I'm getting real on what it was like to get a copper IUD and share how it's been working for me.
Here are the facts about Paragard and my experience using it as emergency contraception.
Have you wondered what an IUD insertion is like? I scoured forums, scrolled through search results, and put my Gifted Child Energy to use in a mission to find the right birth control for me. My criteria was non-hormonal birth control, easy to use, and light on side-effects. That eliminated a lot of options and left me with the copper IUD. Without further ado, here commences my IUD insertion story.
The Lowdown on IUDs
IUD stands for intrauterine device. IUDs are small T-shaped devices a doctor inserts into your uterus. Some IUDs emit small levels of hormones (less than the amounts in birth control pills), but the non-hormonal copper IUD works because copper is a natural sperm-killer. When the copper IUD is fitted into the uterus, it creates a hostile environment for sperm and the swimmers are unable to fertilize an egg. In conclusion, kill sperm and smash the patriarchy.
IUDs are some of the most effective forms of birth control, with rates upwards of 90%. The copper IUD is effective for ten-twelve years, but can be removed at any time. IUDs can also be costly, but luckily, my insurance covered everything.
In the United States, one copper IUD is approved for use: Paragard. If you’re reading in the United Kingdom, there are ten varieties of the copper IUD, so you should look into the differences between them. For further availability by country, please do your own research, but non-hormonal IUDs are manufactured worldwide.
To IUD or Not to IUD?
While researching, I discovered the copper IUD got a bad rep for making periods heavier and more painful. My biggest fear was having unbearable pain that couldn’t be soothed with meds. I read stories of people waking up in the middle of the night from debilitating cramps. It freaked me out, but everything else about the copper IUD suited me:
- I didn't have to remember to take a pill regularly
- During sex, there was no reason to stop and put something on/in like the diaphragm I flirted with
- I really wanted a non-hormonal option, and to me, the copper IUD seemed like it would fit to a T (pun intended)
My periods were relatively short, light on the flow, and came with moderate cramping. Sometimes I missed school or work because of my PMS or my cycle. My OBGYN encouraged me to stay away from Paragard. According to her, my periods would become a hellscape.
Instead, my doctor prescribed birth control pills. Demoralized, I left the appointment. My experience isn't unique. Women before me have shared their stories of healthcare professionals ignoring their choices and desires. My doctor minimized my worries around introducing synthetic hormones into my system. No knocks to anyone on hormonal birth control. It wasn’t for me since I have a phobia of puking, and feared adverse changes to my mental health, sex drive, and skin. To anyone happy on hormonal birth control, that's fantastic.
Fear not! The story doesn't end here…
Being in a long-term relationship, I felt relatively safe using condoms and the Rhythm method. I didn't start the pill. The three month supply I got is still tucked in a glittery unicorn box on the top of my bookshelf.
Then withdrawal failed.
I sat on the toilet. I will never ever forget the white cloud of semen that dripped out of me. Panic and horror and every emotion took root. But what stood out the most was how powerless I felt. I couldn't reach in and pull the sperm out. The damage was done. Nothing had ever seemed more impossible, more immoveable and resolute than this.
After wallowing for a few hours, staring mindlessly at the laptop playing Toy Story 4, I refused to be powerless.
Handling this proactively instead of (potentially) figuring out how to get an abortion in the middle of lockdown seemed like the smarter choice. And I was craving something smart right about now.
In the morning, I jumped back online. Put that Gifted Child Energy to use.
For the morning-after pill to be effective, it needs to be taken pre-ovulation. Had I ovulated? Unfortunately, that is nearly impossible to pinpoint. I was right on the cusp where ovulation could have just happened or was about to happen. Ovulation tests were pricey and not always accurate, so splurging on them didn't appeal to me.
Finally, I discovered the copper IUD functioned as emergency contraception. If inserted within five days of unprotected sex, it's effective at preventing pregnancy. Roughly 15 hours had gone by. This was my chance. My old fears returned, but drastic situations called for drastic measures.
Whatever changes came to my period, I'd deal with it. Better than being pregnant.
The Main Event: Insertion
My OBGYN was closed due to COVID-19. Desperate, I called Planned Parenthood to schedule an emergency appointment. Everything was booked in Brooklyn, but the lovely staffer persisted and found me an appointment in three days’ time in Manhattan.
On the morning of the procedure, I took painkillers to mitigate insertion pain like my research instructed. When I reached the clinic, I met with a nurse to chat about my medical history and be informed of potential side-effects. I wrestled with my nerves. To my delight, the nurse said the copper IUD might make my flow/pain worst. She was more optimistic than my usual doctor, planting a seed of hope within me.
I changed into the gown. My nurse practitioner came in, declared insertion would take no more than five minutes in an offhanded tone, like she took care of irresponsible, anxious girls like me all the time. But five minutes? A doctor’s appointment that short didn't exist in my mind.
The nurse and I made small talk as she felt around inside to prep me for the insertion. Upon finding my cervix, in a moment of wit, she assured me I had a uterus. I made a joke about a wandering uterus contributing to my hysteria. Her laugh was a soothing balm to my nerves.
Three cramps and then it would be over, that's how she explained it. “You can swear as loud as you want, whatever makes you feel better.” She assured me we could stop at any moment. Our voices filled the exam room the entire time. There was a slight uncomfortableness, but nothing major. I started congratulating myself internally and then it happened.
An awful, staggering pain hit. I pulled back.
“Ow,” slipped out of me as I squeezed my eyes shut.
“Ow, ow, ow.” I might have stopped breathing for a moment. I clenched my knees together, and feared I moved too much and messed it up. A cold gripped me at the idea of starting over.
Luckily, I hadn’t done anything drastic. Once the pain abated (relatively swiftly even if it didn’t feel that way), I braced myself for the final cramp, consoling myself with the knowledge we were halfway through.
The third cramp rocked me in less intense waves, but it still resembled a dagger. Suddenly, the nurse was withdrawing while I lay there, hardly believing what had just happened. She promised I could stay as long as I wanted. She disappeared quickly, leaving me to assess how I was feeling, the memory of the second cramp still echoing.
I felt okay, just wet and gross from the gel applied for insertion. My legs were still tensed in the stirrups. Insertion horror stories buzzed in my head. Dizziness post-insertion, nausea, or even one recount where it took thirty minutes to complete the procedure. The idea of that second cramp going on for thirty minutes was too horrible to contemplate.
Morbid curiosity overcame me. I wanted to detect any negative side effects. I got up, waited for a wave of lightheadedness. None came. I took it as the first good sign and hoped for more.
IUD Insertion Aftermath and Recovery
I put a liner on mainly because of the gel, but also in case of any spotting. I checked my phone. Seven minutes had passed since I was called into the room. All in all, the insertion probably did take under five minutes.
The nurse left a small card for me stating my IUD had to be removed before 2032—an absolutely staggering number. After that, I walked on my own, and I left the clinic to meet my partner. Due to Covid-19, he wasn’t allowed inside. My cramping was pretty minimal, but I walked slower than my breakneck New Yorker pace.
On the subway ride home, my partner and I stayed engaged in conversation to avoid focusing on any post-insertion pain. It was definitely there, but still bearable. When we returned home, I crawled into bed as the cramps made themselves known more forcefully.
It didn’t feel worse than my period cramps, but it was still unpleasant. Later that day, spotting began and the pain continued. I noticed a difference when doses of Aleve were starting to wear off and I was due for another. My trusty heating pad also helped, and peppermint essential oil dulled the pain.
After several hours, I wondered when the cramping would abate. I Googled “IUD insertion pain” and, to my absolute horror, discovered insertion related cramping and spotting could persist for up to six months.
Not gonna lie—I lowkey panicked.
Why hadn’t I thought about this before? For all the research I did, I felt like I hadn’t done any. After being in pain for hours, it was pretty de-moralizing to realize the finish line wasn’t a few days away.
A simple routine emerged of languishing in bed, relying on my heating pad, Aleve, and peppermint oil. I cramped and I spotted. I hoped the copper in my uterus killed any sperm that might be there. Hopefully my period would come in less than two weeks to confirm I wasn’t pregnant. At the same time, I was battling nerves this period would be extreme.
A few days later, still embalmed in pain, I felt up for taking walks. I still had to walk slower, but it was doable. When I got back and sat down, the cramps came stronger than they had been before, roughly on par with what they had been on day one. It felt like my body was punishing me, like I was going back instead of forward. Six possible months of this seemed endless.
About a week after the IUD insertion, my pain was lessening and my spotting stopped. Filled with excitement, I tried a dance tutorial on Youtube. I tapped out after several counts of eight, due to my new best friend, cramps. I was getting better, but I wasn’t ready to return to my usual level of activity. My physical limitations were frustrating.
Around ten days after the insertion, sex became appealing again. Naturally, I worried it would hurt. Extreme scenarios ran through my mind, like the IUD getting pushed out of position and perforating my uterine wall, or some other equally terrible thing, landing me in the ER and sobbing in pain. Thankfully, it didn’t hurt and no ER-related shenanigans took place.
I was off-painkillers religiously at this point, but began experiencing intermediate cramping. I noticed a pattern of abdomen cramps appearing out of nowhere roughly every other day. Usually they could be helped with painkillers, some days left me clutching a heating pad and napping.
I started spotting again, which freaked me out. I didn’t know if it was insertion related, or if it could be normal PMS-spotting. Before getting an IUD, I never had spotting. Was it the first sign of changes to my menstrual cycle? I spotted a week up until the bleeding became heavier, and I rationalized this had to be my period. It was hard to know because this period was accompanied with VERY minimal cramping.
Reader, I was shocked. I went through that period in a state of disbelief over how heavy my flow was and how minimal my cramping was. Also: yay! Not pregnant!
By the time my period ended, I was in my third week of life with the IUD. On a sunny afternoon, doing our two-week quarantine grocery run, I was in a hurry to finish. Without thinking, I started to run. I ran several blocks before I stopped, and then walked a few more before I even realized what I’d done, and that, in the aftermath, I had not a single cramp.
Smiling, I breathed a sigh of relief. My body was adjusting, and I was going to be just fine. Better than fine. I felt stronger for having endured the insertion, the recovery. I was empowered to have made a choice to protect myself from unwanted pregnancy. Better yet, I also knew—from oodles of research—the removal procedure apparently hurts way less than the insertion.
So that’s my tale of IUDs, emergency contraception, periods, and cramps. Hopefully my IUD story helped if you’re deciding what birth control to go with, or it just taught you something you didn’t know about IUDs. Please be sure to do as much research as possible to make an informed decision, and remember that everyone’s experience will be unique.
What Comes Next?
I saw my normal doctor for my annual exam recently. We did an ultrasound to ensure my little copper IUD is in the right place.
Looking back on it all, I did a lot of research on what birth control options exist and what side-effects are common, but I had a large blindspot for IUDs in terms of insertion and recovery. I read stories of insertion, but didn’t register how short the procedure normally takes, or that the recovery time can be so long. Even though it took me longer to get my IUD because my doctor scared me off it, I’m glad it turned out to be an effective emergency contraception when I needed it.
Before the IUD insertion, I was asked if I plan to keep Paragard after ensuring I wasn’t pregnant. Even though the circumstances surrounding why I got it were not what I was expecting, I was still looking for a birth control method that empowered me to be self-reliant. I told the nurse I hoped I would be able to, assuming it didn’t disrupt my period too massively. As of now, the prognosis looks good, but I’m only two, almost three, periods into this. It can take up to six periods before changes and fluctuations stop. Every birth control method has its adjustment period, and the copper IUD is no different.
I’ll keep monitoring how my menstrual cycle changes as my body continues adjusting.
Please feel free to share your own IUD insertion or recovery stories in the comments below. Positive, negative, happy, bad–every experience is valid and important. The more we share our stories, the better informed we can all be.