Writing by Eve Dangerfield // Photographs by Tiziana Gualano
I went on the pill when I was sixteen. It wasn’t because I was sexually active (I was) but because I had pimples. Man, I hated pimples. If you told me shoving a Toyota Corolla down my neck would get rid of pimples I’d have definitely deep-throated a car. Thankfully no one told me that, they told me the pill was a magical acne cure-all so I rode my bike to the doctors instead.
“I assume you have a boyfriend?” the male pharmacist asked when I handed him my script. I looked around nervously for my mum. “Yeah sure whatever. Just gimmie the pills.” I dry-swallowed those small, sweetish tablets for seven years without questioning it. Yes, going to the doctor for refills was a pain and I no longer had teenage pimples, but almost every girl I knew was on the pill. What was my alternative? Get pregnant?
Then last year I read an article about the benefits of coming off hormonal birth control; thicker hair, an enhanced sex drive and the mind-blowing fact that a woman’s taste in men changes when she’s no longer full of fake-hormones.
“Holy frijoles!” I exclaimed. “What if my boyfriend’s a boring knob? What if our whole relationship is a lie?”
I stopped taking the pill that very day. The voyage back to natural hormones was a strange one. For a couple of weeks I went from hot and cold at the drop of a hat, I got a weird rash on my neck, and I spotted infrequently. Then everything changed. My stomach flattened, I had more energy and my boyfriend smelt even better than before. Seriously, it’s weird how good his sweat smelled. Coming off hormones was like taking a deep, deliberate breath and realising just how oxygen-deprived you really were. I knew I wasn’t ever going back, not unless I had no other options. I researched the alternatives. Condoms (my method during this no-pill time), diaphragms, withdrawal, and cycle monitoring all seemed doable, but I didn’t think I could rely on them. Then I heard about the copper IUD.
The Inter Uterine Device is a small copper T that sits in your uterus. The copper produces ions that are toxic to sperm, preventing them from fertilizing eggs. IUD’s also change the chemical lining of your uterus so that fertilized eggs can’t latch there. It’s hormone free, 99.4 per cent effective and easily reversible. And the best part? They last between five and ten years. When I read that I couldn’t get one in my twat soon enough. A whole decade avoiding nature’s original STD, the unwanted baby? Yes fucking please.
I skipped down to my vagina doctor who promptly wrote me a script for Mirena. Mirena is an all-plastic version of the IUD and contains hormones, not as much as the pill but it can stop you bleeding and ovulating.
“No thanks doc,” I said cheerfully. “I want a copper one.”
The doctor looked at me like I’d requested a right hand amputation. “Why?”
“I like not having hormones in my body.”
Apparently she heard “I want to wear my severed hand around my neck like Jamie Lannister!” because she gave me a very strange look and asked the other doctor his option.
The other doctor said he wouldn’t even consider installing a copper IUD, that it was old fashioned and barbaric. When I told him it was widely done in the US (I first heard about copper IUD’s on an American podcast) he basically told me to take my hippy vagina to America then.
“Jeez,” I thought. “It’s not personal arsehole.”
Shaken but not stirred, I paid $180 to see a fancy gynecologist. He also treated me like I wanted to treat my depression with a lobotomy instead of Prozac but agreed to install my copper IUD. The week of my appointment I went down to my pharmacy to buy the IUD (the judgy creep no longer works there so I couldn’t loudly announce “I have so much anonymous sex my pussy’s like Ibiza in 1999. I HEART RANDOM PENIS”, as I’d hoped.)
The new, much nicer pharmacist told me the copper IUD was no longer available. In Australia. In all of goddamn Australia. I called the fancy doctor and he was all “Huh? What? Oh yeah, that’s right!”
Needless to say my appointment was cancelled. Deeply confused but sure copper IUDs were a real thing, I continued on what seemed to be a futile quest. One Sunday I half-heartedly emailed the Marie Stopes clinic and ten minutes later a cheerful woman was asking me when I’d like to get my copper IUD. I almost choked on my tongue. “Seriously? Are you allowed to do those?”
“Um, yes,” the woman replied nervously. “We install dozens every week.”
“And I can buy the IUD from you? I don’t need a script?”
“No, you just come in, purchase the device and get it installed that day. Oh and…” my heart dropped.
“…you need to bring a Medicare card and photo ID.”
Honest to God I cried. I felt like my ship had finally come in. The big day arrived with little fanfare. I had my period as the clinic told me this was the best time to get an IUD installed (lubrication?). Unfortunately I did my usual period/no laundry thing; mooncup and commando. Big mistake– but we’ll circle back to that later.
My boyfriend drove me to the Marie Stopes clinic in St Kilda. It’s important to go to specialised clinic for an installation as a perforated uterus is not something anyone should experience in this lifetime, please, thank you.
In the car I downed two preparatory painkillers (as instructed) with Red Bull (no one told me to drink that) which, as my boyfriend observed, would probably cancel each other out in my stomach. Despite his unhelpful remarks I was pleased my man agreed to come on my IUD journey because I felt he should a) be grateful he wasn’t getting his nuts stapled for our mutual childlessness and b) acknowledge in time and petrol what a ledge I was for voluntarily having my womb invaded.
We also split the cost of the procedure, $150 for the device and $200 for the installation. I drew the line at another $200 for anaesthesia. I’m a writer and he’s a tradie; we have to save our money for Netflix and chicken quesadillas, not splash it around on fancy knock-out juice.
The clinic does abortions but sadly for my boyfriend (who I think secretly wanted to fight a bigot) the building was void of pro-life wankers. The key-code door was only indication things got hairier than your average doctor’s office. Once inside a nurse explained the procedure and gave me a pregnancy test to check nothing was chilling in my womb. It came back negative, which is always nice. Ten minutes later I was brought into a narrow room and instructed to strip from the waist down. The nurse told me to leave my undies and a clean pad in a separate plastic bag. Remember what I said about the mooncup/no undies thing? This is how it circles back. I explained to the nurse, that while I DID have my period I’d idiotically not worn underwear or brought pads. After giving me some very understandable side-eye she found me a pair of humongous surgical knickers and a sanitary napkin that could have absorbed the entire Pacific Ocean.
I was guided, shaking and pants-less to the operating room where another nurse and the doctor waited. I lay back on a dentist-style chair which quickly elevated so my hips were skyward, my knees dangling off the edge. Feeling as though I was going to tumble backwards into Narnia and fighting back tears (my typical response to nerves) I tried not to think about my incredibly exposed vagina.
“Just relax,” the doctor said soothingly as she came at me with a big clamp. “It’ll all be over soon.”
She asked me to cough, which I did, then I felt a pinchy sensation, a jiggling motion and a weird spasm. Bang, I was IUD’d. The whole thing took less than five minutes. I kept waiting for the nurses to raise me back up and say “And now madam, your real pain begins,” but it was really truly over.
The doctor told me to go to my local GP in a couple of weeks and make sure the string that dangles from the IUD (for easy retrieval) had safely wrapped around my cervix. I agreed, donned my huge undies, and was escorted to the waiting room for a cup of tea. Luckily the nurses put one of those puppy training mats on the chair because I’m pretty sure my entire period ran out of me while I ate Arnott’s biscuits. I think it was a side effect of the cervix opening and am still looking into the small business potential of getting your period drained out every month (patent pending.)
Ten minutes later my boyfriend and I left the clinic hand in hand, him still scanning all about for pro-life weirdos. My body accepted my new uterine jewellery with much more grace than it does cheap earrings. Aside from some minor cramps, I felt nothing. Two days later I had sex and the boy couldn’t feel the string at all. Granted, I hadn’t told him he’d be able to feel the string because the doctor said, “if you tell a man he might feel something with his penis, he’ll feel it.”
Some women do experience negative side effects. Heavier periods are common, there’s a low risk of uterine irritation, and copper related zinc deficiencies*. However, when you consider the much higher risks of say, travelling in a car or eating suspect fried chicken when you’re really hungover, the risks of getting a copper IUD are minimal. I’m happy to report I’ve side-stepped all of them; my periods are normal, my womb remains supple, and my zinc levels are standard (I assume. My hair and nails are growing as per usual.)
It’s been three months since I got my IUD and most days I forget I have one. This, if you ask me, is how perfect birth control should work. I’m not saying IUD’s are the best method for everyone, they involve an invasive procedure and a physical risk that swallowing a pill certainly doesn’t.
I’m also not slagging off hormonal birth control (without it, I’d likely have a million sons and daughters). My belief is that women, especially young women, should be more aware of the pitfalls of fake-hormones and given safe alternatives. We often take full responsibility for birth control in heterosexual relationships and we deserve all the information there is so we can make the best, most informed decisions for ourselves. Seriously, if anyone told sixteen-year-old me about the pill’s side effects, I doubt I’d have signed on for seven year slog. But no one told me and that’s not fair.
So my lovely fellow females know that copper IUD’s are relatively cheap, hormone-free, and no more painful than a pap smear. They’re an ultra-viable form of contraception and they get two massive thumbs-up from me. If you’re interested I urge you to find out more. Just remember to wear undies to your appointment.
*For a detailed list of copper IUD pros and cons here’s an amazing comic strip breakdown from the artist Erica Moen.[share]