for a new Pill just before my senior year started — I don't even remember which one — but it made me constantly 4 days late and still didn't kill the damn cramps. The doctor, probably tired of my whining, switched me to Levlen just after graduation. In July, I had my first ever panic attack — an unintended side effect of the high dose pill. Oops! It was onto Ortho tri-cyclen, that great unifier of women, just before I moved to D.C. in August. During my boyfriend's first visit down here, he remarked that I tasted a little off, and I welcomed my first simultaneous yeast and bacterial infections later that September! Luckily, I'd swiped a bunch of sample packs of Mircette from the doctor's office I'd worked at all summer (23 days of hormones instead of 21!), and my doctor eventually concurred with my choice. A year and a change of insurance plans later, it was onto Low-ogestrel, which, after another change in insurance, became Loestrin-FE. At this point, in addition to the cramps, and the bad skin, and the complete inability to predict with pinpoint accuracy when Aunt Flo would arrive, my doctors all agreed that it was exacerbating my migraines (like a screaming brat wouldn't!) and I was switched to Microgestin.

Desperate to keep having child- (and thus relatively consequence-) free sex and to stop having blinding, nauseating migraines twice a week, I took to the web. Diaphragms and cervical caps required training and weren't nearly effective enough to keep me from freaking out if I was 2 days late, people who practice the rhythm method are called "parents," and sponges weren't yet back on the market. IUDs, however, were as effective as any Pill (99%), even if they did have that silly little potential for infertility/ectopic pregnancy. I was in. My insurance was not.

When I finally had my $300 put aside to buy the device, my gyno made me sign a waiver that I wouldn't sue her for installing it if I ever couldn't get pregnant (which, by the way, is why they're "recommended" for women who already have rugrats — so you can't sue them for causing infertility if you were already infertile and just didn't yet know), and it was off to the stirrups.

I'm not going to beat around the bush here — having it installed was not pleasant. Your doctor puts it in when you're on the rag because your cervix is already dilated, which is messy, and s/he "clamps" your cervix to hold it still, which I think was actually more uncomfortable than a colposcopy. Since I got one of the non-hormone varieties (the ones that release hormones last up to 5 years), I don't have to have it taken out for 10 years — and I really don't plan to have that clamp thing inside me again until completely necessary. I was supposed to be able to go back to work afterwards (and maybe I could have, if my doctor had been of the variety that uses local anesthesia), but I went home to a hot pack, some Advil and a bottle of wine.

For the next year, it was back to the debilitating cramps of my childhood, but, hey, my headaches were gone, and my mediocre skin was of my own doing. But my period was no more or less timely, except when put into an environment with a bunch of new women. And, then, suddenly, the cramps just tapered off, too. I get them occasionally (like, if I'm a couple days late), but they're deal-able. On the other hand, no more headaches, no more unexplained weight gains, no more panic attacks, no more morning nausea, no more trying to remember to take it, and to take it at the same time of day, no more carrying it if I think I won't be sleeping at home (i.e., hooray for unplanned promiscuity!), no more remembering to get the 'scrip filled, no more worrying if the doctor puts me on antibiotics, or if I vomit shortly after taking it, and no more morning-after pills. If I want to check to make sure I'm still not going to get pregnant, I get the guy I'm seeing to finger me, check for the twine coming out of my cervix and get (at least) one free orgasm while he's in there! I definitely never got that from the Pill.