My Experience with the Copper IUD
The following is MY individual journey with birth control. What I have experienced and am currently experiencing might be completely different from your experience. Just because I felt a certain way on one pill, or experienced something in particular with another does not mean that you will experience the same. My biggest piece of advice would be to treat your body with respect and do what feels and works best for you. Our bodies speak to us. Listen to yours.
Ahh, birth control. As a woman, I’ve hated you, thanked you, felt saved by you, turned away from you, talked behind your back, advocated for you, been blindsided by you, educated myself about you, experimented with all of your different forms, and continue to learn and discover more about you.
Up until September of 2017, I was on and off of hormonal birth control starting at the age of 14. I remember going on birth control for the first time because my periods were so heavy and painful that I would literally feel ill when my menstrual cycle came around. I remember coming home from school because of cramps before, and not being able to change tampons fast enough throughout the day because my flow was so heavy.
Deciding to go on birth control was an easy decision in the moment because I was ready to do anything to regulate my cycle and also clear up some of the hormonal acne that I had. “Sign me up!” was my BC motto.
Going on Beyaz™, a combination pill of synthetic progestin and estrogen, made a huge difference in how I was feeling. My periods started to regulate after a few months, my boobs got bigger (YAHOO – this was awesome when I was a freshman in high school) and my skin was super clear.
I’m not sure what prompted me to stop taking the pill fairly soon after starting it, but I’m guessing that it had quite a bit to do with the fact that I wasn’t sexually active and I was carrying around 10 extra lbs. Although it was making a difference in my cycle and skin, I remember feeling a bit uncomfortable with how different my body felt after 5 or 6 months. Long story short – I quit the pill, sucked it up when it came to my heavy periods, and decided to rely on Spironolactone for my hormonal acne cure instead.
Flash forward to my senior year of high school – I was ready to get back on the pill. A majority of my friends were taking it for a variety of reasons, and I – once again – was looking for a cure to my hormonal acne, along with contraception. It seemed like the easiest route, so I began what would be a 4-year journey to finding the right method for me.
Throughout the last year of high school and all four years of college, I tried the following: Yaz, Lo Loestrin® Fe, Beyaz™, Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Rajani and ParaGard, the Copper IUD.
Instead of going into detail about my experience with each pill, I’ll just sum up my hormonal-birth-control experience as a whole in a few sentences.
Being on birth control altered me – I felt flat-lined, plumper and less like my vibrant self. I also struggled with constipation when I was on it and barely had a sex drive. I would hit really low points sometimes before my period would come, and then other times I just skipped my period all together. I simply didn’t feel like I was letting myself live my best life while I was on the pill because it was affecting every aspect of who I was as a person – emotionally, physically, mentally and sexually; so I said GOODBYE during my junior year of college.
In comes ParaGard®, the non-hormonal IUD, to save me during my junior year of college (or so I thought). I’ll go into a bit more detail here considering this post is about my experience with this thing.
The First Time Around
Getting the Copper IUD was a personal choice. It’s the biggest of the IUDs (32 mm x 36 mm) and it lasts the longest (up to 10 years but can be removed whenever). I chose it, though, because it was non-hormonal (I wanted to continue ovulating and experiencing my natural hormonal cycle). I was done with all of the BS that synthetic hormone was bringing into my life, so I wanted to give something else a try.
ParaGard has copper wire coiled around it, and the copper produces an inflammatory reaction within your uterus – creating a harmful environment for sperm that prevents it from fertilizing an egg, and an egg from attaching to your uterus. It doesn’t prevent ovulation and doesn’t alter your hormonal cycle. “SOLD!” I thought.
In my opinion, getting the IUD inserted isn’t a big deal (it hasn’t been either time that I’ve had it inserted). It’s absolutely not comfortable, but to me it just feels like really bad period cramps for 1 minute. It’s sort of like getting a pap smear that hurts – with a few ibuprofen you’ll be fine. The procedure lasts around 20 minutes, but the actual insertion of the IUD takes less than 5. The doctor manually inserts the IUD through the opening of your cervix, and this is why it’s a bit uncomfortable.
The most uncomfortable part of the insertion process was the aftermath. I had very bad cramping for a day or two both times. I took ibuprofen and used a heating pad to accommodate the pain and that was good enough for me. It was absolutely manageable, but I made sure to rest and take the time that I needed to recuperate. I had a bit of spotting for the first few days and then my life was back to normal.
The first time around, I had the Copper IUD for one year before it expelled out of my uterus. I noticed that my periods were very painful – I had really bad cramps and a super heavy flow. It wasn’t anything that I wasn’t used to already, considering my periods had been so heavy in high school, but it definitely was a bit more extreme now that I had the IUD implant.
During the summer of my Junior year of college, I remember having cramps so badly one day that I literally thought I was giving birth to something. It was NOT like my usual painful period cramps. It was something different and it was much stronger. I remember rolling out of bed because I thought I was going to throw up from pain. I knew in that moment that something wasn’t right.
When you have the IUD, you’re supposed to check every now and then to feel for the strings that hang down from your cervix to make sure that it’s still in place. If you feel any plastic or something funky, then your IUD might be out of place.
When I got the IUD, I knew that I ran the risk of expelling it. Because I hadn’t had children and my uterus was small and innocent, the Copper IUD can cause a lot of inflammation and sometimes your uterus is like “What the heck is this thing? Get it out!” In my case, this is what happened.
When I checked for my strings, I could feel a little piece of plastic poking out from my cervix. Long story short, when I was feeling such horrible pain that one morning, my IUD had been expelling from my uterus. Not fun.
When I got home from my internship that summer, I had an appointment scheduled with my gynecologist and decided to have the IUD removed. My doctor asked me if I wanted to replace it with a new one, but the experience was so bad with it expelling that I didn’t want to go through it again. I was dating someone at the time, so I knew that I needed to choose some form of contraception. “I guess I’ll go back on the pill,” I said.
And here we go again…
Senior year of college I was back on Beyaz™. Boobs bigger. Skin clearer. Mood flatter. Cycle sometimes regular, other times not. Low sex drive. Blah blah blah. Pros and cons, but mostly cons.
Little did I know that my last year of college would mark the true beginning of my wellness journey.
Although my passion for cooking, baking, exercising and living well had always been rooted inside of me, during my senior year, I really started to dive into wellness wholeheartedly.
It was during this time that my passion for hormonal health grew, and in parallel so did my passion for holistic living and clean eating. I started reading books like WomanCode by Alisa Vitti and The Wellness Project by Phoebe Lapine, and I began following bloggers who advocated for living in a way that honors your mind, body and spirit. I was suddenly thinking so much more deeply about my hormonal, mental, and physical health. (This is around the time that I started my blog and decided to devote my Instagram to my personal wellness journey.) I began drinking tea instead of coffee, cutting gluten and dairy out of my diet as much as I could, sleeping at least 7 hours a night, exercising according to how I felt and making an effort to drink responsibly when out with friends. I cared more, and I started to see HUGE changes in how I was feeling.
Inflammation in my body went WAY down, and although I was still on the pill, I wasn’t experiencing hormonal breakouts like I was previously. I was MUCH more energized and I noticed that I was able to push myself harder in my workouts. I was a lot less bloated and was starting to see significant improvement in my digestion, too.
Needless to say, my life was taking a 180. Who I was going into my senior year of college was very different from the woman that I graduated as.
As I continued to explore holistic living, and as I grew more and more passionate about wellness, I decided that it was time to say goodbye to hormonal birth control once and for all; and this time, for a different reason. I wanted to advocate for hormonal health and balance, and I felt that I couldn’t do so unless I was off of synthetic hormone.
So I got to thinking and researching. Here were my options for non-hormonal contraception, and here were my thoughts alongside them:
- Barrier methods (condoms, spermicide, sponges, etc.)
- Was this truly going to be enough? Personally, this wasn’t a method that I felt confident in. BUT, I have friends who solely rely on this method and it works for them! There are also nontoxic products out there now that are reliable and so much better for the body.
- Natural Family Planning method
- I highly considered this option. If you’re in tune with your body and don’t mind spending time tracking your cycle, then this is probably a great method for you. You can only get pregnant while you’re ovulating, so by tracking your cycle (taking your temperature and analyzing your cervical mucus) and paying attention to your hormonal fluctuations, you can naturally prevent pregnancy. There are so many apps to help guide a woman with this – Kindara is one that I have used before just to track my cycle. I thought about this one for a few months; and although I’m passionate about my hormonal health and cycle-tracking, this was another non-hormonal option that I just couldn’t seem to get behind. (Frankly, I think I’m just a bit lazy when it comes to BC and I value the convenience of not having to worry about taking my temp or keeping contraception on me.)
- Paragard™ Copper IUD
- I didn’t think that I’d ever try the IUD again. When it expelled, it was so inconvenient and painful, and I didn’t want to have to go through that situation a second time. BUT, the IUD was also the only method aside from the pill that didn’t give me an underlying anxiety. It was incredibly reliable and 99.99% effective, and it didn’t require me to do anything aside from check once every two weeks to see if it was still in place. I decided to go in and talk with my doctor about it.
When I went in for my appointment with my gynecologist to discuss the IUD, I was told that I would most likely have the same experience that I had the first time around. “It will likely expel again because you haven’t had children and your uterus won’t respond well to the inflammation,” my doctor said. I asked if my lifestyle changes and decrease in overall inflammation would make a difference in my experience, but my doctor said no. I walked out of the appointment pretty upset and cried to my mom afterwards.
A big piece of me truly believed that my experience would be different the second time around. I was so much healthier and in such a better place than I was my junior year of college, and I had made so many lifestyle changes that were propelling me in the direction of wellness. I was convinced that my body would tolerate the IUD better now; and I decided to try it again because I believed that my body was speaking to me – saying that it was ready for this and that this was a decision that we could make together this time.
The Second Time Around
When I went back in for the procedure a second time, I was still finishing my birth control packet from the previous month. Because the IUD is non-hormonal, it wasn’t an issue to get the implant while I was still taking the pill. However, I’d encourage you to talk to your doctor about this.
Today, I am one year into having the Copper IUD and I could not be happier with my decision. My periods are not painful at all – in fact, they are much lighter and more tolerable since I started living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. I have had zero problems with the IUD and it has remained in place without any issues.
I honestly think that my experience with the IUD today is completely different because of the lifestyle changes that I’ve made. Eating a clean diet and nourishing yourself with healthy relationships, exercise and mindful practices makes such a big difference in how you feel mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. I truly believe that if I was still eating, drinking and living the way that I did in college that I would be super susceptible to experiencing what I did the first time around. This is to say, if you are thinking about getting the copper IUD, I suggest that you really take a look at your individual state of inflammation. Because the IUD causes a bit of inflammation in the uterus, if you’re already dealing with a lot of inflammation (which can display via skin irritations, gut issues, joint and muscle pain, lack of energy, hormonal imbalance, etc.) then you’re probably going to experience some issues with the IUD. I’m not an expert, this is just my opinion and something that I feel I have experienced myself.
For all I know, something could absolutely change in the next 6 months. What works for me today might be completely different tomorrow; but for now, my body is happy with the IUD and I’m thankful to have found a non-hormonal method that works for me. The first time around was really hard and it was an unfortunate experience that I had. I don't want the details that I provided to scare you, but I also wanted to share my honest experience. I'm really happy with my decision to get the IUD again, but it's taken quite a few lifestyle changes for it to make sense for me and my body to get the IUD for a second time.
If you are planning on transitioning off of birth control and going the non-hormonal route, take time to discuss the transition with your health practitioner, and do your own research too. Just because Paragard™ works well for me doesn’t mean that it will work well for you. Also, really step back and look at how you are living. With hormonal birth control, acne and hormonal issues are usually out-of-sight and out-of-mind because your body is being fed synthetic hormones instead – eliminating most of the issues that you experience when you’re not taking hormonal BC. When you first go off of these hormones, you’ll probably experience some acne and other issues – so I would suggest taking a look at your diet and lifestyle and making some positive changes. I have a full blog post about my transition off of the pill where I talk about what I did in order to combat acne, hormonal imbalance, anxiety and digestive issues.
Once again, the purpose of this blog post isn’t to tell you what to do – it’s just to recap my experience with the IUD and hopefully offer you all some answers to questions that you might have regarding this birth control method. I know from experience how frustrating it can be to find the right method that works best for you and your body, but I promise you that it's worth it when you do!
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment below. Otherwise, you can always email me too!