I glared at the pro and con list, and it back at me. I knew that the advantages of getting the coil overwhelmingly outweighed the possible discomfort that, according to the NHS, I might feel and yet, I was nervous.
Three years ago, I got an IUD (Intrauterine Device), commonly known as a coil, fitted. The coil is a small T-shaped copper wire that, when inserted into your uterus, can prevent 99% of pregnancies for up to 10 years. As many as one in three women in the UK now opt for long-term coils over the hassle of other contraceptives. The coil doesn’t have the same reputation as the pill—you won’t wake up with a nasty hormone hangover. Plus, you can avoid the awkward daily “did you or didn’t you take it?” conversation.
Even now, the pros column presents a persuasive case, the kind of logic that is difficult to argue against. Not even my initial nerves were enough to shift the scale. The problem is, your pro and con list is only as good as the information that you have. And I was making a decision that affected my body with only half the story.
The recent horror headlines that highlighted the IUD experiences of the BBC’s Naga Munchetty and feminist writer Caitlin Moran may be enough to chill you to the bone; they may put you off the coil as a contraceptive option. My own experience was nowhere near as distressing. But, after two painful attempts to insert the coil, calls for a second doctor and, failed pain medication, I did swear that I would never do it again.
However, neither Munchetty, Moran or myself are sharing our experiences to scare you. It is not easy, especially as women, to share private and traumatic stories and open yourself up to a public space. Rather than discouraging people, or devaluing the obvious benefits that the coil brings, voices like Munchetty and Moran are vital in creating a dialogue around women’s reproductive rights.
As a society, too often we do not take the pain of people with vaginas seriously. Symptoms are trivialised and even labelled as ‘fearmongering’. When it comes to our bodies and lives, we should all be able to make an informed and empowered decision with the pro and con list in front of us. So, here’s everything that I wish I had known before getting the coil – courtesy of Stephanie Taylor, a pelvic health expert at Kegel8.
Top tips on how to prepare:
1. Anxiety is the enemy. Let’s conquer it!
The reason I had to go through two coil fittings was, mainly, because I was extremely anxious. Anxiety can cause your vagina to tense up, making the procedure more difficult and even painful. Just remember that the horror headlines that you’ve come across are rare. According to studies, most people expect the pain to be a lot worse than it is. Stress-relieving breathing exercises or soothing music may help with the anxiety.
2. Go to a Doctor you trust
Getting a coil inserted is a very personal and private experience. It’s something that you should talk about with someone you trust and who knows what they’re talking about. Having an open and honest conversation with your GP can make all the difference. They can walk you through the process and everything that you can expect from the procedure and hopefully put your mind at rest!
3. Licence to snack
Like me, your first impulse might be to treat a coil fitting like any other medical operation and not eat beforehand. Or you might be battling anxiety and eating is the last thing you want to do. If you have low blood sugar levels, you are likely to feel dizzy, nauseous, irritable and not in the right mindset for your appointment. Keep some snacks on hand to prevent any lulls in blood sugar and to give yourself a little mood boost post-fitting.
4. Book your appointment towards the end of your cycle
Although you can get a coil inserted at any time (unless you are pregnant), experts recommend that you get it towards the end of your cycle or a couple of days after your period has finished. This is partly to ensure you are not pregnant but since the cervix opens and softens slightly during your period, it can make the procedure more comfortable as it is easier to fit the IUD. So, search up those period tracking apps and mark those calendars!
5. No gain if there’s pain!
Now, if you found me describing your cervix opening as painful then brace yourself. Everyone’s experience of getting an IUD fitted is different to the point that the pain management you are offered will depend on your doctor. The NHS recommends that you take paracetamol or ibuprofen an hour before your appointment and even having a hot water bottle on standby. However, from personal experience, ask for local anaesthesia directly if it is available. Depending on where you are, this is not always available. That being said, watch this space because health minister Nadine Dorries and MP Laura Trott are currently appealing for pain relief to always be an option. If you’re in pain or want to stop at any point during the procedure, then speak up.
You may experience some uncomfortable cramping for several days after your procedure. You can ease this with some over the counter painkillers and a hot water bottle if needed. You may also need to check to see if your coil is still in place but your doctor will explain how to do so. You should speak with them directly if you have any concerns about the placement or if you develop thrush or notice any symptoms of infection.
Words by Becca Carey
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