Why I Switched to an IUD
What’s an IUD? This oblique little acronym stands for intrauterine device. (I’ll wait for the guys to frantically close the window as if they just clicked a NSFW link.)
This is a little more personal than I expected to get, but I think birth control is an important environmental topic that everyone’s just a little bit uncomfortable talking about. And I hope I’m somewhat more mature than I was in high school, when I was terrified people would see the tampon hidden in my bag.
My doctor actually recommended an IUD to me. I was on the pill, and she told me that she’d had two patients around my age with blood clots in the past year, so she wanted to make sure that everyone was on the lowest dose of hormones possible. I’d wondered about other options for a while, ever since I’d read about hormones being found in drinking water. The estrogen and progestin in the pill are endocrine disruptors, like the BPA in water bottles that we’ve heard so much about lately. Municipal water facilities aren’t able to filter them out, so they make their way into our environment. The effects aren’t entirely understood, but over time they could interfere with reproduction and children’s development. The less I’m contributing to that, the better. Here’s what I learned.
ParaGard has absolutely no hormones and only has to be replaced every ten years. It’s basically a little plastic T that’s inserted into your cervix, with copper wire wrapped around it and a string hanging from it. Apparently copper kills sperm, or at least makes them weak enough to prevent them from joining with eggs.
Mirena is shaped the same, but it gives off a targeted, low-dose hormone and is replaced every five years. I chose this one because I felt like the hormone gave me added protection, I liked the idea of a lighter period, and I wasn’t comfortable going ten years between replacements.
The benefits of Mirena include:
- Fewer Hormones – The pill I was on (lo-ogestrel) contained both estrogen and progestin; Mirena only has progestin. And since the hormone is localized, less is needed, so there’s less chance of blood clots, and less is flushed into our water supply.
- No “Feminine Products” - No tampons, pads, pantiliners, nothing. I’m told this isn’t true for everyone, but your period does get lighter, and in some cases (like mine) it goes away entirely. That creates a lot less trash (not to mention hassle).
- Less Expensive - My mail-order birth control’s copay was $10 every 3 months. The only part of Mirena not covered by my insurance was the copay for the two office visits, which totaled $30. Tampons also used to cost me $21 every six months (through Amazon Subscribe and Save). That adds up to a savings of $380 over five years!
- More Effective than the Pill – Mirena is one of the most effective birth control options out there, right up there with sterilization. (Seriously.) The effectiveness of other birth control methods is subject to human error, but because you don’t have to remember to do anything with this, the perfect results are the typical results.
The drawbacks of Mirena include:
- Uncomfortable Insertion - The actual insertion caused some really bad cramps that lasted for a couple of hours. Since then I’ve sometimes felt bloated around my “period,” but not crampy.
- Occasional Spotting - I only had some breakthrough bleeding in the first week, but I’m told it can happen periodically.
- No Reassuring Period - I’m not terribly paranoid, but I do have a friend who used a pregnancy test when she didn’t feel well, just to be sure.
- More Dangerous STDs – If you become infected with an STD like chlamydia, it can travel up the string into the cervix, potentially making you infertile.
- Higher Chance of Ectopic Pregnancy – If, by chance, you do become pregnant, there’s a higher than average possibility of that pregnancy being ectopic (the fertilized egg growing outside the uterus).
Another potential drawback: my friend had to go to Planned Parenthood to get her IUD; her gynecologist refused to insert it because she hadn’t yet had children. My doctor told me that a decade ago that was the prevailing wisdom, but now most gynecologists would offer the option to all their patients.
Of course, what type of birth control you use is a very personal choice. What’s great for me may not be for you. But if you’re interested, it’s worth talking to your doctor. Three months in, I think this is the best choice for me, and I wish I’d done it sooner. Who knows, maybe when I replace this one in five years I’ll become a complete hippy and switch to copper.