I started taking the pill at 16. My acne was all over the place, and I needed the hormone regulation. A year later, I stopped taking it. A year after that, I was prescribed NuvaRing. I was getting 17 periods a year, as opposed to the normal 12, and needed the pain to stop. Three and a half years later, my body had become immune to the hormonal regulation, and I needed to switch again. So, just shy of my 22nd birthday, I got an IUD. To be specific, the Mirena, a 32-mm piece of God knows what, full of progesterone.
In my many years of gynecological interaction and discussion of all the different forms of birth control with friends, I had come to the conclusion that the IUD was the best of the birth control options. It did not require ingesting a pill everyday, nor did it need to be changed every few weeks like the ring I had become so accustomed to. Most attractively, the hormonal IUD is known for slowly ending your period. While I might be a woman with a uterus who hopes to have children one day, I really do not like that time of the month. In fact, I find it harder than the average person.
I have irritable bowel syndrome. At Vassar, IBS is ubiquitous—thank you, Deece. I, however, have been blessed with digestive struggles since I started taking the pill all those years ago. My pediatrician had warned me of some side effects, as they do with all medications: weight gain, mood swings, irritability. Essentially, just being a teenage girl. Birth control is for much more than just pregnancy prevention. That is why hormonal options exist: to regulate our naturally produced hormones that cause us far more pain and frustration than a normal bodily function should. According to the CDC, about 65 percent of all people with uteri between the ages of 15 and 49 use some form of birth control. If I did my math correctly, that is about 47 million people in the United States alone. So, why is discomfort normalized?
The field of gynecology, with its origins in racism and misogyny, has grown immensely over the decades. People even use the word “love” to describe their gynecologists, myself included. That is why I trusted her so fully when she suggested the Mirena.
I was told to take a hefty serving of ibuprofen before the procedure. It is uncomfortable, as most gynecological visits are. The pain is immediate and violent, like a constant punch in the gut that knocks all of the wind out of you. Similar cramps are expected to continue for a few days post insertion, as the uterus gets used to its new friend. Fair enough. Continue to take ibuprofen over the next few days and do not stray too far from the heating pad. One day, the pain will go away.
I almost skipped class a few weeks ago, about a full month post-insertion. I woke up with so much cramping I could barely stay standing. Walking to the bathroom five feet away felt like 10-mile hike. I had to pause halfway through putting my pants on just to lie down and breathe for a moment.
Something was not right. I grabbed my phone and typed “iud pain extreme” into Google. I know that the internet is not the place to go for medical advice, but let’s be honest—we all do it anyway. I scrolled down to the Mayo Clinic’s page on the matter hoping to find some mental relief, but what I found was far from a relief. The only advice was to keep taking ibuprofen because discomfort is normal for 6 months post-insertion.
What world are we living in where the cure for something is more painful than the problem itself? I am sure this is true in other fields of medicine, not only gynecology. But it begs the question: Why would we allow this to be normal?
Yet we continue on, we endure the pain. I am enduring the pain because one day I hope this T-shaped thing inside of me does what it is supposed to do; relieve my aching and send it away for the next few years.
I will be 30 when I get it out. Until then, I wait to see if it’s worth it. In full disclosure, I do not really know what “worth it” means. Maybe one day I’ll find out.